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Cardinal Mahony Won't Say if Police Got Priests' Names

By LARRY B. STAMMER and RICHARD WINTON - Los Angeles Times, March 5, 2002

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony's office refused to say Monday whether he has given authorities the names of as many as a dozen priests alleged to have sexually abused children.

Mahony dismissed the priests in private meetings in the last two weeks over allegations of abuse from as long as a decade ago, church sources said. The dismissals come as the Roman Catholic Church in the United States is again reeling from disclosures of sexual abuse by priests in Dallas, Boston, Philadelphia and St. Louis.

Mahony's spokesman, Tod Tamberg, said the cardinal stands by his Feb. 21 pastoral statement, agreeing to abide by a California law mandating that priests, counselors, nurses and teachers report sexual abuse of minors to police. "He's a mandated reporter as well," Tamberg said of Mahony, archbishop of the nation's largest Roman Catholic diocese.

But as of Monday, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, as well as sheriff's departments in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, said they had received no such referrals from the Los Angeles archdiocese, which covers the three counties.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said Monday that the reporting law is clear.

"Under the penal code there is a duty to report within 36 hours of a specific incident of molestation. Among the reporters are clergy, except in the case of penitential communications [confidential confessions]," he said. "Priests are definitely mandated reporters unless it is a confessional."

Failure to report such crimes is a misdemeanor.

"There is no clergy exception," Cooley said. "If and when police agencies do a thorough and appropriate investigation, those cases will be prosecuted like any other."

The head of Cooley's sex crimes unit said it has no open cases stemming from church referrals.

The law took effect in 1987 in the wake of the McMartin preschool scandal. Its reporting requirements apply to any cases of abuse that church officials became aware of after the law took effect. It is unclear, however, whether the alleged incidents of abuse involving the priests occurred before or after that time.

Tamberg would not say whether the names of the recently dismissed priests had been given to local police. "I've been told what I can say," he said. "I have no information on priest personnel matters."

Attorneys for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles have previously acknowledged that church officials received six child molestation complaints in the last five years, including four involving adults complaining of past misconduct.

Overall, there were about 50 cases of sexual misbehavior reported to the archdiocese in the last five years, diocesan attorney John P. McNicholas of Los Angeles wrote in a letter to an expert witness in a case late last year. Not all of the cases were believed to involve children.

Church sources said the priests recently dismissed by Mahony for allegations of sexual abuse of minors had received psychological counseling and were believed to have been rehabilitated. The archdiocese declined Monday to confirm or deny the dismissals.

One church source, however, said generous severance pay was offered to the departing priests. Any of the priests living in parish rectories or other church facilities were asked to move out, the source said.

Left unanswered was why Mahony was taking action now. The archdiocese's sexual abuse policy dates to 1988. It says the church will "never deal with a problem of sexual abuse on the part of a priest or deacon by simply moving him to another ministerial assignment."

Tamberg said Mahony was committed to obeying the law and protecting the children of the nation's largest Catholic archdiocese. In view of renewed reports of child sexual abuse across the nation, Tamberg said, Mahony felt compelled last month to issue a pastoral message.

"[The pastoral letter] was motivated by the cardinal's pastoral concern for Catholic faithful in the archdiocese, that they know we have comprehensive policies and procedures, that we review them regularly and that they are protecting their kids from sexual misconduct from anyone that ministers in the archdiocese, either clergy or laity," Tamberg said.

Mahony's full message is on the archdiocese's Web site:

Catholic bishops in the United States have been dealing with these controversies for years. But the magnitude of new disclosures has sent a tremor through the national church, prompting bishops across the country to dismiss sexual predators while seeking to reassure the faithful.

Recently, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston disclosed to police the names of 80 priests who had been accused of abusing children over the last 40 years. The revelation followed a child molestation trial in which a defrocked priest, John J. Geoghan, was convicted. He is also awaiting trial in at least two other cases.

Last year the Los Angeles and Orange dioceses paid $5.2 million to settle molestation allegations by a former high school student against a priest. The court settlement requires the dioceses to fire priests known to be molesters.

In Dallas in 1997, a jury awarded $119 million to 11 men who were allegedly molested when they were altar boys. The case later was settled out of court for $23 million.

Bishops and other church officials have said their primary concern is for their parishioners. Money is also at stake. Cases of child sexual abuse have cost the church hundreds of millions of dollars.

While their first concern has been to prevent sexual abuse, bishops have also sought ways of helping fallen priests, including therapy. Despite some successes, bishops are reluctant to return priests to any work involving children. More recently, they are asking priests to leave the priesthood. Still, some sexual abuse survivors say the church has not done enough.

David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said police, prosecutors and judges are beginning to treat the church with less deference than in the past.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests