A grand jury issued subpoenas Wednesday to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles to force it to hand over the personnel records of three priests under criminal investigation for alleged sexual abuse of minors.
Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley turned to the grand jury to obtain the personnel files after a lawyer for the priests objected two weeks ago to the release of the documents. Cooley’s office declined to comment, but two sources familiar with the process said the grand jury had acted.
The subpoenas escalated pressure on Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, who was in Dallas as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops prepared to convene for the first time since the church was rocked by the sexual abuse scandal. Mahony’s handling of two of the priests named in the subpoenas has been a point of controversy. Michael Hennigan, a Los Angeles attorney representing the archdiocese in the cases, said he had received subpoenas from the Los Angeles County Grand Jury for documents related to Father Michael Stephen Baker, who is retired; Father Michael Wempe; and Father David Granadino.
Mahony said the archdiocese would comply with the subpoenas. But a lawyer who represents the individual priests said he will ask a judge to stop the documents from being handed over, contending that it would violate state and federal privacy laws.
“We’ve had the files waiting,” Mahony said. “What we’ve been reminding people is these priests all have attorneys, so it isn’t our decision. The district attorney and their attorneys have to work this out. There are a number of ways to do it, and a subpoena is fine.”
Mahony said the files contain psychological evaluations, so it is no surprise that the priests’ lawyers would object.
Mahony transferred Baker to several parishes after the priest told him in 1986 that he had molested young boys. The cardinal later approved a secret $1.3-million settlement to two men allegedly abused by Baker in the 1990s.
The cardinal has said he erred when he transferred Wempe, who is accused of molesting children, to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center about 14 years ago without telling hospital officials.
Wempe was among eight priests Mahony forced to retire earlier this year after the archdiocese adopted a “zero tolerance” policy for abusers in the wake of a lawsuit settlement. Since then the archdiocese has placed a handful of other priests on leave because of allegations. One of them is Granadino, a priest at St. Francis of Rome church in Azusa and the subject of a county Sheriff’s Department probe into accusations that he molested boys in Norwalk and Azusa.
Mahony said he expects the documents to be handed over next week, barring objections. “We want these cases dealt with and justice done one way or the other to get it over with…. The one thing that does not help us is just to have this thing month after month after month.”
In a letter last month, Cooley threatened Mahony with a grand jury investigation unless the cardinal gave law enforcement agencies all documents related to the priests under criminal investigation for alleged abuse. The archdiocese agreed to turn over the documents. But prosecutors suspended a May 30 deadline because of the legal objections made by Donald Steier, the priests’ attorney.
Steier said Wednesday that he will file a motion to quash the subpoenas and ask a judge to hold a closed review of the files to hear his objections.
Steier noted that in a 1995 molestation case involving Ted Llanos, a Long Beach priest who has since died, he succeeded in having a subpoena for documents quashed. He compared his philosophy to that of “individual police officers [who] assert similar objections when their personnel files are sought in litigation.”