Mahony Resources – April 5–15, 2003
By William Lobdell
An order of Franciscan friars has sued the Archdiocese of Los Angeles -- a second recent instance of one Roman Catholic institution battling another in court over who is liable for sexual-abuse claims.
The legal action, filed in February in Orange County Superior Court, says the archdiocese was responsible for the behavior of a Franciscan priest who allegedly molested an altar boy at a Mission Viejo church three decades ago, before the church formed a separate diocese for Orange County.
The Indiana-based order -- Province of Our Lady of Consolation Conventual Franciscan Friars -- filed the legal action as a cross-complaint to a lawsuit brought against it in June. That suit was filed by a man who alleged that Bertrand W. Horvath, a member of its religious order, sexually abused him as a child at St. Killian Church.
The Franciscans are asking a judge to order the archdiocese to reimburse them for any costs that result from the suit.
In a similar action, the Diocese of San Bernardino on Tuesday sued the Archdiocese of Boston, charging that Boston officials hid allegations of sexual molestation against former priest Paul Shanley when he was transferred to California in 1990. The legal action is believed to be the first time a U.S. diocese has sued another diocese.
"The two suits are indicative of the fact that the defendants clearly recognize the potential for huge liability and are going to begin to point the finger at one another," said attorney John Manly, who represents Horvath's accuser in the original suit.
Horvath was ordained as a Franciscan friar in 1970 and was assigned by the order to work in the Mission Viejo church under the leadership of the archdiocese. In its complaint, the Franciscan order argues that it is not responsible for the actions of a friar on loan to another Catholic organization.
Church officials said Horvath retired in 2001 after serving 20 years within the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, and moved to Ohio.
Manly said Horvath was forced to step down shortly after his client informed the Amarillo diocese of the molestation allegations.
Horvath could not be reached for comment.
An attorney for the Conventual Franciscan Friars didn't return phone calls.
The attorney for the archdiocese handling the suit was out of the office Friday.
Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk and expert on sexual abuse within the church, said dioceses and religious orders over the years have tried to blame each other in depositions and other court documents for the actions of pedophile priests. But this is the first time those disagreements have escalated into lawsuits.
The reason, Sipe said, is that church officials have had to pay out multimillion-dollar settlements and judgments in recent years and now recognize their financial vulnerability for the sexual crimes of priests.
"The real issue is the money," said Sipe, who works for a number of plaintiff's attorneys, including Manly. "They're trying to cut their losses."
By Jenifer Ragland and Steve Chawkins
A retired Catholic priest accused of molesting four boys in Camarillo and Oxnard in the 1970s was arrested Friday morning by Ventura County authorities.
Father Carl Sutphin, 70, who was forced to retire from his job at the new cathedral in downtown Los Angeles last year because of sexual abuse allegations, was arrested at his mother's home in Ventura. Sutphin was charged with 10 counts of felony molestation.
The boys, two of whom were brothers, were 9 to 12 years old when the abuse allegedly occurred, Deputy Dist. Atty. Douglas Ridley said. Sutphin is accused of molesting the children while on a fishing trip, on the way home from a trip to a local mission and while administering confession in one boy's home.
Sutphin became close with the boys while working as an associate pastor at St. Mary Magdalen Church in Camarillo from 1971 to 1975 and when he worked as a chaplain at St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard, starting in 1975 and running through 1991, Ridley said.
"This is a guy who was trusted to lead these boys into their adulthood, and instead he took advantage of that, using his position in the church to mess them up for the rest of their lives," Ridley said.
Sutphin is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday in Ventura County Superior Court. He remained in Ventura County Jail on Friday in lieu of $500,000 bail.
Don Steier, Sutphin's Los Angeles attorney, said his client had offered to surrender but authorities "chose to take a different approach."
Steier called his client's bail amount "outrageous."
"He cares for his mother," Steier said. "He's known about this investigation for more than a year. He's no more of a flight risk than [Ventura County Dist. Atty.] Greg Totten is."
Steier declined comment on specifics of the case, but said that Sutphin would plead not guilty.
Sutphin's arrest -- the first of a priest in Ventura County -- comes one week after authorities filed criminal charges against Father Fidencio Silva, 53, former head of the altar-boy program at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Oxnard. Silva is believed to be in Mexico, and authorities are prepared to extradite him if he is found.
Since the Catholic Church's sex-abuse scandal erupted last year, at least six former priests have been arrested in Los Angeles and two in Orange County.
Silva and Sutphin are two of at least three Ventura County priests under investigation by the district attorney's office on suspicion of molesting more than a dozen children during the 1970s and 1980s. The third is Michael Wempe, 62, who is accused of molesting three boys between 1976 and 1985 while serving at St. Jude Church in Westlake Village.
The Ventura County Grand Jury also is investigating sexual abuse by priests. Four top aides to Cardinal Roger M. Mahony testified before the panel last month.
As the investigations continue, the clock is ticking on a state-imposed, one-year time limit between police learning of possible molestations and prosecutors filing charges.
Ridley said the investigation of Sutphin consisted of interviewing victims, whose corroborating accusations enable a case against the priest to be filed outside of the normal statute of limitations. If convicted, Sutphin would be sentenced under the law as it was in the mid-1970s, which means he faces a maximum of 17 years in state prison, Ridley said.
Last year, archdiocese officials cited Sutphin's case as one they felt they had handled effectively.
As soon as officials became aware of the allegations against him in 1991, they took action, said Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
The church sent him to St. Luke's Institute in Maryland for therapy, which continued back in Los Angeles over the next several years. Officials also placed him in jobs where he would not encounter children, including acting as a chaplain at a retirement home for priests.
The initial allegations against Sutphin were lodged in 1991 by Andrew Cicchillo, who said that he and his twin brother were molested by the priest more than 20 years earlier, while Sutphin was associate pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in Maywood.
In a 2002 interview, Cicchillo said he broke his silence when he heard that Sutphin was working at St. John's, with all the opportunities any hospital offers to interact with children.
But it wasn't the Cicchillo brothers' accusations that prompted Sutphin's arrest by Ventura County authorities.
In 1994, a parochial school teacher in Ventura County told a monsignor that her two sons said they had been molested on a 1976 fishing trip with Sutphin, according to a lawsuit filed by the family against the archdiocese.
Despite his apparent problems, Sutphin impressed a number of other priests. In an interview last year, Msgr. Kevin Kostelnik said his colleagues saw him as "a faithful worker in several gritty assignments for a man his age, and we never had a hint of any inappropriate contact."
Sutphin was sent to work at St. Vibiana's Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles in 1995, after the church had been heavily damaged in an earthquake. He ran a recovery program for Spanish-speaking sex abusers and ministered to the homeless, according to church officials.
He also lived in the same rectory as Mahony and other priests. Mahony has said he never raised the issue of sexual abuse with Sutphin in those years.
In March 2001, Sutphin was named associate pastor at the archdiocese's crown jewel, the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. At the time the cathedral "was still a construction site," the archdiocese's Tamberg said.
"He was placed at the cathedral precisely because it was a very restricted place for him to be," he said.
In February 2002, Sutphin was permanently removed from ministry. "He doesn't wear a collar and can't function as a priest," Tamberg said.
An investigation against Sutphin continues. Anyone with information is encouraged to contact Det. Pat Stevens at the Ventura Police Department at (805) 339-4479.
By George Ramos
Father Luis Olivares didn't start out being a radical, controversial priest. He just turned out that way, influenced by the state of affairs in Los Angeles and the world around him.
In the early 1990s, he had a quick answer for those bad-mouthing him for his support of illegal immigrants at a time when some were pushing for the passage of the anti-illegal immigrant measure Proposition 187.
"What if that person is Jesus and I turn him away?" he'd asked. "How could I do that?"
It's been 10 years since the onetime pastor of the largest congregation in the Los Angeles Roman Catholic archdiocese died from AIDS complications at 59. On Monday, an ecumenical memorial service will be held at 6 p.m. at his old parish at La Placita Church near downtown.
Civil rights activists and labor organizers mentored or inspired by Olivares will attend the services. Among them are retired Roman Catholic Bishop Juan Arzube, who led the church's outreach to Latinos; Father Greg Boyle, the Jesuit priest who rehabilitates Eastside street gang members; the Rev. James Lawson, a longtime peace activist; Rabbi Leonard I. Beerma, the founding rabbi of the Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles; Miguel Contreras, head of the Los Angeles Federation of Labor; Jon Bruno, bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Los Angeles; and actors Martin Sheen and Ed Begley Jr. The priest's older brother, Henry, a retired schoolteacher, is scheduled to speak. Videos and recordings of Olivares' speeches will be part of the service.
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony has been invited to attend despite the rocky relationship he had with Olivares at the time of his death in 1993. The archbishop did not attend the funeral Mass for Olivares, which some took as a sign of Mahony's displeasure with the priest. Mahony's spokesman said the cardinal is checking his schedule.
"They did have a strained relationship at the end, but he is invited," said Father Richard Estrada, who worked under Olivares at La Placita and Our Lady of Solitude Church in East Los Angeles. He now heads Jovenes Inc., a nonprofit organization for homeless immigrant teenagers.
