February 3, 2013

Abuse victims’ needs often given scant attention

Files show that Los Angeles archdiocese officials sprang into action over ecclesiastical missteps while ignoring alleged abuse.

By VICTORIA KIM, ASHLEY POWERS and HARRIET RYAN, Los Angeles Times

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.

Esther Miller
click image to enlarge

Esther Miller, 54, who says she was abused by the Rev. Michael Nocita, seen in middle picture, holds newly released files on Nocita, at a news conference Friday held by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles.

The Associated Press

Roger Mahony
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Roger Mahony says he was ill-equipped to deal with sex abuse in the Los Angeles archdiocese.

2007 File Photo/The Associated Press

But two decades later, word reached Cardinal Roger 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.

The case of the Rev. 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 5 1/2 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 over records that dated 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 Los Angeles 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 the Rev. Joseph Pina, an East Los Angeles 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, the Rev. 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, Monsignor Timothy Dyer.

(Continued on page 2)

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