Fresno police were conducting a formal investigation into a woman’s allegations that a Roman Catholic priest, who is now the head of the Los Angeles archdiocese, possibly molested her in 1970.
The 51-year-old woman brought her accusations to church officials in Fresno last week, stating that she believed Cardinal Roger Mahony who, at the time, was a priest in Fresno, may have inappropriately touched her.
Church officials took a statement from the woman and turned it over to Fresno police, who Saturday confirmed they were investigating the matter and refused further comment on the evidence in the case.
According to the Fresno Bee, the woman said that she was not sure Mahony had actually done anything improper. She claimed that she had been knocked out in a fight with another girl at her Catholic high school and when she regained consciousness, Mahony was standing over her and some of her clothing was missing.
“All I said was that when I opened my eyes, some of my clothes were gone and he was the only one around,” the woman told the Bee. “I was unconscious. I don’t know if he molested me, but he could have.”
Mahony has adamantly denied the incident and claims to not know the woman, whose name was not released publicly by most news organizations.
The alleged victim’s troubled past, however, has now been revealed. The Bee and other newspapers reported that she is a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who is on anti-depressant medication and recently had her disability payments cut.
She had been a student at San Joaquin Memorial High School at the time Mahony was a priest in the city. Mahony later became auxiliary bishop of the Fresno diocese and has been in charge of the three-county Los Angeles archdiocese in 1985. He was elevated to cardinal in 1991.
The woman said the supposed incident had been “eating her up” for years before she brought it to the attention of church officials.
“I kept it to myself for a long time, and then I saw people on the news who said, ‘If something like this happened to you, come forward,'” she told the Los Angeles Times.
The woman’s landlady told the Times that she was a good tenant who had never caused problems, but her former manager at a Carl’s Jr., told the newspaper she had a reputation for telling tall tales.
“I wouldn’t take her word,” said shift manager Debra Richardson. “From the time she started here, she has made statements that all sorts of people were harassing her.”
The Times said the woman stated that she had a history of being molested and emotionally abused over the years by co-workers, classmates and members of her own family.
Police Lt. Mike Guthrie told the Times that the department would not judge the merits of the woman’s accusations without first investigating them.
“Regardless of how valid or invalid her allegations are, we have to take them seriously,” Guthrie said. “It’s unfortunate that allegations of this nature put people’s reputations on the line, and that the answers never come quickly. But we’re also talking about something that’s 32 years old.”
The 5-million-member Los Angeles archdiocese itself has not been spared from the current sex scandal that has been sweeping through the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.
The Los Angeles Times and radio station KFI last week released details of a series of private e-mails between Mahony and a church lawyer that discussed the archdiocese’s failure to include the names of three priests in a list of names turned over to Los Angeles police child-abuse investigators.
In the messages, Mahony was irked at the apparent omissions and warned they could lead to both a public relations problem for the archdiocese and his being subpoenaed by a grand jury.
The e-mails have been fodder for talk show hosts who interpret them as an indication that Mahony’s primary concern has been damage control in the media.