Organizers said the service will note how those who worked for Olivares have come into their own as leaders and how Latinos and others got access to services and power. Lydia Lopez, an Eastside activist who works for the Episcopal diocese in Los Angeles, said Latinos have become a political force within organized labor because of Contreras. "It wasn't that way before," said Lopez, who worked with Olivares in the 1970s.
Friends say Olivares is especially missed these days because he would be a strong voice against the U.S.-led war against Iraq. "He'd be opposed to the war," Estrada said. "He'd link it to the domestic cost of the war, like the closing of hospitals and schools. His would be a clear voice, speaking out."
The priest's memory also is kept alive through the Luis Olivares Legacy, a nonprofit foundation that helps the poor by giving financial aid to groups that help immigrant children and expand the rights of undocumented immigrants.
In addition, Estrada hopes to open this year a home in Boyle Heights as a shelter for homeless immigrant men, ages 16 to 22. It will be named after Olivares.
Born in San Antonio in 1934 to Mexican immigrants, at 13 Olivares joined a seminary in Compton. By his own account, he did not have an activist streak in him as a young priest. He earned a master's degree in business administration from the University of Notre Dame and rose in the hierarchy of the church's Claretian order.
He developed a taste for expensive clothes, and declined to join a protest by fellow church workers against the Vietnam War. But his life changed after meeting Cesar Chavez, the legendary leader of the United Farm Workers union, in the early 1970s. After that, he dedicated his life to fighting injustice. "You cannot be witness to the human suffering and not be convinced of the existence of social sin," he told The Times in 1986. "We are all responsible unless we take a stand and speak against it."
As pastor at Solitude Church, he encouraged parishioners to organize what later became the United Neighborhoods Organization, a grass-roots group that continues to fight for affordable low-income housing, better police protection, lower insurance and other things.
He became a force within the group, which attracted attention in its beginning because of its in-your-face confrontations with politicians. Once, after a contentious public meeting attended by a throng of UNO members and supporters, one Los Angeles City Hall insider was heard to mutter, "That priest has too much power."
After becoming the pastor of Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in 1981, which is called La Placita or the "Little Plaza," Olivares spoke out against military aid to El Salvador during that country's civil war.
He also declared the church a sanctuary for Central American refugees facing deportation. That enraged some public officials, including Harold Ezell, then the Western regional commissioner for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, who routinely branded Olivares a communist.
The outspoken priest became such a lightning rod for controversy that his long-standing friendship with Mahony soured. Friends of Olivares, including Estrada, recalled some heated telephone calls between the priest and archbishop.
He left his post at La Placita and kept up his humanitarian work. On a visit to a refugee camp along the El Salvador-Honduras border, Olivares, a diabetic, was infected with HIV because of the use of improperly sterilized syringes.
He died March 18, 1993, at a Los Angeles hospital.
At the recent lunch in Echo Park, Estrada and Lopez swapped stories of how Olivares spent his free time going to the movies and shopping at malls.
"That Louie," Lopez sighed, "he was something."
The virulent scandal of rogue priests who sexually abused children has taken another extraordinary turn with the decision by the Diocese of San Bernardino, Calif., to sue the Archdiocese of Boston for palming off a notoriously depraved cleric as a shepherd in good standing. Such an intramural fracture's winding up in the secular courts would have been unimaginable until now in America's Roman Catholic Church. Church solidarity is the latest victim in the sorry scandal.
Officials in San Bernardino, a relatively poor diocese, say they would have to close schools and cut services for the needy if they had to pay damages in a local suit against the Rev. Paul Shanley, a priest-abuser who found sanctuary in California when he arrived with a recommendation letter from Boston. Boston church officials deny they knew he was a problem. But this is questionable; he was already a brazen advocate of sex between men and boys.
The San Bernardino suit is welcome, directed as it is at the still elusive church virtue of accountability. Some church officials continue to play a helter-skelter game with secular law. They have darted from denying state authority over the problem to inventing groundless constitutional arguments.
Cardinal Roger Mahony is fighting in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to withhold records from criminal prosecutors investigating dozens of priests. Last year, Cardinal Mahony vowed his records would be an open book. But now he is claiming a First Amendment protection for any free expression between a bishop and priest conferring "candidly." Where is the candor for the church's anguished parishioners? This claim was tried and dismissed as bogus in Boston. Resorting to it in another of the nation's flagship dioceses is a shameful measure of the damage still being inflicted on the faithful from above.
By Steve Chawkins
To the apparent dismay of a judge, a Ventura County prosecutor claimed in court Wednesday that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles might finance the possible flight of a retired Roman Catholic priest charged with child molestation.
Told later about the allegation, a spokesman for Cardinal Roger Mahony called it "reprehensible" and demanded an apology.
The scenario surfaced at a bail hearing for Father Carl Sutphin, 70, who was arrested in Ventura last week on charges that he had sexually abused four boys in the 1970s.
