The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles allowed at least eight priests to remain in contact with children even after receiving complaints that the clerics had a sexual interest in minors, according to church documents produced in the lawsuits by hundreds of alleged sexual-abuse victims.
That is twice as many as the church had previously conceded.
The documents, which became public Tuesday, indicate that numerous children might have avoided harm if church leaders in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s had reacted more vigorously to warnings about abusive priests. Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the archdiocese, said the documents would be posted at midnight Tuesday on the archdiocese website, www.la-archdiocese.org.
The documents offer the most unfiltered look yet at the way the archdiocese responded to child-molestation allegations involving its priests over the last half-century.
In one of the newly revealed cases, a parishioner in 1980 passed a rumor to archdiocese officials that a young boy was spending every weekend at Father Richard Henry’s home. In the decade that followed, the church received additional reports about Henry, including two in 1988, one from a nun at Our Lady of the Rosary in Paramount who said that the priest was partial to boys, and the other from a layperson who said he “grabs little boys and hugs them.”
Despite the reports, Henry was allowed to remain in his parish while undergoing therapy. Church leaders say they did not know that he continued to sexually abuse young boys. He wasn’t removed from ministry until the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department launched an investigation in 1991 that ended with Henry pleading no contest to four counts of lewd conduct with a child.
Henry went to prison in 1993 and served three years, according to court documents. He was removed from the priesthood in 2003.
J. Michael Hennigan, the church’s lead attorney in more than 560 sexual-abuse lawsuits against the archdiocese, said the newly released documents show that “since the middle 1980s, there was never a time when a priest was transferred without counseling after a credible complaint.”
The documents “show men of good will and intelligence struggling” with how to handle sexual abuse, he said.
Church officials say their policies have evolved over time into a “zero-tolerance” stance that reflects changes in their thinking on how best to handle child molesters.
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, who took over the leadership of the nation’s largest archdiocese in 1985, said that the church’s current policy, adopted in 2002, provides that “no priest who had ever abused a minor -- no matter how long ago -- would be allowed to hold an assignment.”
Seven accused priests remain in active ministry today, according to the archdiocese, with at least one abuse allegation against each of them. Church officials said accusations against the seven have not been substantiated. In all, at least 245 clergy members from the L.A. Archdiocese have been accused of molestation, according to the documents. Church officials had previously put the figure at 219.
While church officials believe their policy protects today’s children against abuse, the alleged assaults on previous generations of children continue to pose an enormous financial risk to the archdiocese.
Last year, the Diocese of Orange settled 90 cases for $100 million. Parties to the current suits have estimated that suits against the Los Angeles Archdiocese, which involve alleged abuse by more than 200 priests, could cost $1 billion.
The newly released documents were prepared by church lawyers in connection with efforts to settle the pending cases. Known as proffers, they represent what the church would be prepared to concede in the settlement talks.
They are summaries of the church’s personnel files with much information deleted, including names of parents or other parishioners who complained about the priests, victims’ names, many details about the alleged conduct or about therapy that the priests may have undergone. They also do not include names of church officials who were warned about the priests but failed to notify authorities and parishioners about their suspicions.
Lawyers for the accused priests earlier this year, had blocked an attempt by the archdiocese to release the documents. But late last month, a state appellate court said the church could release the information. A lawyer for many of the accused priests said he continued to object. “Any disclosure from personnel files violates the employee’s right of privacy and ignores the legal process,” said attorney Donald Steier. The church’s move to release the information was a “public relations decision,” he said.
Plaintiffs lawyers, who have sought to have the church’s full personnel files released publicly, have said the proffers are inadequate. They say the documents were designed, in part, to shield the church from public release of more information about how the archdiocese had responded to complaints about wayward priests. Legal battles continue over whether the church’s full personnel files must be released.
“In the sanitized form that it’s in, [the proffers are] more information than victims have had in the past. But it pales in comparison to the truth,” said Raymond P. Boucher, lead attorney for the plaintiffs suing the archdiocese.
“Based on the documents that we’ve seen, based on the investigations that we’ve conducted, based on the police reports that have been made public, this is a scant glimpse into the truth,” he said. “They reveal decades of participation by the archdiocese in molesting children.”
Church officials have vigorously opposed efforts to make the full personnel files public. They have defended the proffers, saying the files were excerpted to protect the privacy of the priests and their accusers and the confidentiality of church communications. Hennigan said Boucher has never seen the documents on which the proffers were based.
Files were not kept on all accused priests, and their contents vary greatly. Most resemble a resume listing each priest’s assignments by parish, city and year. Others show when a priest was accused, whether he was sent for psychological evaluation and treatment, and any internal correspondence regarding him.
In addition to Henry, the new documents reveal three other previously undisclosed cases of priests accused of child sexual abuse after church officials had information indicating these priests might be a danger to minors. None of the three has publicly admitted molestation.
* Kevin Barmasse, then-associate pastor at St. Pancratius in Lynwood, was transferred to the Tucson diocese in September 1983.
His move came two weeks after parents alleged in a letter to Los Angeles church officials that Barmasse sexually abused their son in the priest’s bedroom, according to the documents. The transfer was part of an agreement between the Los Angeles and Tucson dioceses that allowed him to continue in ministry in Arizona for the next eight years on the condition that he get psychological treatment.
Authorities and the alleged victim’s parents believed the priest’s transfer “and psychiatric treatment would solve the problem,” according to an earlier statement from the Tucson diocese.
Five people have accused Barmasse of molesting them during his time in Arizona. The archdiocese removed him from all ministry in 1992.
* A father accused Michael D. Buckley of exposing himself to the man’s two minor sons in 1959, four years after the priest was ordained in Los Angeles. He was moved a month later to St. Charles Borromeo Church in North Hollywood.
Five years later, an anonymous letter sought to have Buckley removed from Immaculate Conception Church in Monrovia for unspecified allegations involving his “moral fitness.” He was named chaplain of Harbor General Hospital in Torrance two months later, then assistant chaplain at St. Francis Hospital in Lynwood the next year.
Buckley served at six different parishes throughout the 1970s and was pastor at Immaculate Conception in New Cuyama, Calif., when the chancellor received a phone message in 1983 “indicating that Father Buckley engages in inappropriate sexual conduct with children.” Another complaint came in 1991. Buckley continued to serve as a priest until 1994, when two men reported to church officials that they had been sexually abused by the priest decades earlier.
The archdiocese says eight people have accused Buckley of misconduct with children between 1965 and 1985. One pending lawsuit involves him.
* Willebaldo Castro was moved to St. Mary of the Assumption in Santa Maria in January 1976, four months after a 16-year-old boy told Los Angeles church authorities that the priest had molested him, according to court records.
The clergyman had been removed from the priesthood in 1969 after his bishop in Mexico suspended Castro for an unspecified “moral charge.” Church lawyers say in the summary that their file does not show whether his alleged moral lapse involved adults or children.
Castro was readmitted as a priest in 1972 and served as an associate pastor at St. Alphonsus in East Los Angeles from 1972 until his 1976 transfer.
Castro is accused in court of sexually abusing a child at St. Mary of the Assumption in 1977, two years after the archdiocese says it had evidence that he could be a danger to minors. He returned to Mexico in 1980.