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Mahony Vows To Open Files To Authorities

Aug 18, 2002 | The Los Angeles Times

One day after being threatened with a grand jury investigation, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony pledged Friday to make the Roman Catholic Archdiocese's files on priestly abuse available to the district attorney's office.

Mahony said in an interview Friday he would turn over documents that could include letters, notes of meetings and other correspondence. He said they also would be made available to local law enforcement agencies if they require them.

"We want every single thing out, open and dealt with, period," Mahony said. "The last thing I want is this going on for months and months."

Mahony said he has given the Los Angeles Police Department, the county Sheriff's Department and other agencies the names, addresses and other information that they have requested regarding priests alleged to have abused minors. Copies of that information will be provided to the district attorney, he said.

Additionally, Mahony said he would work with the district attorney's office to ask priests accused of abusing minors for authorization to release their confidential medical and psychological records.

On Thursday, Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley sent the cardinal a letter saying that law enforcement authorities need written documentation of abuse cases and that their investigations had been hampered without it. Moreover, Cooley warned the cardinal that he could face a grand jury investigation over his failure to make those documents available.

Meanwhile, in a development that underscored philosophical differences on priestly abuse between the Vatican and American Catholics, a Vatican official said in an article to be published today that bishops should avoid telling congregations their parish priests sexually abused someone if the bishops believe the priests will not abuse again.

In an article in the influential Jesuit magazine Civilta Cattolica, which often reflects Vatican thinking, the Rev. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, a Vatican appeals court judge, also said church leaders have no legal or moral responsibilities if such abuse does occur.

Ghirlanda insisted that church leaders must protect the "good name" of their priests and that only a guilty cleric truly is responsible for his actions. "From a canon law perspective, the bishop and the superior are neither morally nor judicially responsible for the acts committed by one of their clergy," said Ghirlanda, dean of canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

In Los Angeles, Cooley released a written statement Friday saying he was encouraged by Mahony's promise of cooperation in turning over documents. But he appeared to take note of a sticking point between the district attorney and the cardinal. Cooley says the archdiocese must report suspected abuse to the law enforcement agency where the alleged crime occurred, while Mahony has worked primarily with Los Angeles Police Department detectives. Those LAPD investigators have been the liaison between Mahony and other law enforcement agencies.

Cooley's statement said, "We urge Cardinal Mahony and his advisors" to follow the district attorney's "direction as to how the requested information should be provided to the appropriate law enforcement agency."

Joe Scott, Cooley's director of communications, said, "If he sends a truck [of documents] down here, we're not going to open the boxes; we're going to send them to the appropriate law enforcement agency as the district attorney's May 16 letter made elaborately clear."

Mahony said the LAPD's role as liaison between the church and other agencies has worked well, particularly in cases where the archdiocese does not know exactly where an alleged crime occurred. But he said he would cooperate with law enforcement authorities and that he has directed "all representatives and personnel of the archdiocese to continue to cooperate fully" with all civil authorities. He said he would send backup copies to Cooley's office.

Cmdr. Gary Brennan confirmed Thursday that some archdiocesan documentation has been provided to the LAPD. County Sheriff Lee Baca said he was unsure whether the archdiocese is cooperating fully with his detectives.

"You never know" if detectives are getting all the information from the church files, Baca said. "People could say on one hand they are providing all the information they have," but detectives don't know "until perhaps face to face, investigator to source ... when they say: 'May I inspect your files?'"

Cooley has said his staff decided last week to urge the cardinal to provide written materials to police agencies, but a Times story on former priest Michael Baker stepped up that request.

The Times reported Thursday that Baker told Mahony in 1986 that he molested young boys, but the cardinal reassigned him to parishes where he allegedly continued his sexual abuse of minors for more than a decade. Mahony in 2000 approved a secret $1.3-million payment to alleged victims and arranged for Baker to quietly retire from the archdiocese. Mahony earlier this week faxed a letter to 1,200 priests in the archdiocese stating that he mishandled the Baker case and that he assumed full responsibility.

Baker is one of more than 30 current or former archdiocesan priests under investigation by local law enforcement authorities.

Mahony said he has files containing one or two pages and others that are far more detailed, including cases such as those of Baker and Michael Wempe, a former chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center who was forced to resign by Mahony because of prior abuse allegations.

"We told [the LAPD detectives] whatever they wanted, they could have" in the Baker case, Mahony said.

Last month, Mahony and the archdiocese were sued under a federal racketeering law typically used to dismantle organized crime operations. In two lawsuits, attorneys alleged Mahony protected abusive priests as head of the archdiocese, a pattern of behavior that the lawyers said constitutes a criminal enterprise.

Cooley's letter earlier this week is the toughest yet from local law enforcement. Prosecutors in two states have impaneled grand juries while others have made similar demands for documents. Victims rights groups and attorneys representing victims say they believe each diocese maintains considerable files on suspect priests.

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