Mahony Criticized by National Review Panel
The board of Catholic laypeople singles him out, along with three others, decrying his resistance to grand jury requests for documents

By William Lobdell and Larry B. Stammer
LA Times
February 28, 2004,1,3855193.story?coll=la-home-headlines

[See below for quotes from the report, with links to those passages in the text of the report.]

WASHINGTON — A national independent panel investigating sexual abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic Church criticized Los Angeles' Cardinal Roger M. Mahony on Friday for refusing to turn over documents to a grand jury probe.

The review board of prominent Catholic laypeople chastised Mahony, who has portrayed himself as a reformer during the national scandal, for arguing that the priests' personnel files and other documents must remain private and out of the hands of Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley.

"This argument did little to enhance the reputation of the church in the United States for transparency and cooperation," the report said, calling the Archdiocese of Los Angeles "troubled."

The board was scathing in its analysis of how American bishops in general had handled the sexual abuse of as many as 10,667 children over five decades.

"The inaction of those bishops who failed to protect their people from predators was … grievously sinful," the report states. "Somehow, the 'smoke of Satan' was allowed to enter the church, and as a result the church itself has been deeply wounded."

The report also raised concerns about the role of homosexuality and celibacy in the scandal.

But the panel, which included Washington, D.C., attorney Robert S. Bennett and former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta, criticized by name only four of the 195 bishops who run U.S. dioceses.

In addition to Mahony, those included former Boston Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who resigned as archbishop after documents showed he had transferred abusive priests from parish to parish. The report also cites Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York for failing in his former post as bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., to remove a priest with a developing pattern of accusations.

And it criticizes Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien of Phoenix for transferring abusive priests. O'Brien resigned as head of the Phoenix archdiocese in June. He was convicted earlier this month of leaving the scene of an accident in which he killed a jaywalker.

Members of the review committee said bishops who had knowingly left child molesters in ministry should resign, but didn't single out any prelates for that. Board members said their job wasn't to investigate individual abuse cases or bishops.

Regarding Los Angeles' prelate, the study stated, "After allegations were made that Cardinal Mahony had allowed numerous predator priests to remain in the ministry, the archdiocese engaged in a very public spat with law enforcement agencies who questioned his level of cooperation in the criminal investigation. The archdiocese resisted grand jury subpoenas … by arguing that communications between priests and bishops were privileged." The report said such a position did not help the reform effort.

A spokesman for Mahony said that Bennett didn't understand the facts and that the cardinal had used proper legal channels to protect sacred confidences between a bishop and his priests and to uphold a state constitutional right to privacy.

While fighting to keep the 2,000 pages of documents out of the hands of law enforcement, Mahony turned them over to a judge to decide whether any should be released. The papers are still in the judge's custody, awaiting his ruling.

Archdiocesan spokesman Tod Tamberg took a swipe at Cooley on Friday, which was Mahony's 68th birthday. "The dispute has become public because the district attorney, who is seeking reelection in a week, apparently believes that, if he made vigorous enough accusations in the press, the church would succumb to the media pressure and waive its objections," Tamberg said. "His use of the press in this manner is regrettable."

Cooley, in a statement, called on Mahony to "heed the admonitions of the National Review Board and immediately instruct his lawyers to make available all sought evidence." The cardinal's position that the documents are protected "is not well founded in law," the D.A. said.

Later, in an interview, Cooley said his office wanted to know if those records contained evidence or leads to other victims. "In the court of public opinion," Cooley said of Mahony, the report "certainly puts the moral burden on him as the leader of the archdiocese to move ahead."

The cardinal has aggressively portrayed his archdiocese as being in the forefront of reform since the scandal broke. And Friday's report did hold up the archdiocese as a national model for involving laity in reviewing possible abuse cases.

In 2002 when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met in Dallas to approve its landmark "zero tolerance" charter to protect children and youth, Mahony was among the most vocal bishops to rise in support. He had earlier said his own zero-tolerance policy had been in effect for a decade. But it wasn't until February 2002 that Mahony applied the policy to old allegations against eight priests and removed them from ministry.

With advice from Sitrick & Co. — a public relations firm retained in 2002 — and attorneys, Mahony has tried to rebuild credibility for himself and the local church, while also advancing legal arguments to limit the disclosure of potentially damaging records.

Last week, in advance of the national statistical study also released Friday, Mahony made public figures showing that 244 priests in the Los Angeles Archdiocese had been accused of molesting 656 victims since 1931.

He declined, however, to disclose the names of 33 of those clerics, including six still in active ministry. He said church officials either had deemed those allegations unreliable or lacked sufficient information to make that determination.

Mahony had also allowed at least 10 priests with civil cases filed against them in 2003 to stay in active ministry, among them Msgr. Richard Loomis, former vicar of the clergy. Loomis' parish was told that he had the cardinal's "complete confidence."

