Mahony Accounts of Abuse Case
Plaintiffs Say He Gave the Vatican a Graver Version of
Priest's Role Than He Gave the Public
By John Spano
Los Angeles Times
March 20, 2007
[Note from BishopAccountability.org: For a useful comparison of this
article with the archdiocesan Report and Addendum that are discussed here,
see our Example
of the Rev. Lynn Caffoe File: Secrecy and Reluctant Revelation in the
Los Angeles Archdiocese. See also the archdiocese's
response to this Los Angeles Times article.]
At least six months after Cardinal Roger M. Mahony told his superiors
at the Vatican that a videotape provided proof of a priest's criminal
misconduct with high school boys, the head of the Los Angeles Archdiocese
told the public that the tape showed no sexual activity between Father
Lynn Caffoe and the boys, according to court records.
Documents newly filed in the Caffoe civil case provide the first glimpse
into confidential priest files that Mahony sought for four years to keep
sealed in the midst of a sexual abuse scandal that engulfed the archdiocese.
He eventually took the secrecy fight to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a letter to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
before Ratzinger became pope in April 2005, Mahony said Caffoe had videotaped
"partially naked" boys in a state of sexual arousal. The tape
was "objective verification that criminal behavior did occur,"
Mahony wrote, according to papers filed last week in Los Angeles County
Superior Court in a lawsuit by four plaintiffs who allege that Caffoe
|Cardinal Roger Mahony prepares to celebrate Mass, at East L.A. Community College after blessing the image of the Virgen of Guadalupe.|
Photo by Luis Sinco / LAT
In October 2005, in what Mahony told parishioners was the "fullest possible disclosure" about the scandal, he reported that a videotape had been discovered in 1992 in Caffoe's bedroom, depicting "improper behavior" with high school boys. But the cardinal said the boys were "fully clothed" and there was no sexual activity.
Since that report, an appellate court ordered Mahony to turn over confidential files to prosecutors, and a Superior Court judge ruled that the files must be given to plaintiffs suing the church for damages for allegedly failing to protect them from pedophile priests.
J. Michael Hennigan, Mahony's lawyer, said he sees no contradiction between Mahony's public statements and the file contents because at the time the cardinal spoke out, the archdiocese was under court order not to reveal the contents of the personnel files. Hennigan said two judges had reviewed the material and considered the summary to be adequate. The statements "were not intended to be a description of the contents of the files, which we were not allowed to do," Hennigan said. They merely served as "an index, a chronology."
|Cardinal Roger Mahony|
He said he does not think Mahony ever saw the videotape, which is not in the church files and may never have been there, Hennigan said.
Mahony's letter to the Vatican, though still not fully public, was quoted in a court filing by four people who say they were victimized by Caffoe. Their lawyers argue that the letter and other documents, newly released to the plaintiffs, show that Mahony and other officials of the Roman Catholic Church in Los Angeles misrepresented the breadth and seriousness of the priest abuse reports that they received in the years before they moved to fully address the molestation problem.
"Let me be very clear on this: The cardinal did not turn over this information willingly," said Irvine attorney Katherine K. Freberg, who represents plaintiffs in the Caffoe case. "He was forced to by the courts. It is only because of this civil lawsuit filed by these brave victims that we uncovered all the salacious details about what the archdiocese knew about Father Caffoe molesting children."
Caffoe, 61, has been accused of molesting multiple minors between 1975
and 1994. He left the area in 1994 after his therapist reported an abuse
allegation to child-protection authorities, and he has not been charged
with a crime. Freberg said she has been unable to locate him, but his
lawyer, Donald Steier, said he is alive and actively fought to keep his
Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve
Cooley, said Mahony had not reported Caffoe's alleged crime to prosecutors.
"Not to the knowledge of the people in this office who have been
involved in the clergy abuse cases for several years," she said.
