Cardinal Roger M. Mahony acknowledged to Los Angeles Catholics in his 2004 “Report to the People of God” that he left five priests in ministry despite complaints that they had molested children.
But a Times analysis of church records released since then shows that he left 11 other priests in ministry for periods up to 13 years after parishioners raised concerns about inappropriate behavior with children.
Seven of these 11 cases were not detailed in the People of God report. The other four were mentioned incompletely; the report said they were removed when complaints were lodged but did not disclose that the Los Angeles Archdiocese had received earlier reports of misconduct.
The Times analyzed edited summaries of personnel records written and posted on a public website by the archdiocese in October. The summaries were first given to counsel for more than 500 plaintiffs suing the church over alleged sexual abuse by priests. The archdiocese and the plaintiffs are engaged in court-ordered mediation.
One of the 11 cases involves the late Msgr. Leland Boyer, whose publicly released file summary revealed that three allegations of child molestation had been lodged against him. One of his alleged victims, Jaime Romo, said archdiocesan officials had assured him in 2002 that he was Boyer’s only accuser. Romo, in an interview, said he was enraged when he saw that Boyer’s file summary included two other allegations of sexual misconduct, in 1981 and 1995.
“I would still like to believe, ‘Oh, my gosh, somehow it was an oversight,’ ” said Romo, 46, a professor at the University of San Diego. “It is deeply saddening for me to know [that] so many situations were maintained that put people at risk.”
Mahony has fought to keep from releasing full personnel files either to prosecutors or plaintiffs’ lawyers in the civil cases. On Monday, however, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a California appellate court ruling requiring him to hand over to prosecutors the files of two priests who are under criminal investigation.
Legal experts have said the high court’s refusal to hear Mahony’s appeal increases the likelihood that the Los Angeles church may soon have to hand over many more confidential documents in the civil cases.
In a letter accompanying the 2004 People of God report, Mahony said the report provided the “fullest possible disclosure” of how the church responded to allegations of clerical sexual abuse in the decades before he arrived in 1985 and since.
Mahony declined to be interviewed for this article. His spokesman, Tod Tamberg, said the People of God report was not meant to be encyclopedic, but “represented some of our most egregious cases and provided a look into the range of responses over time.” Mahony never knowingly concealed information about his oversight of predatory priests, Tamberg said.
But The Times’ analysis found that although the report included detailed accounts of mistakes involving Michael Baker, Gerald Fessard, Carlos Rodriguez, Carl Sutphin and Michael Wempe -- priests whose alleged sexual misconduct had already been written about in The Times -- it left out or abridged details of other potentially embarrassing cases that had not been widely publicized.
One abridged story involves Father Lynn Caffoe. The report said the archdiocese sent Caffoe to residential treatment in 1991 on the recommendation of a therapist after three families had complained that he had been “overly familiar with their teenage sons.” He was then put on inactive leave.
In 1994, while Caffoe was still out of ministry, a high school boy alleged that the priest had abused him, according to the report. The information was forwarded to child-protection authorities, and Caffoe never returned to ministry, the report said.
The report did not mention that three other complaints came in during Mahony’s tenure before action was taken -- the first in 1986, five years before Caffoe was removed. It also does not mention that the archdiocese waited more than a month after the families complained to restrict Caffoe’s ministry -- and did so only after the priest’s therapist reported the suspected child abuse to law enforcement, according to his personnel file summary. Two months later, the priest was living at a Long Beach parish “on sabbatical.”
Another priest whose record is abbreviated in the report is Richard Henry. The report stated that he was removed from ministry in 1991 after he pleaded no contest to four counts of lewd conduct with a child under 14.
His case is labeled as one in which the church intervened quickly. But Henry’s summary shows four pre-1991 complaints against him -- the first in 1980, when a parishioner passed on a rumor that Henry had a boy “living in his house” every weekend. The other three were made in 1988, during Mahony’s tenure: A layperson reported that the priest “grabs little boys and hugs them,” a nun said he “favors boys over girls,” and a pastor said Henry was spending too much time alone with a boy.
The summary of Henry’s personnel file shows that in response to those 1988 complaints, the archdiocese put Henry into psychotherapy and warned him to be mindful of “appropriate boundaries” with minors, but left him in ministry in his Paramount parish.
