9:08 PM PDT, September 22, 2009
If you've got rosary beads handy, please say a prayer for the leader of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Last week was not a good one for Cardinal Roger Mahony, and there may be no letup in weeks to come if a certain monsignor continues to testify in a deposition being taken as part of a civil case against Mahony and the diocese.
Msgr. Richard Loomis, former vicar of clergy for the archdiocese, said under oath that in the year 2000 he wrote a memo advocating that the archdiocese inform police about allegations of sexual abuse by a now-defrocked priest named Michael Baker. Mahony, Loomis testified, directed him not to report the allegations.
That testimony grabbed the attention of those who have followed the years-long molestation scandal, in which Mahony has fought like a tomcat to withhold documents sought by investigators and has had PR teams build him an image as a reformer.
In all that time, no one from Mahony's inner circle had dared stand up and point a finger at the cardinal until Loomis did so last week. With the testimony by Loomis, there wasn't just a challenge to the archdiocesan leader, but a suggestion that a paper trail exists.
Loomis testified that when he found out Baker was still performing baptisms despite allegations of abuse in the 1990s and orders to discontinue ministry, he sent a memo to Mahony recommending that they call the police. He testified that Mahony "wrote on the memo and initially his response was to proceed but then through the general counsel's office I was told . . . that we were going to wait," said Loomis.
The monsignor also testified that Mahony ordered him not to inform parishes where Baker had worked of allegations against the priest.
Nobody was more surprised by Loomis' candor last week than a young man known in court records as Luis C., a former altar boy who was one of Baker's victims beginning in the mid-'90s.
"I was in shock," said Luis, who is now 29 and working in an auto body shop after marital and other problems, for which he has received years of therapy. "Thanks to God, Msgr. Loomis had the heart to come out and admit" that he had tried in vain to get the archdiocese to take action.
As for Mahony's refusal to act on the Loomis warning, Luis said he was not surprised.
"He decided to keep it under the rug, not wanting anyone to know, not wanting the parishes to know what this man's problem was."
As Luis noted, Mahony knew about Baker's behavior long before Loomis asked the cardinal to call the police. Baker told The Times in 2002 that he told Mahony of his "problem" in the 1980s. Mahony sent him to a treatment center in New Mexico and then allowed him to continue serving in a limited capacity as long as he stayed away from minors. But Baker's abuse of boys continued. Luis said he was abused by Baker many times over the course of several years.
"I was 15, a young boy, an altar boy, and my whole family gave their trust to" Baker, Luis said. "We opened our doors to him and the person we thought was a sacred man, a good person, a good human being -- it turns out that all along he was a monster."
John Manly, the attorney who represents Luis and took the Loomis deposition, said he will ask the court to order the archdiocese to produce the memo Loomis spoke of.
"If Loomis is correct," Manly said, Mahony was "encouraging people not to call police and to intentionally cover it up. You wonder where law enforcement is on this."
Baker, by the way, was eventually convicted of molesting Luis and two others, and he began a 10-year sentence in 2007. Mahony has apologized for allowing Baker to continue serving as a priest, and once said that of the 200 clergy members accused of misconduct involving 500 victims, Baker's was the case that "troubles" him the most.
It must have been tough to narrow it down to just one case. In a 2004 "Report to the People of God," Mahony told parishioners he had left five priests in the ministry despite complaints that they were molesters. A Times investigation came up with a different total, though, finding that Mahony had left an additional 11 priests in the ministry after concerns were raised about their inappropriate behavior with children.
It should surprise no one that currently, the way in which the archdiocese has handled such cases is the subject of a federal grand jury investigation.
So what does the archdiocese have to say about it all?
Before calling to find out, I guessed the response might be any of the following:
A) No comment.
B) Talk to archdiocesan attorneys.
C) There was no such memo.
D) Msgr. Loomis cannot be trusted, but we assure you no laws were broken.
The archdiocese opted for D.
"I don't know much about Loomis' memory of events," archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg said in an e-mail, "but I do know that he was very angry when Cardinal Mahony promptly removed him from ministry when credible allegations of misconduct were made against him."
Indeed, Loomis, who went from vicar of clergy to become canonical investigator for all complaints of sexual misconduct, is currently on leave because of allegations of guess what.
Yes. Sexual misconduct.
Good lord, light a candle for them all.
Yes, it's possible that because of his own problems, Loomis has an ax to grind and has now fabricated claims that he memoed Mahony in 2000 to call the police about Baker.
But if that were the case, and there is no memo, wouldn't you expect Tamberg to come right out and say so?
Well, he didn't. Tamberg said that in the year 2000, the practice of the archdiocese was to report current allegations of abuse against minors. If the accusers were adults, the "archdiocese encouraged those people to contact the police directly." In 2002, the diocese switched to a policy of reporting "any and all allegations of abuse" to police. And in fact, in 2002, Mahony authorized an attorney to notify police about Baker.
Forgive me, father, for having to ask:
But what took so long?
I don't care what the policy is, or even the law. If you're a stand-in for the supreme being, is there a higher power than moral authority?
Stay tuned later this week, as Loomis continues giving that deposition. There may also be a deposition from a priest who allegedly saw Luis C. leaving Baker's residence and, according to Loomis, reported it to the archdiocese to no avail.
When I asked Luis C. if he thought Mahony would survive the first allegations from a former member of his inner circle, he didn't hesitate.
"He has a lot of power, and it's really not for me to say," Luis said. "I'm working on myself, and God is the one who's watching over all of us."
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