Whether the videotape could serve as the basis for prosecution depends
on when it was made, who is in it, and whether they would testify, Gibbons
The suit by the four Caffoe accusers, which is set for trial in August,
is one of more than 500 claims filed against the archdiocese over the
decades-long clergy abuse scandal. The archdiocese paid $60 million to
settle with 45 victims in December.
The church long has kept confidential files on sensitive issues involving
priests, including sexual abuse accusations and reports of drinking or
mental health problems, as well as records of referrals for treatment,
reassignments and other personnel matters.
Caffoe's accusers cited portions of his file as support for a motion to
seek punitive damages against the church, alleging that it engaged in
"oppression, fraud and malice" in disregarding multiple allegations
about the priest's misconduct with children.
Mahony called a 2004 report to parishioners "the best information
we can glean at this time." In an addendum
a year later, Mahony said three families had reported Caffoe to their
parish in 1991 for being "overly familiar" with their teenage
Mahony sent Caffoe to a residential treatment center for sexual offender
priests, then placed him on "inactive leave" with no priestly
assignment. The cardinal filed an amendment to the report in 2005, which
he said summarized the contents of the church's confidential files. In
the amendment, Mahony revealed that complaints had been lodged against
Caffoe as far back as 1975, when parents of altar boys at St. Callistus
Parish in Garden Grove reported a "boundary violation" to a
The church has defined "boundary violation" as an indiscretion
"without any evidence of actual molestation."
In a sworn statement taken last month as part of the Caffoe civil suit,
however, one of the altar boys' parents said she told the parish priest
that Caffoe had molested her third-grader:
Q: "Did (your son) mention to you any fondling of his private parts?"
A: "Yes. He said, 'He stuck his tongue in my mouth and touched my
private parts — tried to touch my private parts.' "
The chancellor of the diocese, identified in court papers as Msgr. John
Rawden, who served under Archbishop Timothy Manning, Mahony's predecessor,
left a note in Caffoe's personnel file stating the priest had been accused
of being "overly affectionate" with altar boys.
Hennigan said that Rawden may have used "euphemisms" 30 years
ago, but insisted that Mahony had accurately reported what was in the
files he inherited when he became archbishop of Los Angeles in 1985.
"It sounds like an accurate description of what's in the file,"
Hennigan said. "It did not purport to be an accurate description
of what happened."
According to the church report in 2005, a nun
complained of another "boundary violation" in 1986. Caffoe's
accusers, in their court filing, say the complaint they recently obtained
actually stated: "Strictly confidential: don't like his association
with boys. Think he should not have boys in his room."
A further note from a monsignor concluded that Caffoe had been engaging
in "a few things that are clearly against policy, e.g. minors in
his room," the court filing said.
In 1989, Caffoe was named associate pastor of
St. James Parish in Redondo Beach. [This is a typo. Caffoe became associate
pastor at St. James on 9/22/86.] That same year [on 5/8/89], an anonymous
woman complained that she had seen Caffoe on separate occasions engaged
in what Mahony described in his 2005 public report as "inappropriate
behavior" with two boys.
The church's files show the complaint accused Caffoe of hugging and fondling
the boys, the plaintiffs argue in their court papers. Msgr. Thomas Curry,
then vicar for clergy for Mahony, informed Caffoe of the complaint but
asked for no explanation, made no accusations and took no further action,
according to allegations contained in court papers.
Church spokesmen have said that was because the complainant insisted on
Mahony's 2005 report said the next complaint
came in 1991, when "the pastor and the school principal (a nun) at
St. James report to vicar for clergy various boundary violations by Fr.
According to the plaintiffs, newly filed court documents, the complaint
was that Caffoe "seems to spend an inordinate amount of time with
the boys hired to work in the rectory part-time…. The principal recalled
that she once found Fr. Caffoe alone with an eighth-grader in a dark area
of the parish hall, an event which the archbishop deemed 'strongly suggestive
of improper behavior.' "
Less than a week later in 1991, parents of three
boys also complained about Caffoe, according to the church report. A month
after that, the church restricted Caffoe's ministry — after
the priest's therapist reported the suspected abuse to law enforcement.