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Newly released documents show archdiocese shielded abusive priests

In the wake of the release of confidential documents showing how leaders of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles conspired to keep priests who sexually abused children out of jail, Cardinal Roger Mahony—archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles—has apologized for his role in “the archdiocese’s long struggle with the sexual abuse of minors.” Mahony claims he was “naïve” about the impact of abuse upon the priests’ young victims.

That archdiocesan leaders failed to report to the police priests who admitted abusing children was already known; Mahony admitted as much in a 2010 deposition. The documents posted yesterday on the L.A. Times website, which are part of the on-going civil case against the archdiocese, demonstrate a coordinated effort on the part of archdiocesan officials—specifically Cardinal Mahony and his then-vicar of clergy Thomas J. Curry (now an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese)—to keep abusive priests away from law enforcement. From the Times report:

The newly released records, which the archdiocese fought for years to keep secret, reveal in church leaders' own words a desire to keep authorities from discovering that children were being molested.

In the confidential letters, filed this month as evidence in a civil court case, Curry proposed strategies to prevent police from investigating three priests who had admitted to church officials that they abused young boys. Curry suggested to Mahony that they prevent them from seeing therapists who might alert authorities and that they give the priests out-of-state assignments to avoid criminal investigators.

One such case that has previously received little attention is that of Msgr. Peter Garcia, who admitted preying for decades on undocumented children in predominantly Spanish-speaking parishes. After Garcia's discharge from a New Mexico treatment center for pedophile clergy, Mahony ordered him to stay away from California "for the foreseeable future" in order to avoid legal accountability, the files show. "I believe that if Monsignor Garcia were to reappear here within the archdiocese we might very well have some type of legal action filed in both the criminal and civil sectors," the archbishop wrote to the treatment center's director in July 1986.

The following year, in a letter to Mahony about bringing Garcia back to work in the archdiocese, Curry said he was worried that victims in Los Angeles might see the priest and call police.

In response to the release of the documents, Cardinal Mahony issued an apology, posted in full at the Times’ website:

Various steps toward safeguarding all children in the Church began here in 1987 and progressed year by year as we learned more about those who abused and the ineffectiveness of so-called “treatments” at the time. Nonetheless, even as we began to confront the problem, I remained naïve myself about the full and lasting impact these horrible acts would have on the lives of those who were abused by men who were supposed to be their spiritual guides.

The rest of Mahony’s statement is about the meetings he has held with victims of clergy abuse, which he describes as “heart-wrenching experiences.”

At times we cried together, we prayed together, we spent quiet moments in remembrance of their dreadful experience; at times the victims vented their pent up anger and frustration against me and the Church.

Toward the end of our visits I would offer the victims my personal apology — and took full responsibility — for my own failure to protect fully the children and youth entrusted into my care. I apologized for all of us in the Church for the years when ignorance, bad decisions and moral failings resulted in the unintended consequences of more being done to protect the Church — and  even the clergy perpetrators — than was done to protect our children.

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. As I thumb through those cards I often pause as I am reminded of each personal story and the anguish that accompanies that life story.

“I am sorry,” Mahony’s statement concludes.
 
About the Author
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.
 
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