CA- Twice accused Los Angeles priest now working on Guam; Victims respond
For immediate release: Friday, July 18, 2014
Statement by Joelle Casteix of Newport Beach, CA, 949-322-7434 cell, firstname.lastname@example.org
We are shocked to learn that a Los Angeles priest from Los Angeles – accused twice of molesting children – now works as a priest on Guam. We strongly urge Guam Catholic officials to oust him.
Fr. John Wadeson, has been named in LA archdiocese records and in news reports as a twice accused predator priest. Because those allegations were deemed “credible” by church officials, he is not allowed to present himself as a priest anywhere in the Archdiocese of LA.
Despite this, Guam Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron is letting Fr. Wadeson work and act as a priest. Apuron also lets Fr. Wadeson travel to other dioceses, including Honolulu.
Although Fr. Wadeson has not been convicted of abuse, the fact that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has banned him from ministry is just cause for Apuron to remove the cleric immediately. We fear that Apuron is putting Guam’s children at direct risk and protecting a credibly accused predator instead of protecting his flock.
We urge Apuron to immediate remove Fr. Wadeson from ministry and make public announcements about Fr. Wadeson at every parish where he has worked or celebrated Mass, begging anyone who may have seen, suspected or suffered crimes or misdeeds by Fr. Wadeson to step forward, get help, call police, protect others and start healing.
We also want Apuron to explain to parishioners that Fr. Wadeson has been accused of abuse by two children and is banned from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
We also beg Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez to immediately tell Apuron about the risks that Fr. Wadeson poses. As a powerful Archbishop, Gomez can easily use his power and influence to ensure that Fr. Wadeson can never work as a priest again.
Finally, we applaud whistleblowers in the Archdiocese of Hagatna, who are working steadfastly to ensure that Fr. Wadeson is removed and his past is exposed.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 25 years and have more than 20,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
Catholic priest recalls fleeing after sex abuse confession
9/9/13 By Gillian Flaccus of Associated Press
The Rev. Carlos Rodriguez’s account of his flight after confessing to molesting a boy was among files released Monday under the terms of a lawsuit settlement.
LOS ANGELES — The orders the Rev. Carlos Rodriguez got from his religious superiors after he confessed to molesting a 16-year-old boy just hours before were swift and decisive: Leave immediately. Check into a motel. Don’t tell anyone where you are going. Await further instructions.
Rodriguez, then 31, picked up cash and waited by the phone. The next day, the regional leader of his religious order called and told him to book a plane ticket out of state. By the time the victim’s family went to police, he had checked in at a residential treatment center for troubled priests in Maryland.
“I felt like a fugitive. But what else could I do under the circumstances. I had no other choice but to follow orders,” he wrote years later in an essay that was included in his Vatican petition to be defrocked.
The essay was part of a 303-page confidential personnel file on the priest that was released Monday along with files for five other priests who were also accused of molesting children while working for their Roman Catholic religious orders — the Vincentians, the Norbertines and the Augustinians — while on assignment in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Rodriguez’s file stands out because it includes a candid and detailed autobiographical account of his actions in 1987 and the steps his religious superiors took to shield him from the family and civil authorities.
The file also makes clear that officials with Rodriguez’s religious order, the Vincentians, and the LA archdiocese worked together to intercede. Both knew of Rodriguez’s confession, but no one spoke with police until the boy’s family filed a police report a month later, according to the file.
“The thing that Carlos Rodriguez does is, he lays out the truth, the underbelly, and exposes that for all that it is,” said Ray Boucher, a lead plaintiff attorney in the clergy litigation who secured the release of the files.
The religious order files are the second set to be released and more are expected in the coming weeks as religious orders comply with the final terms of a 2007 settlement with hundreds of clergy abuse victims in Los Angeles.
The archdiocese itself released thousands of pages under court order this year for its own priests, but the full picture of the problem has remained elusive without records from the religious orders, which routinely assigned priests to work in Los Angeles parishes.
Without access to Rodriguez, the police case dried up and the priest was back at work within seven months, where he molested two brothers. Rodriguez, who was defrocked in 1998, was convicted of that abuse 17 years later, in 2004, and sentenced to prison. He was released in 2008.
Now 57, he lives as a registered sex offender in Huntington Park, a gritty, industrial city southeast of Los Angeles. He has been accused of abuse in at least five civil lawsuits.
