Priest Accused of Molesting 4 Retires Early
Religion: Cardinal Mahony Says the Allegations Were Made Long before His 'Zero Tolerance' Policy Took Effect, and He Expresses Sympathy for the Cleric

By Richard Winton and Beth Shuster
Los Angeles Times
April 29, 2002

A 69-year-old Catholic priest assigned to the new cathedral in downtown Los Angeles has been reported to police and forced to retire by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony because of allegations that the priest sexually abused four boys in the 1960s and 1970s.

The retirement earlier this year of the Rev. Carl Sutphin came more than a decade after a man said he notified officials of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles that Sutphin had molested him and his brother as children.

The man, now 46, said he told church officials in 1989 that he and one of his brothers were molested by Sutphin in the 1960s when the priest worked at Maywood's St. Rosa of Lima church. Two years later, he said, he wrote a letter to Cardinal Mahony making the same allegations. "They promised me he'd retire and not be allowed to wear a collar," the man said. The Times has a policy of not identifying alleged sex crime victims unless they step forward publicly.

Separately, in 1994, a Ventura County Catholic school teacher reported to the archdiocese that her sons were molested on a 1976 fishing trip by Sutphin, then an Oxnard priest, said Jeffrey R. Anderson, the family's attorney.

"Cardinal Mahony talks about zero tolerance for priests who abuse now. Well, where was zero tolerance when this mother went to the church?" said Anderson, who also represents the brothers, who live in Arizona and Texas. "For years he did nothing."

Mahony said the allegations against Sutphin were made long before implementation of his zero tolerance policy. The policy, adopted last year, requires the removal of any priest involved in a single instance of sexual abuse.

Sutphin was one of seven priests who were forced to leave the archdiocese this year because of allegations of sex abuse that occurred prior to 1997, Mahony said. Sutphin's name was given to the Los Angeles Police Department's Sexually Exploited Child Unit, an archdiocese attorney said in a letter last week to the alleged victims' lawyer.

Mahony said he required Sutphin to retire several months before his planned July retirement after reviewing sex abuse cases reported to the L.A. archdiocese. Sutphin, who Mahony said is living outside of Los Angeles, could not be reached for comment.

"I felt badly for all of [the priests forced to retire early], but particularly for him because if this had been a few months from now, he would have been gone anyway," Mahony said.

But Mahony said Sutphin "understood what he had to do for the good of the church."

The cardinal said he had sent Sutphin for psychological treatment years ago, after learning of abuse allegations.

"It was one of those cases where I felt he had followed the treatment program successfully, honestly, and was rehabilitated to the extent anyone can be rehabilitated," Mahony said in an interview.

Mahony transferred him to work in a Catholic retirement home as chaplain before moving him to St. Vibiana's Cathedral to live and work.

"He was probably in the safest supervised situation," said Mahony, who lived with Sutphin at St. Vibiana's before moving into the new cathedral. "In some ways you couldn't have a safer place."

Church records show Sutphin was assigned to the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels last March as associate pastor.

Mahony said Sutphin was bilingual, personable and "very good" with the homeless, who often came to St. Vibiana's. Sutphin also celebrated Mass at County Jail.

Anderson, the attorney, said Mahony's handling of Sutphin is similar to a case in the Stockton diocese when Mahony was in charge there. Anderson in 1998 won a $30-million jury verdict for two brothers molested by a priest, an amount later negotiated to $7 million.

During the trial, records were produced that showed the priest, Oliver O'Grady, was accused of molestation and then moved to another parish, where he continued to molest.

Mahony was the bishop who moved O'Grady. The cardinal testified in the civil trial that he was unaware of certain allegations against the priest when he transferred him.

Anderson said Sutphin's alleged victims stepped forward because they feared that Sutphin, like O'Grady, would target others.

The 46-year-old Arizona man said he was molested by Sutphin numerous times from 1964 through 1970. "The first time we were on vacation with him," he said. "I think it was June Lake near Mammoth." Sometimes, he said, it would be at Sutphin's parents' home in the Santa Barbara area.

The man's younger brother, 44, said he was molested in 1968 and 1969 by the priest. "I couldn't believe when I saw him in a photo with a collar still on," said the man, who lives near Houston. "It was mother's 80th birthday and someone had a recent picture of him."

Another brother, now a Los Angeles County sheriff's sergeant, said he recalled his brother revealing the molestation to the family in the late 1980s, and later writing to archdiocese officials. "The diocese promised he wouldn't wear a collar again," said the sergeant. He added that Sutphin had helped preside at his 1984 wedding.

Anderson said he sent a letter to Mahony on April 11, detailing the Ventura County allegations and asking that other accusations of sexual misconduct against Sutphin be immediately given to police. He also demanded Mahony answer a personal letter from the mother of the Ventura County brothers.

John McNicholas, an archdiocese attorney, replied in an April 22 letter that he advised Mahony not to write her.

In the letter, the mother, who said she spent 20 years teaching religion in Catholic high schools, said she has been waiting years for a "suitable response" from church officials.

She wrote that in January 1994 one of her sons alleged he had been sexually abused by Sutphin. Soon she learned that both of her sons recalled being molested in 1976 when they spent the night with him before a fishing trip. One boy, she alleged, was taken into the priest's room--and then the other. "The one who went first till this day feels he let his brother down for not telling him to stay put," she wrote.

She said the next morning in 1994 she called Msgr. Terrance Fleming to report the alleged abuse. Msgr. Timothy J. Dyer, who then oversaw priests, called her back and took names. He called her sons and invited them to Los Angeles. "Needless to say, they never made the trip," she wrote.

Dyer declined to comment.

At Thanksgiving that year, Sutphin "arrived at our door like nothing had ever happened," she wrote. Her husband escorted him to his car. The next day, she said, she reported his visit to church officials.

"I have heard the cardinal saying that he believes the church has responded appropriately. I have to disagree," she wrote. "Any teacher with those accusations made against them would have the police at their doorsteps.... Father Carl took away the most precious gift we had. The innocence of our children."

The mother said she wonders why zero tolerance for sexual abuse by priests was not imposed long ago. "I'd like to ask Cardinal Mahony, does he know what this priest took away from us?" she said in an interview.

Jail is the place for such priests, she said. "If I committed this crime that's where I'd be."

One of her sons said he never told a soul until 1994. "I am going to pursue it now," he said. "Changes have got to be made. There might be another kid like me out there."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.