Arguing for increased bail, Deputy Dist. Atty. Doug Ridley pointed out that Sutphin had lived with the cardinal and a few other priests in a Los Angeles chancery during his final years as a priest. Earlier in his career, he had worked at St. Mary Magdalen Church in Camarillo and as a chaplain at St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard.
"He's a friend of Cardinal Mahony," Ridley contended, saying that the connection could make him a flight risk through potential access to church funds.
The assertion brought a question from Superior Court Judge James Cloninger.
"You're suggesting that the church would help him flee and secrete him from law enforcement?" the judge asked.
Ridley confirmed the judge's impression, arguing that the church "hasn't shown a good-faith effort to help law enforcement" in the case. He said that church officials sent Sutphin to the Washington, D.C., area for treatment after allegations against him first emerged in 1991, but did not notify police.
Later in the hearing, Cloninger said the prosecutor had offered "no evidence that the church would aid [Sutphin] in becoming a fugitive from justice."
"I don't subscribe to that," the judge added.
The charge angered archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg.
"The church's policy is not to post bail on these kinds of cases and that should be proof enough of Cardinal Mahony's commitment to the justice system," he said.
To suggest that Mahony might engage in criminal behavior to help Sutphin "is completely irresponsible and deserves an apology," Tamberg said.
Sutphin was arrested Friday at the home of his 96-year-old mother. He has been held in Ventura County Jail, unable to raise his $100,000 bail. He also is hard-pressed for money to pay his private attorney, according to Don Steier, a Los Angeles lawyer defending Sutphin in a lawsuit brought by two of his alleged victims.
On Wednesday, the attorney for the plaintiffs in that suit, Jeffrey R. Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., called the accusation against Mahony "a bold and courageous statement."
A number of abusive priests in the Los Angeles archdiocese "have been allowed to operate for one reason: They're colleagues and close associates of the cardinal and he has protected them for two decades," Anderson contended.
At the hearing, Cloninger turned down the prosecution's bid to increase Sutphin's bail to $500,000. However, he said the bail had been set lower than recommended by state guidelines and raised it to $200,000.
Representing Sutphin at the hearing, Deputy Public Defender Bruce Freed said the bail hike was unnecessary. Sutphin had not fled during the year he knew about the district attorney's investigation, Freed pointed out. And, with the alleged incidents of molestation more than 20 years old, he contended there was no evidence that Sutphin currently poses any danger to the public.
But prosecutor Ridley alluded to the case against convicted rapist Andrew Luster, who during his trial in January skipped out on his $1-million bail. He likened the trust fund at Luster's disposal to the church funds that he claimed could be made available to Sutphin.
Sutphin worked as an associate pastor at St. Mary Magdalen from 1971 to 1975, and as a chaplain at St. John's from 1975 to 1991. The charges against him stem from two sets of alleged incidents.
Dating from 1971, the earlier involves twin boys at a church in Maywood, where Sutphin worked before coming to Camarillo. The latter involves two Ventura County brothers allegedly molested by Sutphin on a 1976 fishing trip.
No more recent allegations against Sutphin have been made public. His last jobs in the church were at the earthquake-damaged St. Vibiana's Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles and at the then yet-to-be-opened Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
"He was placed at St. Vibiana's when it was basically a ruin and then at the new cathedral site when it was still under construction," said archdiocese spokesman Tamberg. "That wasn't a function of some alleged close personal friendship with the cardinal. It was in line with what the cardinal thought was the most pastorally responsible thing to do at the time."
By Marci Hamilton firstname.lastname@example.org
While the country's attention is fixated on the war in Iraq, Act Three of the Catholic Church scandal is now in progress. It is far more complicated than the scandal's prior phases, but for the victims it is the most important.
Sadly, it is marked by the Church's resistance to the reforms initiated in Act Two. The resistance is cloaked in various theories of the First Amendment.
The Church Scandal: Act One
Before analyzing Act Three, it's important to put it in the context of what has occurred so far.
Act One of the Catholic Church's clergy abuse scandal was dominated by the theme of shock. Enterprising Boston Globe reporters revealed an institution steeped in sin. Their articles - for which they recently won the Pulitzer Prize - revealed that priests had sexually abused children for decades.
Meanwhile, higher-ups, after learning of the abuse, merely shuffled those known pedophiles around to be put in contact with other children. Their cover-up made the Watergate players look like rank amateurs. And when the scandal was first revealed, it seemed there was not a remorseful bishop or Pope to be found.
The Church Scandal: Act Two
Then there was Act Two - in which public shock turned to frantic, highly visible action. Newspapers that would not previously have dreamed of reporting anything negative about the Catholic Church, now suddenly followed the Globe's lead, and started to offer negative reports on a daily basis. One revelation after another cast the Church in a bad light.
