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Former L.A. priest is sentenced to three years in prison for sex crime

George Miller pleaded guilty to molesting a boy in the 1980s and admitted to sexually abusing at least three others. Cardinal Mahony had fought to keep his personnel records from county prosecutors.

January 31, 2009|Jack Leonard

A former Los Angeles priest at the center of Cardinal Roger Mahony's unsuccessful attempts to keep archdiocese personnel records from county prosecutors was sentenced Friday to three years in prison for molesting a young boy two decades ago.

George Miller, 70, pleaded guilty in December to molesting the child between 1988 and 1989 and admitted to sexually abusing at least three other boys after the archdiocese received its first complaint about him in 1977.

"My family trusted you to teach me the ways of the Lord, not the ways of hell," one of the victims, now in his 30s, told Miller in a trembling voice in a San Fernando courtroom.

Miller, gray haired and spectacled, sat silently with his fist covering his mouth. A handful of supporters sat behind him in the courtroom audience.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Cynthia Ulfig ordered him taken into custody immediately after the sentencing.

After the hearing, Miller's lawyer, Steven M. Cron, said his client had a different version of what happened but accepted a plea deal to avoid a possibly lengthy prison sentence if he were convicted at trial.

"In the end we decided not to contest the charges and that it's time for everyone to move on," Cron said.

Prosecutors believe that Miller molested at least six boys between 1977 and 1991. Deputy Dist. Atty. Ann Marie Wise said the case would have been a challenge to bring to trial because of the time that had passed and the difficulty the victim would have had in testifying about abuse that left him emotionally scarred.

She said the outcome of the case gave victims an opportunity they had long sought: to confront Miller in court and hear him admit to his abuse.

"I don't think that any amount of state prison can ever heal the victims in this case," Wise said.

The district attorney's office initially charged Miller in 2002 with molesting several boys. But the charges were dismissed the next year, along with more than a dozen other cases against priests or former priests, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a California law that extended the statute of limitations for decades-old sexual abuse.

Prosecutors were able to pursue a new criminal case against Miller when an additional victim came forward. Authorities said Miller befriended the victim's mother when the boy was 5 and Miller was assigned to Guardian Angel Church in Pacoima. The abuse allegedly began after Miller was assigned to Santa Clara Church in Oxnard in 1984.

By then, the archdiocese had been warned about Miller.

In 1977, a woman complained that the priest had molested her son during a fishing trip. Church officials said that the mother wrote that she wanted the matter to be handled by the church, and that a meeting was set up involving the child, his mother, the boy's therapist and Miller. The priest denied the allegation. The church considered the matter a spiritual problem and kept Miller in his assignment, promoting him to pastor of Guardian Angel in 1981.

After Friday's hearing, one of the victims said he was angry at the church hierarchy for not doing more to protect children, and he singled out Mahony for criticism.

"He was in charge of taking care of [Miller] and keeping him under wraps, and they knew what he was up to," said the man, now 42, who asked not to be identified. The Times does not name victims or alleged victims in sexual assault cases.

Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said he hoped the sentencing would bring "some measure of comfort" to the victims, but added that Mahony should not be blamed.

He noted that the first complaint about Miller predated Mahony's appointment as archbishop in 1985. A second complaint was received in 1989 about the priest's conduct with children, but Tamberg said it did not allege sexual abuse.

When the church received another allegation of sexual abuse in 1996, Miller was placed on leave. Tamberg said Mahony forced the priest into retirement and then urged the pope to reduce Miller to lay status, which occurred in 2005. Reports of abuse involving Miller received by the church after 1997 were forwarded to police, he said.

Miller was one of two priests whose personnel records were the subject of a vigorous legal battle when Mahony fought against turning over the records to the Los Angeles County grand jury. The archdiocese argued that disclosure would violate priest-bishop communications and priests' privacy rights. They yielded when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear their arguments.

A federal grand jury is now investigating Mahony's response to allegations of priest sexual abuse, law enforcement sources have told The Times.

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jack.leonard@latimes.com

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