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.
Newark archbishop shielded at least 4 priests accused of sexual abuse
Published: Sunday, December 05, 2010, 8:30 AM Updated: Sunday, December 05, 2010, 6:40 PM
Eight years ago, Newark Archbishop John J. Myers stood among the nation’s bishops at a landmark gathering in Dallas and helped craft a policy intended to cleanse the priesthood of pedophiles and restore trust among shaken American Catholics.
In ratifying the Dallas Charter, Myers and his colleagues promised a new era of reform and transparency. Allegations of sexual abuse against priests would no longer be hidden from parishioners or police, and any priest believed to have molested a child would be permanently banned from ministry.
In the years since, Myers and his aides say the archdiocese has taken aggressive measures to identify abusive priests.
But a Star-Ledger review of the archbishop’s record since 2002 shows Myers on at least four occasions has shielded priests accused of sexual abuse against minors and one adult. In the four instances, the priests have either admitted improper sexual contact, pleaded guilty to crimes stemming from accusations of sexual misconduct or been permanently barred from ministry by the archdiocese after allegations of sexual misconduct.
The archdiocese also wrote a letter of recommendation for one of the priests, a week after it learned he was accused of breaking into a woman’s home in Florida and possibly assaulting her.
From one perspective, the newspaper’s findings suggest Myers continues to take a cautious hand in publicly naming priests. The findings, coupled with testimony from a 2009 deposition, show the issue weighs heavily on Myers.
From another view, the archbishop has failed to live up to the guidelines and spirit of what was set forth in Dallas. The most controversial example is the Rev. Michael Fugee, who confessed to police eight years ago that he molested a 13-year-old boy. Fugee was never ousted from the priesthood, and the archdiocese assigned him last year as chaplain to St. Michael’s Hospital in Newark without telling hospital officials of his past.
In other cases:
– In 2004, the Newark Archdiocese wrote letters to six dioceses in Florida on behalf of the Rev. Wladyslaw Gorak, one week after learning Gorak’s ministry had been terminated in the Orlando Diocese — after he was accused of breaking into a woman’s home.
– Also in 2004, the archdiocese banned the Rev. Gerald Ruane from public ministry after investigating an allegation he molested a boy, but did not publicly notify lay people or other priests. Ruane continued to say Mass and wear his collar in public.
– In 2007, the archdiocese failed to inform lay people that it found a molestation claim credible against the Rev. Daniel Medina, who had worked in parishes in Elizabeth and Jersey City. The case wasn’t made public until a victims group uncovered an alert sent by the archdiocese in September 2008 to other bishops saying Medina was on administrative leave and could not be located.
Neither Myers nor the priests identified above would agree to an interview for this story. But Myers’ spokesman, James Goodness, said the archbishop has lived up to his promises of 2002 and that the archdiocese has carefully followed procedures meant to bar abusive priests from ministry. He said it has trained thousands of church employees to spot molestation, published procedures for filing sex accusations against priests and passed annual audits examining whether it keeps its promises. He noted, too, that the archdiocese has an agreement with the state Attorney General’s Office to forward all allegations of sexual misconduct to county prosecutors.
“We do not have priests in ministry without proper supervision, and those who have had credible allegations have been removed from ministry,” Goodness said. “We do notify the communities where people (priests) have served of the existence of allegations and the results of all our inquiries.
“We believe we are living both within the letter and the spirit of the charter,” he said.
Asked to provide the number of priests accused of or disciplined for sexual misbehavior with a minor since 2002, Goodness declined. In 2004, Myers did announce the results of an internal review prompted by the scandal. From 1950 to 2002, Myers said there were 91 allegations made against the 3,310 clergy who served in the archdiocese, and that 51 were deemed credible.
In the past, Myers has defended his policy of not naming accused priests, citing the need to protect their reputations and noting that accusers themselves often request anonymity.
“This has been difficult for me because of the special role I have as Bishop,” he wrote in 2004. “I know full well my responsibilities to investigate any accusation, and to fulfill my promise that we will provide safe environments for all young people. Yet I also feel keenly the pain that my brother priests experience when anyone has been accused.”