“It still weighs heavy on me,” Rodriguez, who wore a cross around his neck, said on Monday when reached at his apartment. “It’s nothing proud to talk about. I still feel remorse and it still hurts.”
The Rev. Jerome Herff, the Vincentian regional provincial who told Rodriguez to leave LA after his 1987 confession and placed him back in ministry the following year, said he urged him to leave because the boy’s family was irate and he feared for the priest’s safety. The treatment center, he said, was recommended by a law enforcement authority, although he declined to say who.
“I did what I thought was best and had to be done and what happened, happened,” Herff said in a brief phone interview. “I’ve lived with this for years and I just don’t want to go back there anymore.”
Rodriguez’s troubles began when he took two teenage boys on a trip to the Grand Canyon in 1987, roughly a year after he was ordained. The three checked into a Holiday Inn in Flagstaff, Ariz., and in his essay, Rodriguez wrote he began molesting one teen who was asleep on the floor.
The boy awoke and the novice priest, terrified at being discovered, drove nearly 500 miles through the night to deliver both teens to their families and immediately went back to his parish, where he took a shower and confessed.
The Vincentians sent him to the residential treatment center. While there, Rodriguez fretted in letters home about the “seriousness of the law in Arizona” that could get him up to 15 years in prison and asked the Vincentians for character references that would convince the Arizona prosecutor not to press charges.
When the family contacted the Los Angeles police a month later, Rodriguez’s superior told the investigating detective that the “church was aware of the situation and the defendant was currently hospitalized,” according to court papers.
The victim’s former attorney, Drew Antablin, said his client, who could not be reached for comment, was part of a larger settlement with the church in 2007.
After his release, Rodriguez was assigned to work for the archdiocese’s office of family life in Santa Barbara in 1988 and then to St. Mary’s Seminary in Santa Barbara. He took a leave of absence in 1993 after complaints of abuse surfaced again — but his superiors soon discovered he was saying Mass in a neighboring county in violation of his status.
In 1996, Rodriguez asked the Vatican to be defrocked and was exiled from the priesthood two years later.
In 2004, he pleaded guilty to molesting two brothers whom he met in 1988, just after his return to ministry. “He used his position in the church and used the victims’ faith as a weapon against them,” said Deputy District Attorney Anthony Wold, who handled that case. “It was outrageous and unforgiveable.”
Associated Press Writer Greg Risling reported from Los Angeles and Huntington Park, Calif.
Cardinal Roger Mahony defends legacy on church abuse in blog
2/2/13 By Gillian Flaccus
On his blog on Friday, retired Cardinal Roger Mahony said he was ill-equipped to deal with sexually abusive clergy when he took over the archdiocese in 1985 and quickly sought to develop policies and consult with leaders in other dioceses.
LOS ANGELES — The public rebuke of retired Cardinal Roger Mahony for failing to take swift action against abusive priests adds tarnish to a career already overshadowed by the church sex abuse scandal but does little to change his role in the larger church.
Mahony can still act as a priest, keep his rank as cardinal and remain on a critical Vatican panel that elects the next pope.
While Archbishop Jose Gomez’s decision to strip Mahony of his administrative and public duties was unprecedented in the American Roman Catholic Church, it was another attempt by the church to accept responsibility for the abuse scandal that has engulfed it.
Victims were quick to point out that Mahony’s new, paired-down local standing was in stark contrast to his continued position among the prelates at the Vatican.
The decision “is little more than window dressing. Cardinal Mahony is still a very powerful prelate,” Joelle Casteix, the Western regional director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said at a Friday news conference outside the Los Angeles cathedral. “He’s a very powerful man in Rome and still a very powerful man in Los Angeles.”
The Vatican declined to comment Friday when asked if the Holy See would follow Gomez’s lead and take action against Mahony.
Tod Tamberg, the archdiocese spokesman, said Mahony was in Rome several weeks ago for meetings unrelated to Thursday’s announcement. He said he did not know if Pope Benedict XVI was aware of Gomez’s announcement.
The cardinal and Gomez both declined interview requests from The Associated Press.
In a letter to Gomez posted on Mahony’s blog Friday, the cardinal said he was ill-equipped to deal with sexually abusive clergy when he took over the archdiocese in 1985 and quickly sought to develop policies and consult with church leaders in other dioceses. He reminded Gomez that he was well aware when he took over in 2011 of the steps Mahony had taken to safeguard children.
“Not once over these past years did you ever raise any questions about our policies, practices, or procedures in dealing with the problem of clergy sexual misconduct involving minors. I have stated time and time again that I made mistakes, especially in the mid-1980s,” he wrote.
