Legendary L.A. church official was accused of molestation
Msgr. Benjamin Hawkes was a power broker in Los Angeles during that era. The second-in-command to two cardinals, he ran the Los Angeles church for three decades, a span during which it grew into the largest, most diverse, and by some counts, wealthiest archdiocese in the nation.
His knack for money and real estate gave him influence from Rome to Hollywood. He socialized with real estate titans, advised Vatican officials and even taught actor Robert DeNiro how to play a priest for a film role inspired by Hawkes’ life.
But Hawkes’ revered place in the archdiocese’s history is being reconsidered in light of the recent release of his confidential church personnel file. The file, made public in January in a lawsuit against the church, shows that 10 years after his 1985 death, two men came forward to say Hawkes had sexually abused them as teenagers.
“I went into shock,” said prominent California historian Kevin Starr, who has written about Hawkes. “This was a great big commanding figure.... A celebrity.”
In 1995, the first accuser came forward.
“Even though he is dead, I believe the Archdiocese should be aware of Msgr. Hawkes’ actions,” his April 1995 letter to the archdiocese stated. “The man that I trusted and respected as a mentor and spiritual father took advantage of his position and left me with a traumatic experience to deal with.”
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he had been an altar boy at St. Basil’s. His single mother couldn’t afford to send him to Catholic school, but Hawkes said he would pay tuition at the junior seminary. In return, he had to work every Saturday and Sunday in the church. It was on those days, he said, that Hawkes molested him.
“He never let me forget he was paying for my tuition,” he told church officials years later. “Monsignor had a way of subduing someone so you’d feel like nothing.”
Five years later, a second man came forward.
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