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L.A. church leaders sought to hide sex abuse cases from authorities

Documents from the late 1980s show that Archbishop Roger M. Mahony and another archdiocese official discussed strategies to keep police from discovering that children were being sexually abused by priests.

January 21, 2013|By Victoria Kim, Ashley Powers and Harriet Ryan

Mahony and Curry have been questioned under oath in depositions numerous times about their handling of molestation cases. The men, however, have never been asked about attempts to stymie law enforcement, because the personnel files documenting those discussions were only provided to civil attorneys in recent months. De Marco, the lawyer who filed the records in civil court this month, asked a judge last week to order Curry and Mahony to submit to new depositions “regarding their actions, knowledge and intent as referenced in these files.” A hearing on that request is set for February.

In a 2010 deposition, Mahony acknowledged the archdiocese had never called police to report sexual abuse by a priest before 2000. He said church officials were unable to do so because they didn't know the names of the children harmed.

"In my experience, you can only call the police when you've got victims you can talk to," Mahony said.

When an attorney for an alleged victim suggested "the right thing to do" would have been to summon police immediately, Mahony replied, "Well, today it would. But back then that isn't the way those matters were approached."

Since clergy weren't legally required to report suspected child abuse until 1997, Mahony said, the people who should have alerted police about pedophiles like Baker and Wempe were victims' therapists or other "mandatory reporters" of child abuse.

"Psychologists, counselors … they were also the first ones to learn [of abuse] so they were normally the ones who made the reports," he said.

In Garcia's 451-page personnel file, one voice decried the church's failures to protect the victims and condemned the priest as someone who deserved to be behind bars. Father Arturo Gomez, an associate pastor at a predominantly Spanish-speaking church near Olvera Street, wrote to a regional bishop in 1989, saying he was "angry" and "disappointed" at the church's failure to help Garcia's victims. He expressed shock that the bishop, Juan A. Arzube, had told the family of two of the boys that Garcia had thought of taking his own life.

"You seemed to be at that moment more concern[ed] for the criminal rather than the victum! (sic)" Gomez wrote to Arzube in 1989.

Gomez urged church leaders to identify others who may have been harmed by Garcia and to get them help, but was told they didn't know how.

"If I was the father … Peter Garcia would be in prison now; and I would probably have begun a lawsuit against the archdiocese," the priest wrote in the letter. "The parents … of the two boys are more forgiving and compassionate than I would be."

victoria.kim@latimes.com

ashley.powers@latimes.com

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

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