Catholic Church Mishandled Reports Of Sex Abuse

NPR religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty investigated one case from the Los Angeles Archdiocese where the Catholic church mishandled reports of abuse. She talks about the case, and how the church is handling the accusations of abuse and an alleged cover-up.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

There are two principal aspects to the scandal in the Catholic Church that started to become public in 2002: sex abuse by priests - thousands have come forward to say they were abused when they were children - and cover-up. Bishops sent pedophile priests to therapists, not to the police, and many were then reassigned to different parishes, where, too often, they abused more children.

Last week, NPR religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty broadcast a story with extraordinary details on the mechanism of the alleged cover-up in one archdiocese, complete with reams of emails from the cardinal on down and a remarkable recording from a deposition.

In a moment, Barbara joins us to go through the story of Father Michael Baker, Cardinal Roger Mahony and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and after that, how the extent and the handling of this scandal in the Catholic Church compares with other religious institutions.

Later in the program, law professor Kris Kobach argues the case for Arizona's anti-immigration law. But first, NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty joins us here in Studio 3A. She's also the author of "Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality." And thanks very much for coming in.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: It's great to be here, Neal.

CONAN: And how did you come upon the story of Father Baker?

HAGERTY: Well, I had been watching Cardinal Roger Mahony since about 2003. I knew that there was a local grand jury that was investigating him way back then. And so when this most recent abuse scandal occurred, I began calling around to plaintiffs' lawyers. And I reached a plaintiffs' lawyer named John Manley, who had just settled a case on behalf of Luis C., a victim, for $2.2 million.

And what Manley told me is that he had these amazing depositions with a few people. One was Cardinal Mahony. That one was sealed. Another was Richard Byrne, who was a judge who had been the head of the review board. That was sealed.

But he also told me about this deposition by Richard Loomis, who was the vicar of the clergy in the late 1990s. That was unsealed.

Now, Loomis is the - kind of the guy who oversees all the priests, and he would know about all the abuse. And when I heard that deposition, I just said, wow. This gives you an inside look at the workings of how the archdiocese handled the allegations against not only Michael Baker, who eventually 23 people said abused him, but also all the cases involving abuse.

CONAN: Twenty-three people said he abused them.

HAGERTY: That's right.

CONAN: In any case, well, set up this piece of tape. We have this deposition, and this man Loomis is being deposed, and that's where lawyers from both sides are in the room, one from the archdiocese and one representing the victim.

HAGERTY: That's right. And John Manley is representing the victim. Well, early on, this deposition starts to go bad - badly for the archdiocese because Monsignor Loomis said that he thought that they should have called the police, the archdiocese should have called the police early on. They should have let the parishes know about Michael Baker, because that's the way you get other victims to come forward.

And he said that - you know, he really, at one point, thought about resigning because he was so upset that the cardinal refused to call the police or let any of the parishes know about Michael Baker.

CONAN: And this is where the tape picks up.

HAGERTY: That's right.

CONAN: Let's listen.

(Soundbite of deposition recording)

Mr. JOHN MANLEY (Attorney): Did you consider resigning?

Monsignor RICHARD LOOMIS (Former Vicar of Clergy, Archdiocese of Los Angeles): Well, I was almost at the end of my term at that point, anyway. So I probably would have if I was earlier in my term.

Mr. MANLEY: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. What are you doing? You're trying to shut him up. No. You're trying to make him - you're grabbing him, and you're trying to make him be quiet. What are you doing? What are you doing? What in the world are you doing?

Mr. DONALD WOODS (Attorney): I'm instructing my client.

Mr. MANLEY: You don't whisper in a client's ear in a deposition room, Mr. Woods.

Mr. WOODS: It happens all the time.

Mr. MANLEY: If you want to take - well, maybe where you practice, but if you want to take a break and talk to your client outside, that's fine. I'm in a line of questioning. You just stood up, put your arm around the witness - which he clearly, on the video, didn't want you to do - and you - and you're trying to get him to be quiet because you don't like his answers.

CONAN: Again, that's lawyer John Manley, representing, at that point, an alleged victim, addressing Donald Woods, the attorney you heard trying to intervene with former Vicar Richard Loomis. And...

HAGERTY: It was amazing. You know, what John Manley said is you wait for this kind of thing all your life. You know, as a lawyer, you always hear about Perry Mason or "A Few Good Men," where the witness flips on the stand.

CONAN: On the stand, erupts into a sobbing confession.

HAGERTY: And he said, it never happens, right? Right, right, exactly, and it never happens. But in this case, Loomis flipped on Cardinal Mahony. He said it was extraordinary.