Two men have filed suit alleging that Henry abused them on Mahony’s watch.
In describing his response to sexual abuse allegations, Mahony has said he and other bishops initially believed molesting priests could be cured through therapy. He said that his approach changed over time, and that he established a zero-tolerance policy in 1992 for abusive clergy.
“It was very clear from ’92 on, there was only one course of action and that was, these guys had to go,” Mahony told The Times in 2002.
But The Times’ analysis shows that the zero-tolerance policy was not always enforced, as the case of Father Joseph Pina illustrates. Pina is one of the seven priests left in ministry during Mahony’s tenure whose history was not detailed in the People of God report. Pina’s name appears in the report only on a list of 211 accused priests.
In 1990, the summary of his personnel file states, Pina told an archdiocesan official that he had “past sexual interest in a minor” and that he was seeing a therapist. In 1993, the brother of the girl who had aroused Pina’s sexual interest contacted the archdiocese, alleging abuse that began when his sister was 16.
In 1994, Pina was sent to a Pennsylvania hospital “for therapeutic treatment,” the summary states. In 1998, Pina was promoted to pastor at St. Emydius Catholic Church in Lynwood. That same year, three women reported “boundary violations.” Pina denied “any inappropriate conduct with two of the three women.” At that point, he was placed on “sick leave” and never returned to ministry.
In 2001, as part of a legal settlement, the church agreed to remove any priest who had been the subject of a credible sexual abuse allegation. But in 1992, Mahony’s policy on accused priests “was still evolving,” Tamberg said.
“What Cardinal Mahony meant at that time by ‘zero tolerance’ was that henceforward any priest with a contemporaneous, proven report of child sexual abuse would be removed,” the archdiocese spokesman said. “In other words, zero tolerance for any new allegations of abuse arising in 1992 or after. This standard did not include boundary violations or decades-old allegations of abuse.”
Boundary violations are considered nonsexual, covering such behavior as a priest walking with his arm around a child, said J. Michael Hennigan, an attorney representing the archdiocese. Catholic officials in Boston and elsewhere have used the term interchangeably with child molestation, and the Los Angeles Archdiocese sent at least one priest to a residential treatment center for what was reported as a boundary violation.
Hennigan said the cardinal began dealing proactively with clergy sexual abuse on his arrival in the Los Angeles Archdiocese in 1985. But Hennigan acknowledged that Mahony had been “overly optimistic” at first about the prospects for treating abusers through psychological therapy and made some “terrible mistakes” by ordering accused priests to counseling and then letting them back into the archdiocese.
“He ultimately got to the point where he is now, which we believe is one of the nation’s leaders in how to deal with the problem on a large scale,” Hennigan said.
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On the Web
The Los Angeles Times has posted on its website a searchable database of records for 247 Los Angeles priests who have been accused of child molestation. The priests listed were either accused in civil lawsuits, named by the church or both.
The database was compiled from public records provided by the Los Angeles Archdiocese, the lawsuits and the Official Catholic Directory, an annual listing of U.S. clerics and their assignments.
By going to www.latimes.com/priests, readers can access the assignment histories for all the priests, the years and locations of abuse alleged in lawsuits, and edited summaries of their personnel files that were released publicly by the archdiocese and turned over to plaintiffs’ counsel.
Comparing the documents
The Los Angeles Archdiocese in October publicly released edited summaries of priests’ personnel files that it had turned over to plaintiffs’ counsel as part of an effort to settle sexual abuse lawsuits. Church officials detailed some of the cases in a 2004 “Report to the People of God.” But a Times analysis of the summaries found that the archdiocese provided incomplete information in the report for numerous cases in which priests remained in ministry after complaints came in during Cardinal Roger M. Mahony’s tenure.
In these four cases, the People of God report described action taken against priests, but omitted some complaints:
People of God report: In 1991, three families complained the priest was “overly familiar with their teenage sons.” The allegation did not involve “any actual sexual molestation,” but the archdiocese immediately sent Caffoe to residential treatment and barred him from ministry.
