Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cardinal's lawyers settle child abuse claims

Jenny Booth
The Times (London)
March 13, 2013

Lawyers for one of the cardinals involved in electing the next Pope have agreed to pay out to settle four child sex abuse claims. Cardinal Roger Mahony was sued along with Michael Baker, a paedophile ex-priest whom he is accused of shielding, and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which Cardinal Mahony then led.

The total value of the settlement is $10 million. Part of the deal is that none of the three defendants admits wrongdoing. Mahony, who retired in 2011 as head of the largest US archdiocese and is now in Rome taking part in the papal conclave, was accused of sending Baker out of state to a Church-run treatment centre in 1986 to help him evade the law enforcement authorities, then placing him back in the Los Angeles ministry.

Baker was ultimately convicted in 2007 and jailed on 12 counts of felony oral copulation with a minor.

Mahony continues to be held incommunicado, like the other 114 voting cardinals, and will have been unaware of the settlement as he returned to the Sistine Chapel this morning for a second day of voting in the conclave.

Black smoke issued from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine chapel at 1115, signalling that the ballots at 0830 and 1000 were inconclusive. Mahoney and the cardinals were then due to take a lengthy lunch break, before returning for two more ballots at 1550 and 1700.

Mahony’s presence in Rome has been controversial among some Catholics, because of the extent to which he is seen as tainted by the clerical sex abuse scandals that have racked his former see.

The deal - the latest in a series of agreements in the Los Angeles archdiocese – comes four weeks before two of the victims, who were abused by Baker as 12-year-olds in the 1990s, were due to take their civil case to trial, according to Vince Finaldi, the lawyer for one of the plaintiffs.

The two other newly settled cases are less recent. One dates to the late 1970s, before Mahony was archbishop, and the other to 1986, not long after he assumed the post, Mr Finaldi said.

Mr Finaldi said that the settlement, together with a recent release of internal Church records documenting the role of Mahony and others in covering up child sexual abuse by the clergy, comes “as close to an admission of guilt as you’re going to get from the archdiocese”.

In a rare Church rebuke of a cardinal, Mahony was censured in January by his successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez, and stripped of all public and administrative duties, as punishment for his role in the sex abuse scandal.

The censure followed the public release of over 12,000 pages of confidential personnel files unsealed as part of previous civil suits, revealing how numerous known or suspected paedophiles in the clergy were shielded from law enforcement scrutiny by Mahony and other Church officials.

But Mahony retained his title as cardinal and his right to take part in the Vatican conclave, an authority he chose to exercise. Thomas Curry, one of Mahony’s former top advisers, resigned from his post as bishop of Santa Barbara at the same time as Mahony was censurd.

The Church files revealed that in addition to sending abusive priests to a Church-run paedophile treatment centre in New Mexico, Mahony and Curry actively tried to keep priests from later revealing their misconduct to private therapists who would have been under a legal obligation to report child abuse to police.

In one such memo about Baker’s return to Los Angeles, Curry wrote to Mahony suggesting that Baker should avoid any mention of “his past problem” to a therapist after release from the Church treatment programme, to which Mahony responded with the handwritten note: “Sounds good - please proceed!!”

Baker confessed his molestation of two boys to Mahony in 1986, early in Mahony’s tenure as archbishop. After six months in treatment, he was placed back in the ministry in the LosAngeles area, supposedly in a job precluding any contact with children, Mr Finaldi said. But according to Mr Finaldi, Baker was assigned to a residence attached to a church that also operated a school.


Clergy were not legally required under California law to report suspected child abuse to the authorities until 1997. Prior to that, Mr Hennigan said, the policy of the archdiocese was to urge families of victims to go to law enforcement on their own. Mr Finaldi disputed the notion that Mahony should be absolved of any obligation to alert authorities. “You have a priest who is confessing that he sexually molested two kids, and you don’t pick up the phone and call police? There’s no reasonable excuse for not doing that,” he said.

Scandals over sex abuse in the US Catholic Church, which erupted in 1992 with a series of molestation cases uncovered in Boston, have cost the Church billions of dollars in settlements and driven prominent dioceses into bankruptcy.


Full article at the Times

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