D.A. Steve Cooley Says He'll Take His Investigation of Cardinal
Mahony's Pedo-Priests "Wherever it leads."
July 11, 2002
By Ron Russell, New Times L.A.
©2002 New Times, Inc. All rights reserved.
If Cardinal Roger M. Mahony had hoped that the priestly sex-abuse
scandal afflicting the Los Angeles Archdiocese might have blown
over by now, he's bound to be disappointed with the latest pronouncements
of L.A. County district attorney Steve Cooley.
In his first detailed interview on the subject since the scandal
broke in early March, Cooley tells New Times that his office intends
to go beyond merely prosecuting a few priests accused of abusing
children to pursue criminal misconduct within the nation's largest
Roman Catholic Archdiocese "wherever it leads." Asked
if that means Mahony himself may conceivably become the target of
a criminal probe, the district attorney pointedly replies, "No
one is above the law."
Calling the burgeoning investigation of L.A. pedo-priests "unprecedented"
and "uniquely challenging," Cooley -- who has been criticized
for moving too slowly to force Mahony to cooperate with law enforcement
-- has set up a special team of prosecutors devoted exclusively
to the scandal.
It is headed by veteran deputy district attorney William Hodgman,
who oversees the D.A.'s sex crimes unit.
Although Cooley declined to speculate about how many current and
former priests within the sprawling archdiocese -- which includes
Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties -- may ultimately
be caught up in the scandal, he pledged to bring guilty clerics
and those who criminally protect them to justice "whether the
number turns out to be in the single digits, double digits or triple
And to underscore his point, he suggested that his own prosecution
of a San Fernando Valley priest for child molestation in the early
1990s be viewed as "the model" for his determination to
let the chips fall where they may in dealing with the current crisis.
As a deputy to former D.A. Gil Garcetti, Cooley rejected a plea
arrangement that would have let Father Richard Allen Henry off the
hook lightly after he was accused of molesting four boys from the
same family. Henry was convicted and sent to prison, becoming the
first and only Roman Catholic cleric in Los Angeles to serve time
behind bars for molesting children. "If people want an indication
of how I will respond when the evidence is there, they should look
at [the Henry] case," Cooley says.
"We intend to be thorough and cautious. We want to make sure
the evidence we gather is not suppressed [in court]," he says.
And in a rebuttal to critics -- cops among them -- he says his office
has coordinated information not only with the dozens of law enforcement
agencies within the boundaries of the archdiocese, but "has
for some time shared information with other agencies throughout
California. We've been out front on this. I'm proud of what we've
done. But we're only at the beginning of a very long and detailed
A New Times survey of dozens of law enforcement agencies within
the three counties that make up the archdiocese reveals that at
least 72 -- and likely more than 100 -- current or former priests
are under suspicion in at least 142 cases of suspected abuse, and
the number of cases is increasing almost daily. Such statistics
already place L.A. on a plane with the Boston Archdiocese, where
authorities are investigating about 200 abuse cases involving nearly
Yet even as the number of cases being reported to law enforcement
via telephone hot lines has mushroomed in recent weeks, Mahony has
stonewalled authorities while claiming to cooperate with them. It
wasn't until June 18 -- three and a half months after Cooley first
ordered Mahony to turn over documents pertaining to accused pedo-priests
-- that the archdiocese finally surrendered its first scrap of paper
to law enforcement. And that was only after the D.A. made good on
his threats to have the L.A. County grand jury force the cardinal's
hand with a subpoena. The documents released so far relate to only
three of the dozens of priests under investigation.
Whether the documents are of any use to investigators -- or for
that matter whether the cops are allowed to examine them -- remains
unresolved. That's because Donald Steier, a lawyer for the three
priests, has gone to court to keep the records under seal. A judge's
decision on the matter, which could come any day, looms large. It
is widely expected that lawyers for many if not all of the accused
priests may similarly fight to keep the clerics' files out of investigators'
The three priests whose records were turned over are all under
investigation by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. Once the
issue of whether their personnel files and other records may be
used by investigators is resolved, authorities are expected to move
swiftly to seek the records of other clerics being investigated.
Two of the priests are longtime close friends of Mahony whom the
cardinal shuffled to new assignments long after he knew they were
pedophiles. Father Michael Baker was jettisoned by Mahony in 1999
after abusing numerous young men during more than a decade after
Mahony welcomed him back to the fold, despite Baker's confessed
abuse of three boys in the mid-1980s.
Mahony similarly reassigned Father Michael Wempe, a former classmate
of Mahony's at St. John's Seminary College in Camarillo, as a chaplain
at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center without bothering to tell hospital
officials that he was a pedophile. The third cleric, Father David
Granadino, was relieved of his duties in May after abuse allegations
were leveled against him at a parish in the San Gabriel Valley suburb