By his very own admission, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the former archbishop of Los Angeles, tragically mishandled cases of abusive priests from decades past. As a result, many innocent youth were grievously harmed by criminal clerics. The devastation to victims has truly been immeasurable – a fact which Mahony himself has acknowledged many times.
However, a recent high-profile article in the Los Angeles Times about recently released court documents from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles only tells part of the story about how Cardinal Mahony dealt with abusive clerics during his tenure there.
The Cardinal's early work to combat abuse
What may surprise most people is that Cardinal Mahony – who, incidentally, was himself falsely accused twice of abuse – has a notable history of trying to take a proactive approach to the problem of clergy abuse.
Mahony became archbishop of Los Angeles in September of 1985, and he was soon addressing the issue of sex abuse. By June 1989, Mahony published the archdiocese's first formal written policies and guidelines for dealing with abusive clerics. In this respect, he was certainly ahead of many of his peers in the Catholic Church and many other organizations who oversee children.
Later, at the national bishops' conference in 1992, Mahony publicly expressed his concern about abusive priests, and he took the role of leading a meeting on the matter, even though the topic was not scheduled for discussion at the conference. Mahony also met with victims later that year.
Then, in 1994, Mahony instituted for the L.A. archdiocese a Sexual Abuse Advisory Board, which may have been the first board of its kind in the country. It was composed of "priests, psychologists, social workers, attorneys and victims or parents of victims" to address the issue of abusive clerics within the archdiocese. Today, nearly every diocese in the country has a board similar to the one which Mahony implemented years earlier.
The Cardinal removes abusive clerics
Most notably, the policies set in place by the cardinal led to the permanent removal of a number of abusive clerics from active ministry. At least a dozen priests during the 1990s never returned to active ministry after the Archdiocese removed them. (TheMediaReport.com has compiled an unofficial list of abusive clerics whom the Archdiocese of Los Angeles removed prior to 2002. We have also provided exclusive information about the troubling case of the abusive priest Michael Baker.)
Again, it must be stressed that Cardinal Mahony's record is far from perfect. However, the totality of evidence rebuts the oft-heard and patently false claim that the prelate "let molesters run wild" during his time in Los Angeles.
Yet Cardinal Mahony's failures underscore a sobering truth: When dealing with personnel who abuse children, anything less than a 100% success record can result in devastating consequences. The life of even a single victim is forever altered.
(It should also be noted that over 90% of all of the accusers in Los Angeles came forward in the years 2002 and later in large measure due to "window legislation" passed by the California legislature. The legislation allowed accusers to sue the Catholic Church during the 2003 calendar year no matter how long ago the alleged abuse occurred. Notably, this legislation exempted public schools, where most of the criminal abuse has occurred, and it eventually led to $720 million in settlements from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles just in 2007 alone.)
Jail time? No.
Several observers – including some Catholic pundits – have opined that Cardinal Mahony should be in prison for his actions.
Indeed, even L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley has declared that "it would be great" to prosecute the Cardinal and other Church officials. But despite wishful investigations and the hysterical claims from Church-suing attorneys, law enforcement has never found a prosecutable crime against Mahony or any Church leader in Los Angeles.
Then there is the double standard
In May 2008, two high school administrators with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) were arrested for failing to report the awful rape of a young 13-year-old girl by a substitute teacher. One administrator pleaded guilty to the charge, while the other pleaded "no contest."
Where are the pair working now? They are still working for LAUSD – and they have since been promoted!
Surely if these incidents involved Catholic clerics, there would be huge national stories with screaming, hysterical headlines. As it stands now, there has barely been a peep in the media outside of Southern California.
Double standard? As always.
[ADDENDUM, 2/1/13: Check out "Historical Evolution of Dealing with the Sexual Abuse of Minors" by Cardinal Mahony (2/1/13)]
[ADDENDUM, 2/15/13: Hmmmm. Check out this new piece in the L.A. Times which pretty much contradicts how the paper has been portraying Cardinal Mahony for the past decade: "Vatican impeded Mahony attempts to remove priests, files show."]