Survivors banded together, held prayer vigils in front of cathedrals, and established a national presence. The Voice of the Faithful, the first sign of possible schism within the Church itself, appeared. T here was a shared sense among both the faithful and the general public that this must never happen again.
Meanwhile, the Church itself was mired in internal disagreement. First, the bishops met in Dallas and declared their intent to fully cooperate with the authorities in investigating clergy abuse charges. But then Rome told them they should only do so when state law required it. As a result, the Bishops met once again in Washington, DC. to establish the new rule of "tell only when told by law to tell."
Soon the Church was not only in disarray, but also in court. Abuse victims sued the Boston archdiocese, and under the stern gaze of Judge Sweeney, the archdiocese was forced to disclose reams of records. Prosecutors who previously would not have investigated sexual abuse claims against the Church, suddenly began investigations, called grand juries, and even subpoenaed bishops.
Legislative proposals to prevent a similar scandal in the future were floated. Mandatory clergy reporting of child abuse was one. Extensions on the statutes of limitations - so that abuse victims could sue despite the fact that years had passed - were contemplated. Some states like California and Connecticut quickly amended their laws to make it easier for victims to sue.
Against this backdrop, Act Three began.
Invoking the So-called Church Autonomy Doctrine to Resist Discovery
Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney previously had pledged full cooperation with the courts on clergy abuse matters. But now he has turned instead to the so-called church autonomy doctrine, in an effort to avoid discovery in clergy abuse litigation.
I say "so-called" because the Supreme Court has never identified such a doctrine. Rather, some attorneys representing religious organizations have tried to create such a doctrine by stringing together dicta - that is, language that does not determine the outcome of a case, and thus has no legal force - from various cases. Based on this language - and not on actual outcomes in the Court's cases - proponents of the doctrine claim that it keeps the government, including the courts and the legislatures, from interfering with a church's inviolable sphere of activity. Mahoney is claiming that his oversight of priests falls within those parameters.
There was a conscious push to get the courts to accept such a doctrine a few years before the clergy abuse scandal. Then for a year or so, the effort seemed to abate. Arguing for church autonomy when autonomy had harmed so many children so seriously seemed not a very politic move. Now the effort has revived, and the Church itself has joined the bandwagon.
The alleged church autonomy doctrine is an interesting turn on the near-dead notion of the separation of church and state. True constitutional separation of church and state aims to do just that - separate the church from an intermeddling government (and the government from church control). But the Church and other proponents of the church autonomy doctrine are invoking a very different version of the separation of church and state - one that would separate the church from the rule of law, saying that it need not comply with the same laws everyone else in society obeys--regardless of the sound public policy behind the law.
In other words, the word "autonomy" is not used by proponents of the doctrine to mean "individual free will" - the right of the church and of religious persons to exercise their religion without government interference. Instead, it is used in the sense of individual shareholders' immunity from liability - the right to participate in bad acts, and not be liable. That makes sense for shareholders, and is a key component of the idea of the corporate form. It does not make sense for a church that is supposed to be a beacon of morality and ethics.
Mahoney is trying to use the so-called church autonomy doctrine in court to keep certain documents otherwise relevant to the scandal from being revealed. He also seeks to use the same doctrine to maintain Church control over the handling of priests - despite the fact that the Church's prior exercise of such control has been disastrous, with the Church knowingly permitting its pedophile priests to victimize successive children.
In sum, the so-called church autonomy doctrine is not really a legal doctrine at all, at least as far as the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court are concerned. Rather, it is an insidious theory that invites religious licentiousness rather than civic responsibility.
Resisting Statutory Reform from the Confessional
Moving east, Bishop Theodore McCarrick of Maryland has been busy resisting legislative reforms introduced by children's advocates. As I discussed in detail in a previous column, he managed to kill a bill requiring clergy to report child abuse or neglect. [See http://writ.news.findlaw.com/hamilton/20030224.html]
Others who take care of children - such as daycare providers and health care providers - routinely must report such abuse, for obvious reasons - the abuser won't report himself or herself, and other caretakers may be among the only other adults young children see. The Church, however, does not want to be treated the same way.
How did Bishop McCarrick defeat this commonsense bill? His strategy was to mobilize church members by distributing circulars at mass. The leaflets charged the legislature with destroying the confessional and fundamental religious liberty. It was an exaggeration, but it was very effective.
Meanwhile, Bishop McCarrick also managed to water down an extension of Maryland's parsimonious statute of limitations that now allows at least some past victims of abuse to sue despite the passage of years.
