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Details on 11 Priests Missing in '04 Report

Mahony's disclosure on sex abuse claims left out information on clerics who stayed in ministry.

April 20, 2006|Jean Guccione and William Lobdell | Times Staff Writers

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony acknowledged to Los Angeles Catholics in his 2004 "Report to the People of God" that he left five priests in ministry despite complaints that they had molested children.

But a Times analysis of church records released since then shows that he left 11 other priests in ministry for periods up to 13 years after parishioners raised concerns about inappropriate behavior with children.

Seven of these 11 cases were not detailed in the People of God report. The other four were mentioned incompletely; the report said they were removed when complaints were lodged but did not disclose that the Los Angeles Archdiocese had received earlier reports of misconduct.

The Times analyzed edited summaries of personnel records written and posted on a public website by the archdiocese in October. The summaries were first given to counsel for more than 500 plaintiffs suing the church over alleged sexual abuse by priests. The archdiocese and the plaintiffs are engaged in court-ordered mediation.

One of the 11 cases involves the late Msgr. Leland Boyer, whose publicly released file summary revealed that three allegations of child molestation had been lodged against him. One of his alleged victims, Jaime Romo, said archdiocesan officials had assured him in 2002 that he was Boyer's only accuser. Romo, in an interview, said he was enraged when he saw that Boyer's file summary included two other allegations of sexual misconduct, in 1981 and 1995.

"I would still like to believe, 'Oh, my gosh, somehow it was an oversight,' " said Romo, 46, a professor at the University of San Diego. "It is deeply saddening for me to know [that] so many situations were maintained that put people at risk."

Mahony has fought to keep from releasing full personnel files either to prosecutors or plaintiffs' lawyers in the civil cases. On Monday, however, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a California appellate court ruling requiring him to hand over to prosecutors the files of two priests who are under criminal investigation.

Legal experts have said the high court's refusal to hear Mahony's appeal increases the likelihood that the Los Angeles church may soon have to hand over many more confidential documents in the civil cases.

In a letter accompanying the 2004 People of God report, Mahony said the report provided the "fullest possible disclosure" of how the church responded to allegations of clerical sexual abuse in the decades before he arrived in 1985 and since.

Mahony declined to be interviewed for this article. His spokesman, Tod Tamberg, said the People of God report was not meant to be encyclopedic, but "represented some of our most egregious cases and provided a look into the range of responses over time." Mahony never knowingly concealed information about his oversight of predatory priests, Tamberg said.

But The Times' analysis found that although the report included detailed accounts of mistakes involving Michael Baker, Gerald Fessard, Carlos Rodriguez, Carl Sutphin and Michael Wempe -- priests whose alleged sexual misconduct had already been written about in The Times -- it left out or abridged details of other potentially embarrassing cases that had not been widely publicized.

One abridged story involves Father Lynn Caffoe. The report said the archdiocese sent Caffoe to residential treatment in 1991 on the recommendation of a therapist after three families had complained that he had been "overly familiar with their teenage sons." He was then put on inactive leave.

In 1994, while Caffoe was still out of ministry, a high school boy alleged that the priest had abused him, according to the report. The information was forwarded to child-protection authorities, and Caffoe never returned to ministry, the report said.

The report did not mention that three other complaints came in during Mahony's tenure before action was taken -- the first in 1986, five years before Caffoe was removed. It also does not mention that the archdiocese waited more than a month after the families complained to restrict Caffoe's ministry -- and did so only after the priest's therapist reported the suspected child abuse to law enforcement, according to his personnel file summary. Two months later, the priest was living at a Long Beach parish "on sabbatical."

Another priest whose record is abbreviated in the report is Richard Henry. The report stated that he was removed from ministry in 1991 after he pleaded no contest to four counts of lewd conduct with a child under 14.

His case is labeled as one in which the church intervened quickly. But Henry's summary shows four pre-1991 complaints against him -- the first in 1980, when a parishioner passed on a rumor that Henry had a boy "living in his house" every weekend. The other three were made in 1988, during Mahony's tenure: A layperson reported that the priest "grabs little boys and hugs them," a nun said he "favors boys over girls," and a pastor said Henry was spending too much time alone with a boy.

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