Archdiocese of Los Angeles

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Coat of arms of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles

If the epicenter of the abuse crisis on the east coast was Boston, it was undoubtedly Los Angeles on the west coast.  With a Catholic population of more than 4.1 million, nearly double the second largest archdiocese in the country (New York), Los Angeles has had more than 350 priests accused of sexual abuse.  However, the scandal in LA was not only about the number of priests but the active role its leader Cardinal Roger Mahony took in that scandal, even dating back pre-1985 when he was the bishop of Stockton, California.

In the mid-1980’s soon-to-be Cardinal Mahony was considered a rising star in the Catholic Church in the United States.  Like Cardinal Law of Boston, Mahony was replacing a quiet, unassuming man who had weathered the storms of the late 1960’s and 1970’s with a warm, pastoral approach.  Mahony, like Law enjoyed great political skills and knew how to climb the ladder of the Church’s ecclesiastical power structure.

Law and Mahony also shared another important factor-both had dealt with the sexual abuse of children in their previous posts.  Those cases had in no way affected their meteoric rise to the Archdiocese of Boston and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles respectively.

As bishop of Stockton, Mahony had had to deal with the problem of serial pedophile Oliver O’Grady.  It wouldn’t be until two decades later that his earlier decisions concerning O’Grady would come back to haunt him and color his tenure in Los Angeles.

Mahony, who was bishop of Stockton from 1980 to 1985 before heading the Los Angeles Archdiocese, inherited O’Grady, who had admitted years earlier to molesting an 11-year-old girl. In 1984, police investigated a therapist’s report that O’Grady had molested a boy.

After police declined to file charges, Mahony transferred O’Grady to a rural parish and later promoted him to pastor there, where he allegedly molested three more victims, including a baby girl who suffered vaginal scarring, according to plaintiffs’ lawyers. Mahony has said he was unaware of any molestation reports. The additional victims were molested after he left the diocese.

For decades, Mahony seemed impervious to the serial abuse of Oliver O’Grady or Mahony’s own role in it.  In some ways, Mahony was and still is. He retired as the Cardinal Archbishop of Los Angeles as he reached the mandatory retirement age of 75.  Unlike Law, he was never exiled. His successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez publicly censured him but that was a mere slap on the wrist. Mahony’s only real defeat came in the courtroom when a judge ruled that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles must turn over all of its documents, including priest personnel files and secret archives, to the public.  Although more voluminous than Boston, the documents revealed the same patterns of abuse by priests and patterns of cover-up by the top officials of the church including Roger Mahony.  Image

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Map of the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles

On February 1, 2013, the NY Times published an article on the documents and reported in part:

“In one case, the Rev. José I. Ugarte was accused by a doctor of having drugged and raped a young boy in a hotel in Ensenada and of taking boys every weekend to a cabin in Big Bear. But rather than turn Father Ugarte over to the authorities, Cardinal Mahony decided to send him back to Spain, made him sign a document promising not to return to the United States without permission for seven years, not to celebrate Mass in public and to seek employment in “a secular occupation in order to become self-supporting.”

The Times concluded, “The trove of documents suggests that church officials routinely sent priests accused of abuse out of state and in some cases out of the country to avoid the potential investigations from law enforcement.”

For 26 years, Cardinal Mahony was at the center of the cover-up.  His stint in Stockton was only a precursor to how he would “protect” the institutional church when given the opportunity.  After all, as a prince of the church, Mahony had a reputation to protect and power to consolidate and wield. For 26 years, he was an outspoken champion of immigrant rights and primarily liberal political causes.  For that, he was a darling of the elite and this shielded him from criticism and accountability when he failed miserably at his most important duty-protecting children from serial pedophiles.

The current archbishop of Los Angeles Jose Gomez, a Mexican born prelate and member of the conservative Opus Dei, will most likely never be created a cardinal.  In the wake of the abuse scandal, it is doubtful the Pope wants to confer such honors on a beleaguered archdiocese. Moreover, Gomez lacks the political savvy or the romanità of Mahony.  Nevertheless, the Archdiocese has announced the establishment of a compensation fund similar to those created in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania and administered by the law office of Kenneth Feinberg.  The fund comes as California elected officials are considering another piece of legislation to open the statute of limitations for sexual abuse survivors which may happen as soon as the end of this year.