Files: Cardinal Mahoney Hid Child Sex Abuse Cases

The Los Angeles Times has released decades-old personnel files of Catholic priests accused of child sex abuse. The documents show church officials kept the cases private, and many are addressed to, or written by, Cardinal Roger Mahoney, who retired nearly a year ago. Steve Inskeep talks to Victoria Kim, one of the paper's reporters covering the story.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's taken a quarter of a century, but Los Angeles residents are learning more about the man who was the face of their city's Catholic Church. The Los Angeles Times released the personnel files of Catholic priests accused of child sex abuse. It is no longer surprising to learn of Catholic priests accused of targeting children, but these documents show more. They show church officials acting to keep the cases private. And many of the documents are addressed to, or written by, Cardinal Roger Mahoney.

Victoria Kim is one of the reporters of this story, for the Los Angeles Times. They were working from documents that emerged in a court proceeding. Welcome to the program.

VICTORIA KIM: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Would you explain to people who are not from Los Angeles, who Cardinal Mahoney was, up to the time that he retired in 2011. How big a figure was he, in Los Angeles?

KIM: He was a significant leader, both in the religious realm and also in civic Los Angeles life. He was very much involved in local politics, and also in Sacramento. He was someone who was a big spiritual leader, and whose name was also mention in connection to the papacy.

INSKEEP: Meaning that he was a potential candidate for the papacy, after the death of Pope John Paul.

KIM: Yes.

INSKEEP: As the scandal over child sex abuse spread through the Catholic Church in recent years, did it touch him before recently?

KIM: It did. He has personally apologized, repeatedly, for mishandling claims of abuse; and that it came from a different time, that they didn't have an understanding of how much victims would be impacted; and also, back at the time, the church was not a mandated reporter.

INSKEEP: So they were not required to report. So here we are in this gray area. This brings us right to the documents - which shows Cardinal Mahoney, an adviser on sex abuse and other church officials, discussing priests who in many cases, have confessed to child sex abuse. What do you read, when you see those documents?

KIM: What we saw, in these documents, is that these reports of suspected claims of abuse went pretty much directly from the local church down the street, to the top levels of the archdiocese. And it appears Cardinal Mahoney wrote to these priests; met with them; told them they were in his prayers. What we saw, in reading these memos, was that there was a clear understanding among these church leaders there was criminal wrongdoing, and prosecutions could result from these priests' actions, and a desire - and willingness - to keep authorities in the dark.

INSKEEP: So what did the Catholic Church do, then, to hide these crimes?

KIM: One of the things we saw was a memo that Cardinal Roger Mahoney wrote to a director of a therapy center in New Mexico, where many of these priests were housed; saying a certain priest should not be allowed to return to California because his return could result in legal action, in criminal and civil court.

INSKEEP: What were some of the other techniques that were used to keep the cases quiet?

KIM: One of the things that the church leaders talked about was the mandatory reporting requirements that California therapists have, when it comes to suspect child abuse. So they would talk about not sending priests to certain therapists, who would have the legal requirement to report to police.

INSKEEP: So is the cover-up itself criminal here?

KIM: Well, this information is new to us. They do date from the 1980s, and everyone we've put this question to say it's highly unlikely; that there really aren't laws with statute of limitations that go back far enough to cover acts that are that old.

INSKEEP: What do the victims think of all this?

KIM: This was something that the victims have been waiting for, a long time. There are another 75 of these files that are eventually to be made public, and that was agreed to as a part of a 2007 settlement the church had with the victims. And the victims had pushed for these files to be made public, on top of the monetary settlement. They never got their day in court. They never saw the church, or the church leaders, on trial. So this public accounting is something that appears to have been incredibly important to victims.

INSKEEP: Victoria Kim of the Los Angeles Times, thanks very much.

KIM: Thank you.

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