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Archdiocese wants upcoming sex abuse trials moved far from L.A.


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.

From the link: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-church-lawsuits-20130316,0,863542.story

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.

Cardinal Mahony ‘unflappable’ in deposition on priest abuse cases


Cardinal Mahony ‘unflappable’ in deposition on priest abuse cases

February 23, 2013 |  3:08 pm

From the link: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2013/02/cardinal-roger-mahony-deposition-priest-abuse.html

A “relatively unflappable” Cardinal Roger Mahony answered questions under oath for more than 3 1/2 hours Saturday about his handling of clergy sex abuse cases, according to the lawyer who questioned the former archbishop.

“He remained calm and seemingly collected at all times,” said attorney Anthony De Marco, who represents a man suing the Los Angeles Archdiocese over abuse he claims he suffered at the hands of a priest who visited his parish in 1987.

Mahony has been deposed many times in the past, but Saturday’s session was the first time he had been asked about recently released internal church records that show he shielded abusers from law enforcement.

De Marco declined to detail the questions he asked or the answers the cardinal provided, citing a judge’s protective order.

The deposition occurred just before Mahony was to board a plane for Italy to vote in the conclave that will elect the next pope. In a Twitter post Friday, Mahony wrote that it was “just a few short hours before my departure for Rome.”

Church officials did not return requests for comment.

The case, set for trial in April, concerns a Mexican priest, Nicholas Aguilar Rivera. Authorities believe he molested at least 26 children during a nine-month stay in Los Angeles.

Recently released church files show Aguilar Rivera fled to Mexico after a top Mahony aide, Thomas Curry, warned him that parents were likely to go the police and that he was in “a good deal of danger.” Aguilar Rivera remains a fugitive in Mexico.

The archdiocese had agreed Mahony could be questioned for four hours about the Aguilar Rivera case and 25 other priests accused in the same period. De Marco said he did not get to ask everything he wanted and would seek additional time after the cardinal returned from the Vatican.

Past depositions of Mahony have eventually become public, and De Marco said he would follow court procedures to seek the release of a transcript of Saturday’s deposition.

Cardinals Dolan and Mahony quizzed on child abuse


Cardinals Dolan and Mahony quizzed on child abuse

21 February 2013 Last updated at 14:38 ET

From the link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-21539070

Two US cardinals due to go to Rome to help elect a new pope are being questioned about cases of child abuse by priests under their supervision.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan testified about his release of names of accused clergy members in his former archdiocese.

Cardinal Roger Mahony will be questioned on Saturday about a Mexican priest accused of abusing 26 children.

Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly said last week he would retire, becoming the first pontiff to do so since 1415.

Cardinal Dolan, 62, also the Archbishop of New York and president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, has been seen as a long-shot candidate for the papacy.

‘Maneuvering offenders’

His deposition came during a bankruptcy trial filed in 2011 by Cardinal Dolan’s successor to the archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, over abuse claims from nearly 500 people.

The scandal has seen the removal of several church officials, including another former archbishop.

A spokesman for Cardinal Dolan said he was eager to co-operate with lawyers on the trial.

“He has indicated over the past two years that he was eager to co-operate in whatever way he could,” said spokesman Joseph Zwilling.

The plaintiffs have said the evidence given by Cardinal Dolan would help them to establish when church officials first became aware of the abuse allegations and victims.

Current Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki has said the church is seeking bankruptcy protection so it can continue to operate, while still compensating victims.

It is the eighth US diocese to take such action.

A spokesman said Cardinal Dolan’s decision to make public the names of suspected abusers was part of a wider effort to begin the healing process.

But the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests is asking for the cardinal’s testimony to be made public.

Cardinal Dolan “did a lot of creative maneuvering of priest sex offenders and creative accounting of church money,” said Peter Isley, a director of the group.

Calls to withdraw

Meanwhile, Cardinal Mahony is due to provide evidence in a separate case over visiting Mexican priest Reverend Nicolas Aguilar Rivera.