“Unfortunately, I cannot return now to the 1980s and reverse actions and decisions made then. But when I retired as the active Archbishop, I handed over to you an archdiocese that was second to none in protecting children and youth.”
Gomez’s public criticism is almost unheard-of in the highly structured church institution and would have been cleared by the Vatican in advance, said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer who worked for the Vatican’s Washington, D.C., embassy.
“He’s an archbishop — he cannot order a cardinal around,” said Doyle, who co-authored a 1985 report warning of a coming clergy sex abuse scandal. “The Catholic church is a monarchy. If you’re one of the princes of the realm and you’re a duke, you don’t dump on a prince without the king’s permission or you’re no longer a duke. That’s what the deal is.”
Gomez went as far as he could within this authority, but only the Pope has the power to sanction a cardinal or laicize him, he said.
Gomez made the announcement Thursday as the church was forced by a court order to turn over thousands of pages of confidential priest personnel files after a bruising, five-year legal fight. The archbishop also accepted a resignation request from one of Mahony’s top aides, now-Bishop Thomas Curry.
The move came two weeks after other long-secret priest personnel records showed Mahony and Curry, in particular, worked behind the scenes to protect the church from the engulfing scandal.
Mahony is a member of three Vatican departments, including the Holy See’s all-important economic affairs office, and he remains a member of the College of Cardinals. At 76, he is still eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.
The Vatican’s former sex crimes prosecutor, Bishop Charles Scicluna, has said Canon Law provides for sanctioning bishops who show “malicious or fraudulent negligence” in their work, but has acknowledged that such laws have never been applied in the case of bishops who covered up sex abuse cases.
In the past, lower-ranking members of the church hierarchy who have spoken out about their superior’s handling of the clergy abuse crisis have been rebuked by the Holy See.
In 2010, for example, Viennese Cardinal Cristoph Schoenborn criticized the former Vatican No. 2, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, in an interview for his handling of a notorious sex abuse case. Schoenborn didn’t use Sodano’s name in his critique, but was nonetheless forced to come to Rome to explain himself to the pope and Sodano.
The Vatican publicly rebuked Schoenborn, saying that only the pope has authority to deal with accusations against a cardinal.
The Vatican’s silence after Thursday’s announcement indicates they were aware of it, said Patrick Wall, a former Benedictine monk and priest and vocal church critic who consults on clergy abuse cases.
“Gomez was as brilliant as a sniper the way he orchestrated this because he did not overstep his authority against the Pope and yet at the same time it appears that some type of penalty is being imposed,” said Wall. “He cannot force Mahony to resign. It’s brilliant and this has never happened in the U.S.”
Mahony will reduce his public appearances, including numerous guest lectures nationwide on immigration reform, and no longer perform confirmations, Tamberg said. However, he remains a priest in good standing and will continue to live in a North Hollywood parish and can celebrate the sacraments with no restrictions, he said.
Several of the documents in the newly released files echo recurring themes that emerged over the past decade in dioceses nationwide, where church leaders moved problem priests between parishes and didn’t call the police.
Studies commissioned by the U.S. bishops found more than 4,000 U.S. priests have faced sexual abuse allegations since the early 1950s, in cases involving more than 10,000 children — mostly boys.
In one instance, a draft of a plan with Mahony’s name on it calls for sending a molester priest to his native Spain for a minimum of seven years, paying him $400 a month and offering health insurance. In return, the cardinal would agree to write the Vatican and ask them to cancel his excommunication, leaving the door open for him to return as a priest someday.
It was unclear whether the proposed agreement was enacted.
“I am concerned that the Archdiocese may later be seen as liable — for having continued to support this man — now that we have been put on notice that one of the young adults under his influence is suicidal,” a top aide wrote in a memo about the priest to Mahony in 1995, urging him to stop paying benefits to the priest.
The cardinal added a handwritten note: “I concur — the faster, the better.”
In another case, Mahony resisted turning over a list of altar boys to police who were investigating claims against a visiting Mexican priest who was later determined to have molested 26 boys during a 10-month stint in Los Angeles. “We cannot give such a list for no cause whatsoever,” he wrote on a January 1988 memo.
Mahony, who retired in 2011 after more than a quarter-century at the helm of the archdiocese, has publicly apologized for mistakes he made in dealing with priests who molested children.
Associated Press writer Shaya Tayefe Mohajer contributed to this report.
