Mahony's Mea Culpas Not Very Convincing
Steve Lopez - Los Angeles Times
February 18, 2004
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony had me worried for a while. The
leader of the Los Angeles Archdiocese was keeping such a low
profile at the Rog Mahal, I thought maybe he'd lost his knack
for damage control.
Not to worry. Turns out he's still the king.
Mahony has done us all the favor of releasing a self-assessment
called "Report to the People of God," which names
211 priests and other church employees who have been accused
of molesting 656 minors since 1931.
In a grave preface, Mahony apologizes to victims, acknowledges
his own mistakes and promises "to do all in my power
to prevent sexual abuse by anyone serving our archdiocese
now and in the future."
The document is a beautiful piece of work, because to those
who want to believe, it resembles a staggering breakthrough
But this may be the wrong place for "People of God"
to put their faith.
For starters, every one of the 211 names of the accused had
already been made public. The names of another 33 accused
priests were withheld because the accusations hadn't been
checked out yet, or were deemed unreliable by the archdiocese.
By the archdiocese?
I thought the problem all along was that the archdiocese
couldn't be trusted to expose its dirty secrets.
The good cardinal himself has spent nearly two years fighting
the release of documents to Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Steve
Cooley, who is still trying to get to the bottom of the scandal.
As Cooley told me Tuesday, all he wants is to convict child
molesters and their protectors, and all he gets from Mahony
"It's really been a battle royal," says Cooley.
"You've got the largest prosecutorial agency in the United
States of America slugging it out in court for more than 20
months with the largest archdiocese in the country."
I asked Cooley, a good Catholic boy, if he had any idea why
Mahony would insist on keeping those documents under lock
"It may be far more revealing than
have speculated about," Cooley said. "That would
be the most reasonable motive to continue the cover-up."
Cooley's other guess is that Mahony may be anticipating a
blistering review of his leadership by the National Review
Board, whose report on the national scandal is due later this
month. Perhaps the cardinal figured that from a public relations
standpoint, a slap of his own wrist today will take some sting
out of the clobbering he might take tomorrow.
But Mahony's mea culpas aren't terribly convincing. The report
by the archdiocese offers the usual long-winded defenses,
namely, that until the last 15 years or so, very little was
known about molestation, the extent of the problem in the
church and the best way to treat perpetrators and victims.
There's some truth in all of that, and a lot of hooey, too.
I don't care whether it's 1950, 1975 or 2004. If you don't
know what to do about a priest pushing himself on a defenseless
child, you shouldn't be wearing a collar, let alone running
a diocese. It's as simple as this: A) Call the police; B)
Comfort and treat the victim; C) Excommunicate the priest;
and D) Fire anybody who knew about it and kept quiet.
Richard Sipe, a retired priest who testifies in molestation
cases, has often hammered the same point in my conversations
with him: The problem wasn't the small percentage of bad priests,
but the large percentage of church leaders whose unconscionable
sin was to keep a lid on scandal, protecting themselves rather
than the victims of known predators.
One reason for the decades of silence, Sipe insisted, was
that scandal had always reached into the top tiers of church
hierarchy. So it comes as no surprise that the list of 211
accused molesters in the L.A. Archdiocese includes two former
auxiliary bishops and a monsignor who was chief financial
Then there's Msgr. Richard A. Loomis, who stepped down last
week as pastor of a San Marino parish following accusations
against him. And what did Loomis do before his assignment
in San Marino?
He was Mahony's vicar general, overseeing sex abuse allegations.
"Anyone who ran another organization like this would
have been fired long ago," says Ryan DiMaria, a former
abuse victim who is now an attorney representing 25 people
with claims against the Los Angeles archdiocese.
Kathy Freberg, an Irvine attorney with 101 clients who have
sued the L.A. Archdiocese, chortled when she came to a soul-searching
passage in the "People of God" report. It said the
church needed to "examine its conscience" to figure
out "to what extent" a fear of public scandal "may
have been a motive" for the code of silence.
Gee, Father McFeely. You really think that could have been
"It's infuriating," Freberg said. "The church
is painting a picture of spending 20 years trying to figure
out what to do with pedophiles. But when you litigate these
cases and get into the records, you see that all they were
intent on doing was covering up."
Sure, Mahony may have learned from his mistakes and ushered
in reforms, but he accepts too little blame for the former
and too much credit for the latter.
This is the cardinal who personally reassigned two priests
accused of molestation only to have them prey on more victims.
This is the cardinal who teed off on former Oklahoma Gov.
Frank Keating, the church's National Review Board chief who
made the mistake of getting too close to the truth.
"To act like La Cosa Nostra and hide and suppress, I
think, is very unhealthy," Keating said of Catholic leaders.
Within days, Keating had "resigned." It was a hit
the mob would have been proud of.