LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Victims of pedophile priests called on Tuesday for renewing a criminal investigation into the role of Catholic Church leaders in Los Angeles, including Cardinal Roger Mahony, in covering up child sexual abuse as revealed in newly released Church records.
Documents made public on Monday showed that Mahony, then archbishop of the nation’s largest Catholic archdiocese, worked with a top adviser to shield known molesters in the clergy from law enforcement scrutiny in the 1980s.
According to the internal Church personnel records, Mahony and a monsignor who oversaw sex abuse cases in the archdiocese, Thomas Curry, arranged with other Church officials to send pedophile priests out of state to avoid prosecution.
Mahony and Curry also tried to keep priests sent away to a Church-run pedophile treatment center from later revealing their misconduct to private therapists who would be obligated to report the crimes to police, the documents showed.
Prosecutors in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office “will review and evaluate all documents as they become available to us,” a spokeswoman said.
The documents released this week, pertaining to more than a dozen clergy, came to light as part of a pending civil suit against the archdiocese on behalf of a man who claims he was sexually abused as a boy by a priest who fled to Mexico about the time he was reported to authorities.
Scandals over sex abuse in the U.S. Catholic Church, which erupted in 1992 with a series of molestation cases uncovered in Boston, have cost the Church billions of dollars in settlements and driven prominent dioceses into bankruptcy.
The Los Angeles archdiocese, which serves 4 million Catholics, reached a $660 million civil settlement in 2007 with more than 500 victims of child molestation in the biggest such agreement of its kind in the nation, and Mahony at the time called the abuse “a terrible sin and crime.”
But victims’ advocates have accused Church leaders of continuing to obfuscate their role in the scandal, and cite the newly released confidential letters and memos as a “smoking gun” proving complicity by Mahony and others.
“What these documents show us is how ... actively involved he was and how personally responsible he and Monsignor Curry were together for the transfer and cover-up of pedophile priests,” said Joelle Casteix, a western director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
Speaking at a news conference, Casteix urged law enforcement to examine the new files to see if criminal charges can be brought against the involved church leaders.
Mahony, who retired as archbishop in 2011, retains the title of cardinal in the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Curry now serves as auxiliary bishop responsible for the pastoral regions of Santa Barbara and Ventura County.
Casteix, joined by nine abuse victims and three parents of abuse victims, also called for Mahony, Curry and others implicated in the files to be punished by the Church and for Mahony to be publicly denounced by his successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez.
“We can put any of these people in jail if we want to, if the law works for the people instead of the oligarchs,” said Jim Robertson, 66, who said he was abused as a teenager by two members of his Catholic high school faculty.
Former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said in 2007 that a probe into the conduct of Church leaders was on hold until his office could obtain personnel records of those accused of abuse. A federal grand jury inquiry in 2009 likewise produced no charges.
In addition to records released on Monday, files of at least 75 more accused abusers from the archdiocese are slated to become public in coming weeks under terms of the 2007 settlement.
Mahoney said on Monday he had been “naive” in his handling of the problem and that he and other Church officials began to take more aggressive steps in 1987 after gaining a better understanding of how damaging sexual abuse was to its victims.
Curry also apologized for “instances when I made decisions regarding the treatment and disposition of clergy accused of sexual abuse that in retrospect appear inadequate or mistaken.”
A separate statement from the archdiocese said the Church had “learned from mistakes made decades ago.”
“We have apologized for the sad and shameful actions of some priests, as well as for our inadequate responses in assisting victims and in dealing with perpetrators,” the statement said. “The past cannot be changed, but we have learned from it.”
Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker