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Priest abuse files strike chord for victims

'It's obvious that the L.A. Archdiocese and everyone working with them were aware of those of us being abused,' says Matt Severson, who says he was molested as a boy.

February 04, 2013|By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times

The release of thousands of pages of church files showing how Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and other top Los Angeles Archdiocese officials dealt with priest molestation cases has generated outrage and anguish at parishes across Southern California.

But for victims of abuse, there is also the pain of learning details of how top church leaders tried to cover up the scandal.

Matt Severson says that as a boy, he was abused by Father Michael Baker. Severson was a plaintiff in the record civil settlement over church abuse a few years ago. The release of the files has him reliving what happened decades ago.

"It's deeply disheartening to read these files. It's obvious that the L.A. Archdiocese and everyone working with them were aware of those of us being abused by Michael Baker and others like him," Severson said.

"While the letters, psychological evaluations and notes from Mahony and other clergy clearly and unequivocally detail that I and others were being harmed by Michael Baker, there is no indication that Mahony or anyone associated with the church had any intention of trying to reach out to help us, or to alert the authorities that these crimes were being committed," he added.

Church records released last month show that Mahony and then-Msgr. Thomas J. Curry plotted to keep law enforcement from learning that children had been molested by priests.

On Thursday, the church posted on its website tens of thousands of pages of additional secret personnel files for 122 priests accused of molesting children. That same day, Archbishop Jose Gomez announced Curry's resignation as regional bishop in Santa Barbara and said Mahony had been relieved of his public duties.

Archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg said that beyond canceling his confirmation schedule, Mahony's day-to-day life as a retired priest would be largely unchanged. Mahony would remain a "priest in good standing," he added.

That does not sit well with some victims.

Manuel Vega, a retired Oxnard police officer who says Father Fidencio Silva molested him when he was an altar boy, said Mahony deserves more serious punishment.

"What they have done is symbolic, but it is a little too late, it is reactionary and all a little too late. Gomez played along with these guys and he knew what was in those files. He has read this stuff. He knew what was going on," Vega said.

Severson said after reading some of the files, he had one question: "Where was their moral and social responsibility?"

"One of the things that really sickens me is the way Mahony and others, when confronted by those brutalized by their employees, will often say, 'We pray for you, the victims.' What my response is to them: Keep your prayers to yourself," he said. "I do not need your prayers. I will do fine without any of you in my life as I move forward."

richard.winton@latimes.com

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