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Sexual Abuse Victims Confront Cardinal Mahony

Religion: Protesters in Camarillo quietly reproach Mahony for not doing enough about the problem of molestations by priests.

By Richard Winton and Christine Hanley, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

March 25, 2002

For the first time since sexual-abuse allegations began to rock the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony was confronted by victims and their supporters outside a Palm Sunday service in Ventura County.

As Mahony greeted parishioners after helping say a Mass at St. Mary Magdalen church in Camarillo, a few protesters had short, quiet conversations with him.

Several said they told Mahony that he had ignored the problem for too long and had not been forthcoming enough. Armed with banners and leaflets they gave parishioners, the two dozen victims and their families mostly stood quietly as Mahony passed by in and out of the church.

In the leaflets, they called on the archdiocese to release the names of several priests recently dismissed over sexual abuse of minors. They also asked that victims be released from settlement agreements binding them to confidentiality so they can speak out about their abusers. In addition, they ask parishioners to stop contributing money until the church is more forthcoming with information.

"The cardinal needs to release the names of all the perpetrators so they cannot move on and abuse children elsewhere," Ray Higgins, whose son was sexually abused in Santa Barbara by two priests, told reporters.

Carrying a sign that said "Break The Silence," Jim Falls said he hoped his presence might "save a child" from what he endured. Falls, now 34, said he was molested when he was 15.

"I am a survivor of abuse," he said. "I've lived with this for decades and it feels good to be able to confront those who have for so long ignored our plight."

The archdiocese recently dismissed six to 12 priests for sexually abusing minors, according to church sources. The archdiocese has refused to provide any details about their identity, location or number, although Mahony has written in the archdiocesan newspaper that a "few local priests" had been removed from the ministry for harming minors.

On Sunday, Mahony made no public statement to the protesters, did not address the issue at the service and would not answer questions from reporters outside.

But in Orange County, Bishop of Orange Tod D. Brown told those at Holy Family Cathedral that it was especially important during Easter week for the Catholic Church to accept responsibility for the "terrible, terrible crimes" committed by priests against children and to seek forgiveness for wayward clergymen.

Brown, leading Mass at the service, made his strongest public remarks to date about the growing sex scandal in a short but direct homily, characterizing it as a cross that the church and its people must bear in order to heal.

"We know now of the terrible trauma our church has been experiencing since the events in Boston earlier this year," Brown told parishioners.

"We know that, unfortunately, some among us, even members of our clergy, infinitesimal in numbers, but nevertheless real, have been perpetrators of terrible, terrible crimes, throughout the country, in our state, in our own county."

Brown concluded by saying that the church must seek forgiveness and pray for strength to "carry the cross of suffering that God has given to us" to "emerge into a new era of Easter a stronger, holier, more complete church."

Palm Sunday commemorates the day Jesus Christ triumphantly entered Jerusalem, where worshipers placed palm fronds before him as he arrived. It marks the first day of Holy Week, the most solemn observation of the Christian calendar.

Brown said this was the first chance he had to acknowledge the sexual abuse scandal from the pulpit.

In Camarillo, a spokesman for Mahony said the cardinal did not see the occasion as appropriate to address the issue.

Tod Tadberg, spokesman for the cardinal, said that the archdiocese is cooperating with law enforcement and that individual clergy are complying with a state law that mandates they report sexual abuse to police.

Mahony, he said, addressed clergy abuse in Friday's issue of the archdiocese newspaper, Tidings.

Mahony wrote that the church is going through a period of purification.

The cardinal wrote that some victims have called an archdiocese clergy abuse hotline.

But as he stood outside the Camarillo church Sunday, Falls said Mahony is not doing enough.

"We're here to stop Cardinal Mahony protecting child molesters," he said.

"By getting rid of these priests without naming them, he is saying, 'It's not my problem if they molest another kid,'" he said.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests