A September 19, 2009, article in the Los Angeles Times by Martha Groves and Richard Winton blares the headline, "Sex abuse cover-up by L.A. Archdiocese is alleged." Under the headline: "The former vicar of clergy testifies under oath that Cardinal Roger Mahony ordered him in 2000 not to contact police about allegations of sexual abuse by a priest."
A quick look at the article gives the impression that startling new information has brought forward yet another example of malfeasance by the Los Angeles archdiocese in its handling of abusive priests.
The truth? Groves, Winton, and the Times omitted important information, published misleading information, and duped their readers yet again.
The article centers around a recent deposition by former Vicar of Clergy Msgr. Richard Loomis. The Times claims that Loomis allegedly said that "[Cardinal Roger] Mahony ordered him not to inform parishes of allegations against the now defrocked Rev. Michael Baker."
Here's some important points that the Times either omitted or failed to glean:
1. The article makes no mention that as soon as the archdiocese was made aware of the accusations against Baker in 2000, it promptly removed him from ministry and began the laicization (removal from the priesthood) process. With months, Baker was laicized, a move that must be approved by the Vatican. (Baker himself also petitioned for laicization, and it was made official on December 5, 2000.)
2. The article also makes no mention of the fact that part of Baker's conditions in returning to ministry in the 1980's was that he was to attend regular counseling sessions. He was also restricted to ministry with adults. In addition to the awful abuse he wrought on the two brothers, Baker deceived his therapists and the archdiocese.
3. The article also contains this subtle slap at Cardinal Mahony:
Mahony said in a 2002 interview with The Times that no one at the archdiocese reported Baker to the authorities in 2000 because "it was just our expectation that the two brothers had gone to police because they were so angry at him."
The passage is obviously intended to make Mahony look bad, but in the context of the case, the Cardinal's remark is understandable.
Cardinal Mahony became aware of the late-90's abuse by Baker when an attorney hired by the two brothers sent a letter to the archdiocese. The young men and the archdiocese eventually settled out of court for $1.3 million.
The reason that the archdiocesan counsel advised the Cardinal not to call the police is not known. But one can easily imagine that a call to police would have publicized the case. Remember – neither the men's lawyer nor the men (who were adults in 2000) called police, either. The website of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) openly states, "Abuse victims, like rape victims, need their privacy to recover from their trauma." The counsel may have thought that a call to police would have been viewed as a dirty tactic to "intimidate the victims" or "interfere in a civil lawsuit." This possible scenario, in addition to the fact that the boys were now adults (which did not make reporting the case mandatory), may have led to the counsel's decision.
4. It has already been reported ad nauseum since 2002 that Cardinal Mahony, by his own admission, did not call the police after being notified by the lawyer's letter than Baker had abused again. This sad fact is seven years old.
The Times hardly provides any information of a "cover-up." It simply provides, at best, a behind-the-scenes look at why the Cardinal did not make that call.
Should the Cardinal have notified police upon receipt of that letter from the victims' lawyer? Absolutely. But who's to say that the victims' lawyer and their friends in the media (*ahem*) would not have accused the Cardinal of "intimidation"?