CONAN: And this is what you call a smoking gun.

HAGERTY: I think it's kind of a smoking gun. I mean, they - very shortly after this, within a couple of months, they settled for $2.2 million.

CONAN: And as you said, those other depositions were sealed. Most often, these cases are settled in exchange for confidentiality agreements. Nobody can talk.

HAGERTY: That's absolutely right, and in this case, they went through the hard work of trying to get it unsealed, and they did, and I think it's a pretty damaging deposition for them to have.

There was, you know, other damaging stuff about this, as well, like the review board.

CONAN: Well, there are all these leaked emails, as well.

HAGERTY: Yes, there are leaked emails. Those were just really, really interesting, and let me give you the little bit of the back story on those.

It's early 2002, and the scandal has just broken in Boston. And so someone in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles leaked emails to a radio station in April of 2002. And I've got to tell you, when you read these emails, you kind of see - they're between Cardinal Mahony and his lawyers, and you have the feeling that Cardinal Mahony and his lawyers care a lot more about giving as little information to the police and the public about the abusive priests, and, you know, they kind of seem to care a lot more about managing the public relations than about the victim.

And let me just tell you one. I've got one here. This one is from Father - Cardinal Mahony to his lawyers on March 27th, 2002, and it's about what Cardinal Mahony says, quote, "what I consider to be our biggest tactical mistake of the past few weeks."

He notes that the archdiocese has not turned over three - the names of three of the eight most abusive priests to the district attorney, what they call the Big Eight. And then he says that they better do this. They better start consulting with the district attorney or, quote, "I can guarantee you that I will get hauled into a grand jury proceeding, and I will be forced to give all the names."

And it - you know, you just have this sense that they were - I mean, what the archdiocese says is they were dealing with a crisis. There was a feeding frenzy by the press, and that they clearly were not - you know, they were just a little bit desperate. But clearly, they didn't want all the information out there.

CONAN: And they were worried about their liability rather than, you would think...

HAGERTY: You know, I read all of these emails, and I would be hard-pressed to find one reference to the victims in a compassionate way. Now, there may have been, but there were 68 emails, and it sure was not a theme.

CONAN: And there is no question after you look at all this evidence that the cardinal himself knew for a fact that at least this one priest was abusing children.

HAGERTY: Oh, yeah. We know that because Michael Baker told Cardinal Mahony in 1986 that he had abused two kids. So for, you know, since 1986, he knew that he was an abuser. And what happened is he said he took him out of ministry, put him in restricted ministry.

Supposedly, he wasn't supposed to - that Father Baker wasn't supposed to see children, wasn't supposed to have access to them. However, over the next 15 years, Michael Baker served in nine parishes. Six of them had elementary schools attached to them, and clearly, Father Baker was not being monitored because he abused kids a lot, it appears.

CONAN: And, indeed, was involved with this one family where he bought a house for the mother and her two children, whom he was abusing, and they, because he was in this position - not only of trust, but of power - felt they had no choice.

HAGERTY: That's right. That abuse went on for 15 years, and the archdiocese settled very quickly in that case, within a couple of months once they - once they saw Father Michael Baker's love letters to the two boys that spanned over a period of 15 years, they settled for $1.3 million in a couple of months.

CONAN: And there is a responsibility, of course - these are their superiors, but this is a religious order. And at the time, back when this first started, you know, 30 years ago, the thought was at the time: send people for treatment. That was not an unusual request at the time.

HAGERTY: That's right. That's right. You handled this pastorally. You send them for treatment, and you hope that they get better and they can be returned to ministry. But, you know, by the 1990s, it was pretty clear that that wasn't working all that well, and we certainly knew that in 2000. And even in 2000, Cardinal Mahony was deciding - when he found out about Michael Baker and these two boys, he was deciding not to go to the police, not to inform the parishes. And some people would say - a lot of people believe that he had legal responsibility to call the police at that point, but at least the archdiocese had a moral responsibility to let people know and the police know that there was a known abuser who was in their midst.

CONAN: We're going to go into some details in a few minutes about how extensive this is within the Catholic Church and, indeed, other religious organizations, as well. So clearly, hardly all Catholic priests were abusive. That's not what anybody's saying. Nevertheless, this organization, like any other organization, has responsibilities. These things happened a long time ago, but a district attorney, a prosecutor, might look at this and say ongoing conspiracy.

HAGERTY: Well, that - in fact, I have talked to prosecutors who believe that, and they're very interested in seeing Cardinal Mahony's deposition that's now under seal because they want to see if there is - I mean, I don't want to extrapolate here, but they are very, very interested in what Cardinal Mahony has said in the last few months. Because if you can show that there is some kind of crime being - that's been committed in the last few months, that you can reach back in time under the RICO statute and reach back and touch all these other cases and say, well, you know, maybe it's possible. I know they're investigating whether the archdiocese committed fraud in the way that it covered up the sexual abuse.