Catholic Church Fighting Proposed Sex Abuse Bill In California
By SARAH PARVINI 07/17/13 03:30 AM ET EDT
LOS ANGELES — Tony Quarry suppressed his memories of being abused by a Roman Catholic priest for nearly 30 years and decided to sue only after finding out that his five brothers were molested by the same man – just to discover that it was too late.
The state’s high court ultimately tossed out the brothers’ lawsuit because they missed a special legal window that allowed victims to sue over abuse claims decades after the fact. Their plight, however, has inspired new sex abuse legislation in California a decade after a similar bill cost the church hundreds of millions in civil settlements.
“I still believed in the tooth fairy when these things happened to me,” Quarry, 51, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s a good thing for these other people to have the opportunity to step forward.”
Like the previous law, Senate Bill 131 would permit many victims who would otherwise be unable to file a civil suit due to time and age restrictions – like the Quarry brothers – to sue their abuser’s employer in civil court.
The proposed law would lift the statute of limitations for one year for the group of alleged victims who were 26 and older and missed the previous deadline.
The Catholic Church did not fight the 2002 bill that opened the flood gates for hundreds of victims and led to $1.2 billion in settlements from dioceses statewide, including $660 million in Los Angeles alone. This time, however, the church is fighting hard against the proposed legislation – from the pews to lobbyists.
The 2002 law led to settlements that also forced the Los Angeles archdiocese to make public earlier this year thousands of pages of confidential files kept on priests accused or suspected of abuse.
The California Council of Nonprofit Organization, a group affiliated with the California Catholic Conference, has spent more than $70,000 to fight the bill, according to documents from the California Secretary of State’s office. The Catholic Church and private organizations have called the bill a step backward, and charge they have been unfairly targeted because the proposed legislation does not apply to public schools.
The bill, as authored by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, specifically targets only private institutions.
In Los Angeles, Archbishop Jose Gomez urged local Catholics to contact their legislators, arguing in the church newsletter that the proposed change “puts the social services and educational work of the Church at risk.”
The LA archdiocese and other private institutions fear the reform would make them vulnerable to cases like those brought against the church following allegations of clergy sex abuse more than a decade ago.
“Our hearts can bleed and feel sad for those who didn’t come forward, but the purpose is good and fair public policy,” said Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, which represents the California Catholic Conference of Bishops.
The bill, Dolejsi argued, could have a devastating effect on nonprofits, such as Catholic schools, as well as state dioceses that have already paid more than $1 billion in settlements, while exempting public employers.
The LA archdiocese declined to comment on the bill and referred calls to Dolejsi. Archdiocese attorney J. Michael Hennigan did not respond to a request for comment.
The California Association of Private School Organizations, which includes pre-collegiate, independent and religious schools, has also said that the bill is unfair.
California’s current law states a victim can sue a third party up until the age of 26, or within three years of the time a victim realizes he or she was abused – whichever period expires later.
Under the proposed bill, the statute of limitations would be lifted for one year for the group of people who were 26 or older and missed the previous window because they discovered abuse trauma more recently.
Tom Lyon, a law expert at the University of Southern California, said the bill’s key provision addresses issues of fairness. One group of abuse victims has no means to come forward and file a civil suit, he said, and the proposed law aims to fix that.
“It’s hard to defend a case when it happened decades ago,” he said.
“But why not give them their day in court?”
The Quarry brothers’ case dates back to 2007, when they filed a civil lawsuit against the bishop of Oakland.
The brothers, now in their 40s and 50s, alleged they were molested by an Oakland priest in the 1970s but didn’t connect it to their distress until 2006. The priest admitted in a sworn deposition in 2005 that he had had sexual relationships with four sets of underage brothers during the 1970s, including at least two of the brothers in the Quarry case. The priest was forced to retire following abuse allegations in 1993 and died in 2010.
In 2011, the California Supreme Court ruled it was too late for the brothers to sue because the one-year window extended by the legislature had passed.
The proposed reform has already gone through the state Senate and passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee. It’s expected to go to the House Appropriations Committee in August.
Quarry and his brothers can’t refile their lawsuit even if the new legislation passes because the high court’s ruling in their individual case was final, but he hopes it passes so other victims are able to come forward.
“They call us all enemies of the church, but we’re not,” he said. “We’re victims of the church.”
