Jan 22, 2013

Los Angeles Bishops Conspired to Protect Abusers

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Well. I can see why the Catholic Church works so hard to conceal records of priestly sex abuse. When they come out, they're really damning. The latest case in point comes from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles where Cardinal Roger Mahony's written words have come back to haunt him.

Cardinal Mahony has issued a number of apologies concurrent with the rolling disclosure of sex abuse on his watch. His most recent mea culpa was issued yesterday as an avalanche of personnel files was released under court order. This follows the release of private letters detailing a deliberate cover-up.

Mahony assures us that he now comprehends the gravity of his failings and he's very, very sorry. Previously, he really did not understand the pain caused by sex abuse. He had his come to Jesus moment when he met with some ninety abuse survivors, over a three year period, and had to look them in the eye.

"Those visits were heart-wrenching experiences for me as I listened to the victims describe how they had their childhood and innocence stolen from them by clergy and by the Church," Mahony wrote, ending his statement, "I am sorry."

Now that he better understands, he says, he has the names of each of those survivors on note cards and prays for them daily. So that's nice.

In contrast, Mahony did seem to fully comprehend the pain the church would endure if these documented cases of abuse had come to light, so he conspired to conceal the facts from both law enforcement and parishioners. In the 1980s, then Archbishop Mahony and Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry coordinated efforts to send known abusers out of state for treatment in order to protect them from prosecution and the Church from the fallout of potential prosecutions. Legal counsel advised Mahony on the archdiocese's legal exposure and how to protect themselves. And one, lone aide, Msgr. Richard Loomis, acted as both conscience and Cassandra, warning of their culpability. Wrote Loomis:

"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."

As has so often been the case, in shuffling pedophile priests out of their purview, the Los Angeles Archdiocese lost track of repeat offenders, putting countless children at risk. In one notable case, Mahony wrote to then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) that serial offender Rev. Lynn Caffoe was a "fugitive from justice." Caffoe, who had been caught holding boys against their will and videotaping their crotches, had been sent for therapy and removed from ministry, in the early 1990s, but no move was made to have him defrocked until 2004. His whereabouts had been unknown to the church for ten years. Mahony reported to Cardinal Ratzinger that they could find no death record, so Caffoe was presumably alive. Where, they had no idea. Caffoe was found by a reporter working in a homeless mission two blocks from an elementary school.

The lengths Mahony and Curry would go to to protect the archdiocese are highlighted in the case of  Msgr. Peter  Garcia. Garcia was an inherited problem, sent out of state for treatment by Mahony's predecessor. On the advice of counsel, Mahony asked the head of the treatment center in New Mexico to keep him there. "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 explained.

Bishop Curry's correspondence with Mahony fleshes out the problem.

The following year, in a letter to Mahony about bringing Garcia back to work in the archdiocese, Curry said he was worried that victims in Los Angeles might see the priest and call police.

"[T]here are numerous — maybe twenty — adolescents or young adults that Peter was involved with in a first degree felony manner. The possibility of one of these seeing him is simply too great," Curry wrote in May 1987.

Garcia, for his part, had assured the church hierarchy that prosecution was unlikely because he'd always targeted the undocumented and had in at least one case threatened a victim with deportation.

Only when Garcia insisted on returning to California, where he contacted a victim's mother to see if he could spend time with her younger son, did Mahony attempt to have him defrocked in 1989.

Garcia had admitted to psychologists that he'd enjoyed a long career of priestly abuse, going back to his ordination in 1966. He was never prosecuted.

Letters between Mahony and Curry reveal their explicit intent to keep confessed abusers from facing criminal charges. Their concern that therapists might have to report crimes caused them to send offenders out of state, rather than to therapists who might have to report. That was their standard operating procedure. Curry at one point speculated that they should try to find a psychiatrist/lawyer to assure that Father Michael Wempe, who'd admitted to sex with a 12 year old boy, was protected by privilege.

They also pointedly avoided alerting parishioners. Such was the case of Rev. Michael Baker whom Mahony did send for treatment. He had been returned to Mahony's care with a warning from a doctor, in 1987, that he be defrocked if he had contact with minors. Mahony took no such action until 2000, despite Baker's numerous interactions with children. But when it was suggested that they warn people about the ongoing problem, Mahony bridled.

"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!!"

While much of this is shocking, it's not surprising. It's of a piece with what we already know about a long pattern of deliberate church cover-ups. But the documentation makes the truth inescapable.

This was not carelessness, sloppiness, or simple ignorance. These are not sins of omission. They were consciously committed by bishops who knew exactly what they were doing to protect themselves and the Church from consequence. And they are unlikely to ever be prosecuted because the statutes of limitations have largely run out.

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