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Deposition paints an unflattering portrait of Mahony

Exchanges between attorney and cardinal about priest convicted of molestation reveal a failure to take responsibility.

June 20, 2010|Steve Lopez
  • Cardinal Roger Mahony looks to the rear of a courtroom as victims of abuse by priests were asked to stand during a 2007 trial.
Cardinal Roger Mahony looks to the rear of a courtroom as victims of abuse… (Al Seib/Los Angeles )

I've said many times that Cardinal Roger Mahony should stop resisting the release of church documents in the sex abuse scandal. But after a Mahony deposition in a molestation case was made public by the courts last week at the request of The Times, I can see why the cardinal has fought to keep things under wraps.

The deposition involved former priest Michael Baker, who is now serving a 10-year sentence for molestation. After he confessed to Mahony in 1986 that he had molested two boys, Mahony sent him to one of the drive-through "treatment" centers used by the church back then. After that, the archdiocese shuffled Baker around to different parishes — some with elementary schools.

Despite reports that Baker continued to have contact with minors in violation of church orders, the archdiocese did nothing to stop the priest, who went on to molest other kids. You can see why this one troubles Mahony. But is he troubled about the suffering of the victims or the reflection on him?

Consider this exchange between the cardinal and attorney John Manly, who was representing one of Baker's many victims:

Manly: I mean, you would agree with me that the first thing any priest should do … when you learn that a priest has molested a child is call the police, right?

Mahony: Not necessarily.

It's not a difficult question. A child is abused; that's a crime, so you call the police and rush to the aid of the minor, right?

Not Mahony. And despite admitting mistakes, he continues to blame his failure on the times, the circumstances, the procedures that were in place. He'd have you think that 1986 was 100 years ago, and the terms of moral responsibility were different. When he's asked the same question again by the disbelieving lawyer, his answer begins:

"If you want to review the suspected child abuse form, you'll see that the very top little section of the form says name of mandated reporter, title of mandated reporter…"

It goes on like that, with Mahony suggesting the form couldn't be filled out because the names of the victims and their parents were not known. So he didn't call the police and he didn't call the parish where Baker was living to warn of other potential victims.

Manly: I take it at that point you instructed your staff to try and find the kids?

Mahony: No, I did not.

Huh? You know that children have been horribly violated by one of your priests, and you don't move heaven and earth to find them and get them help?

The cardinal said he didn't know their names and was under the impression they might be illegal immigrants who had returned to Mexico. So couldn't he have demanded that Baker tell him their names and where to find them?

"It's not hard to find boys like this," says attorney Lynne Cadigan, who in 2000 negotiated a $1.3-million settlement for two brothers she believes to have been those very victims.

In his deposition, Mahony said Baker admitted to one or two instances of "touching" the boys. But in Mahony's 2004 report to parishioners on the sex abuse scandal, he said Baker indicated there was a "relationship" with the boys from 1978 to 1985, beginning when they were 5 and 7.

"It's utterly ridiculous for him to say, 'I couldn't find them,' " Cadigan said of Mahony. "He didn't want to find them."

In fact, Cadigan said, the boys' mother worked at the parish where they were molested. Baker knew that, and continued molesting the boys for years, according to Cadigan, in Los Angeles, Mexico and Arizona.

In his deposition, Mahony said he established a sexual abuse advisory council in 1992 to use as a sounding board on such cases. The man he put in charge was someone he'd known from various Catholic social events: L.A. County Superior Court Judge Richard Byrne.

In his own deposition last October, Byrne — now retired from his job as presiding judge — sounded like a Mahony clone. Even in cases in which he thought a crime had been committed, Byrne said he didn't believe anyone on the advisory council ever called police.

Manly: I mean, did that ever even cross your mind?

Byrne: No…But I did assume that whatever needed to be done was being done. I had that belief in the archdiocese and the system.

Unfortunately, such faith didn't do the victims any good. And pardon me, but if the cardinal wanted expert advice on whether crimes had been committed, he should have gone to the police or the district attorney, not to handpicked loyalists with no authority.

When I asked to speak to Mahony about his deposition last week, one of his attorneys said I hadn't been fair to the cardinal in the past, that I'd focused on Mahony's mistakes without mentioning "how those mistakes led to a complete reformation of how child abuse allegations were handled by the archdiocese."

Thanks for the advice, but my duty isn't to the cardinal. It's to the victims of sexual abuse and to ferreting out the truth about an institution that was putting its own image before their welfare.

As for the archdiocese's reformation, is there any reason to believe that without lawsuits, media pressure and the threat of criminal prosecution, there would have been any changes at all? And would there have been the $660-million payout in 2007, when the archdiocese settled 500 cases of clergy sex abuse?

As we saw again last week, the cardinal is a man who, even when he admits mistakes, doesn't seem capable of taking full responsibility for the consequences of them. He's still trying to construct the image he'd rather be remembered by, and with each attempt, it slips farther away.

steve.lopez@latimes.com

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