January 22, 2013

Files show how church hid abuse reports

Los Angeles archdiocese personnel records reveal a pattern of damage control to shield molester priests.

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - Retired Cardinal Roger Mahony and other top Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles officials maneuvered behind the scenes to shield molester priests, provide damage control for the church and keep parishioners in the dark, according to church personnel files.

The confidential records filed in a lawsuit against the archdiocese disclose how the church handled abuse allegations for decades and also reveal dissent from a top Mahony aide who criticized his superiors for covering up allegations of abuse rather than protecting children.

Notes inked by Mahony demonstrate he was disturbed about abuse and sent problem priests for treatment, but there also were lengthy delays or oversights in some cases. Mahony received psychological reports on some priests that mentioned the possibility of many other victims, for example, but there is no indication that he or other church leaders investigated further.

"This is all intolerable and unacceptable to me," Mahony wrote in 1991 on a file of the Rev. Lynn Caffoe, a priest suspected of locking boys in his room, videotaping their crotches and running up a $100 phone sex bill while with a boy. Caffoe was sent for therapy and removed from the ministry, but Mahony didn't move to defrock him until 2004, a decade after the archdiocese lost track of him.

"He is a fugitive from justice," Mahony wrote to the Vatican's Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI. "A check of the Social Security index discloses no report of his demise, so presumably he is alive somewhere."

Caffoe died in 2009, six years after a newspaper reporter found him working at a homeless mission two blocks from a Salinas elementary school.

Mahony was out of town but issued a statement Monday apologizing for his mistakes and saying he had been "naive" about the lasting impacts of abuse. He has since met with 90 abuse victims privately and keeps an index card with each victim's name in his private chapel, where he prays for them daily, he said.

The files are attached to a motion seeking punitive damages in a case involving a Mexican priest sent to Los Angeles in 1987 after he was brutally beaten in his parish in Mexico.

When parents complained that the Rev. Nicholas Aguilar Rivera molested children in Los Angeles, church officials told the priest but waited two days to call police -- allowing him to flee to Mexico, court papers allege. At least 26 children told police they were abused during his 10 months in Los Angeles. The now-defrocked priest is believed to be a fugitive in Mexico.

The personnel files of 13 other clerics were attached to the motion to show a cover-up pattern, said attorney Anthony De Marco, who represents the 35-year-old plaintiff. In one instance, a memo to Mahony discusses sending a cleric to a therapist who also is an attorney so any incriminating evidence is protected from authorities by lawyer-client privilege. In another instance, archdiocese officials paid a secret salary to a priest exiled to the Philippines after he and six other clerics were accused of having sex with a teenager and impregnating her.

The exhibits offer a glimpse at some 30,000 pages to be made public as part of a record-setting $660 million settlement.

 

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