Longtime critics of the church say Myers’ record shows a continued arrogance.
“Archbishop Myers is not indicating any serious intent to protect kids from the credibly accused sex offenders he knows about,” said Anne Doyle, co-director of bishopaccountability.org, a watchdog group that compiles a database of news articles on priests accused of molesting minors. “It’s clear by the pattern that this practice is still one of arrogant secrecy.”
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Myers “continues to act slowly, deceptively, callously and irresponsibly.”
Though Myers rarely speaks publicly about the sex abuse issue, he did share his thoughts in a wide-ranging deposition for a lawsuit brought by Gorak’s victim. In the Nov. 3, 2009, deposition, he defended his handling of several cases, including that of Fugee, while also expressing sympathy for victims.
“Having met with various victims, they often blame themselves,” he said. “They often suffer loss of self-image and can move onto other more serious problems, trying to compensate for the feelings that they don’t want to deal with.”
“And what do you mean when you say ‘move onto other serious problems’?” asked the plaintiff’s attorney.
“Drugs,” Myers said.
On March 19, 2001, detectives arrived at St. Elizabeth’s Church in Wyckoff and picked up the Rev. Michael Fugee, who was alleged to have molested a 13-year-old boy.
For the first 90 minutes of an interview at the police station, Fugee denied the allegations, Detective John Haviland of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office later testified. Eventually though, Haviland said Fugee admitted to the charges and “then made some unusual comments about his sexuality, being a compulsive masturbator. He also stated he was bisexual, and that he was a virgin. He also said that he was infatuated with crotches or penis size.”
Haviland testified that Fugee then admitted to two separate incidents with the boy, where the priest “intentionally touched his crotch over his clothes. He said both times they were during wrestling, and that there were other people present, but he did not believe that they would have actually seen what he did. He described it as an urge.”
At trial in 2003, Fugee recanted the confession, saying he lied to police so he could go home earlier. The judge ruled the confession was “totally voluntary,” and a jury convicted him of aggravated criminal sexual contact while acquitting him of child endangerment. An appeals court later overturned the conviction, ruling the judge improperly instructed jurors. The appellate ruling did not question the validity of the confession.
Prosecutors dismissed the case in 2009 after securing an agreement with Fugee and the archdiocese through pretrial intervention stating that Fugee never again will minister to minors.
“We brought the case against him … believing that he did it, and believing that we could prove it,” Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said. “And notwithstanding the reversal, we still believe that he did it.”
In October 2009, The Star-Ledger learned Fugee had been given a job as chaplain at St. Michael’s Hospital in Newark. Approached in the chaplain’s office, Fugee showed a reporter a card that identified him as a “Roman Catholic priest in good standing.”
The hospital, upon learning of his past, had him removed.
Goodness said Myers does not view Fugee’s confession as genuine and thus believes he can return to public ministry.
“That’s one of the issues that got challenged in the courtroom,” Goodness said. Myers, he said, “says that there may have been problems with it (the confession).”
Goodness also said “a lot of people” in the court system felt Fugee’s confession should not be taken at face value. When asked who those people were, he named only Fugee’s attorney.
During the November 2009 deposition, Myers expressed disappointment that Fugee let detectives interview him without counsel.
“Is it your recollection,” the plaintiff’s attorney, Jessica Arbour, asked Myers, “that he (Fugee) admitted that he touched the boy?”
“Unfortunately, without his lawyer present, he did,” Myers said.
For its part, the Survivors Network, or SNAP, called Fugee’s assignment to St. Michael’s “particularly egregious” and said it was the most reckless move by any American bishop in 2009.
Last spring, Fugee filed a motion to have his case expunged from public records. A judge ruled against the expungement in October. Fugee’s current job, for the archdiocese’s mission office, involves its overseas missionary efforts.
‘A SEAL OF APPROVAL’
In 2004, two days before Christmas, the Newark Archdiocese learned the Rev. Wladyslaw Gorak, who had been assigned to work in the Diocese of Orlando, Fla., had been accused of assaulting a female parishioner.
