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Mahony Ads Seek to Reassure Public

Scandal: In three newspapers Thursday, the cardinal will outline the L.A. archdiocese's policies to prevent sexual abuse by priests.

June 04, 2002|BETH SHUSTER and RICHARD WINTON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony will be featured this week in full-page ads in three Los Angeles newspapers, reassuring the public that he is taking significant steps to prevent future abuse by priests in his archdiocese.

Written as an open letter to residents of Los Angeles and surrounding communities, Mahony repeats many proposals previously announced in news conferences and interviews. The cardinal's newly hired public relations firm, Sitrick and Co., is behind the ad campaign, believing that the cardinal "had a good story to tell" readers, said Tod Tamberg, the archdiocese spokesman.

The ads will appear Thursday in the Los Angeles Times, Daily News and La Opinion and will cost less than $50,000, Tamberg said. The archdiocese, which is seeking a benefactor to pay for the ads, is attempting to show that "we're doing everything humanly possible to ensure that these situations do not occur again. Nothing from the past will be repeated again," Tamberg said.

The ad comes a week before the U.S. Conference of Bishops in Dallas, which is expected to be dominated by discussions of the nationwide abuse scandal.

About 50 former and current priests are under investigation by authorities in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties for sexually abusing minors.

Mahony last month apologized to priests and parishioners for reassigning one priest who continued abusing minors for more than a decade in the 1980s and 1990s after confessing to the cardinal, who ordered counseling for the man rather than firing him.

In another case, Mahony apologized for transferring a priest accused of sexual abuse to Cedars Sinai Medical Center, where he served as chaplain.

Mary Grant, Southern California organizer of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, denounced Mahony's ad campaign.

"They should be publishing an apology and contact number for the police," she said. "They should be placing an ad saying they have covered up clergy abuse for years. It should read: Parents beware."

In the ads scheduled to appear Thursday, Mahony said there will be no exceptions to his zero-tolerance policy, which requires the firing of priests who abuse minors. He said he will urge the bishops next week to adopt a national policy "as comprehensive as the one in place here: zero tolerance--past, present and future.''

Mahony has called his policy the toughest in the nation, which was required by the settlement of a lawsuit in December. The victim in that case, Ryan DiMaria, was awarded $5.2 million from the Los Angeles and the Orange County archdioceses. The settlement also called for 11 changes to diocesan policies, including zero tolerance.

In his letter, Mahony said he is creating a Clergy Misconduct Oversight Board, headed by Richard Byrne, the retired presiding Los Angeles County Superior Court judge.

In April, Byrne helped arrange for an after-hours hearing when a lawyer for the archdiocese sought a court order to prevent The Times from publishing e-mails written by Mahony and other archdiocese officials. The Times prevailed and published the e-mails, which had been leaked to KFI radio.

Under Mahony's proposal, the clergy misconduct board will be expanded to 15 members and be given "broad new powers to review and strengthen all of our programs to end sexual abuse." Tamberg would not disclose those powers.

Nanette de Fuentes, a psychologist and founding member of the board, said she does not expect the group to function dramatically differently. The board will meet Wednesday to discuss the details of the proposed changes.

"We feel positive," Fuentes said. "He wants to look at the mistakes and move forward."

The cardinal also is calling for fingerprinting and criminal background checks for all priesthood candidates in the archdiocese.

Further, Mahony said that any new allegations of sexual abuse will be referred immediately to police and the accused priest will be removed from active ministry until the case is resolved.

"Sexual abuse is a grave evil, a sin and a crime," Mahony said. "I state to you unequivocally that it will not be tolerated.... There will be no exceptions."

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley has threatened to initiate a grand jury proceeding to recover all archdiocese documents related to past sex abuse.

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Times staff writer Glenn F. Bunting contributed to this report.

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