The Church’s Errant Shepherds
By FRANK BRUNI Published: July 6, 2013
BOSTON, Philadelphia, Los Angeles. The archdioceses change but the overarching story line doesn’t, and last week Milwaukee had a turn in the spotlight, with the release of roughly 6,000 pages of records detailing decades of child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests there, a sweeping, searing encyclopedia of crime and insufficient punishment.
But the words I keep marveling at aren’t from that wretched trove. They’re from an open letter that Jerome Listecki, the archbishop of Milwaukee, wrote to Catholics just before the documents came out.
“Prepare to be shocked,” he said.
What a quaint warning, and what a clueless one.
Quaint because at this grim point in 2013, a quarter-century since child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church first captured serious public attention, few if any Catholics are still surprised by a priest’s predations.
Clueless because Listecki was referring to the rapes and molestations themselves, not to what has ultimately eroded many Catholics’ faith and what continues to be even more galling than the evil that a man — any man, including one in a cassock or collar — can do. I mean the evil that an entire institution can do, though it supposedly dedicates itself to good.
I mean the way that a religious organization can behave almost precisely as a corporation does, with fudged words, twisted logic and a transcendent instinct for self-protection that frequently trump the principled handling of a specific grievance or a particular victim.
The Milwaukee documents underscore this, especially in the person of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, now the archbishop of New York, previously the archbishop of Milwaukee from 2002 to 2009 and thus one of the characters in the story that the documents tell. Last week’s headlines rightly focused on his part, because he typifies the slippery ways of too many Catholic leaders.
The documents show that in 2007, as the Milwaukee archdiocese grappled with sex-abuse lawsuits and seemingly pondered bankruptcy, Dolan sought and got permission from the Vatican to transfer $57 million into a trust for Catholic cemetery maintenance, where it might be better protected, as he wrote, “from any legal claim and liability.”
Several church officials have said that the money had been previously flagged for cemetery care, and that Dolan was merely formalizing that.
But even if that’s so, his letter contradicts his strenuous insistence before its emergence that he never sought to shield church funds. He did precisely that, no matter the nuances of the motivation.
He’s expert at drafting and dwelling in gray areas. Back in Milwaukee he selectively released the names of sexually abusive priests in the archdiocese, declining to identify those affiliated with, and answerable to, particular religious orders — Jesuits, say, or Franciscans. He said that he was bound by canon law to take that exact approach.
But bishops elsewhere took a different one, identifying priests from orders, and in a 2010 article on Dolan in The Times, Serge F. Kovaleski wrote that a half-dozen experts on canon law said that it did not specifically address the situation that Dolan claimed it did.
Dolan has quibbled disingenuously over whether the $20,000 given to each abusive priest in Milwaukee who agreed to be defrocked can be characterized as a payoff, and he has blasted the main national group representing victims of priests as having “no credibility whatsoever.” Some of the group’s members have surely engaged in crude, provocative tactics, but let’s have a reality check: the group exists because of widespread crimes and a persistent cover-up in the church, because child after child was raped and priest after priest evaded accountability. I’m not sure there’s any ceiling on the patience that Dolan and other church leaders should be expected to muster, especially because they hold themselves up as models and messengers of love, charity and integrity.
That’s the thing. That’s what church leaders and church defenders who routinely question the amount of attention lavished on the church’s child sexual abuse crisis still don’t fully get.
Yes, as they point out, there are molesters in all walks of life. Yes, we can’t say with certainty that the priesthood harbors a disproportionate number of them.
But over the last few decades we’ve watched an organization that claims a special moral authority in the world pursue many of the same legal and public-relations strategies — shuttling around money, looking for loopholes, tarring accusers, massaging the truth — that are employed by organizations devoted to nothing more than the bottom line.
In San Diego, diocesan leaders who filed for bankruptcy were rebuked by a judge for misrepresenting the local church’s financial situation to parishioners being asked to help pay for sex-abuse settlements.
In St. Louis church leaders claimed not to be liable for an abusive priest because while he had gotten to know a victim on church property, the abuse itself happened elsewhere.
In Kansas City, Mo., Rebecca Randles, a lawyer who has represented abuse victims, says that the church floods the courtroom with attorneys who in turn drown her in paperwork. In one case, she recently told me, “the motion-to-dismiss pile is higher than my head — I’m 5-foot-4.”
Also in Kansas City, Bishop Robert Finn still inhabits his post as the head of the diocese despite his conviction last September for failing to report a priest suspected of child sexual abuse to the police. This is how the church is in fact unlike a corporation. It coddles its own at the expense of its image.