Orlando Bishop Thomas Wenski wrote to Myers and explained he had just terminated Gorak’s ministry, citing the priest’s erratic behavior in public and the complaint of a woman who said “that he broke into her house and may have had physical contact with her.”
A week later — on Dec. 30, 2004 — Myers’s number two, the Very Rev. Robert Emery, wrote six separate letters on Gorak’s behalf to church officials in other Florida dioceses. The letters — sent to officials in Miami, Palm Beach, St. Petersburg, St. Augustine, Venice and Pensacola-Tallahassee — noted that Gorak’s faculties had been removed in the Orlando Diocese and that the Newark Archdiocese subsequently placed him on six months of medical leave. But they made no mention of the fresh accusation against Gorak in Orlando.
“Father has expressed a desire to seek permanent ministry in Florida in the future and currently resides in Lakeland, Florida,” each one of the letters reads. “Father continues to enjoy the faculties of the Archdiocese of Newark. Should you be contacted by Father Gorak, I would be happy to provide you with additional information about his status.”
The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a Catholic priest who in the 1980s warned bishops about sex abuse among clergy, said the archdiocese should have mentioned the accusation “rather than try to pawn him off on someone else.”
The Rev. Thomas Reese, research fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center, said the letter’s omission of the accusation was disturbing.
“Does he have to describe it in gruesome detail in the letter? No. The letter has to be clear enough that the bishop receiving it knows there’s a red flag here that needs to be investigated before he even considers taking this guy,” Reese said. “Saying that he continues to enjoy the faculties of the Newark diocese, he is giving a seal of approval for the guy.”
Goodness defended the letter and said “we put them on notice that they need to call us with anything if he does show an interest in working in another diocese.”
Asked why the letter did not mention the accusation, Goodness said he did not know.
The archdiocese placed Gorak on leave in May 2005, after Orlando police charged him with assault, false imprisonment, aggravated stalking and battery. A woman told police he broke into her home, pulled a telephone from its jack, removed his clothes and tore some of the woman’s clothes while trying to remove them, according to a police report.
Two months later, Myers wrote Gorak in jail, sending his prayers and best wishes, and promising that the church would follow the advice of the accused priest’s attorney.
In 2006, Gorak pleaded guilty to assault, and the archdiocese earlier this year settled a lawsuit brought by the accuser, the woman in Florida, for an undisclosed amount.
His history with women came into focus in the lawsuit. In 2004, when he asked to be transferred from Newark to Florida, the archdiocese informed the Diocese of Orlando that he was a priest in good standing even though a police report from 2001 and a confidential memo written by the Rev. Ron Marczewski, then of St. Adalbert’s in Elizabeth where Gorak worked in 1998, indicated serious misbehavior with women, court documents show.
The archdiocese contended in the lawsuit that the priest’s confidential memo never found its way to the chancery office. In depositions and court documents, church officials said they never talked to the priest about Gorak, even though on two occasions they formally reviewed Gorak’s record.
Only earlier this year did Myers begin proceedings to have Gorak laicized, that is, formally removed from the clergy, according to Goodness.
In the deposition last year, Myers was asked by the victim’s attorney what he would have done if told, before Gorak’s May 2005 arrest, that he had tried to rape a woman in Orlando. Myers said he would have recalled Gorak to Newark and advised him to return to his native Poland.
NO ALERTS ISSUED
On Holy Thursday in 2005, the Rev. Gerald Ruane concelebrated Mass at St. Joseph’s Shrine in Stirling. Weeks later, he appeared in vestments in a TV interview from Rome after Pope John Paul II’s death.
The problem was, Ruane wasn’t supposed to appear in public as a priest. And few people seemed to know of that restriction.
In 2004, the archdiocese permanently barred Ruane from ministry after investigating accusations by at least two minors. One, Michael Iatesta, said Ruane molested him throughout his adolescence. Ruane denied the allegations.
Upon learning of Ruane’s subsequent public appearances, Iatesta complained to church officials, who privately reprimanded the priest, according to the archdiocese. But Iatesta and SNAP officials said the archdiocese should have informed the public of the restrictions.
