Mahony to Testify in Sex Abuse Cases
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony is preparing to again defend his handling of Roman Catholic priests accused of child molestation when he was bishop of Stockton nearly two decades ago.
Mahony is set to answer questions Tuesday at an undisclosed downtown Los Angeles high-rise in a deposition in civil cases alleging that priests sexually abused several people. A judge ordered the time and location of the deposition kept secret for security reasons.
Mahony’s testimony, however, could become public next month unless his lawyers object in court.
Mahony will be questioned about Oliver Francis O’Grady, a convicted child molester who served time in state prison before being deported to his native Ireland in 2000. Mahony had transferred O’Grady in 1984 after the cleric admitted to a therapist that he had fondled a 9-year-old boy.
The cardinal has already testified that he did not know that O’Grady had twice admitted to fondling a child when Mahony transferred him, days after police closed an investigation into an unproved molestation claim.
He also will be asked about alleged abuse by other priests in the Stockton, Fresno and Monterey dioceses, where he served before becoming archbishop of the Los Angeles Archdiocese in September 1985.
Mahony has been questioned three times in cases alleging that the Stockton Diocese failed to protect two brothers from O’Grady. Tuesday’s deposition involves six other alleged O’Grady victims.
Mahony’s lawyers say their client can offer little new information about the former priest or sexual allegations against other priests in those dioceses.
“He has literally no knowledge,” said his attorney J. Michael Hennigan.
The cardinal has not given testimony in any of the more than 500 pending claims alleging that the Los Angeles Archdiocese failed to protect children from predatory priests.
In the Los Angeles cases, both sides are trying to reach a financial settlement that would resolve all claims without extensive legal discovery, such as witness depositions, and trials.
The deposition Tuesday will “lay the groundwork for the breadth of [Mahony’s] knowledge [about child sexual abuse by priests] long before he became cardinal,” said Raymond P. Boucher, lead counsel in the L.A.-based litigation.
Hennigan said that knowledge was limited because the 1970s and early 1980s were the “dawn of awareness” about clergy sexual abuse, when there were few, if any, internal policies for handling such priests.
“It’s a big deal,” said Georgene M. Vairo, a professor at Loyola Law School. “Just by virtue of his position, he had or should have had some information on these matters.”
But Patrick J. Schiltz, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis who once defended churches in sex abuse cases, downplayed the deposition.
“Lots and lots and lots of bishops” have been questioned under oath in clergy sex abuse cases, he said. “There haven’t been many cardinals deposed because there are not a lot of cardinals.” The United States has 13 cardinals.
Mahony would be the first U.S. cardinal to be questioned under oath in a civil clergy sexual abuse suit since 2002, when Cardinal Bernard F. Law gave testimony that led to his resignation as archbishop of Boston.
Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua has reportedly testified numerous times before a Philadelphia grand jury investigating possible criminal wrongdoing by church officials in their handling of sexual abuse allegations involving priests.
Mahony has been questioned about O’Grady in two depositions and on the witness stand in a 1998 civil trial that resulted in a $30-million jury verdict against the church. The case was settled for $7 million.