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Mahony, Archdiocese Sued

Apr 30, 2002 | The Sacramento Bee

Two civil lawsuits alleging that Cardinal Roger Mahony violated federal racketeering laws were filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of four men who say they were sexually abused by the same priest when they were children.

The suits -- each filed by a pair of brothers -- claim that the cardinal and the Los Angeles Archdiocese knowingly shielded the priest for decades and allowed him to continue serving at the Los Angeles cathedral until a few weeks ago.

The suits contend that Mahony's behavior in this situation and others creates a pattern of conspiracy that violates the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act -- known as RICO. The act originally targeted organized crime, but can be used in civil cases where there is a pattern of illegal activity.

No damages were stated in the two suits, but the RICO law allows for tripling a judgment awarded by a jury.

"We name Cardinal Mahony as the active kingpin of an organized conspiracy," said Jeff Anderson, a lawyer for the four plaintiffs. "RICO -- one of the heaviest clubs in the law -- is being waged against one of the most revered institutions in the world, the Roman Catholic Church."

Mahony, 66, was hospitalized Sunday in Burbank, where he is undergoing treatment for a blood clot in his lung, according to Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the archdiocese. The cardinal's condition was listed as good but he was expected to be hospitalized for several more days.

At a hospital news conference Monday, Mahony's doctor said the clot was not the result of stress but may have been triggered by the cardinal's 12-hour plane ride home from Rome over the weekend. Pope John Paul II called Mahony and other American cardinals to the Vatican last week for an emergency meeting on the clergy sex-abuse crisis rocking the church.

Earlier, Tamberg said there would be no comment on the RICO lawsuits until diocesan lawyers see them.

Two anti-racketeering suits were filed last month against a former bishop of Palm Beach, Fla., but Mahony is the first cardinal to be hit with a RICO complaint, said Anderson, a Minnesota lawyer who has handled hundreds of clergy abuse cases across the nation.

The suits filed Monday allege that Mahony and the Los Angeles Archdiocese concealed criminal activity, obstructed law enforcement, violated the civil rights of children and committed fraud to protect "predatory priests and other clergy from criminal and civil prosecution."

The aim of the conspiracy, the complaints state, was "to maintain or increase charitable contributions and/or avoid public scandal in the Roman Catholic Church." Anderson said at a courthouse news conference that he has evidence showing a pattern of criminal conduct by Mahony involving at least three priests under his charge.

One is the Rev. Carl Sutphin, the man accused of molestation by the four plaintiffs in the cases filed Monday. Two of those plaintiffs remain anonymous, brothers known only as "John Does," but the other pair -- 46-year-old twins Andy and Joe Cicchillo -- attended the news conference and spoke out.

The diocese refused to comment on a published report Monday that Sutphin had been forced to retire earlier this year.

The Cicchillos say that Sutphin abused them from 1965 until 1971. The twins allege that the priest molested them on vacations and at his parents' home.

Andy Cicchillo said he wrote to Mahony about Sutphin in 1991, disclosing the situation and mentioning that he suspected his brother was abused.

"I was promised that this priest would be retired, not allowed to wear his collar, not allowed near a child," Andy Cicchillo said. That promise was made by Vicar Timothy Dyer, who said he was speaking for Mahony, according to Andy Cicchillo.

Last year, Joe Cicchillo said, they learned that Sutphin was still an active priest, assigned to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

In the other suit, the parents of the unnamed brothers said they first notified the Los Angeles Archdiocese of the allegations against Sutphin in 1994. As recently as April 10, their mother said, she wrote personally to Mahony for help for her sons, which was denied.

The other two priests cited in the RICO suits are Santiago Tamayo, a Los Angeles-area priest, and Oliver O'Grady, who served in the Stockton Diocese when Mahony was bishop there from 1980 to 1985.

Tamayo fled to the Philippines in the mid-1980s to avoid sexual assault charges but remained on the payroll of the archdiocese.

In 1998, Anderson sued the Stockton Diocese on behalf of two of O'Grady's victims, eventually winning them $7 million in damages.

Mahony testified in that case, acknowledging that he had transferred O'Grady from parish to parish but stating that he did not know at the time that the priest faced allegations of child molestation. Other witnesses, however, testified that Mahony was aware of the allegations.

"The Stockton case is our smoking gun," Anderson said Monday.

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