LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Cardinal Roger Mahony and the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles are being investigated by federal authorities over accusations of covering up the sexual abuse of minors by priests, two newspapers reported on Thursday.
The probe is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles through a federal grand jury, according to the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal. If Mahony were charged he would be one of the highest-ranking Catholic church officials to face prosecution in U.S. clergy sex scandals.
A spokesman for the Attorney’s office, Thom Mrozek, declined to comment on the reports.
The archdiocese, the largest in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church, settled with 508 victims of priest abuse in 2007, paying out $660 million in one of the biggest group settlements. Mahony at the time called the abuse “a terrible sin and crime.”
Mahony could not be reached for comment, but told a Los Angeles radio station on Thursday that he believed the priest abuse cases to be in the past.
“Well, basically we were mystified and puzzled by the whole thing,” Mahony told KNX news radio. “We have been through these investigations for years now.”
The L.A. Times said the investigation sought to determine if Mahony or other church officials could be charged with fraud for failing to protect children from predatory priests.
Mahony has been harshly criticized by victims rights groups who say he transferred priests who molested children to other parishes rather than reporting them to authorities.
The cardinal has also fought against releasing details of priests’ personnel files to prosecutors or victims attorneys.
“The Archdiocese is not aware of any fact or set of facts that would support a responsible federal investigation of the Archdiocese or of Cardinal Roger Mahony,” the archdiocese said in a written statement.
“While the history of clergy abuse in the church is regrettable, it served as the foundation for broad reforms in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” the spokesman said. “Under Cardinal Mahony’s leadership the Archdiocese has become a model for organizations worldwide in the education, training and detection of every aspect of abuse.”
Archdiocese lawyer Michael Hennigan called the government “unprofessional” for leaking details of an ongoing grand jury investigation to the media but said the church would cooperate.
“The Archdiocese has received requests from the United States Attorney’s office about a number of individual priests, two of whom are deceased and none of whom are known to be in ministry,” Hennigan said.
Editing by Mary Milliken and Philip Barbara