The Church's Success in Lobbying to Block Reform to Aid Abuse Victims
The legislative process is where the Church can be most effective. There, it can operate in the dark - behind closed doors. And there, it continues to hold extraordinary political power. Plainly, it is willing to wield that power to stop the reform process.
Religious organizations requesting favors from the legislature often can do so with no public scrutiny at all. As a rule, the press does a terrible job of covering pending legislation (unless the topic is taxes) and, to compound matters here, an equally bad job of covering political action by religious elites.
That's a shame, because the legislative process is only likely to work in the interest of the common good when the people are informed about pending bills and can then communicate their views before those bills become law. The press follows such bills, to be sure, but it hardly ever imparts its knowledge to the public. The end result is that little sunshine falls upon the process that occurs before a bill becomes law. Elites know what is happening, but those most affected by the law do not necessarily know. And the public can be left outraged by the passage of a bill they would have strenuously opposed, but is now a fait accompli.
The legislative process is best exploited by those with a unified message, an entrenched relationship with legislators, and a base that is capable of being mobilized on command. With these qualities, a minority of citizens can do very well in the legislative process, and the Catholic Church is no exception, as Bishop McCarrick has shown in Maryland.
In sharp contrast, another minority - those persons who were victimized by abuse by priests - has not yet been able to unite under a shared message, create the network of contacts necessary to change the course of legislation, or find the most effective means of mobilizing members to put pressure on the legislature at crucial moments. The result of the disparity is predictable: In legislatures, now that we have entered Act III, the Church tends to win, and victims tend to lose.
For victims, organization is the key. Even emotional and outspoken majorities - here, the millions who have been disgusted with the Church's actions and the hideous harm to so many children - are too disorganized to be a match for a presence as well-organized as that of the Church. The legislature is a battlefield and victims will have to adjust accordingly - turning their ragtag army into an effective fighting force.
The Church Has Brought in Legal Experts to Aid Its Resistance to Reform
Finally, after a brief silence, some legal experts have started to mobilize and to argue that the Church needs to be protected from reform. According to the New York Times, several such experts met at a Boston College Conference on the scandal last week. They included Dean John Garvey, Professor Douglas Laycock of the University of Texas, and the Church's legal counsel, Marc Chopko. Their discussion apparently centered on how the Church was being damaged by the scandal and the resulting reform movement.
According to the Times, some attendees criticized extending the statute of limitations, on the ground that since a victim is fully aware of the abuse while it is happening, the victim ought to be able to sue in a timely fashion. This argument, of course, ignores the lingering trauma of abuse, and persistent church efforts to silence victims and their families, which priests' position as religious leaders made all the more effective. It also ignores that these victims are children, who deserve special protection from harm.
Some attendees also criticized emerging legal reforms as being akin to what a tyrannical government would have imposed had the Church not acted. Again, however, most of the proposed laws are mere common sense - imposing on the Church the same laws others obey, or taking account of the effect of its decades-long cover-up in deterring victims from suing. Finally, at the conference, there were even intimations that some attendees believed that many alleged victims were not actually victims at all.
All of these points, of course, were wrapped in First Amendment verbiage, but they came down to hostility to much-needed reforms.
For those who had expected or hoped the Church would support the reforms that would make child sexual abuse by clergy members less likely in the future, many indications are to the contrary. There will be pitched battles in the legislature and in the courts, before any further reforms take hold.
The Church's actions suggest it will only be dragged kicking and screaming to reform it should have voluntarily embraced. Not only is its reluctance unethical, it's also unwise. As it struggles to resist reforms the public knows are crucial, it only alienates current and potential churchgoers.
In my first column on the scandal, [see http://writ.news.findlaw.com/hamilton/20010816.html] I urged the Church to focus on the children, to do whatever it could to protect them in the future, including backing legislative reform. It is tragic that the focus now is even further from the abused children--and what society and the Church permitted to happen to them--than it has been since the scandal began.
By William Lobdell
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange will slash spending about 20% beginning July 1 -- a step that will mean the elimination of jobs, program cutbacks and reduced aid for poor parishes, diocese officials said Thursday.
Church officials said the $2-million cut, coming on top of two 5% budget reductions in the last year, was prompted by the third straight year of poor investment returns coupled with rising costs such as insurance -- problems that have plagued dioceses across the nation in recent years.
The Los Angeles archdiocese also is planning spending cuts for the fiscal year that begins July 1, spokesman Tod Tamberg said. Though the amount has not been determined, plans include a hiring freeze and deep cuts in travel, conferences and discretionary spending. It's unclear if layoffs will be needed, Tamberg said.
In an effort to close a $4.3-million budget gap in September, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony eliminated seven church ministries, retrenched others and laid off at least 60 workers one week after the opening of the $189-million Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. In January, the archdiocese reported that the shortfall had tripled to $13.4 million, partly because of $7.7 million in one-time costs, much of it related to the sexual abuse scandal.