As for Dolan, he is by many accounts and appearances one of the good guys, or at least one of the better ones. He has often demonstrated a necessary vigor in ridding the priesthood of abusers. He has given many victims a voice.
But look at the language in this 2005 letter he wrote to the Vatican, which was among the documents released last week. Arguing for the speedier dismissal of an abusive priest, he noted, in cool legalese, “The liability for the archdiocese is great as is the potential for scandal if it appears that no definitive action has been taken.”
His attention to appearances, his focus on liability: he could be steering an oil company through a spill, a pharmaceutical giant through a drug recall.
As for “the potential for scandal,” that’s as poignantly optimistic a line as Listecki’s assumption that the newly released Milwaukee documents would shock Catholics. By 2005 the scandal that Dolan mentions wasn’t looming but already full blown, and by last week the only shocker left was that some Catholic leaders don’t grasp its greatest component: their evasions and machinations.
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on July 7, 2013, on page SR3 of the New York edition with the headline: The Church’s Errant Shepherds.
More priest abuse files must be released by September, judge says
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
LOS ANGELES (KABC) — Catholic Church officials have until September to release secret files on priests accused of molesting children in the Los Angeles archdiocese.
Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias made the ruling Tuesday and attorneys say the first files could be made public within the next few weeks.
After a five-year legal battle to keep the documents sealed, the archdiocese released files on 120 priests earlier this year, but many clergy members who worked within the archdiocese weren’t included if they belonged to separate religious orders.
Religious order priests often were assigned to work in Los Angeles parishes but belonged to separate organizations, each of which had its own chain of command and specific mission.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
L.A. Archdiocese to pay $10 million to 4 alleged abuse victims
By Harriet Ryan and Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times March 12, 2013, 7:06 p.m.
The agreement settles four suits against the archdiocese concerning Michael Baker, who authorities believe molested 23 boys over three decades as a parish priest.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has agreed to pay nearly $10 million to four men who say they were molested by one of the region’s most notorious pedophile priests.
The agreement brings to an end four lawsuits against the archdiocese involving Michael Baker, a charismatic parish priest accused of molesting at least 23 boys over three decades.
The church has settled numerous cases brought by Baker’s alleged victims in the past, but the $9.9-million settlement announced Tuesday is the first settlement since the January release of 12,000 pages of internal archdiocese records about abuse. Many of those documents detailed Cardinal Roger Mahony’s dealings with Baker.
The priest admitted his abuse of two boys to the then-archbishop during a 1986 retreat. Mahony sent Baker to a New Mexico treatment center but later returned him to the ministry, and Baker molested again. In 2007, he was convicted of abusing two boys and sent to prison.
Two of the civil cases settled were set for trial next month. Vince Finaldi, a lawyer for the alleged victims, said he believed the file release “played heavily” into the archdiocese’s decision to settle the cases.
“Once we got the files, it confirmed everything we had argued for years and years,” Finaldi said. “Cardinal Mahony’s fingerprints were all over the case.”
A lawyer for the archdiocese said the church was committed to compensating people hurt by Baker, and the negotiations were “just a matter of reaching a reasonable number.”
“We’ve taken responsibility for Michael Baker, whatever he did and for whomever he did it to,” said attorney J. Michael Hennigan.
A lawyer for Baker, who was defrocked in 2000, did not respond to messages seeking comment. Baker was released from prison in 2011 and lives in Costa Mesa. Baker is not required to pay anything under the terms of the settlement, Finaldi said.
The men who settled the suits range in age from 24 to 54. Two are brothers of a third man whom Baker was convicted of molesting. That third brother previously received a $2-million settlement. Under a distribution agreement determined by a judge, his brothers will receive $4 million each for abuse that they said they suffered in the mid-1990s.
A man who alleged that Baker abused him in 1974 and another who said the priest victimized him in the mid-1980s each received nearly $1 million.
Archdiocese wants upcoming sex abuse trials moved far from L.A.
By Harriet Ryan and Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times March 15, 2013, 5:27 p.m.
Church asks L.A. County judge to delay the trials or move them to San Luis Obispo County because it doesn’t believe a fair, impartial jury can be found locally.
In an acknowledgment that new revelations in the priest abuse scandal have tarnished the church’s image, lawyers for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles are seeking to postpone upcoming sexual abuse trials or relocate them to a courthouse 200 miles away because they don’t believe they can get a fair trial in Southern California.
