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Abuse victims turned to Mahony in anger, pain

As lawyers worked on a payout, the archbishop met individually with more than 70 victims.

July 30, 2007|Rebecca Trounson, Tami Abdollah and John Spano | Times Staff Writers

They arrived at the civil courthouse in downtown Los Angeles with their spouses, their parents, girlfriends or siblings. One group of childhood friends, now in their 50s, came together; as girls, they had been molested by the same priest.

Some sought an apology, others reconciliation. And some just hoped to vent their outrage and be heard, directly, by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, who has headed the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles since 1985.

"I wanted to speak on behalf of myself and others who couldn't do it for themselves," said Mark Gauer, 47, who said in a lawsuit he was sexually abused by a priest at his Catholic school, Los Angeles' Daniel Murphy High School.

For the last year, as attorneys have battled over the size and details of an ultimately record-breaking clergy abuse settlement by the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Mahony has met individually with more than 70 of those who sued him. The purpose, according to Minnesota lawyer Jeffrey Anderson, who helped develop the protocol for such meetings in dioceses across the country, is to allow the abuse survivors to be heard and for the Catholic authority figure to experience the victims' pain.

"If they want to speak, it's only to apologize, not to explain," said Anderson, a clergy abuse litigation pioneer who represented some of the Los Angeles plaintiffs. "They are there to listen."

As Mahony announced the $660-million agreement two weeks ago, he said the sessions had helped him understand the human toll of the abuse and had propelled him toward a settlement.

Through his spokesman, Tod M. Tamberg, Mahony declined last week to speak further about the meetings, except to say that more are scheduled. "He has said he will meet with any victim who wants to meet with him," Tamberg said.

Some plaintiffs say they have no desire to do so. "I would relish an opportunity to tell Mahony, one-on-one, what I think of him," said Lee Bashforth, 37, who said in his lawsuit that he was molested by former priest Michael Wempe for nearly 10 years, beginning when Bashforth was 7. "But that would mean playing into [Mahony's] massive P.R. machine, and I refuse to do that."

Representatives of a victims support group, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said they have cautioned members against meeting with Mahony, saying such discussions could cause them further harm. And at least two attorneys representing multiple plaintiffs in the latest settlement also have discouraged their clients, saying they do not believe the meetings are beneficial.

But dozens of other abuse victims have met with Mahony, in sessions primarily arranged by lawyer Raymond Boucher's office and mediated by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles W. McCoy. Boucher was lead attorney for the plaintiffs. The meetings have taken place in McCoy's chambers, and several victims who participated praised the judge for his sensitive handling of the often tense, emotional discussions.

In interviews since the July 16 settlement, eight abuse survivors spoke about the meetings, their reasons for attending and their views of what took place. Some of them asked that their full names be withheld or that only their initials be used to protect their privacy.

Although their reactions varied -- some said they found the sessions healing; others said they were unable to forgive Mahony or the church he represents -- none said they regretted taking part.

Erin Brady, a 48-year-old public schoolteacher in the San Gabriel Valley, said that Mahony was "not compassionate" in their mid-February meeting but that the session nonetheless served a purpose.

"I felt good that I was able to say what I wanted to say," said Brady, who claimed in her lawsuit that she was abused by a priest at Immaculate Conception Church in Monrovia from age 8 to 11. "It wasn't good for me because of Mahony, but he did sit there and take it from me -- and I was not easy on him. I give him credit for that."

Brady and several others said they had used the meetings to berate Mahony for what they described as his role in shielding abusive priests from justice and in unnecessarily delaying a legal settlement during 4 1/2 years of negotiations.

"Jesus wouldn't have an attorney," Gauer said he told Mahony in a 90-minute meeting in March. " 'This should have been settled a long time ago,' I told him."

Gauer, whose father was head of the archdiocese's Holy Name Society and a spokesman for the Citizens for Decency Through Law, an anti-pornography group, said he told Mahony how he was abused at the age of 14 at hotels, where he had gone with the priest on business trips.

According to Gauer's wife, Cecilia, who attended the meeting, Mahony said a few times: "I really do feel bad this happened to you."

"His words were, 'I will take responsibility for what has happened,' " she said. "But he never said 'I'm sorry.' "

Still, Gauer said the session "was worth about a year's worth of therapy."

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