Every time we learn something new about the molestation scandal in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, it becomes more obvious why Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and his minions have fought so tenaciously to keep things under wraps.
Not to protect the privacy of victims or the rights of suspected abusers, as the church hierarchy has contended. But to hide the unconscionable deception by church leaders, who repeatedly did more to protect their own image than to help the victims of horrific crimes.
This week's revelations of deliberate efforts by Mahony and others to shield abusers from law enforcement authorities are deplorable yet entirely unsurprising. It all fits the M.O. that's was in place at least through the 1980s.
Conceal the church's dirty secrets at all costs. Don't notify the police when abuse is reported. Keep prosecutors at bay with legal challenges. Avoid reforms until public pressure mounts. And, when all else fails, have Mahony issue a carefully scripted "apology."
His latest was perhaps his most odious and offensive, with Mahony saying he didn't fully appreciate the hell victims had been put through until many years later.
You need years of reflection to realize that the rape, abuse, betrayal and psychological exploitation of children by their spiritual leaders is both devastating and unconscionable?
Now that he's seen the light, the cardinal prays that "God's grace will flood the heart and soul of each victim."
"It's worthless," retired Oxnard police officer Manuel Vega, a molestation victim, said of the Mahony apology. Vega spoke at a news conference Tuesday outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown L.A.
"A lot of people say they're sorry when they're caught," said Jim Robertson, another molestation victim. "And he's been caught. By his own writing."
Robertson was referring to a newly released document — which Mahony's lawyers fought to withhold. In it, the then-archbishop signed off on a proposal by Msgr. Thomas J. Curry, his chief on sex abuse cases, in the case of Father Michael Baker, who had admitted his molestation of boys to Mahony.
"I see a difficulty here," wrote Curry in a memo from around the time Baker was sent for treatment in 1986, "in that if he were to mention his problem with child abuse it would put the therapist in the position of having to report him … he cannot mention his past problem."
"Sounds good — please proceed!!" Mahony responded.
Excellent strategy, Cardinal!!
Curry and Mahony also corresponded about Father Michael Wempe, another admitted molester. Curry suggested they shuffle him to an out-of-state diocese, or get him "a lawyer who is also a psychiatrist," so that any files on their conversations would be "under the protection of privilege."
Father Peter Garcia, who admitted preying on undocumented children in Spanish-speaking communities, was sent not to the police, but to a New Mexico treatment facility. Mahony sent a letter to the center's director, saying he didn't want Garcia back in Los Angeles.
"I believe that if Monsignor Garcia were to reappear here within the archdiocese we might very well have some type of legal action filed in both the criminal and civil sectors," Mahony wrote.
Curry was equally concerned, writing to Mahony to say that as many as 20 adolescents or young adults Garcia had been with "in a felony first degree manner" might spot the priest in Los Angeles.
Curry, by the way, is today the archdiocese's auxiliary bishop for Santa Barbara. In a just world, he'd be relieved of his duties immediately or resign in shame. But if the church hierarchy didn't have the decency to do what was right back then, when parish children desperately needed their help, can they be expected do the right thing now?
So why, as readers often ask, aren't these men in jail?
Even if these misdeeds once met the standards for criminal prosecution, the statute of limitations has run out on most of them at this point.
Still, I was glad to hear that the D.A.'s office will review the new material and additional documents that will be released in the coming weeks, and I hope they'll consider them in light of Mahony's past statements. In one 2010 deposition, for example, Mahony said the possibility of scandal never influenced his decision not to call police. That may not meet the standard for perjury, which is difficult to prove, but it's hard to reconcile the statement with the documents released last week.
Legal consideration aside, the jury is already in when it comes to a judgment on morality. Plaintiff attorney Anthony DeMarco, for one, took issue with Mahony's awkward and self-serving apology, in which the cardinal claimed that even after getting wise to the scandal, he remained naive about the hell victims went through.
"Any right-thinking human being knows that children being masturbated and orally copulated is devastating to their lives," said DeMarco. "These are sophisticated, reasonably intelligent men who … understood how wrong this was and consciously, over and over, took the wrong path of sheltering and aiding pedophiles."
"Mahony has no conscience," said former priest Richard Sipe, who has testified in clergy abuse cases nationally. He calls the L.A. scandal the worst in the country and says he is still shocked by Mahony's commitment to putting the most self-serving spin on his misdeeds.
In his apology, Mahony said he met with about 90 of the more than 500 victims involved in the $600-million lawsuit settlement in 2007. He said he kept the names of those 90 victims on 3 by 5 index cards and prays for them.
"I would rather he lose the … card with my name on it," said Mark Gauer, who says he was molested as a child by Father Terrence Reilly while a student at Daniel Murphy High School. "When you have children being abused and take the position that you're going to protect yourself and the church, where does religion come into play? We were sacrificial lambs."
If Mahony wants to pray, Gauer said, he should pray for himself.