Cardinal Roger Mahony, victims speak out on clergy abuse
Friday, February 01, 2013
By Carlos Granda, Sid Garcia and Rudabeh Shahbazi
LOS ANGELES (KABC) — Cardinal Roger Mahony is speaking out after being stripped of all public duties, while victims are speaking out about the release of the clergy abuse files.
On Thursday, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez said in a statement that Mahony no longer had any administrative or public duties. Mahony said in a letter posted on his blog, “Nothing in my own background or education equipped me to deal with this grave problem.”
Documents released two weeks ago showed that in the 1980s, Mahony and others tried to hide some of the sexual abuse cases. Mahony says he dealt with priests accused of molesting children by removing them from parishs and shipping them off to treatment centers. He said that’s what diocese across the country did back then.
“While there was some information dealing with child neglect, sexual abuse was never discussed,” Mahony said. “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.”
Esther Miller was 16 when she says Father Michael Nocita first sexually abused her. She says she attempted suicide the following year.
“I’m not a practicing Catholic. I’ll never go back to this cult ever,” Miller said.
Miller is angry that church documents show Nocita had a number of incidents in the 1980s and 1990s. On Friday, Miller and other members of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, held a news conference to talk about the newly released church documents. The documents are supposed to show the names of anyone who knew about the abuse and those who allegedly covered it up. But they say a number of names are still not there.
“This is nonsense. These people have spent millions upon millions of the faithful’s dollars to protect themselves,” said Jim Robertson of SNAP. “They fought the release of any documents all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, and still, they’re not giving us the right.”
Gomez has accepted Auxillary Bishop Thomas Curry’s request to be relieved of his responsibility as Regional Bishop of Santa Barbara. Curry has apologized for his decisions while serving as Vicar for Clergy. Both Mahony and Curry are still bishops in good standing.
“It sends a message to all of the clergy if the highest ranking members are publicly condemned,” said Anthony DeMarco, attorney for the victims. “It’s taken an awful long time.”
To see the clergy files, visit http://clergyfiles.la-archdiocese.org/listing.html.
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.
The church retains its barrier of silence
A lack of transparency at the top of the Roman Catholic Church has come between pulpit and pew.
In January 2002, the Boston Globe published the first in a series of articles that exposed the sordid history of sexual abuse of youth in the Boston Roman Catholic archdiocese. Those stories revealed how church officials had kept knowledge of abuse from parishioners and kept abusing priests in parishes where they continued to blight the lives and faith of the innocent.
Later in 2002, as more cases of sexual abuse in more dioceses tumbled out of the dark and the silence to which they had been consigned, the U.S. Conference of Bishops hurriedly promised transparency. The Catholic faithful, the bishops said, should know the extent of priestly abuse and their church’s response.
In 2007, after paying at least $660 million in abuse settlements, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles joined a torturous legal defense of a privilege to conceal its part in that history. The Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press, along with advocates for the victims, challenged the claim of archdiocesan officials.
Last week, in response to a court order, the archdiocese released internal records documenting the actions church officials took — or failed to take — when priests were accused of abuse. More documents will be released in coming weeks, but from those we’ve seen already, we know that in the 1980s, then-Archbishop Roger Mahony and his Vicar of Clergy, then-Msgr. Thomas Curry, failed repeatedly when moral judgment required them to choose the good of the Catholic community over loyalty to their fraternity of parish priests.
It’s impossible to use a facile word like “closure” at this point. The victims, some in their 50s and 60s, live on. The men who abused them have their crimes to live with. Members of the hierarchy have their attempts at contrition and their own unanswered failures. Nothing with real meaning is ended.
The faithful still gather on Sunday morning in my suburban church for Mass and to hear a sermon preached, which typically runs to themes of faithfulness, virtue and awareness of human failings. Hardly any of the hundreds of sermons I’ve heard since 2002 reflected on the scandal of priestly abuse, and the very few that did were generalized promises of change. Not one Sunday sermon considered how or why some men in the priesthood in Los Angeles became sexual predators. No sermon spoke of the disillusionment — obvious to everyone — that the men and women in the pews feel.
The promised changes have begun. The background of everyone who works with children in the parish is vetted. Parish workers are trained to observe the signs of abuse. Even the children are better informed. Beyond the parish boundaries, new protocols are in place for judging the psychological fitness of men seeking the priesthood. There’s a new awareness of what an abusing personality is like and how unlikely an abuser is to respond to treatment. New regulations should prevent an abusing priest from being shuttled from one unsuspecting parish to another.
These changes in parish life were made necessary by a hierarchy that kept silent for far too long. But some of the changes have coarsened parish life. Because of the archdiocese’s fear of transparency, every priest has been a suspect. Children have been steered away from contact with their pastors. Insurance carriers and church lawyers have counseled even greater distancing. The barriers rising between priests and children put at risk youth retreats, sports programs run by religious orders and boys’ high schools — all of which were part of my Catholic childhood.
The gap between pulpit and pew is widening, but it’s from those pews that future priests come. The formation of a boy into a man with the strength of character to accept a vocation used to begin with a relationship between a priest and a boy. It used to begin with a boy’s hero worship. That may not have been the best way to begin a life of self-denial and celibacy, but being in the company of a priest who seemed both saintly and human was the start for many men on the long path toward the priesthood. Of course, hero worship made the crimes of a predatory priest so much easier to commit.
From the perspective of the pulpit, the failure of the Los Angeles Archdiocese to understand and fulfill its responsibilities is likely to be seen as a tragic mistake, to be sincerely regretted and cured by regulatory fiat and vigilance.
From the perspective of those in the pews, the causes of priestly abuse and the reaction of archdiocesan officials make a bewildering labyrinth of unexplored reasons, including any that might lie in our own failures of understanding. Having had the sexuality of priests forced on us in its most terrible and scandalous form — in the form of a monster — we in the pews have had no invitation to offer whatever insight from our own lives we might give the men who are called to make their sexuality a daily sacrifice. Silence is the disfiguring common feature that perpetuated abuse and leaves the parish community unable now to minister to those who would minister to us.
D.J. Waldie is a contributing writer to Opinion.