By Joan Trossman Bien
Cardinal Roger Mahony is in Rome right now, part of the conclave that will choose the next Pope. Some of Mahony’s flock has suggested that he might not be qualified to be at the Vatican participating in this historic event. Some even say that Mahony should be in jail.
Their gripe is based on the fact that Mahony conspired and contrived to prevent police from learning about crimes committed against children by some of the priests in his diocese. We know this to be true because his attorney finally released the transcripts and records in their entirety last month.
It took five years for the diocese to obey the court order requiring the release of confidential church records on priests that had abused more than 500 children during the decades that Mahony was head of the Los Angeles diocese, the largest in the country.
The protection of offending priests, 122 priests according to the documents, began in the mid-1980’s when then-Archbishop Mahony enlisted the aid of Msgr. Thomas J. Curry. Together, they wrote memos in 1986 and 1987. Curry suggested strategies for protecting the offending priests from law enforcement by refusing to report the crimes to police. He also recommended that the abusive priests be sent out of harm’s way by giving them out of state assignments, which Mahony did . Additionally, both men believed that preventing those priests from getting therapy outside of the church was too risky because the therapists might notify the police.
So what does Mahony have to say for himself and how does he rationalize his actions? Publicly, Mahony has gone to great lengths to justify his behavior. One of his defenses is that he didn’t fully understand the nature of the molestation for many years. This, despite graphic memos that crossed his desk early on in the scandal which described the assaults in detail, including a letter from a third party priest who accused another priest of tying up and raping a boy.
Another excuse in Mahony’s box of tricks is that he didn’t know better in the 1980’s. Yet he knew enough to conspire with Curry on ways to prevent police from learning about the abuse. In 1988, a Mexican priest spent nine months in the Los Angeles diocese during which time he was accused of raping 20 boys.
In response, Curry wrote, “The whole issue of our records is a very sensitive one, and I am reluctant to give any list to the police.”
Mahony added to the memo, “We cannot give such a list for no cause whatsoever.”
The police did charge the Mexican priest. But the priest was promptly warned by Curry and the priest escaped to Mexico where he remains a fugitive.
There have been three grand jury investigations but no charges were filed. Despite the fact that both Mahony and Curry were grilled during several depositions, they had never been asked under oath if they had prevented the police from learning about the crimes. That was because the files which revelaed that evidence were just released a few weeks ago.
Mahony did acknowledge in a 2010 deposition that the archdiocese never reported the sexual abuse to the police. His reason, he said, was at that time, he didn’t know the names of the victims.
“In my experience,” Mahony said, “you can only call the police when you’ve got victims you can talk to.”
When asked by a father of a victim if he should have done the right thing and call the police, Mahony replied, “Well, today it would. But back then, that isn’t the way those matters were approached.”
Maybe they weren’t approached that way by Mahony and Curry, but raping a child was a crime, even way back in the 1980’s. Can’t think of a time when it wasn’t against the law as well as a crime against the very nature of human beings. Those victims will find little solace or compensation for the innocence and very lives that were brutally stolen by one of the very people in authority whose job was to protect them against harm.
One of the worst offenders was Msgr. Peter Garcia, who passed away in 2009. While attending a therapy center for abusive priests in New Mexico, Garcia assured church officials that his mostly Spanish-speaking victims would not come forward because they were not in the U.S. legally. In a church memo, Garcia threatened a boy he had raped. He told the boy that if he went to the police, that the boy would be deported.
Some of the church memos acknowledged that many of the acts of these priests were criminal acts. Mahony and Curry knew the nature of the crimes from the beginning. Yet they spent most of their time and energy hiding the priests from the police.
A lawyer for the church recently admitted that those memos from 15 years ago, “sometimes focused more on the needs of the perpetrator than on the serious harm that had been done to the victims.”
In his defense, Mahony recently apologized for his actions. “I have a 3 x 5 card for every victim I met with on the altar of my small chapel. I pray for them every single day.”
I’m sure that makes up for everything.
So now the esteemed Cardinal is in Rome, the ultimate reward for a Cardinal. He is likely being treated with great respect since he had been one of the most powerful church authorities in the country. Forced to retire at age 75, Mahony was recently stripped of all of his public duties by his successor, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez. The censure will have little effect on Mahony’s daily life as a retired Cardinal but it is nevertheless more severe than that which other priests in similar circumstances have received as punishment.
In the end, because the prosecutors failedin their depositions to ask Mahony directly about his involvement in shielding the offending priests, something that had been suspected for years, the grand jury did not have the information it needed to indict. That question had not been asked because it took five years for the church to hand over the files that contained the information.
Seems to me, that since the church withheld crucial information from the grand jury three times and defied the court order to relinquish the documents, unredacted, for a full five years, there should be a fourth grand jury that looks at possible criminal charges against Mahony and Curry.
I am not a Catholic. I can’t imagine remaining devout in the face of such long-running, church-protected destruction of the lives of hundreds of children. I admire Catholics who can get past these vile events and continue to have faith. But their faith is in God, not the people claiming to be God’s representatives. The Pope claims to speak directly to God. Hard to imagine that the all-knowing, omnipotent God was okay with what went on inside his immense and well-endowed church.
Time for a little Karma.
Joan Trossman Bien has been writing news most of her professional life. She started writing as an intern at KNX Newsradio and wrote as a freelancer at nearly every television station in Los Angeles. She graduated from law school in 2004. At present, she is a regular writer for cover features at the Ventura County Reporter and Pasadena Weekly. She enjoys writing about an array of topics including health care, politics, women’s issues, and social justice. Bien lives with her journalist husband in Ventura County. They have one grown daughter who is also a journalist. Bien hales from Glencoe, Ill., a small suburb outside Chicago.