In March 2006, Myers changed his policy on alerting parishioners about investigations, saying he would alert parishioners when a pastor was permanently barred from ministry over sex allegations. At the time, a Star-Ledger review of policies in New Jersey’s four other dioceses showed Myers was the only one not already doing that.
SNAP praised the announcement of the change.
Four months later, the archbishop had to decide whether to alert a different parish about a different priest, the Rev. Daniel Medina.
Medina had pleaded guilty to child endangerment and was sentenced to three months’ probation. He admitted in court that he “inappropriately placed a young boy on (his) lap.”
The boy had alleged in 2004 that Medina had oral sex with him, when he was 8, in the sacristy of Blessed Sacrament Church in Elizabeth. The prosecutor, John Esmerado, said he told the archdiocese the plea bargain reflected his desire to avoid making the child testify, rather than from any weakness in the initial charge.
The archdiocese failed to alert parishioners in 2006 when Medina pleaded guilty, in 2007 when its review board deemed the accusation credible, or in 2008 when it alerted Catholic bishops nationwide that it had barred Medina from ministry and couldn’t locate him. SNAP eventually obtained that alert in September 2008 and publicized it.
Asked at the time why Myers hadn’t notified parishioners, Goodness said, “This is being done on our schedule.”
In April 2005, Gorak changed his name to Walter Fisher, six months after he assaulted the Florida woman and one month before his arrest. At the deposition in November 2009, Myers said the archdiocese did not know about Gorak’s name change until after the fact.
“It was inappropriate for him to do so without my permission,” Myers said. “His bishop in Poland or whichever diocese he had been ordained (in) should have been notified so that the ordination register could be changed to reflect this legal change.”
The attorney taking Myers’ deposition then asked if Gorak, by changing his name, had violated his oath of obedience to Myers.
“I don’t know if I would go that far,” Myers said, “but it was inappropriate because it introduced a confusion into sacramental record-keeping.”
Gorak isn’t the only former priest from the Newark Archdiocese to have a run-in with the law and then change his name. In 1982, the Rev. Carmine Sita of St. Aloysius Church in Jersey City admitted sexually assaulting a teenage boy. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five months’ probation.
He then legally changed his name.
Within a year of his guilty plea, he was the Rev. Gerald Howard. At that time — still on the rolls as a Newark Archdiocese priest — he went to work at a parish in the Diocese of Jefferson City, Mo., and then as a counselor at a Missouri hospital.
The Newark Archbishop at the time, Peter Gerety, never informed the public about the name change. Neither did his successor, Theodore McCarrick. And neither did Myers — even after the archdiocese conducted a comprehensive review of its case files of abusive priests in 2002, in the wake of the scandal.
Mark McAllister, who says he was molested by Howard in Missouri in the 1980s, said the lack of notification allowed Howard “to continue in his deviant behaviors. … If you looked him up, you’d have found nothing. But if you looked up Carmine Sita — same person — you’d find a conviction for sexual molestation of a minor.”
Goodness said there was no need in 2002 to notify the public about Sita’s name change.
“There was a legal filing of his name change in the paper,” he said. “It was a matter of public record.”
Last autumn, McAllister settled claims against the Newark Archdiocese, Jefferson City Diocese and the Servants of the Paraclete, a religious order, for $600,000. The Newark Archdiocese gave $225,000 toward the settlement.
In April, officials in Cooper County, Mo., charged Howard, who is now retired, with the forcible sodomy of McAllister. The prosecutor, Doug Abele, said Howard is also facing charges in two other cases.
Overall, it is difficult to assess Myers’ performance or compare him with other bishops because much of the information on these cases is confidential. Clohessy, of SNAP, said he ranks Myers’ handling of the crisis in the bottom third of the 195 diocesan bishops’ in the country, “in large part because of his ongoing secrecy.”
The Rev. Thomas Doyle, who frequently testifies as an expert witness in lawsuits involving abusive priests, criticized Myers’ actions and said they are too common among bishops. He said American bishops, as a group, have behaved abysmally since 2002, and still seem to care more about protecting themselves from litigation than about helping victims heal.
