Over the last 10 years or so, a lot of civil cases against Catholic dioceses have been launched and played out in courts around the country. A side-effect of these has been the sporadic release of administrative documents showing the Church’s complicity (usually after-the-fact) in child abuse committed by its clergy. This happened in San Diego a couple of years ago. A little to the north, as the Associated Press reports, the archdiocese of Los Angeles recently loosed its own trove of documents that reveal its own guilt (WebCite cached article):
Prosecutors who have been stymied for years in their attempts to build a criminal conspiracy case against retired Los Angeles Archdiocese Cardinal Roger Mahony and other church leaders said Tuesday they will review newly released internal priest files for additional evidence. …
Thousands of pages from the internal disciplinary files of 14 priests made public Monday show Mahony and other top aides maneuvered behind the scenes to shield molester priests, provide damage control for the church and keep parishioners in the dark.
Some of the documents provide the strongest evidence to date that Mahony and a top aide worked to protect a priest who acknowledged in therapy to raping an 11-year-old boy and abusing up to 17 children, many of them the children of illegal immigrants.
These documents finally came to light — and they will be followed by more — due to a settlement over 5 years ago, whose terms the archdiocese only just now decided to obey:
The files of dozens more accused priests are expected to be released in the coming weeks as part of a 2007 settlement agreement with more than 500 alleged victims. A judge recently ruled that the church must turn the files over to attorneys for those people with the names and titles of members of the church hierarchy blacked out after The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times intervened.
The documents released Monday and the additional 30,000 pages expected soon raise the possibility of renewed criminal scrutiny for Mahony and other members of the archdiocese hierarchy. Mahony retired in 2011.
Despite the fact that these documents might reveal criminality, and even in spite of their own stated interest in them, prosecutors are still hedging, and aren’t promising much:
In a 2010 memo, a lead prosecutor in that eight-year investigation [launched in 2002] said the documents he had showed “the possibility of criminal culpability” by members of the archdiocese leadership, but a criminal conspiracy case was “more and more remote” because of the passage of time.
Deputy District Attorney William Hodgman said investigators had insufficient evidence to fill in a timeline stretching over 20 years and were, even then, hampered by the statute of limitations. He did not return a call or email seeking comment Tuesday.
It looks as though California prosecutors’ longstanding habit of giving the Church a “pass” is continuing; they have their rationale for not going after the archdiocese, and I expect they’ll stick with it. As usual.
One final note: Cardinal Mahony claims he’d been ignorant of the fact that child abuse is bad:
Mahony was out of town but issued a statement Monday apologizing for his mistakes and saying he had been “naive” about the lasting impacts of abuse.
Of course, his claim of ignorance is no excuse. Child abuse has been illegal — in California and lots of places — for a very long time. Mahony and his archdiocese was subject to a mandatory-reporting law beginning in 1997. Child abuse was wrong in the 1980s. It was wrong in the 1990s. And it’s wrong now. So he can’t credibly and rationally say he had no idea that child abuse wasn’t something he ought to try to prevent. Of course he knew it.
Note this is not the first time we’ve heard this sort of claim from a Catholic hierarch, in spite of how inexcusable it is. Former Milwaukee archbishop Rembert Weakland made a similar admission, a few years ago. Other hierarchs have expressed a flippant, dismissive attitude toward abuse allegations. Really, this is an old story. The hierarchs’ lack of anything remotely resembling morality has been on the record for many years. Yet, millions of Americans still cling to the Roman Catholic Church and continue to do the hierarchs’ bidding. Sad, really.
Photo credit: Reed Saxon / AP photo.Tags: archdiocese of los angeles, cardinal roger mahony, catholic church, catholic clerical abuse scandal, catholic clerical child abuse, child abuse, clerical child abuse scandal, los angeles, los angeles CA, priestly pedophilia, priestly pedophilia scandal, roger mahony, roman catholic, roman catholic church