Police believe he abused 26 children in 1987 and fled to Mexico a year later  when parents complained.

He has been removed from the priesthood and is still a fugitive.

In recent weeks, the archdiocese of Los Angeles has released thousands of documents concerning over 120 accused clergy members.

The papers showed Cardinal Mahony and other church officials protected some of those accused and made no effort to warn churchgoers about the risk to their children.

There are mounting calls for Cardinal Mahony to withdraw from the conclave. But in blog and Twitter posts the cardinal has indicated he intends to go to Rome.

Abuse Files Allegedly Show How LA Church Leaders Shielded Priests


Abuse Files Allegedly Show How LA Church Leaders Shielded Priests

January 22, 2013 9:31 AM

From the link: http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2013/01/22/abuse-files-show-how-la-church-leaders-shielded-priests/

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Retired Cardinal Roger Mahony and other top Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles officials maneuvered behind the scenes to shield molester priests, provide damage control for the church and keep parishioners in the dark, according to church personnel files.

The confidential records filed in a lawsuit against the archdiocese disclose how the church handled abuse allegations for decades and also reveal dissent from a top Mahony aide who criticized his superiors for covering up allegations of abuse rather than protecting children.

Notes inked by Mahony demonstrate he was disturbed about abuse and sent problem priests for treatment, but there also were lengthy delays or oversights in some cases. Mahony received psychological reports on some priests that mentioned the possibility of many other victims, for example, but there is no indication that he or other church leaders investigated further.

“This is all intolerable and unacceptable to me,” Mahony wrote in 1991 on a file of the Rev. Lynn Caffoe, a priest suspected of locking boys in his room, videotaping their crotches and running up a $100 phone sex bill while with a boy. Caffoe was sent for therapy and removed from ministry, but Mahony didn’t move to defrock him until 2004, a decade after the archdiocese lost track of him.

“He is a fugitive from justice,” Mahony wrote to the Vatican’s Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI. “A check of the Social Security index discloses no report of his demise, so presumably he is alive somewhere.”

Caffoe died in 2009, six years after a newspaper reporter found him working at a homeless mission two blocks from a Salinas elementary school.

Mahony was out of town but issued a statement Monday apologizing for his mistakes and saying he had been “naive” about the lasting impacts of abuse. He has since met with 90 abuse victims privately and keeps an index card with each victim’s name in his private chapel, where he prays for them daily, he said. The card also includes the name of the molesting priest “lest I forget that real priests created this appalling harm.”

“It remains my daily and fervent prayer that God’s grace will flood the heart and soul of each victim, and that their life journey continues forward with ever greater healing,” Mahony wrote. “I am sorry.”

The apology stands in contrast to letters Mahony was writing to accused priests more than two decades ago.

In 1987, he wrote to the Rev. Michael Wempe — who would ultimately admit to abusing 13 boys — while the priest was undergoing in-patient therapy at a New Mexico treatment center.

“Each of you there at Jemez Springs is very much in my prayers and I call you to mind each day during my celebration of the Eucharist,” Mahony wrote to the priest, adding that he supported him in the experience.

The church’s sex abuse policy was evolving and Mahony inherited some of the worst cases from his predecessor when he took over in 1985, J. Michael Hennigan, an archdiocese attorney, said in a separate series of emails. Priests were sent out of state for psychological treatment because they revealed more when their therapists were not required to report child abuse to law enforcement, as they were in California, he said.

At the time, clergy were not mandated sex abuse reporters and the church let the victims’ families decide whether to contact police, he added.

In at least one case, a priest victimized the children of illegal immigrants and threatened to have them deported if they told, the files show.

The files are attached to a motion seeking punitive damages in a case involving a Mexican priest sent to Los Angeles in 1987 after he was brutally beaten in his parish south of Mexico City.

When parents complained the Rev. Nicholas Aguilar Rivera molested in LA, church officials told the priest but waited two days to call police — allowing him to flee to Mexico, court papers allege. At least 26 children told police they were abused during his 10 months in Los Angeles. The now-defrocked priest is believed to be in Mexico and remains a fugitive.