The Orange diocese also had made cuts, having recorded $28 million in red ink over the last two years and having depleted most of its reserves.
One of the chief reasons behind the church's money woes is a sagging economy that has reduced the investment income that dioceses had relied on for operating expenses. The Orange diocese, the second-largest diocese west of the Mississippi River, saw investment earnings plummet from $26 million in 1999-2000 to nothing last year.
"It's just like in regular industry," said Kenneth W. Korotky, chief financial officer for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "We're not immune."
Though attorneys fees and settlements in molestation cases have contributed to the financial crises -- Orange has paid out $3.6 million over two years -- church officials in Southern California and most other dioceses report donations from the faithful have remained steady or increased despite the scandal.
Bishop of Orange Tod D. Brown said the latest cuts will mean reductions in staffing and programs at the diocesan headquarters. He hopes to avoid layoffs through voluntary departures and transfers to parish jobs.
But effects will trickle down to the county's 56 parishes and 41 schools, many of which will be asked to do work now handled by the diocese and do without subsidies from the bishop.
In a sign of tougher financial discipline, Brown met last week with four pastors of parishes in poor communities who he said were habitual deficit spenders and told them to balance their budgets.
"It's just clear that pastors can't operate with chronic deficits, and the [diocesan headquarters] can't either," said Brown, who authorized spending $12 million on critical needs at poor parishes over the last three years. "We have to adjust our budgets."
Pastor Bill Barman of Our Lady of La Vang in Santa Ana, one of the diocese's poorest parishes, said the bishop told him to pay back $50,000 that his congregation owes the diocese by the end of June or lay off his staff of two full-time employees and one part-timer.
"I told him, 'Bishop, I will debase myself in front of every pastor in the diocese and ask them for money before I fire my employees,' " said Barman, who already has persuaded a Rancho Santa Margarita parish to take up a collection for his assistants.
The priest said his working-class immigrant congregation of about 2,000 averages $3,200 in weekly donations, about $1,000 short of the parish's expenses -- a gap he says the parish can't make up on its own.
There's no place to cut his bare-bones budget, Barman said. He or volunteers already do the gardening, maintenance and cleaning. And with the poor economy, his minimum wage congregants can't give any more.
To help churches such as Our Lady of La Vang, two weeks ago the diocese launched a program that encourages affluent congregations to collect occasional offerings for their poorer brethren. A committee of clergy and laypeople will disperse the money to needy parishes.
But for Barman, that isn't enough for poor congregations constantly facing deficits.
"If this was Mexico, I'd have no problem with it," Barman said. "But this is Orange County."
By William Lobdell and Steve Hymon
The crowds at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Palm Sunday mostly ignored him. The weather was threatening to soak him.
That didn't deter Manuel Vega from beginning what promises to be a lonely eight-day vigil and fast to protest how the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has responded to the allegations of sexual abuse by some of its priests. The 36-year-old Oxnard police officer and Navy reservist, who has said he was abused by a priest when he was a boy, wants to use the holiest week of the Christian calendar as a backdrop.
"What's one week out of my life?" Vega asked. "This is something I feel I need to do for the other victims. I don't care if it rains. It's felt like it was raining inside here ever since I was abused," he added while tapping his heart.
Vega -- along with other victims, prosecutors and plaintiffs' attorneys -- say Cardinal Roger M. Mahony's promises of openness and ministry to sexual abuse victims haven't matched his actions.
Specifically, Vega wants Mahony to reconsider his decision not to release internal files on priests accused of abuse to prosecutors and plaintiffs' attorneys. The cardinal has said those documents are constitutionally protected from public disclosure because they involve confidential communications between priests and their superiors.
Thousands of people attended services at the downtown cathedral, but most paid little heed to Vega and the four other protesters, including his parents, who joined him.. For most of the day, they held a giant banner that read: "Innocence is a child's right. Sexual abuse is not!"
One church usher dashed up to Vega to scold him for daring to protest the church on Palm Sunday. Another man, who gave his name only as Ralph, screamed, "How dare you mock the house of God!"
But there were also a few people who walked by and simply said, "Thank you." Robert Srampical, 59, of South Pasadena approached Vega to ask a few questions. "If there is a reason for them to be here doing this, it should be brought to notice," Srampical said. "It shouldn't be hidden."
Word of Vega's vigil has also spread among the local network of sexual abuse victims, many of whom plan to join him for parts of the week. State Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana) said he will stand in solidarity with Vega on Tuesday.
Church officials asked Vega not to protest on the cathedral plaza, but invited him to use the cafeteria and restrooms at the church, said Tod Tamberg, the archdiocese's spokesman.
