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Mahony Is Falsely Accused in PR Snafu

June 05, 2002|BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony's spin machine spun out of control Tuesday.

A week after hiring the high-priced crisis management and public relations firm Sitrick and Co., the Los Angeles Archdiocese issued a news release announcing an allegation of sexual misconduct against Mahony, as well as the cardinal's emphatic denial.

A man claimed that he was forced to inappropriately touch Mahony two decades ago in Stockton, the release said.

But the alleged victim told The Times that he never made such an accusation.

In fact, he said in a telephone interview, he has never met the cardinal.

The man said he had sent the archdiocese in Stockton a letter earlier this week, saying that he was ashamed of the way the church has handled sexual abuse by priests. The man said he wrote, "I want to see his face in court," referring to Mahony, who was the bishop of Stockton from 1980 to 1985.

Tod Tamberg, a Mahony spokesman, said the archdiocese learned from The Times late Tuesday that the Stockton man had not accused Mahony of any sexual impropriety. The archdiocese released a second news release, titled "Archdiocese Receives Independent Corroboration That Allegation of Sexual Abuse Against Cardinal Roger Mahony Is False."

In the first news release, Mahony denied the allegation, saying that he has "never engaged in any sexual activity, abuse or misconduct with anyone throughout my 40 years as a priest and a bishop." Mahony said he urged his representatives to alert Stockton police and asked for "an immediate and full investigation." Mahony, in the release, pledged his full cooperation.

Tamberg said Mahony learned of the allegation from archdiocese lawyers. They told the cardinal that the man's grandmother had reported to Mahony in 1982 that a priest molested him. After that conversation, the victim--who was about 10--alleged that Mahony took him aside and encouraged the boy to inappropriately touch him, according to the news release.

"I do not know anyone by the name of the individual making the allegation, nor do I know his grandmother," Mahony said in his statement for the media.

The 33-year-old Stockton man, whose name is being withheld at his request, said he had "issues" with Father Oliver O'Grady, a Stockton priest who was accused of molesting two brothers and was then moved to another parish by Mahony, where he continued to molest.

O'Grady's victims won a $30-million jury verdict, which was later negotiated to $7 million. Mahony testified in the civil trial that he was unaware of the accusations against O'Grady when he transferred him.

In April, a Fresno woman with a history of mental illness claimed that Mahony molested her 32 years ago. The cardinal, who denied the allegations, was cleared by police.

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