Files show how Catholic Church leaders in L.A. controlled damage

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They echo similar releases from other dioceses nationwide that have shown how church leaders for decades shuffled problem priests from parish to parish, covered up reports of abuse and didn’t contact law enforcement. Top church officials in Missouri and Pennsylvania were criminally convicted last year for their roles in covering up abuse, more than a decade after the clergy sex-abuse scandal began to unfold in Boston.

Cardinal Mahony, who retired in 2011 after 26 years at the helm of the 4.3-million-person archdiocese, has been particularly hounded by the case of the Rev. Michael Baker, who was sentenced to prison in 2007 for molestation — two decades after the priest confessed his abuse to Cardinal Mahony.

Cardinal Mahony noted the “extremely grave and serious situation” when he sent Baker for psychological treatment after the priest told him in 1986 that he had molested two brothers over seven years.

Baker returned to ministry the next year with a doctor’s recommendation that he be defrocked immediately if he spent any time with minors. Despite several documented instances of being alone with boys, the priest wasn’t removed from ministry until 2000. Around the same time, the church learned he was conducting baptisms without permission.

Church officials discussed announcing Baker’s abuse in churches where he had worked, but Cardinal Mahony rejected the idea.

“We could open up another firestorm — and it takes us years to recover from those,” Mahony wrote in an Oct. 6, 2000, memo. “Is there no alternative to public announcements at all the Masses in 15 parishes??? Wow — that really scares the daylights out of me!!”

The aide, Monsignor Richard Loomis, noted his dismay over the matter when he retired in 2001 as vicar for clergy, the top church official who handled priestly discipline. In a memo to his successor, Monsignor Loomis said Baker’s attorney disclosed the priest had at least 10 other victims.

“We’ve stepped back 20 years and are being driven by the need to cover-up and to keep the presbyteriate & public happily ignorant rather than the need to protect children,” Monsignor Loomis wrote.

“The only other option is to sit and wait until another victim comes forward. Then someone else will end up owning the archdiocese of Los Angeles. The liability issues involved aside, I think that course of complete (in)action would be immoral and unethical.”

Cardinal Mahony preferred targeted warnings at schools and youth groups rather than a warning read at Masses, Mr. Hennigan said. Parish announcements were made two years later.

Baker, who was paroled in 2011, is alleged to have molested 20 children in his 26-year career. He could not be reached for comment.

The files also show Cardinal Mahony worked to keep molester priests out of state to avoid criminal and civil trouble.

One case involved the Monsignor Peter Garcia, a molester whom Cardinal Mahony’s predecessor sent for treatment in New Mexico. Cardinal Mahony kept Garcia there after a lawyer warned in 1986 that the archdiocese could face “severe civil liability” if he returned and reoffended. Garcia had admitted raping an 11-year-old boy and later told a psychologist he molested 15 to 17 young boys.

“If Monsignor Garcia were to reappear here within the archdiocese, we might very well have some type of legal action filed in both the criminal and civil sectors,” Cardinal Mahony wrote to the director of Garcia’s New Mexico treatment program.

Cardinal Mahony then sent Garcia to another treatment center, but Garcia returned to L.A. in 1988 after being removed from ministry. He then contacted a victim’s mother and asked to spend time with her younger son, according to a letter in the file.

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