For years, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles fought to keep secret its confidential files concerning pedophile priests. Hundreds of sex abuse victims hoping for a full accounting of what church leaders knew about the growing scandal and what they did to stop it were rebuffed time and again.
But the cover-up is finally coming to an end. On Monday, a series of memos and letters filed in a civil case confirmed that Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and other church leaders plotted to shield pedophile priests rather than turn them over to police and prosecutors.
The documents, which date to 1986 and 1987, show how Mahony and Msgr. Thomas J. Curry, his top advisor on sex abuse cases, discussed strategies to keep priests from coming to the attention of law enforcement. Curry proposed to Mahony that certain priests be kept from seeing therapists, who would have been obliged to alert police; in other cases, priests were sent out of state to avoid criminal investigations. One cleric — who had admitted molesting undocumented immigrant children for decades, and even threatened one with deportation if he reported the abuse to police — was not allowed by Mahony to return to California from a treatment center, for fear that it would spark criminal or civil action.
The confidential files of at least 75 more abusers are expected to be released during the next few weeks as part of a 2007 legal settlement with some 500 abuse victims.
Sadly, few people will be shocked to learn that the archdiocese failed to protect children who had put their trust in the church, or that it refused to bring to justice the priests who betrayed that trust. Church officials in Boston, Philadelphia and elsewhere behaved similarly for decades, often shuffling priests from parish to parish to conceal abuse and thwart investigations, allowing those pedophiles to prey on new victims.
The latest revelations will also come as little surprise to survivors of clergy abuse. They have long accused the church hierarchy, including Mahony, of caring more about the church than its victims, more about public relations than about protecting the vulnerable. Mahony, who has repeatedly apologized for mishandling the cases, sounded contrite again Monday, saying he had been too naive and had failed to understand the lasting impact such abuse would have on the lives of young victims.
It's true that these horrendous events happened years ago, when public attitudes toward child abuse were evolving. But it's difficult to take Mahony's claims of naivete seriously, given how keenly aware he seems to have been of both the actions of his priests and their legal ramifications. He knew these were criminal acts even as he sought to hide them from public scrutiny.
The church's expressions of regret also ring hollow given its ongoing battle to keep the names of its leaders from appearing in the documents when they are finally released. Just this month, the archdiocese again asked a Los Angeles court to keep the names private.
Fortunately, a judge rejected that request. Only when the files have been released, including the names of all the people who participated in these crimes and the cover-up that followed, will the church have made good on its promise to reveal the whole truth.