The church’s request to a judge for a delay or change of venue in pending cases this week came just hours after the announcement that the archdiocese would pay two brothers an unprecedented $4 million each to avoid a molestation trial set for April. The payouts to the men, part of a $10-million deal ending four lawsuits, dwarfed settlements the church paid victims in recent years and underscored the archdiocese’s reluctance to face juries in its own backyard.
“We think that the environment in Los Angeles today is currently hostile,” archdiocese lawyer J. Michael Hennigan said.
The January release of personnel files showing that church hierarchy in the 1980s and 1990s shielded abuser priests from police refocused public attention on the clergy sex scandal. In court papers, archdiocese attorneys blamed media coverage, which they described as “unrelenting obloquy, condemnation and contempt,” for poisoning the potential jury pool.
The church proposed to Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Emilie H. Elias on Tuesday that four suits concerning a Mexican priest accused of abusing more than two dozen boys in L.A. be moved to San Luis Obispo County. In the alternative, the church asked for a trial delay of at least six months to allow what Hennigan called a “cooling-off period.”
The archdiocese bolstered its request to the judge with a report from a jury consultant describing “an intense level of vitriol” in the region toward the former archbishop, Cardinal Roger Mahony, and the church.
Donald Vinson, who worked on the O.J. Simpson and Oklahoma City bombing trials, did not survey potential jurors but said that based on a review of media reports and Google search trends, “the defendants in this matter will not be able to obtain a fair and impartial jury trial in any venue within the Los Angeles media market.”
He said the coverage had turned “passive consumers” of news to “active investigators of the issues” and cited caustic, offensive online comments about Mahony on KTLA’s website.
Changes of venue in civil trials are highly unusual and Richard Gabriel, a jury consultant who has worked for many parties seeking to relocate cases, said the archdiocese’s request was a long shot. Child molestation cases “engender very high emotions and very strong feelings,” he said, but judges are “very stringent” in evaluating whether moving trials is really necessary.
“When you have a metropolitan area of 8 to 10 million people, it’s pretty hard to say that out of that many, you can’t find a fair and impartial jury,” Gabriel said.
The archdiocese has always settled abuse cases before trial, but the possibility of making plaintiffs prove their claims in the unpredictable setting of a trial has been a negotiating point for church lawyers as they try to drive down the amount of settlements.
The change of venue request this week was an acknowledgment that the archdiocese believed it no longer had the option of going to trial in L.A. Hennigan, who as the archdiocese’s lead litigator has overseen two massive settlements totaling $720 million and dozens of smaller payouts, said he had no confidence in local juries given the “media frenzy about the events happening 20-plus years ago.”
“It is not likely that there is anyone who has not been affected” by the publicity, Hennigan said.
The $4-million settlements to two brothers seemed to reflect a changing landscape. The priest accused by the men, Michael Baker, is suspected of molesting at least 23 minors and was convicted criminally of abusing two boys. He admitted molesting youths in a private conversation with Mahony in 1986. Mahony sent him for treatment but returned him to ministry and Baker molested again.
When the brothers initially filed their case in 2011, the church expressed strong doubts about the validity of their claim. A third, older brother received a $2.2-million settlement from the church the previous year for molestation by Baker and archdiocese attorneys suggested the subsequent suit was a money grab.
“Each has previously denied that any abuse occurred at all…. Neither came forward until after their brother received a multimillion-dollar settlement,” church lawyers wrote.
Baker admitted molesting the older brother of the men suing him but told sheriff’s detectives he never touched them and volunteered to take a polygraph. Prosecutors declined to file charges.
Attorneys for the men said the church’s tone changed after Baker’s personnel file was made public in January. The documents revealed that one of Mahony’s top aides, Thomas J. Curry, suggested strategies for keeping police from investigating Baker, including preventing him from seeing certain therapists because they were required to report him to police.
“We did not believe they were serious about settling the cases until the documents came out,” said John Manly, an attorney for the men.
With the church ready to pay, the question became how much. The church paid an average of $1.3 million per individual in its 2007 settlement with hundreds of victims. In recent years, with suits facing tougher standards for statute of limitations, the church paid far smaller sums. In 2011, for example, it settled seven claims for an average of $83,000 per person.
The church’s insurers, which paid a chunk of the $660-million settlement six years ago, are long out of the picture — all payments now come directly from church coffers. The archdiocese said in a recent financial report that it was considering a $200-million fundraising campaign to repay loans it took out in past years to cover sex abuse payouts.
