LA Cardinal Urged Priest to Stay in Mexico or Face Inquiry

By Robert Jablon
Associated Press, carried in Monterey Herald
October 24, 2006

Los Angeles - Cardinal Roger Mahony more than two decades ago warned a priest suspected of abusing children not to return to California or face a possible investigation, referring to the man as a "psychopath," according to letters released Tuesday by a victims' group.

The letters were filed in court as part of a recently settled lawsuit, in which Mahony - head of the nation's largest archdiocese - gave a deposition detailing actions to remove the priest from duties at a California diocese, said Mary Grant, spokeswoman for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.

"What we think Cardinal Mahony should have done is said: 'Bring that priest back here right now. He needs to be arrested,'" Grant said at a downtown news conference. "That's what somebody who cares about children does."

Mahony's conduct in handling clergy abuse allegations has been under fire from SNAP for several years.

Mahony, who oversees the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese, was out of town Tuesday and could not be reached for comment, but his spokesman Tod Tamberg said the cardinal "acted decisively and immediately" when informed of allegations against the Rev. Antonio Munoz, a Mexican priest visiting the Diocese of Stockton while Mahony was bishop there.

In a letter dated Sept. 18, 1981, Mahony wrote to Munoz at the Tijuana diocese informing the priest of his dismissal.

"For the spiritual and pastoral good of the people of the Dioceses of Stockton, please remain over there in Mexico," the letter said in Spanish. "If you, sir, would like to visit here for whatever reason, then I would have to inform police and immigration officials."

The letter ends with Mahony urging the priest to obtain "the professional and spiritual help you need."

Mahony also wrote a second letter dated the same day to Msgr. Juan Jesus Pasadas Ocampo of the Tijuana diocese about Munoz.

"It seems best to us that he doesn't return here ever, because there are many parents disposed to inform police about his actions," the letter said in Spanish. "I hope that Father Munoz is not able to serve in a parish where there is the possibility to find more youngsters. He is truly (a) psychopath, and in reality he needs a lot of professional help."

Munoz could not be located for comment.

In his 2004 deposition, Mahony defended his handling of the Munoz case and said he dismissed the priest the same day that several alleged victims and their parents told the diocese that Munoz had molested teenagers during trips to Mexico.

"Because Munoz was at the time on vacation in Mexico, Bishop Mahony wrote to Munoz's bishop in Mexico, who under church law was in charge of the priest, advising him of what had happened and recommending that Munoz not be allowed to be around children and that he receive treatment," said Tamberg, the spokesman for Mahony. "It's important to remember that the alleged crime had occurred in Mexico, and that's where any prosecution would take place."

The Los Angeles archdiocese faces more than 500 lawsuits from people who allege they were abused by about 200 priests and lay people dating as far back as the 1930s. Settlement talks have been under way in those cases since 2002.

Sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests has cost the U.S. church at least $1.5 billion since 1950. Several American dioceses have reached multimillion-dollar settlements with victims in the last few years, as bishops have tried to resolve the crisis and move on.


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