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Disturbing revelations

October 13, 2005

WHAT'S MOST TROUBLING ABOUT the documents released this week by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles is not necessarily what they describe, but what they represent. The behavior they depict is both disturbing and reprehensible. But these papers may just be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to revealing the scope of the church's molestation problem.

The documents describe repeated instances in which church leaders in the 1960s, '70s and '80s abdicated their responsibility. They allowed priests to stay in their positions despite allegations that the priests were sexually molesting youngsters, or they shuffled them from one post to another, where they could find new victims.

Much of this information was known before the latest papers were released, in part because of lawsuits and through reporting by The Times. Similar patterns persisted in other dioceses, which have been forced to pay record settlements to victims.

More frightening is that the documents represent only brief, sanitized information that the archdiocese wanted to release in an effort to settle pending suits. That makes one wonder what may be in church records that Cardinal Roger M. Mahony continues to resist giving to prosecutors, despite two court rulings ordering their release.

In The Times' report Wednesday on the newly released documents, church officials touted the fact that their approach has evolved over time to the zero-tolerance policy on molestation in place today.

That's the right policy, but the "evolution" didn't occur until well after allegations of widespread sexual abuse by priests ignited outrage throughout the nation.

The best way for Mahony to show that he cares about victims more than about protecting the church would be to release the records.

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