The personnel files of 13 other clerics were attached to the motion to show a cover-up pattern, said attorney Anthony De Marco, who represents the 35-year-old plaintiff. In one instance, a memo to Mahony discusses sending a cleric to a therapist who also is an attorney so any incriminating evidence is protected from authorities by lawyer-client privilege. In another instance, archdiocese officials paid a secret salary to a priest exiled to the Philippines after he and six other clerics were accused of having sex with a teen and impregnating her.

The exhibits offer a glimpse at some 30,000 pages to be made public as part of a record-setting $660 million settlement. The archdiocese agreed to give the files to more than 500 victims of priest abuse in 2007, but a lawyer for about 30 of the priests fought to keep records sealed. A judge recently ordered the church to release them without blacking out the names of church higher-ups after The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times intervened.

They echo similar releases from other dioceses nationwide that have shown how church leaders for decades shuffled problem priests from parish to parish, covered up reports of abuse and didn’t contact law enforcement. Top church officials in Missouri and Pennsylvania were criminally convicted last year for their roles in covering up abuse, more than a decade after the clergy sex abuse scandal began to unfold in Boston.

Mahony, who retired in 2011 after 26 years at the helm of the 4.3-million person archdiocese, has been particularly hounded by the case of the Rev. Michael Baker, who was sentenced to prison in 2007 for molestation — two decades after the priest confessed his abuse to Mahony.

Mahony noted the “extremely grave and serious situation” when he sent Baker for psychological treatment after the priest told him in 1986 that he had molested two brothers over seven years.

Baker returned to ministry the next year with a doctor’s recommendation that he be defrocked immediately if he spent any time with minors. Despite several documented instances of being alone with boys, the priest wasn’t removed from ministry until 2000. Around the same time, the church learned he was conducting baptisms without permission.

Church officials discussed announcing Baker’s abuse in churches where he had worked, but Mahony rejected the idea.

“We could open up another firestorm — and it takes us years to recover from those,” Mahony wrote in an Oct. 6, 2000, memo. “Is there no alternative to public announcements at all the Masses in 15 parishes??? Wow — that really scares the daylights out of me!!”

The aide, Msgr. Richard Loomis, noted his dismay over the matter when he retired in 2001 as vicar for clergy, the top church official who handled priestly discipline. In a memo to his successor, Loomis said Baker’s attorney disclosed the priest had at least 10 other victims.

“We’ve stepped back 20 years and are being driven by the need to cover-up and to keep the presbyteriate & public happily ignorant rather than the need to protect children,” Loomis wrote.

“The only other option is to sit and wait until another victim comes forward. Then someone else will end up owning the archdiocese of Los Angeles. The liability issues involved aside, I think that course of complete (in)action would be immoral and unethical.”

Mahony preferred targeted warnings at schools and youth groups rather than a warning read at Masses, Hennigan said. Parish announcements were made two years later.

Baker, who was paroled in 2011, is alleged to have molested 20 children in his 26-year career. He could not be reached for comment.

The files also show Mahony corresponded with abusive priests while they underwent treatment out of state and worked to keep them out of California to avoid criminal and civil trouble.

One case involved the Msgr. Peter Garcia, a molester whom Mahony’s predecessor sent for treatment in New Mexico. Mahony kept Garcia there after a lawyer warned in 1986 that the archdiocese could face “severe civil liability” if he returned and reoffended. Garcia had admitted raping an 11-year-old boy and later told a psychologist he molested 15 to 17 young boys.

“If Monsignor Garcia were to reappear here within the archdiocese, we might very well have some type of legal action filed in both the criminal and civil sectors,” Mahony wrote to the director of Garcia’s New Mexico treatment program.

Mahony then sent Garcia to another treatment center, but Garcia returned to LA in 1988 after being removed from ministry. He then contacted a victim’s mother and asked to spend time with her younger son, according to a letter in the file.

Mahony moved to defrock him in 1989, and Garcia died a decade later.