The archdiocese ultimately agreed to pay $9.9 million to the brothers and two other men who said Baker abused them. A judge apportioned the settlement. Two of the men, who alleged that they were molested before Mahony learned of Baker’s history of abuse, got just under $1 million each, and the brothers, who said they were abused in the 1990s after the cardinal was warned, split $8 million.
Hennigan said the size of the settlement had to do with a changed “public attitude” toward the church as well as the notoriety and severity of Baker’s case.
“Michael Baker is our poster boy for misconduct,” he said.
Twelve other sex abuse lawsuits remain pending against the archdiocese, Hennigan said, including the four cases the church is trying to get moved to San Luis Obispo County. Those claims concern another allegedly prolific pedophile priest whose personnel file provides damaging evidence against the archdiocese. Authorities suspect that Nicholas Aguilar Rivera, a visiting priest from Tehuacan, Mexico, molested at least 26 children during nine months in Los Angeles in 1987 and 1988. After parents contacted the archdiocese, Curry warned him of a police investigation and the priest left the country. He remains a fugitive.
Victims: Pope Benedict Protects Accused Pedophile Bishops
By BRIAN ROSS , RHONDA SCHWARTZ and ANNA SCHECTER April 15, 2008
From the link: http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/story?id=4656143
Even as he told reporters on his flight to America that he was “deeply ashamed” over the church sex abuse scandal, Pope Benedict was accused by victims of protecting some 19 bishops accused of sexually abusing children.
“As a Catholic, I have to sadly conclude that he is not serious about ridding the church of corrupt bishops,” said Anne Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a group tracking public records involving the bishops.
According to the group, of the 19 bishops “credibly accused of abusing children,” none has lost his title, been publicly censured by the Vatican or referred for criminal prosecutions.
“The sexual corruption in the Catholic church starts at the very top,” said Doyle.
Pope Benedict told reporters on his flight this morning from Rome to Washington, D.C., he would do everything possible to avoid a repeat of the scandal. “We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry,” he said, according to Reuters.
While the church has moved to expel accused priests, critics say the higher-ranking bishops have been given favored treatment. “The attitude of the bishops towards the victims and the families of sexual abuse and predatory clergy is drop dead,” said Michael Wegs, of Marion, Iowa, one of nine former high schools students who said they were abused at a seminary in Missouri by former Palm Beach, Fla. Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell.
When the allegations were made public, Bishop O’Connell admitted at least two cases of abuse and was allowed to resign. He now lives on the beautiful, sprawling grounds of the Trappists Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina.
“He deserves to be in jail,” said Wegs, his accuser. “I don’t think there is any justice because he is allowed to travel, go where he please. He’s still a bishop, and he’s living among priests in the hierarchical structure; he is a top dog despite the fact that he’s a sexual predator.” Wegs says O’Connell has failed to even apologize to his victims.
Bishop O’Connell did not return phone calls from ABCNews.com seeking comment, but church officials say he and other bishops have been punished appropriately. “You cannot put on clerical attire, and you cannot service in a public way in ministry,” said Austin, Texas Bishop Gregory Aymond, chair of the U.S. Bishop’s Committee on Protection of Children and Young People.
“That is a very, very significant consequence, and I would say a significant penalty,” said Bishop Aymond, who conceded the accused bishops maintain their title. “Priests and bishops remain priests and bishops forever, regardless of what happens to them or what they do,” said Bishop Aymond.
But victims groups and church critics say the pope can and should do much more to punish the bishops and finally resolve the scandal.
Before he became pope, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he was in charge of monitoring cases of pedophile priests and was directly involved in deciding what punishment, if any, would be administered to priests and bishops.
“Priests who abuse children can be removed from the priesthood, but they do not remove bishops, they do not remove cardinals,” said author Jason Berry who has been tracking the sex abuse scandal and produced a documentary film on the subject, “Vows of Silence,” which premiered in New Orleans last night. “The problem is the power structure. There is no accountability,” said Berry.
Berry says the pope’s decision to have the Los Angeles archbishop, Cardinal Roger Mahoney, accompany him on his trip proves the point. “Why would you want someone in your entourage” like Roger Mahoney, asked Berry.
“This man has overseen a great many cases in which priests were moved from parish to parish. His diocese has paid over $660 million in settlements. And yet this cardinal has refused to release the files on these priests who have abused children,” Berry said.
Cardinal Mahoney did not return calls from ABC News seeking comment.