Priest Scandal Echoes Family's Decade of Pain
Crime: Parents Learned That a Trusted Cleric Had Molested Four of Their Sons. They Have Pursued Changes in Church Policies on Sex Abuse

By Beth Shuster
Los Angeles Times
June 17, 2002

Most of the nation has been shocked by this year's revelations of priest sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. Bill and Judy weren't.

The east San Fernando Valley couple has lived with the consequences of Father Richard Allen Henry's betrayal for more than a decade. He was a close family friend who earned the trust of their sons. Then he molested four of them one by one. The parents responded by becoming more active in their church and trying to keep Henry from going to prison.

The family's experience is a textbook case in the pain errant priests and an overly protective church have caused. Some of this was on display in Dallas last week when America's Catholic bishops, debating a new child-abuse policy, were addressed by victims whose hurt and confusion echoed Bill's and Judy's.

The case of Father Richard Allen Henry resonates because it involved individuals who are still enmeshed in the abuse crisis, which has put more than 50 current and former Los Angeles archdiocese priests under suspicion.

The key figures are:

* Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and his top representatives, who went to great lengths to protect Father Henry. The archdiocese paid his $30,000 bail and therapy bills and kept his identity secret by never announcing his departure from the parish. The archdiocese also made little effort to remove Henry from the priesthood.

* Bill and Judy, who went on to become founding members of Mahony's Sexual Abuse Misconduct Board, which reviews cases involving clergy abuse. The parents, who are still members of the board, say that their activism was fueled by a desire to ensure that no more children would be abused by priests. Their last names are being withheld under a Times policy of protecting the identities of victims of sexual abuse.

* Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, then a supervising prosecutor, who attended Henry's court hearings and successfully pushed for a maximum eight-year prison sentence. Today Cooley decides whether to file charges on complaints of clergy abuse.

* Henry's lawyer, Donald Steier, who represents most of the former and current priests who are under investigation.

Henry, who lives in Maryland, is among the few priests in the three-county Los Angeles archdiocese to be convicted of child molestation. (The archdiocese has identified only one other convicted priest: a man who was placed on 10 years probation and committed to a state mental hospital for two years in 1983.)

Bill and Judy's ordeal began on a late summer evening in 1991 when the police arrived at their door in Sunland. The big family--including four daughters, four adopted children and three foster children--were outside taking wedding photos of one daughter and her husband.

The police told them the priest had been molesting several of their children.

"We didn't believe it," Bill said.


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