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Records show L.A. Catholic sex abuse cover-up

For decades the nation’s largest Roman Catholic archdiocese shipped accused priests between therapy and new assignments, often ignoring parishioners’ complaints, according to newly released records.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Newly released records of sex abuse claims against 126 priests that are at the core of hundreds of lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles show that church officials for decades moved accused priests between counseling and new assignments.

Attorneys for 500 alleged victims and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles had previously agreed to release the information, but lawyers for accused clergy succeeded in blocking publication, arguing it would violate priests’ privacy rights. An appellate court last month ordered the documents to be released after nearly three years of legal wrangling.

The records conform with the pattern of the abuse crisis that erupted in the American church nearly four years ago. In many cases, the church provided years of therapy to accused clergy, believing the men could be rehabilitated, then assigned them to new parishes, which often resulted in new claims against them.

Still, the Los Angeles Archdiocese appears to have so far avoided the damaging full disclosure forced on other American dioceses by judges and grand juries.

More complete records still sought
Church officials late Tuesday released summaries of their personnel records. By comparison, the files a judge unsealed in the Archdiocese of Boston, where the abuse crisis began in early 2002, contained doctors’ reports, memos from diocesan officials about meetings with distraught parents and other details that revealed an insensitivity to victims. The documents enraged Catholics and forced Cardinal Bernard Law to resign as Boston archbishop.

Raymond P. Boucher, the lead plaintiffs’ attorney in Los Angeles, said the newly released information was a first step, but that complete personnel files should be made public.

“The significance of these files is that they provide a little more information for the public about the church’s knowledge and frankly their participation in the molestation of children, but until the (entire) files are made public, we’re not going to be satisfied,” he said.

Archdiocese attorney J. Michael Hennigan called Boucher’s concerns that the summaries might be whitewashed “nonsense.”

Records cover priests from 1920s
“Ray has not seen the files themselves and has no basis to say that beyond speculation,” he said. “These are accurate descriptions of the content of the files, without disclosing confidential communication.”

The records cover priests who were ordained as far back as the 1920s. Cardinal Roger Mahony, who has led the archdiocese since 1985, had overseen many of the men. A spokesman for Mahony has repeatedly insisted the cardinal wanted to reveal the information to promote reconciliation with victims, but was barred by confidentiality laws.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, accused Mahony of “shameless posturing as some sort of reformer,” while he used legal maneuvers to block a full accounting of his role in the crisis.

“Mahony is grasping at straws to convince his flock that he’s not as awful as many of his colleagues,” Clohessy said. “And as he has for years, Mahony is trying anything he can dream up to avoid having to fully reveal how little he did to safeguard innocent kids from abusive clerics.”

The documents offer details in numerous cases, though much of the information has already been published. In many of the files, there was little mention of child molestation. Instead, euphemisms such as “boundary violations” were used to describe the conduct.

Conviction expunged from record
One priest, who served as a teacher and administrator at numerous Southern California schools, was convicted of molesting two boys and given probation. The conviction was later expunged from his record. A subsequent report was made in 1994 of “boundary violations,” in which he allegedly patted the buttocks of a teenager. He entered alcohol treatment days later and was eventually placed on leave.

Another priest’s file shows the archdiocese received repeated complaints that he engaged in “inappropriate sexual conduct with children” beginning in 1959, but that it did not appear to take significant action against him until 1994 when he was relieved of his duties, according to the documents.

Many bishops have said they were misled by therapists to believe that a sexual attraction to young people could be cured. As church officials’ understanding of sex abuse deepened, accused priests were generally removed from the ministry altogether, Hennigan said.

The archdiocese, the nation’s largest, serves nearly 3.6 million people in 284 parishes. It has posted about 150 pages of summaries from the clergy files on its Web site.