Mahony's Accuser Describes History of Mental Problems
Scandal: Upset about cuts in disability payments, the woman says she needs compensation

By Mark Arax
Los Angeles Times
April 7, 2002

Fresno - A Fresno woman with a history of mental problems said Saturday that her claim that Cardinal Roger M. Mahony sexually abused her 32 years ago at a local Catholic high school was short on details and sounded far-fetched. But she insisted that it was true.

The 51-year-old woman said she was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the early 1970s, and that she was motivated to press forward with her allegations, in part, because the state is cutting her disability payments and she needs a cash settlement from the church.

She also said that nearly everyone she has encountered in her life--from her parents and other family members to her high school classmates to her former co-workers--have either molested, abused or emotionally mistreated her.

She said she never knew Mahony and only had one fleeting contact with him in 1970--outside the band room during classes at San Joaquin Memorial High.

"I know it doesn't make sense," she said in an interview Saturday. Although the woman said her name could be published, The Times generally does not use the names of those who say they have been sexually abused. "I can't even tell you when it happened. But I passed out one day near the band room, and when I woke up my pants were off and then I saw Mahony's face. And then I passed out again."

When pressed for more details, she stood in the doorway of her apartment under a large wall rug depicting Jesus surrounded by angels and said, "I didn't imagine it. It really happened."

Mahony, who was then a priest in Fresno and later became an auxiliary bishop, categorically denied in a statement Friday "ever having molested anyone."

E-mails from Mahony and his staff that were obtained last week by the media indicate that the Fresno diocese had tape-recorded a two-hour interview with the woman.

"Good work!" Mahony e-mailed his attorneys and media relations director on March 28. "It will be key to get the [woman's] transcript into the hands of both the Fresno PD and the LAPD. They should then interview her themselves."

Fresno police said Saturday they were looking into the allegations, but could provide few details about the investigation or the woman's background.

"Regardless of how valid or invalid her allegations are, we have to take them seriously," said Lt. Mike Guthrie. "It's unfortunate that allegations of this nature put people's reputations on the line, and that the answers never come quickly. But we're talking about something that's 32 years old."

The woman said she worked for seven years at a Carl's Jr. in downtown Fresno and filed one complaint involving alleged verbal abuses at work. She said the complaint was never investigated by police.

One of her former co-workers at Carl's Jr. said the woman was known for telling stories of abuse at the hands of co-workers and customers.

"I wouldn't take her word . . .," said Debra Richardson, a shift manager. "From the time she started here, she has made statements that all sorts of people were harassing her."

But a manager at the apartment complex where the woman lives by herself said she was an ideal tenant who distributed candy and cards at Christmastime.

"She has never been a problem, and the one time she complained about a tenant with an unleashed dog, it was a legitimate complaint," said Pamela Flores, a manager of the 220-unit apartment complex behind gates in downtown Fresno.

Efforts to reach the woman's family were unsuccessful. She said she does not have an attorney.

She said that her mental problems, despite taking the drug Risperdal for schizophrenia, have grown worse in recent weeks as unknown people have knocked on her apartment window and threatened her. (Schizophrenia is a mental illness in which the victim is unable to tell what is real from what is imaginary and experiences voices and visions that sound and look authentic.)

The woman said she was doubtful of her real age because she believes her birth certificate was doctored by her parents and that they most likely adopted her.

"I've been molested by a lot of people, and then I slipped on some ice and lost my job at Carl's Jr. I was the dining hostess and they were harassing me there too," she said. "Even today, I've got no friends."

The woman said her parents, migrants who left their native Oklahoma and Louisiana years ago to come to the San Joaquin Valley, are both deceased and that she has lost contact with her eight brothers and sisters. She said she had a son who was taken from her years ago by her mother.

Her apartment is near St. John's Church, where she made her allegations against Mahony two weeks ago. She said a priest at the church listened to her story and then reported it to Fresno police.

"I kept it to myself for a long time, and then I saw people on the news who said, 'If something like this happened to you, come forward,' " she said.

"Then I got a letter from the state that they're going to cut my disability to $235 a month. I won't be able to pay my rent. . . . I need compensation."

The allegations against Mahony, which surfaced Friday night, quickly made headlines across the country in the midst of what has become a nationwide child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

The scandal erupted in January in Boston, when it was reported that a priest who had allegedly molested more than 130 boys had been transferred by superiors from parish to parish. Earlier this year, Mahony removed eight archdiocese priests involved in past sexual abuse cases and has refused to release their names.

The e-mails from Mahony and his staff indicate that he was confidant the accusation against him would not stand up under scrutiny.

He began discussing a strategy for dealing with police and the media from the first day he learned of the accusation on March 22, the e-mails show.

He received a telephone call March 22 from Fresno Bishop John Steinbock, who told the cardinal that a woman had accused him of molestation. That same day, Mahony reported the allegation to the Los Angeles Police Department.

"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," Mahony e-mailed on March 28.

A day earlier, Mahony sent an e-mail outlining his plans for dealing with the media once the woman's accusation became public.

"I am sending along an updated possible press release/statement," he wrote Tod Tamberg, his media relations director. "I agree fully with you: Should we get any inquiries from the media about the Fresno matter, I need to hold a press conf. The press conf would do two things: 1. I would read the statement about Fresno, and respond to questions. Hopefully, we would have more info about what the Fresno PD is doing, as well as a transcript of the [Fresno diocese's] interview [with the woman] to hand out."

When the accusation became public Friday, Mahony issued only a written statement denying the allegation. No transcripts were given to the media.


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