“This brings great shame on the church,” said Doyle, who co-wrote a report in the 1980s warning bishops about the impending crisis. “I look back on all this and say: Something is drastically, fundamentally wrong with the Catholic hierarchy, if this is their consistent response across the board.”
According to the watchdog group bishopaccountability.com, 25 dioceses — including Philadelphia’s, but not Newark’s — have posted a list on their websites naming every priest removed after an accusation deemed credible by the diocese. Victims groups praise these lists, saying they deny abusive priests the cover of confidentiality that could help them abuse again.
Myers also has failed to regularly alert parishioners to investigations. Those alerts are now more common nationwide, Reese said. Among the bishops who notify parishioners is Bishop Paul Bootkoski of Metuchen. In 2003, SNAP singled out Bootkoski for praise, calling him the best American bishop at handling abuse allegations and noting that he alone among bishops had named a SNAP member to the diocesan panel that investigates allegations.
Victims’ advocates view those alerts as a basic tool to promote transparency and say it bolsters investigations by encouraging other victims to come forward. The bishops’ promises of 2002 explicitly included restoring reputations of priests who, after being removed for an investigation, were exonerated. But Myers has short-circuited that process by not being open about investigations early on, Clohessy said.
Indeed, Myers has opposed publicizing allegations since the early days of the scandal — with no apologies to his critics. Writing to lay people in April 2002, he acknowledged that sometimes, while the archdiocese tried to keep investigations quiet, “there have been a few recent instances where privacy has been lost.”
Cardinal Has a Mixed Record on Sexual Abuse Cases
In January 2006, Cardinal William J. Levada, the highest ranking American official in the Vatican, slipped into a San Francisco office building, sidestepping a gaggle of media lying in wait. On leave from Rome, he was submitting to a day of questioning before a flotilla of plaintiffs’ lawyers.
For eight strenuous hours, the cardinal was pressed to explain why he had decided to return priests who were confirmed sexual abusers back to ministry. He acknowledged that he had failed to notify the authorities of allegations of abuse. He struggled to recall why he had chosen not to share information with parishioners.
The questions related to abuse cases that Cardinal Levada dealt with while he was an American bishop; he oversaw the archdiocese of Portland and San Francisco from 1986 to 2005. But by the time the questions were being asked, the cardinal had assumed an exalted position at the Vatican just vacated by his old friend Pope Benedict XVI, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
That put him in charge of adjudicating sexual abuse cases involving priests worldwide, as Benedict had been before him. And like Benedict, whose handling of delicate cases before he became pope has come under scrutiny, Cardinal Levada often did not act as assertively as he could have on abuse cases.
Cardinal Levada was ahead of other church officials on the issue at times, setting up an independent committee to vet abuse cases and calling for greater accountability from church leaders.
But an examination of his record, pieced together from interviews and a review of thousands of pages of court documents, show that he generally followed the prevailing practice of the church hierarchy, often giving accused priests the benefit of the doubt and being reluctant to remove them from ministry.
Erin Olson, a Portland lawyer who has been involved in numerous sexual abuse lawsuits against the Portland Archdiocese, said, “It’s no surprise that the Catholic Church continues to be mired in the abuse scandal when the cardinal put in charge of how the church as a whole responds to child sex abuse allegations did such a poor job himself as a bishop and archbishop.” She was largely responsible for forcing Cardinal Levada to testify that day in 2006.
Cardinal Levada wrote in an e-mail message that he did not have “the time nor the access to records” to respond to a list of a questions submitted to him 10 days ago. But he pointed to a homily he delivered at an apology ceremony for clergy abuse victims in 2003, which he said might be helpful in “understanding changes in my own thinking and behavior as well as the evolution in approach taken by the U.S. Catholic bishops.”
That message touched upon, among other issues, the importance of reporting incidents to authorities and removing “priest offenders” from ministry.
“The whole Church has been shocked and scandalized by the abuse done by a few of her priests to children and young people,” he said in the homily, adding, “The Church is slowly learning how deep this wound is, how slow to heal, and how diligent must be our effort to ensure that it will not happen again.”
Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, who served under Cardinal Levada in San Francisco as his vicar for clergy, said the cardinal had been unfairly maligned.
“My own judgment is he gets categorized negatively,” Bishop Wester said. “I don’t think it’s deserved. I just think he did right by the victims. He’s not somebody who’s going to slap you on the back, be super gregarious, the life of the party kind of guy. He’s more serious, more reserved. Sometimes people misinterpret that.
“In his own way, I think he’s very transparent and forthright,” Bishop Wester said.
Suzanne Giraudo, a psychologist and chairwoman of the San Francisco Archdiocese’s Independent Review board, which evaluates the credibility of sexual abuse accusations, praised Cardinal Levada, saying he wanted to “do what was right, not only for the priest but for the victim.”
An Early Warning
An assessment of Cardinal Levada’s performance in his current job at the Vatican is complicated by the fact that his congregation’s decisions are shrouded in confidentiality rules.
Canon lawyers said cases had been handled more efficiently by the Vatican since procedures were clarified in 2001. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to find cases that have dragged on for several years. The congregation has added staff members, but it still has only 10 people handling cases, and there have been more than 3,000 in the past decade.
Several recent cases that have become public have raised questions about whether the Vatican is even now acting aggressively enough.
American bishops have long argued that they were ignorant of the gravity of sexual abuse in the church until relatively recently. It was not until 2002 that the American church, with Cardinal Levada as one of its most prominent leaders, adopted a zero-tolerance policy in which priests who were credibly accused of sexual abuse were automatically suspended from ministry.
But Cardinal Levada himself heard the siren much earlier. In the spring of 1985, the alarm was sounded by an unlikely trio of concerned Catholics, the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a Vatican canon lawyer; Raymond Mouton Jr., a Louisiana criminal lawyer who defended the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe, a notorious pedophile priest; and the Rev. Michael Peterson, a psychiatrist.
In the wake of the Gauthe case, the three men produced a strongly worded 92-page report that argued for immediate action to deal with sexual molestation in the church.
In May 1985, Cardinal Levada, then a young auxiliary bishop from Los Angeles, was sent by church leaders to meet with the men. The meeting at a Chicago airport hotel went on all day, Father Doyle and Mr. Mouton said recently, with Bishop Levada going through their report almost line by line. They said he seemed enthusiastic about their proposals.
Two weeks later, however, the bishop called Father Doyle and told him that their report was being shelved and that the bishops would convene their own committee to examine the issue. But no such group materialized.
Two decades later, in various sworn depositions, Cardinal Levada would assert that he recalled little from the meeting. But his detailed briefing would have given him a far deeper awareness of the issue than a vast majority of church officials at the time.
Soon after he ascended to the top position at the Portland Archdiocese in 1986, he was forced to deal with the case of the Rev. Thomas B. Laughlin, a prominent priest who was arrested in 1983 and served six months in prison for sexual abuse.
In July 1988, Archbishop Levada wrote to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, who headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Their friendship dated from several years earlier when the American had been a staff member at the congregation. Archbishop Levada laid out a four-page argument for the dismissal of Father Laughlin from the priesthood, which was granted.
In contrast, just a few months later, Archbishop Levada did not aggressively pursue a complaint that the Rev. Aldo Orso-Manzonetta had invited a boy to stay overnight at the rectory.
Church records indicate that he spoke to Father Orso-Manzonetta and told him not to repeat the mistake. It is not clear if he checked the priest’s personnel file. But there was a long trail of complaints against the priest, made public years later when the archdiocese released reams of priest personnel records as part of bankruptcy proceedings.
Four years later, more rumors about the priest’s relationships with boys and under-age young men surfaced. This time, the Rev. Charles Lienert, the archdiocese’s vicar for clergy, sent a memo in May 1992 to Archbishop Levada detailing a history of accusations against Father Orso-Manzonetta.
It was not until 1994, however, when another accuser came forward, that Father Orso-Manzonetta was sent for a psychological evaluation. A letter from Father Lienert to the examiner that was in the priest’s personnel file expressed concern about the sheer number of allegations, saying, “These records are discoverable should someone choose to sue us.”
