Church, State and Justice
Cardinal Roger Mahony's Legal Strategy Does Little to Help Victims of Abuse Recover

Los Angeles Times [California]
November 9, 2006,0,1639629.story?coll=la-opinion-leftrail

The Last Month hasn't been a good one for Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles.

First came the release of a documentary, "Deliver Us from Evil," in which admitted pedophile priest and serial molester Oliver O'Grady accuses Mahony of having protected him instead of his child victims. The film has been well received, but Mahony's office says many of the details are untrue.

Then a 1981 letter came to light in which Mahony warned a Mexican priest accused of molestation to stay out of the state or face being turned over to authorities. The cardinal's supporters say it is evidence of Mahony acting to prevent molestation; victims see it as another instance of Mahony acting to prevent priests from facing justice and to keep the public in the dark.

Both of these embarrassments hail from another time and place — the Central Valley in the 1980s, when Mahony was bishop of the Diocese of Stockton. If nothing else, they are another reminder that, until the truth is revealed, the molestation secrets of the Roman Catholic Church's past will continue to fester.

No church leader has fought longer and harder than Mahony to keep vital records from reaching the hands of legal authorities. He fought unsuccessfully to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep crucial records from a grand jury. Now his focus is on keeping as many sensitive records as possible from lawyers for plaintiffs in hundreds of civil cases facing the archdiocese.

The leader of any organization naturally feels a responsibility to protect it from humiliation and financial loss. And information gleaned from confessions has greater legal protection than that learned in a normal conversation. But the moral obligations involved when religious figures turn their followers into victims calls for a higher form of response than self-protection. These matters have dragged on for years, at great cost to the church's image. There can be no healing until the truth is acknowledged and justice served.

And it's not just survivors of abuse saying so. Addressing the subject of sexual abuse by Irish clergy late last month, Pope Benedict XVI said "it is important to establish the truth of what happened in the past" and to "ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected."

If Mahony is not persuaded by the victims and the public, perhaps, finally, he will listen to his boss.


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