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Files On 8 Priests Are Demanded

Jul 31, 2002 | The Los Angeles Times

Prosecutors have turned to the grand jury for a third time to issue new subpoenas to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, demanding personnel records of priests under investigation for alleged sexual abuse of minors.

Authorities served eight subpoenas Monday, archdiocesan officials confirmed. The new subpoenas raise the number of current or former clerics whose files have been sought by the district attorney's office to 17.

The church will surrender the requested documents, said Michael Hennigan, an attorney for the archdiocese, which covers Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

The latest subpoenas come as the number of the archdiocese's current and former priests under investigation by law enforcement stands at more than 70. Investigators estimate that there are more than 120 alleged victims.

Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department investigators said they believe that about 15 of their cases can be prosecuted, based on the evidence they have so far.

"That number wouldn't surprise me," Hennigan said.

Investigators face the task of overcoming a 10-year statute of limitations on older cases. The statute does not apply to the most serious sex crimes.

"The key is whether enough happened and whether we can prove it," said Sgt. Dan Scott of the sheriff's Family Crimes Unit, which is investigating 23 priests.

Criminal charges may not be filed before early September, about the same time as the planned opening of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles, law enforcement officials said.

Investigators and prosecutors said they need to review thousands of pages of documents from the archdiocese.

"These cases are difficult. Some of the cases date back 30 or even 40 years," said Lt. Daniel Mulrenin, who oversees the LAPD's Sexually Exploited Child Unit. "Once charges are filed, we expect many more victims to come forward."

The documents sought by prosecutors are tangled up in closed-door court proceedings while a judge weighs objections by Donald Steier, an attorney for some of the priests.

When Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley first turned to the grand jury last month for files on three priests, archdiocesan attorneys agreed to hand over the documents. But Steier sought to block the transfer to protect the priests' privacy. Some of the files, he said, included medical records and statements to therapists.

A court-appointed official, known as a special master, is reviewing each page to decide whether its release to authorities would violate the priests' rights, Steier said. The retired judge was selected by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dan Oki.

"They have got another 20 in line, as I understand," Steier said of the grand jury subpoenas. "I am not going to hold back. If the government wants a document it is not entitled to receive, I am going to object."

Hennigan, the archdiocesan attorney, said the church has been served with three sets of subpoenas and has complied with each request.

He said he received subpoenas June 12 for the records of three priests. The archdiocese was served with subpoenas two weeks ago for six more files and then the additional eight Monday. Hennigan said the archdiocese has turned over personnel files, as well as so-called C files, which contain sensitive allegations.

The June 12 subpoenas named Michael Stephen Baker, a defrocked priest, Father Michael Wempe and Father David Granadino. Cardinal Roger M. Mahony transferred Baker to several parishes after the priest told him in 1986 that he had molested young boys. Mahony later approved a $1.3-million settlement with two men who had allegedly been abused by Baker.

Earlier this year, Mahony ordered the removal of seven accused priests from the ministry, drawing the attention of police and prosecutors.

Los Angeles police are examining allegations by more than 70 alleged victims involving about 40 living priests and as many as 10 dead clerics, Mulrenin said. The Sexually Exploited Child Unit, he said, has increased the number of investigators assigned to the inquiry from six to nine. Three other detectives may join the investigation in coming weeks, he said.

Archdiocesan officials say none of the accused priests is in active ministry.

Mahony, archbishop since 1985, adopted a zero-tolerance abuse policy for priests earlier this year.

That policy is more strict than the one he adopted in 1992, which set zero tolerance for new allegations of abuse but did not oust some clerics with prior allegations who had received psychological treatment, church officials said.

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