Mahony E-Mails Cite Fears over Scandals
Abuse: In another development, a Fresno woman alleges the L.A. archbishop molested her in 1970

By Larry B. Stammer, Richard Winton, and staff writers
Los Angeles Times
April 6, 2002

A series of confidential e-mails written by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony show how pervasively the nationwide child-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church has affected the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

The e-mails, leaked to radio station KFI, which provided copies to The Times, paint a picture of a sometimes-agitated archbishop alarmed that he is losing public relations ground.

The memos, written during the past three weeks, capture an archdiocese confronting political, legal and moral challenges: where to place a priest newly accused of molesting children; whether the church should start a victims support group; how to anticipate and counteract media accusations; how to give "instruction" in child-abuse law to Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, and how to measure the number of weeks or months before a "healing" process begins in the church.

The e-mail also reveals that a Fresno woman made a 32-year-old unspecified "claim" against Mahony. Questions by reporters prompted the cardinal Friday night to issue a categorical denial of "ever having molested anyone."

Fresno police Lt. Keith Foster confirmed Friday that an investigation is underway. The Fresno Diocese turned over a recent two-hour taped interview with the woman to police, an e-mail says.

The woman told The Times on Friday that Mahony molested her in 1970 when he visited the San Joaquin Memorial Catholic High School, where she was a student. She provided few other details, saying police asked her not to talk.

Mahony, who was then a priest in Fresno and rose to the position of auxiliary bishop, "categorically" denied "ever having molested anyone."

In a March 28 e-mail, Mahony expressed willingness to be interviewed by Fresno detectives and wrote his advisors that he did not need an attorney because he had no recollection of the woman making the complaint and informed the LAPD the same day he was told of the accusation.

Other e-mails focus on the growing demands that Mahony fully disclose the names of the eight priests he had fired in February for molesting minors. The archdiocese subsequently turned the information over to police but has yet to disclose it to the public.

In one e-mail, a top Mahony advisor recommends that the cardinal remain deliberately vague about where the eight priests served before Mahony fired them. While Mahony told The Times in a separate interview that none of the priests were in parish ministries, the e-mail from Msgr. Craig Cox, vicar for clergy, says that some did serve on a part-time basis in parishes--a fact that implies they had were around children.

At times, Mahony and his inner circle are shown attempting to promptly cooperate with police on new allegations of sexual abuse. In other e-mails, there is a clear determination to protect the institution.

The communications also reveal that:

* Mahony was so upset by the archdiocese's failure to turn over some names of several dismissed priests to police that he warned his general counsel he might be subpoenaed by a grand jury.

"If we don't, today, "consult" with the [detective] about those three names, I can guarantee you that I will get hauled into a Grand Jury proceeding and I will be forced to give all the names, etc.," Mahony wrote to his top lawyer, Sister Judith Murphy.

At that point, March 27, the archdiocese had not turned over to police the names of three of eight priests he dismissed in February. The names were subsequently turned over to authorities.

* Mahony wrote Murphy in that same e-mail that the archdiocese had made a "huge mistake" by withholding the names of the three priests.

"I'm not sure you grasp the gravity of the situation and where this is heading--not only with the media, but with the law enforcement and legal folks," Mahony wrote Murphy.

"If we don't take immediate, aggressive action here--the consequences for the AD [archdiocese] are going to be incredible: charges of cover-up, concealing criminals, etc., etc.," Mahony wrote.

* In another e-mail, Mahony says he wants to step up outreach to sexual abuse victims. While the archdiocese already provides counseling and cash settlements, Mahony said he wanted to start a victims support group that would be "almost entirely spiritual."

* Archdiocesan attorney John McNicholas in another e-mail recounts debate over whether a well known and highly regarded gay priest should continue to teach a course at Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino, whose president was recently removed because of an allegation of sexual abuse in his past. Sister Murphy, in a separate e-mail, notes that a critical "off-the-wall right wing throw-away newspaper has been gunning for him [the gay priest] for years."

* Sister Murphy in another e-mail invokes the slogan of television's Sgt. Joe Friday--"only the facts, sir, only the facts"--in advising church officials about a pending visit from two police detectives. The police were coming in response to an alert by church officials of possible abuse.

"Listen to their questions and take your time answering," Murphy wrote. "Do not volunteer information. This is not a session to be chatty."

* Outside attorney L. Martin Nussbaum worries on another day that "the next wave of this press feeding frenzy" about pedophile priests may focus on priests who have had adult "romantic or sexual liaisons." Nussbaum advises Mahony to comb through the files of every priest ever disciplined to "assess the scope of any such problem."

* Mahony in another missive wrestles with his decision to release one priest's name to police. "His case troubles me." Mahony writes to Msgr. Cox. "I am leaning toward giving it to the LAPD to review. We could be very vulnerable on any case where there is a dispute between folks, and we have not referred it out."

* Mahony's aides confront the problem of a priest who last month was reassigned after being accused of molesting youths at his Azusa church. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is investigating. Cox writes that the priest "denied forcefully any misconduct."

"If there is something to the allegations, then we want to be sure he is removed from ministry," Sister Murphy writes. "But if the allegations are unfounded, the sooner that can be established and he restored to ministry, the better. If he is innocent, I am most concerned that his reputation not be damaged more than it will already be by having things drag on and on and on."

FBI Investigating Who Leaked E-Mails

The FBI on Friday launched a criminal investigation to uncover whether a computer hacker broke into the e-mail system or a church insider leaked the information.

Laura Bosley, an FBI spokeswoman in Los Angeles, said the bureau is investigating whether Mahony's e-mail was "compromised and leaked."