Vega said he was grateful for the offer, but plans to spend the next week sitting or standing on the sidewalk outside the entrance to the plaza on Temple Street. He said he brought a rain suit, as well as some bread in case he begins feeling ill. He's worried less about the weather and more about the cathedral's bells that he fears may ring loudly throughout the night.
Vega alleged in May in a class-action lawsuit against the archdiocese that he and nine others were sexually abused by Father Fidencio Silva at an Oxnard parish from 1979 to 1986. Silva is a priest from the Missionary of the Holy Spirit order, and was last seen in Mexico in 2002. The priest was charged last month by Ventura County authorities with 25 felony counts of child molestation.
Since filing the suit, Vega has become one of California's most effective victims' rights advocates, largely because of his background.
Married and the father of two, Vega served in the Marine Corps for 8 1/2 years and won the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for Heroism, the service's highest peacetime award. He was also named police officer of the year in Oxnard in 2000.
His lobbying efforts helped win the unanimous passage of two laws that ease statute of limitations problems for victims of sexual abuse.
Vega said one key day of his vigil will be today, when priests from the archdiocese's 290 parishes come to the cathedral to have Mahony bless oils that will be used for church ceremonies in the next year.
"I would love the priests to join me," he said. "This is an opportunity to start winning back the church. I was born a Catholic, I'll die a Catholic and I'm not interested in switching religions."
LOS ANGELES -- A man who claims he was molested by a former Catholic priest as an altar boy testified in a Los Angeles court Monday that the cleric sent him intimate notes.
Matthew Severson, 35, claims former priest Michael Stephen Baker molested him for 10 years during the 1970s and 1980s.
Baker, 55, has pleaded not guilty to 29 counts.
At Monday's preliminary hearing, Severson read notes that he said were written by Baker, who apologized for his "immature emotions and psychosexual-screwed-up-ness." A note also said "I've learned to love you more than I could ever imagine."
Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles transferred Baker to several parishes after the priest told him in 1986 that he had molested young boys. Mahony did not notify law enforcement authorities or inform parishioners about the alleged abuses. Baker was later removed from the priesthood.
By William Lobdell
Using steady tones and specific detail, Matthew Severson testified Monday that former priest Michael Stephen Baker molested him for 10 years during the 1970s and 1980s, reading from intimate notes that he said were written by the then-cleric to back up his claims.
On the first day of Baker's preliminary hearing in Downey on felony sexual assault charges, Severson, 35, also said that during the sex acts, the priest would "compare me to Jesus or say I'm the Son of God."
Monday's hearing in front of Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Burt Barnett was the first time an alleged victim has testified in Los Angeles County criminal court since the church's sexual scandal broke last year. Baker was arrested in September on 29 molestation charges.
Baker's criminal case also represents one of Cardinal Roger M. Mahony's thorniest problems because both acknowledged that the priest told the prelate in 1986 that he had abused two or three boys, though Baker remained in the ministry until 2000.
Mahony transferred Baker to nine parishes after learning about the priest's history of sex abuse and later approved a secret $1.3-million settlement to two men. The victims' attorney, Lynne M. Cadigan of Tucson, said the archdiocese insisted on a strict confidentiality clause.
Mahony arranged for Baker to retire from the priesthood in late 2000 without notifying law enforcement authorities or informing parishioners about the alleged abuses. Baker was then removed from the priesthood.
Referring to him at times as Father Mike, Severson described for more than 90 minutes Monday an escalating series of sexual assaults that took place in the rectory of two parishes and in a Palm Desert condominium, beginning when he was 7 or 8. Baker gazed at the floor during much of the testimony.
With about 15 family members, friends and former members of Severson's parish in the court for support, Severson also read from notes that he said Baker sent to him.
In one, Baker apologized to Severson for his "immature emotions and psychosexual-screwed-up-ness [that] slashed and burned through those years of your life seeking self-satisfaction in the name of love." In another Severson read, Baker wrote: "I've learned to love you more than I could ever imagine... I'd do anything for you, even die, if you needed me." Still another said, "I love you... I'm sure we'll be famous some day."
Severson said the molestation began when he served as an altar boy for daily morning Mass at St. Paul of the Cross in La Mirada and continued when his family changed parishes to follow Baker's transfer to St. Hillary in Pico Rivera.
Severson also recounted how he would spend overnights in the rectory with Baker, who would get up early the next morning to hear confessions or conduct Mass. Before he left, Severson said, the priest would leave $20 or $40 on a pillow or nightstand.
Severson testified that Baker bought him other gifts and later, after the molestation ended, occasionally sent him cash and checks in $100 increments.
The preliminary hearing is expected to take at least one more day.
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