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L.A. Cardinal Accused of Sex Abuse

Apr 7, 2002 | AP

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, already under fire for his handling of sexual abuse allegations against other priests in the nation's largest Catholic archdiocese, is now confronting accusations of his own.

Lt. Michael Guthrie of the Fresno Police Department confirmed Saturday that an investigation involving Mahony was under way. Mahony said he was cooperating fully with police.

Flora Mae Hickman, 51, of Fresno, claims she was molested by Mahony while a student at San Joaquin Memorial Catholic High School in 1969.

Hickman said she has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and is taking medication for depression. She told The Associated Press on Saturday that she was knocked unconscious while fighting with students and woke to find the "bottom" portion of her clothing removed and Mahony, then a monsignor in Fresno, "over her."

However, she also said she could not remember many details of what happened.

The woman told the Los Angeles Times in Sunday's newspaper that her parents, other family members, high school classmates and former co-workers have molested, abused or emotionally mistreated her.

She also told the newspaper that one reason she was coming forward with the allegations against Mahony is that the state is cutting her disability payments and she needs a cash settlement from the church.

Mahony revealed the accusation, and denied it, in a three-page statement on Friday night.

"My personal integrity and reputation demand that I take all possible steps to refute this false allegation," Mahony said.

The AP does not normally identify alleged victims in sexual assault cases, but Hickman gave permission for her name to be used.

Mahony has been criticized for not releasing the names of priests removed for sexual abuse, and the archdiocese issued a statement Saturday explaining why Hickman was identified. The statement claimed that at least two reporters said their organizations planned to publish her name and it was necessary to identify her to confirm that Hickman's allegation is being investigated.

The development came as more accusations against Catholic priests surfaced nationwide, including Saturday's admission by the Sacramento Diocese that 14 priests have been accused of sexual misconduct with children over the past 30 years.

Mahony issued his statement after a Los Angeles radio station obtained and quoted from church e-mails about abuse cases that refer briefly to the woman's claim, which she first made to the pastor of St. John's Cathedral in Fresno on March 20.

On Thursday, confidential e-mails between Mahony and his staff, including his lawyers, were obtained by radio station KFI. The e-mails contained numerous references to the sexual abuse scandal and Mahony's concerns about the way the archdiocese was responding to it.

Attorneys for the archdiocese lost a late-night court hearing Thursday to keep KFI and the Los Angeles Times from quoting from the e-mails.

Despite saying she could not remember details, Hickman insisted Saturday the charges are true and that the incident caused her to lose her faith.

"I'm not making this up. I know this is a serious allegation. This has been eating at me. I did call police when I was out of high school. They didn't believe me," she said.

Hickman also told of another incident involving Mahony during which she claims he hit her. Both incidents occurred between 1969 and when she graduated in 1970, Hickman said.

A 1970 San Joaquin Memorial Catholic High School yearbook contains a photo of Hickman, confirming she was a member of the graduating class that year.

Mahony, 66, became the head of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1985 and was elevated to Cardinal in 1991.

The internal e-mails he wrote during the past two weeks reveal his concerns over the church's response to sexual abuse allegations in the archdiocese, which serves 5 million Catholics in three Southern California counties.

Los Angeles police have said they are investigating reports that the diocese has removed six to 12 priests accused of sexual abuse in cases dating back 10 years. The e-mails suggest the number of priests removed is eight.

In one e-mail, Mahony wrote that the archdiocese erred in failing to turn over the names of three of those priests to police.

"It was a huge mistake on our part," Mahony wrote on March 27 to his attorney, Sister Judith Ann Murphy. "If we don't, today, 'consult' with the detective about those three names, I can guarantee you that I will get hauled into a grand jury proceeding and I will be forced to give all the names, etc."

The names of the priests have now been turned over to police.

Church officials said the e-mails were illegally obtained. FBI (news - web sites) officials said they were investigating but would not provide further details Saturday.

In other developments:

Sacramento Bishop William K. Weigand confirmed Saturday that 14 diocese priests have been accused of sexual abuse involving children in the past 30 years and that three of those priests remained active because the allegations were not sustainable. Two other priests, Javier Garcia and Jorge Moreno, fled to Mexico in 1995 while facing criminal allegations they molested an altar boy during the 1970s, he said.

The Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids confirmed Friday that it paid more than $500,000 in 1994 to three Michigan sisters who claimed they were sexually abused by a priest as girls.

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