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Police Clear Mahony of Alleged 1970 Molestation

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Fresno police investigation has cleared Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of allegations that he sexually abused a female student at a Catholic high school 32 years ago, the department’s chief of criminal investigations said Thursday.

Lt. Dwayne Johnson said the three-week investigation uncovered no evidence of a crime and that no further action would be taken. He said Mahony was interviewed in person about the alleged incident, which he denied had taken place, and that he cooperated fully with detectives.

The accuser, a 51-year-old Fresno woman, has a history of mental illness.

“We couldn’t find a single thing to substantiate the allegations,” Johnson said. “We even went back to students and staff at the high school at the time and they couldn’t remember any event like this occurring.”

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The cardinal’s office said in a statement that he “welcomes the confirmation by the Fresno Police Department this afternoon of his previous denial of this allegation.” The statement also said Mahony was grateful to the department “for conducting a professional and thorough investigation.”

Mahony’s accuser said he had molested her on campus grounds during school hours while she was a student at San Joaquin Memorial High School in 1970. She said she was knocked out during a fight outside the band room. She said that when she awoke, the bottom half of her clothes had been removed and that she saw Mahony’s face hovering over her. She said she passed out again. (Although the woman said her name could be published, The Times generally does not use the names of those who say they have been sexually abused.)

Even as the woman insisted that her account was true, she conceded to reporters that it lacked details and sounded farfetched. She told The Times last week that she was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the 1970s and was still taking medication to ease the symptoms. She said she was motivated to press forward with her allegations, in part, because the state is cutting her disability payments and she needs a cash settlement from the church.

She also said that nearly everyone she has encountered in her life--from her parents to her high school classmates to her former co-workers--had either molested, abused or emotionally mistreated her.

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Woman’s Case Quickly Unraveled

The allegations against Mahony, which surfaced last week, quickly made headlines across the country in the midst of what has become a nationwide child-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

The Fresno woman said the climate of suspicion and heightened awareness encouraged her to come forward last month and talk to a priest at St John’s Church. The priest took her claim to police.

But almost as soon as the woman appeared in front of local TV cameras last week, it was evident that the allegations were sketchy and that she had trouble talking in a coherent manner. She said her mental problems, despite taking the drug Risperdal for schizophrenia, had grown worse in recent weeks as people have knocked on her apartment window and threatened her.

Fresno Diocese Interviewed Woman

Lt. Johnson said the woman’s psychiatric history made the investigation more complicated. Any impulse to dismiss her claims outright because she suffers from schizophrenia, an illness characterized by delusions, was outweighed by the fact that victims often suffer emotionally and mentally from sexual abuse.

“These are always difficult investigations, and we never comment on the mental state of the alleged victims. But we do look at their credibility and the credibility of the accused,” he said.

E-mails from Mahony and his staff, which were obtained last week by the media, indicated that the Fresno diocese had tape-recorded a two-hour interview with the woman. The e-mails showed that Mahony and his staff were confident that the accusations would not stand up under scrutiny.

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“Good work!” Mahony e-mailed his attorney and media relations director March 28. “It will be key to get the [woman’s] transcript in the hands of both the Fresno PD and the LAPD. They should then interview her themselves.”

Times staff writer Larry Stammer contributed to this report.


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