At a news conference at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Esther Miller,… (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles…)
The archdiocese of Los Angeles learned in the late 1970s that one of its priests had sexually assaulted a 16-year-old boy so violently that he was left bleeding and "in a state of shock." The priest said he was too drunk to remember what happened and officials took no further action.
But two decades later, word reached Cardinal Roger M. Mahony that the same priest was molesting again and improperly performing the sacrament of confession on his victim. The archdiocese sprang to action: It dispatched investigators, interviewed a raft of witnesses and discussed the harshest of all church penalties—not for the abuse but for the violation of church law.
"Given the seriousness of this abuse of the sacrament of penance … it is your responsibility to formally declare the existence of the excommunication and then refer the matter to Rome," one cleric told Mahony in a memo.
Full coverage: Priest Abuse Scandal
The case of Father Jose Ugarte is one of several instances detailed in newly released records in which archdiocese officials displayed outrage over a priest's ecclesiastical missteps while doing little for the victims of his sexual abuse.
The revelations emerged from 12,000 pages of the once-confidential personnel files of more than 100 priests accused of abuse. The archdiocese posted the documents on its website Thursday night, an hour after a Los Angeles judge ended five and a half years of legal wrangling over the release of the files with an order compelling the church to make the documents public within three weeks.
Victims, their lawyers, reporters and members of the public spent hours Friday poring through records that stretched back to the 1940s and provided details about the scope of abuse in church ranks never before seen.
The files also suggested that the attempts to protect abusers from law enforcement extended beyond the L.A. archdiocese to a Catholic order tasked with rehabilitating abusers.
"Once more, we ask you to PLEASE DESTROY THESE PAGES AND ANY OTHER MATERIAL YOU HAVE RECEIVED FROM US," the acting director of the order's treatment program wrote to Mahony in 1988 in a letter detailing therapists' reports about a prolific molester. "This is stated for your own and our legal protection."
The order, the Servants of the Paraclete, closed the New Mexico facility where many Los Angeles priests were sent amid a flood of lawsuits in the mid-1990s. A lawyer for the order declined to comment, but indicated in a 2011 civil court filing that all treatment records were destroyed.
Mahony disregarded the order's advice, and therapy memos are among the most detailed records in the files.
One evaluation recounts how Father Joseph Pina, an East L.A. parish priest, said he was attracted to a victim, an eighth-grade girl, when he saw her in a costume.
"She dressed as Snow White … I had a crush on Snow White, so I started to open myself up to her," he told the psychologist. In a report sent to a top Mahony aide, the psychologist expressed concern the abuse was never reported to authorities.
"All so very sad," Mahony wrote years later after Pina was placed on leave. He was defrocked in 2006.
The limitations of the treatment at the Servants' center are evident in the file. After months of therapy in 1994, Father John Dawson was allowed to leave the facility for a weekend. Among the first things Dawson, who had been accused of plying altar boy victims with pot and beer, did was apply for a job at the Arizona Boys School in Phoenix. Treatment center staff found out only after the school phoned Dawson to arrange an interview. "Had they not called the Villa, it is doubtful that Fr. Dawson would have informed us of that job application and interview," according to a 1994 letter to Mahony's vicar for clergy, Msgr. Timothy Dyer.
In some cases, the behavior that drew the greatest ire of the hierarchy involved breaking church rather than criminal laws. After first learning of Michael Baker's abuse of boys in 1986, church leaders sent the priest to therapy, then returned him to ministry believing his word that he would stay away from children.
Yet in 2000, information that Baker was performing baptisms without permission set off a new level of alarm among the church's top officials. They discussed launching a canonical investigation, and for the first time in Baker's checkered years with the church, officials raised the prospect of contacting police.
They mulled getting a restraining order to keep him away from churches.
"Please proceed — this is very bad!" Mahony scrawled across the bottom of a memo on starting a church investigation into the baptisms. Ultimately, church officials did not seek a restraining order.
Archdiocese officials finally contacted police about Baker's abuse of children when the scandal erupted in 2002.
Full coverage: Priest Abuse Scandal