Father Orso-Manzonetta then retired, and he died in 1996. But in 2000, several men who said he had abused them as altar boys sued the archdiocese. The case was eventually settled for an undisclosed amount.
In at least two instances during his time in Portland, Archbishop Levada chose to return priests with proven allegations of sexual abuse against them to ministry after treatment, with the agreement of therapists, according to church records.
At another point, the archbishop overruled advisers who recommended that the archdiocese make a general announcement encouraging sexual abuse victims to come forward, following new revelations about a priest who had molested children in the 1950s.
Archbishop Levada also apparently rebuffed the archdiocese’s lawyer, Bob McMenamin, when he urged him to hold a seminar for clergy members on sexual abuse, according to testimony from the lawyer in an ethics complaint that the archbishop filed against Mr. McMenamin after he went on to represent a man in a sexual abuse lawsuit against the archdiocese.
“He said he had more important things for his priests to do,” Mr. McMenamin said.
Cases in San Francisco
In 1995, Cardinal Levada moved to the San Francisco Archdiocese. Early on, he dealt with two priests who he learned had sexually abused children years before and decided not to restrict either.
In the case of the Rev. Milton Walsh, who was the rector of the city’s cathedral, Archbishop Levada testified in a 2005 deposition that a therapist had concluded that an episode in which Father Walsh had molested a 13-year-old boy, Jay Seaman, in 1984 was not indicative of a “tendency toward sexual abuse.”
Later, the police would record an extraordinary telephone call between Mr. Seaman and Father Walsh, in which Father Walsh said that he had learned not to put himself in situations where he would be tempted. He said he had told Archbishop Levada, “You can trust me, ’cause I don’t trust myself.”
The archbishop went through a similar calculus with the Rev. Gregory Ingels, a canon lawyer who had become a national expert on clergy sexual abuse. He would be charged by prosecutors in 2003 with “unlawful oral copulation” with a teenage boy over an episode from 1972.
Fathers Walsh and Ingels were suspended from ministry in 2002 under the zero-tolerance policy adopted by American bishops. The criminal charges against both men were dropped because of the statute of limitations.Vatican
In late 1997, Archbishop Levada faced a case in which the suspicions of abuse were current, not decades old. The Rev. John P. Conley, a former United States attorney who had become a priest, happened upon a flustered teenage boy in his church’s rectory.
Father Conley later said in a sworn deposition, released by his lawyer, Michael P. Guta, that he also spotted a man crawling away. The boy told the priest, an associate pastor in the parish, that he had been “wrestling” with the Rev. James Aylward, the head pastor.
Father Conley said he contacted the district attorney’s office even though he was told by an archdiocesan official that these matters were usually handled “in house.”
Father Conley also discovered that priests had never been briefed about a new state law that made members of the clergy mandatory reporters of suspected sexual abuse and that had gone into effect 11 months earlier. A bishop told him that church officials were still studying it.
Instead of imposing restrictions on Father Aylward, Archbishop Levada suspended Father Conley after the pair clashed over the handling of the episode. The archbishop cited reports of “anger outbursts” with parishioners.
Father Conley filed a defamation lawsuit against the archbishop, contending that he had been punished for reporting sexual abuse. Father Aylward, who was never criminally charged, admitted under oath in a deposition more than two years after the episode that he had wrestled with young boys for years and gotten sexual gratification out of it. At that point, he was suspended.
Father Conley eventually won a settlement from the archdiocese.
By the end of Cardinal Levada’s term in San Francisco, his approach on such cases had evolved. The archdiocese became among the first in the United States to create an independent committee to investigate sexual abuse cases.
Even so, the committee’s first chairman, James Jenkins, a psychologist, resigned in 2003 over differences with Archbishop Levada. “It was compromised by, really, disingenuousness and actions of deception and manipulation,” he said, citing the secrecy surrounding the board’s findings and other issues.
Less than two years later, Pope Benedict XVI brought his old friend to Rome.
Michael Powell contributed reporting from New York, and Malia Wollan from San Rafael, Calif.