(Another) Smoking Gun Found in Cardinal Mahony’s Mishandling of Sexually Abusive Priests

William Lobdell
September 18, 2009

Mahony ignored church policy and didn’t inform parishioners about allegations of clergy sexual abuse, one of his top lieutenants testified.

In an institution that supposedly devotes itself to God and truth, you had to wonder: When would someone within Cardinal Roger M. Mahony’s inner circle break ranks and tell the truth about how His Eminence actually handled claims of clergy sexual abuse?

Since the Catholic sex scandal broke in 2002, Mahony, with the help of his PR team, created a persona as a a long-time reformer who was way ahead of the curve when it came to tackling the problem of priests who molested minors. To listen to him, you would think he was the victims’ best friend.

Of course, the facts said otherwise. Evidence has shown Mahony harbored many known pedophile priests, some of whom went on to molest others. Still, no one in Mahony’s inner circle of brother priests and advisers ever stepped forward to say exactly what happened. “Careers over kids” is how many people saw it.

Now, under oath this week in a deposition, Msgr. Richard Loomis, the former vicar of clergy for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, reluctantly told the story of how his boss handled in 2000 allegations of sexual abuse of two minors brought against Father Michael Baker. (Remember, Baker had admitted to Mahony in 1986 that he had molested two different boys; the priest remained in ministry, often unsupervised.) For Watergate buffs, Loomis appears to be a more reluctant John Dean.

In a tense deposition with plaintiff attorney John Manly, Loomis testified that:

* Mahony ordered him to ignore official archdiocesan policy and not inform parishes of the allegations.

* Mahony gave two reasons for deviating from the policy. Loomis said the cardinal first said he was concerned about the pending litigation. Later, Mahony said he didn’t want to disrupt the process of getting Baker removed from the priesthood.

* Loomis was so upset at the cardinal’s action that he sent him an e-mail in which he cut and pasted the archdiocesan policy that was being violated.

* Mahony ordered no more announcements made in parishes about any new clergy sexual abuse allegations.

* Loomis wanted to contact law enforcement about Baker’s allegations and behavior, but Mahony ordered him not to.

* Members of the Sexual Abuse Advisory Board were also upset at Mahony’s decision, but none informed law enforcement to the allegations.

* Loomis would have considered resigning over Mahony’s order, but had a short time left in his tenure as vicar of clergy.

* After stepping down as vicar of clergy, Loomis made one more attempt to get the archdiocese to make announcements in the parishes because Baker had been removed from the priesthood. He said his request went nowhere.

Msgr. Richard Loomis testified that Mahony ordered him not to call the authorities.

In legal papers filed today in Los Angeles Superior Court, Manly said that the church’s attorney, Don Woods, “repeatedly obstructed the deposition process … by excessive objections, inappropriate hand gestures, whispering in the witness’s ear …” Woods instructed Loomis to not answer “in excess of 50 questions,” including where the priest lived.

In court papers, Manly, who is representing another alleged victim of Baker, is asking a judge to prevent Woods from “making objections other than privilege or form, cease from coaching his witnesses, cease from taking breaks during lines of questioning.”

Loomis, who himself had allegations of sexual abuse brought against him in 2003, is on administrative leave and refused to say if a church court had found him innocent or guilty of the allegations.

It will be interesting how the archdiocese spins this. Will Mahony’s team go after the credibility of Loomis? Or will they simply hope that the majority of media and parishioners are too numb to handle any more Catholic sex scandal news and this will all quickly fade away?

It’s also intriguing that Loomis said Mahony’s orders were given in e-mails and memos. There should be a paper trial that Manly can follow.

Bottom line: The testimony of Loomis is a bombshell that, in any institution other than the Catholic Church, would spark an internal investigation and, if found true, lead to the firing of the boss. Don Woods, the church’s attorney, sensed its gravity. In the deposition, it’s almost comical how many different ways Woods tries to get Loomis to shut up.

We already knew that Mahony kept known molesters in ministry (including two convicted felons!), and that some continued to abuse children. Now, according to Loomis, we also know how little regard Mahony had for the children of the archdiocese, unilaterally suspending the church’s own policy to avoid public scandal and perhaps his own skin.

With this new perspective, the recent words of J. Michael Hennigan, an attorney representing Mahony and the archdiocese, ring hallow.

Hennigan told the Los Angeles Times that “the archdiocese aggressively investigates every allegation or suspected incident, and in those cases looks for other victims. If SNAP has other information, they should deliver it to us and we will pursue it as we have done in the past.”

But Mahony’s testimony in court in March now seems even more disingenuous.

“If anyone has knowledge that a child was in danger,” he said, “any human being has to do something about it.“


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