File summary: Three previous complaints had been lodged against Caffoe during Mahony’s tenure: by a nun in 1986 who reported a “boundary violation,” by an anonymous caller who complained of “inappropriate behavior” involving two boys in 1989, and by a pastor and school principal in 1991 who told church officials of “various boundary violations.” Caffoe lived at a parish after his treatment and was placed on inactive leave in 1992 after priests found a videotape in his room of “improper behavior” with several “fully clothed” high school boys.
People of God report: The archdiocese removed Henry from ministry in 1991 after he pleaded no contest to four counts of lewd conduct with a child under 14.
File summary: In 1980, a parishioner reported that the priest had a boy “living in his house” every weekend. In 1988, three additional complaints came in, from a pastor, a nun and a parishioner who said Henry “grabs little boys and hugs them.” The priest was sent to therapy.
People of God report: Miller was accused in 1977 of molesting a 10-year-old. Church leaders treated the accusation as “a warning.” They removed Miller from ministry in 1996 after another complaint of decades-old abuse.
File summary: In 1981, Miller was promoted to pastor of his own parish. By 1984, he had been demoted to associate pastor of another parish. In 1989, the pastor at Miller’s parish reported the priest had committed “boundary violations” with minors.
People of God report: Rucker was one of the few priests in ministry who had “confirmed prior allegations” of child molestation when Mahony arrived in 1985. The priest retired in 1987. The archdiocese received just one more complaint about Rucker, dating from the 1960s, until more alleged victims began coming forward in 2002.
File summary: Retired in 1987, Rucker lived without restrictions at a parish with an elementary school. One person in 1989 and two people in 1990 alleged past “inappropriate conduct” by Rucker. The priest “settled” with one of his accusers. In 1994, a fourth alleged victim filed a suit that was dismissed later that year. In 2002, Rucker was barred from public ministry.
In the following cases, the People of God report included little more than the priests’ names in a list of those accused. The summaries show that the archdiocese allowed the men to continue as priests despite complaints of sexual misconduct made to the cardinal or his aides.
Kevin Barmasse: In 1983, after parents complained that Barmasse had sexually abused their son, Barmasse was sent to the Diocese of Tucson on condition that he get treatment there. He remained a Los Angeles priest while an associate pastor at three Arizona parishes. In 1991, a report came in that Barmasse had allegedly “made sexual advances toward five male high school students” in the mid-1980s. In 1992, Los Angeles church officials removed him from ministry in any diocese.
Leland Boyer: A man reported to a church official in 1981 that Boyer had kissed him. In 1995, a second man said Boyer had sexually abused him a decade earlier when the accuser was about 13. Archdiocese officials restricted Boyer’s ministry but allowed him to remain pastor emeritus at his parish, which had a school, until his death in 2004.
Michael Buckley: The subject of three earlier complaints of sexual misconduct with minors -- including an allegation that he exposed himself to two brothers in 1959 -- Buckley was the target of three more complaints after 1991. His priestly faculties were revoked in 1994.
Peter E. Garcia: In 1984, Garcia resigned as pastor of an L.A. parish and was placed on sick leave after a woman said that he “engaged in sexually inappropriate conduct” with her three nephews. Garcia was allowed to serve in two New Mexico parishes, with unspecified restrictions, while undergoing treatment at a center for predator priests. In 1987, the Los Angeles archdiocese told him “not to engage in any ministry.”
Roderic M. Guerrini: Police in 1992 began investigating a report that Guerrini in the late 1970s had inappropriately touched and kissed a teenage girl working in the rectory of his Oxnard church. Her two sisters made similar complaints. Guerrini was referred to a therapist while continuing as pastor of a church in Venice. He denied the allegations and was never charged. He retired in 2002.
Michael Stephen Nocita: Nocita was a high school principal in 1988 when police began investigating a therapist’s report that a 23-year-old woman had disclosed that, as a teenager, she had had an “intimate” relationship with the priest. The next year, Nocita became associate pastor at a Los Angeles church. In 1991, he was placed on inactive leave. He was removed from ministry in 2000.
Joseph Pina: In 1990, Pina admitted a “past sexual interest in a minor.” The girl’s brother later reported that his sister was 16 when the alleged abuse began. In 1998, Pina was promoted to pastor at a Lynwood church. That same year, three women reported “boundary violations.” Pina was placed on “sick leave” and never returned to ministry.
Graphics reporting by William Lobdell and Jean Guccione