Several days later, another Loomis accuser came forward and the priest was put on paid leave. Mahony said that action proved the system was working, but victims said the reversal betrayed a weakness in how the church dealt with allegations.

Mary Grant, Southwestern regional director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, noted the national report's criticism of Mahony. "Cardinal Mahony is a glaring example that what the church has promised and what they do are two different things," she said, adding that the prelate's failure to cooperate with prosecutors was "far from transparency and disclosure."

According to a related survey commissioned by the bishops and released Friday, 4,392 priests were accused from 1950 to 2002 of molesting 10,667 children. The survey, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, found that 81% of the molestation cases involved boys, whose average age was 12.

The number of alleged perpetrators represents about 4% of the priesthood over the five-decade period — a figure much higher than the church had admitted in the past, but lower than estimates by some victims' advocates.

Sexual abuse by priests has also cost the church more than $572 million in settlements, treatment costs and attorney fees, the survey found.

That number doesn't include settlements in 2003, such as the $85 million paid to victims in Boston. In addition, 14% of the dioceses declined to provide the financial information.

The survey's findings, which used numbers provided by the bishops, also showed that only 14% of the allegations had been investigated by police and that 2% of the 4,392 accused priests had received prison sentences.

The statistical study on sexual abuse in the church is the first publicly released survey of its kind by any national organization that deals with children.

The complementary reports were part of a series of reforms adopted in 2002 by the U.S. bishops conference. About 700 of the nation's 46,000 priests have been removed from ministry in the last two years.

The bishops hoped that the reports' release would mark a turning point in the scandal.

"The terrible history recorded here today is history," Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the conference, told a news conference Friday in Washington.

The John Jay researchers' statistics show alleged sex abuse by clergy peaking in the 1970s and '80s, with 10% of the priests graduating from seminaries in 1970 accused of molestation.

Thomas G. Plante, a Santa Clara University expert on sexual abuse, said in an interview that a variety of factors had caused the numbers at that time to rise, including poor screening and training at seminaries, the sexual revolution and the Second Vatican Council reforms.

Many boundaries "were being changed and challenged," Plante said.

Bishops point to reforms made in the mid-1980s, a better screening of priestly candidates and a better awareness of the problem as reasons for the subsequent drop-off.

"At this present moment, there is evidence of far fewer instances of abuse in the recent past," Gregory said. Though more victims may still come forward, "it is also true that these years saw immediate actions on allegations, more sophisticated and effective treatment measures and the removal from ministry of men who were offenders."

But victims' advocates say the decline is more likely to have occurred because it often takes molestation survivors decades to deal with the abuse.

"At best, the bishops are being very, very naive," said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network. "At worst, it's very disingenuous. The priests ordained in the 1970s didn't come from Mars. They always came from the same system."

At the Washington news conference, both review board members and bishops avoided directly answering questions about whether homosexuals who vowed celibacy should be allowed into the priesthood, only saying that tougher scrutiny was indicated by the survey results.

But the report did not seek to blame gay priests for the crisis. "There are many chaste and holy homosexual priests who are faithful to their vows of celibacy," it said. "However, we must call attention to the homosexual behavior that characterized the vast majority of the cases of abuse observed in recent decades."

The review board and bishops were quick to praise the vast majority of priests, who are not part of the scandal but have been tainted by it anyway.

Jason Berry, a journalist and author who has covered sexual abuse among Catholic clergy since the 1980s, gave the bishops' report a mixed review.

"It's a very important report, because it puts the church on record," he said. "But the bishops dodged a bullet. There needs to be some kind of mechanism in place to remove a bishop when he betrays the people's trust."


Lobdell reported from Washington and Stammer from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Jean Guccione contributed to this report.


The bishops' report

Here are excerpts from the U.S. Catholic Bishops' National Review Board report on sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.

"Too many bishops … failed to respond … forthrightly and firmly. Their responses were characterized by moral laxity, excessive leniency, insensitivity, secrecy and neglect." [See the context of this quote in the report.]

"Too many church leaders did not deal with victims in a pastoral fashion…. Victims were marginalized and, in effect, re-victimized." [See the context of this quote in the report.]

"The Review Board believes … that effective measures have been taken to ensure the safety of minors in the church today." [See the context of this quote in the report.]

"There are many chaste and holy homosexual priests who are faithful to their vows of celibacy…. [But] that 81% of the reported victims … were boys shows that the crisis was characterized by homosexual behavior." [See the context of this quote in the report.]

"A homoerotic culture took root at some seminaries." [See the context of this quote in the report.]

"To allow a predator priest to remain in ministry out of fear of litigation is simply immoral." [See the context of this quote in the report.]

"The apparent significant increase in sexual abuse … cannot be viewed without acknowledging significant changes in sexual behavior in the culture at large during [the 1960s and '70s]." [See the context.]

Source: National Review Board


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