Federal prosecutors are investigating Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and other officials of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles over their handling of alleged clergy child molestation cases, according to reports published Wednesday.
The Los Angeles Times, citing two unidentified law enforcement persons familiar with the case, reported on its Web site that Mahony is among those being investigated by a federal grand jury to determine if he failed to keep children safe from predatory priests. The Wall Street Journal, citing an unnamed source, said authorities are looking to see if church officials tried to cover up the sexual abuse of minors by priests.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.
Los Angeles U.S. attorney's spokesman Thom Mrozek said his office has no comment on the reports.
Mahony's attorney, J. Michael Hennigan, told the Times he has been informed that the cardinal is not a target of the inquiry.
In a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press, Hennigan said the archdiocese had received requests from the federal government for information about "a number of individual priests, two of whom are deceased and none of whom are known to be in ministry."
Attorney criticizes leak
Hennigan said the archdiocese was fully cooperating with the probe, and he criticized the government for leaking the information. He said the archdiocese would press for an internal investigation into the matter.
"The Archdiocese is not aware of any fact or set of facts that would support a responsible federal investigation of the Archdiocese or of Cardinal Roger Mahony," Hennigan's statement said. "While the history of clergy sexual abuse in the Church is regrettable, it served as the foundation for broad reforms in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles."
Donald Steier, an attorney for a number of accused priests, did not return calls.
The Los Angeles archdiocese, the nation's largest, reached a $660 million settlement in July 2007 with more than 500 alleged victims of clergy abuse. The settlement is the largest on record.
At the time, Mahony apologized for what he called a "terrible sin and crime" and said such abuse should never happen again.
"There really is no way to go back and give them that innocence that was taken from them. ... The one thing I wish I could give the victims, I cannot," he said at the time.
The archdiocese has faced criminal investigations at the state level.
In 2003, a number of priests who had been arrested on criminal charges of sexual abuse were released after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a state law that extended the statute of limitations for such cases.
District Attorney Steve Cooley, however, fought to obtain the private personnel files of several accused priests whose crimes still could have fallen within the statute of limitations.
It wasn't immediately clear where that investigation stood. Spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons didn't immediately return a page after business hours Wednesday.
Alleged abuse victims reacted to news of the investigation with joy.
David Clohessy, director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he was stunned by the report but also gladdened.
"From our perspective, it's crystal clear that parishioners were deceived and defrauded. It's simply common sense," he told the AP by phone. "You can't have hundreds of priests molest thousands of kids and have there not be fraud and deception."
He said he had been swamped with phone calls from alleged abuse victims around the country.
Clohessy said, however, that he was concerned alleged victims would get their hopes up only to be disappointed if the grand jury does not find criminal wrongdoing.
But, he said: "The only thing worse than dashed hopes is no hope at all, and many survivors have felt that for decades."