At the same time, Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said he was prepared to launch his own investigation into the "illegal access" of the e-mails. He also served notice that Mahony's written statements in the communications are "of grave concern." Cooley said he wants to find out if the archdiocese illegally withheld information about child abuse from authorities.

At the first banquet held at the archdiocese's downtown Cathedral Conference Center on Friday, Mahony stepped quickly through a door to avoid reporters following a speech to the downtown Rotary Club.

Mahony confined his remarks before 500 Rotarians and guests to the new $193-million Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, which opens Sept. 2. An aide cautioned reporters before the speech that Mahony would refuse to take any questions about the sexual abuse scandal rocking the Roman Catholic Church.

Mahony did respond Thursday night to an e-mail from The Times with a no comment. "I cannot and will not comment on privileged client-attorney communication that was criminally stolen," Mahony wrote in a return e-mail.

At the archdiocese's administrative headquarters in the Mid-Wilshire district, employees said many were on edge. "It's getting tense," said one.

Cardinal Asked Judge to Block Publication

The tension began to build Thursday when KFI disclosed that it had obtained leaked copies of scores of e-mails which were written late last month and early this month by Mahony and trusted confidants.

Ray Lopez, KFI producer, said he received the e-mails from an "anonymous individual." He said the person called him and offered to fax him the e-mails, then sent them via computer.

Two of the station's talk show hosts, John Kobylt and Ken Champou, began reading portions of the e-mails on their show Thursday afternoon in a remote broadcast from outside the cathedral.

As word reached the archdiocese of the disclosures, Mahony moved forcibly Thursday night to block publication of the e-mails by The Times.

Lawyers who anticipate filing a late-night motion usually contact the writs courtroom's clerk during business hours. But a lawyer for the archdiocese obtained their hearing by telephoning a retired presiding judge of the Superior Court, Richard Byrne. Byrne called a judge who specializes in writs. That judge provided a referral to a senior colleague who set a highly unusual 10:30 p.m. hearing.

In a ruling delivered just before midnight, Judge David Yaffe held that the U.S. Constitution prevented him from preventing publication of the documents.

In denying the Fresno molestation allegation Friday, Mahony saidin a written statement, "Such false allegations are hurtful and troubling to me, yet I continue to pray fervently for those who make them.

Reached by telephone Friday night at her home in Fresno, the woman said she reported her allegation recently to the school and that school officials informed Fresno police.

"It kept eating away at me," she told The Times.

In a March 28 e-mail, Mahony expressed willingness to be interviewed by Fresno detectives and wrote his advisors that he did not need an attorney because he had no recollection of the woman making the complaint.

"The Fresno PD can call me any time for a telephone interview; they can tape-record the interview, and I don't need an attorney on the line. Since I have no recollection of ever meeting the lady, I welcome the interview. Please give them my home number if they wish to call during these days of Holy Week or over the weekend," the cardinal wrote. He sent the message to Msgr. Richard Loomis, who heads the administrative services secretariat of the archdiocese, and to media relations director Tod Tamberg.

Mahony said in his Friday night statement that he was informed of the allegation March 22 by Fresno Bishop John Steinbock.

The e-mails shed new light on a debate that began March 4 when The Times reported that Mahony had dismissed six to 12 priests.

Alerted by the story, LAPD Chief Parks wrote Mahony on March 25 and pressed him for the names. He said a criminal investigation was underway.

Times staff writer Michael Krikorian contributed to this story


'Our Big Mistake'

This is the text of an e-mail, titled "Our Big Mistake," that Cardinal Roger M. Mahony sent on the morning of March 27 to Sister Judith Murphy, the archdiocese's general counsel.

Two days earlier, Police Chief Bernard C. Parks pressed Mahony for the names of all priests Mahony had recently dismissed for past cases of sexual abuse.

Those dismissals had first been publicized March 4 in a Los Angeles Times story. However, the archdiocese refused to confirm or deny that the dismissals had occurred. Church sources told the newspaper that six to 12 priests had been dismissed.

Sr. Judy

As the drum beats continue from every side for us to release the "names," I must still point to what I consider our greatest tactical mistake of the past few weeks.

If I recall, of the 8 priests involved, 5 had already been reported to local law enforcement agencies. That leaves 3.

Recall also that I pressed for you to meet with [LAPD sex crimes] Det. Barraclough and "consult" him about the other 3 so that we could state without hesitation that all priests no longer in service had been reported to various law enforcement agencies.

You resisted quite strongly that suggestion.

I hope you have changed your mind by now! By doing it back then, we would not appear to be crumbling under public pressure. It was a huge mistake on our part.

If we don't, today, "consult" with the Det. about those 3 names, I can guarantee you that I will get hauled into a Grand Jury proceeding and I will be forced to give all the names, etc.

I must now insist that this matter is no longer open for discussion. You must consult with the Det. about those 3 cases.

In my response to Parks, I want to state that every single case of the few priests was reported to the appropriate law enforcement agency over the years.

I must be able to state that--even publicly. And soon.

I'm not sure you grasp the gravity of the situation and where this is heading--not only with the media, but with the law enforcement and legal folks.

The best place to state it would be in my letter to Parks, and then in a follow-up letter to [Dist. Atty. Steve] Cooley.

If we don't take immediate, aggressive action here--the consequences for the AD are going to be incredible: charges of cover-up, concealing criminals, etc., etc.

PLEASE make this task your highest priority this morning! I have reached the point where if I cannot guarantee that all 8 have been appropriately reported, then I will have to call the Det. and do it myself--today.

There is no middle ground on this one; we are losing the battle because we are somehow "hiding" those 3. The best way is to "consult" with the Det. about them, and let them decide what needs to be done next.

Thanks for listening. This public media pressure will never stop until we can announce that those few priests have all been reported to the appropriate authorities over the years.



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