CONAN: And those investigations are ongoing right now?

HAGERTY: Yes, they are. Right now.

CONAN: And the priest again, Father Baker, I assume he's Mr. Baker now?

HAGERTY: Well, he is. He's in jail right now. He's in prison. He's serving a 10-year sentence. He was criminally convicted for abusing three boys. And so he will be - he'll be staying where he is for a little while now.

CONAN: Barbara Bradley Hagerty is NPR's religion correspondent. It's - I just - to hear RICO statute and the Catholic Church in the same phrase is just mindboggling that they would be brought up together. This is, of course, a statute passed to address issues with the Mafia and things like that. So...

HAGERTY: That's right.

CONAN: So, anyway, when we come back, we're going to be talking about the Catholic Church and the extent of this kind of scandal, how it compares with other institutions and whether other institutions are handling it better than perhaps the Catholic Church is, or did, and whether it is ongoing and how practices have changed.

So stay with us. If you're a member of another religious organization, give us a call. How is your religious group handling similar allegations in your synagogue, your church, wherever? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

Allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up continue to rock the Catholic Church in Europe, South America and, of course, the United States, Australia, as well. Barbara Bradley Hagerty has covered the abuse scandal for years as NPR religion correspondent.

Her most recent investigation uncovered a series of missteps by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and a failure to act when presented with evidence of pedophilia. We've posted a link to that story at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

While the Catholic Church faces a huge challenge, it is hardly alone in facing allegations of abuse. One study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice shows about four percent of priests sexually abused children between 1950 and 2002 - more or less in line with other professions.

Earlier this month, a jury in Oregon reached a $1.4 million verdict against the Boy Scouts. So is the Catholic Church different from other institutions in the scale of sexual abuse or the way those allegations were handled?

We'd like to hear from non-Catholics in our audience. How has your religious hierarchy dealt with this? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And Barbara Bradley Hagerty is still with us here in Studio 3A. And, in general, can you make a summation of - have these allegations emerged in other religious organizations?

HAGERTY: Yes, they have emerged. They tend to be different sorts of allegations. Typically, what you have is - when I've done stories about this is you have, you know, a Baptist minister who has had an affair with a congregant or a youth minister who has had an affair with, you know, a teenage girl in the youth group, or something like that.

And in those cases - I'll be interested to hear what the listeners have to say - but generally, in those cases, because other denominations are not so hierarchical, what happens is the minister is called into the board of elders and asked about this, and basically said you're gone. You know, they tell him you're gone. They can fire him. It's not quite so easy in the Catholic Church.

CONAN: But presumably, that minister can go apply for a job somewhere else.

HAGERTY: He can. But I think he would have a hard - it would be a - have a hard record. Plus, you wouldn't have an overarching body saying okay, this minister is now going to be transferred over here in good standing.

So it's a little bit different in the Catholic Church. Actually, it's significantly different. For one thing, it's really hard to defrock a priest. I mean, philosophically, bishops - one bishop said recently that defrocking a priest is like a spiritual death, and so they're reluctant to do it.

But also, you know, it's very cumbersome to get a priest out of his job. Under Pope John Paul II, he essentially ended defrocking of priests, laicizations, for many, many years. And the reason he did that is he felt that priests were there for life, and especially if you were a young priest - like under 40 years old - you shouldn't be laicized.

Things got a little bit better - things got significantly better under Pope Benedict. But I should say that when a priest is accused of abuse, it's a long process. What happens is the bishop has to do a church trial. That can take years. There's a prosecutor and a defense attorney.

Then they send all of this off to the Vatican. The Vatican takes a look at all those documents. Sometimes they ask for more documents. They ask for another church trial. It can take, you know, 10, 15 years to defrock a priest.

CONAN: And what about - the church just made a statement recently that said, of course, if there's evidence of a crime, that should be presented to the police. That's always been our policy.

HAGERTY: Well, they say that's always been our policy, but it didn't show up in the policy until about, you know, about two weeks ago. And so they may have said that, but you had to very much read between the lines, because it wasn't there before.

CONAN: Let's get callers in on the conversation: 800-989-8255. Email, again, is talk@npr.org. Josh is on the line from Mishawaka in Indiana.

JOSH (Caller): Hi, Neal, thank you very much for allowing me on the air.

CONAN: Okay. Go ahead, please.

JOSH: I just wanted to relate a story. When I was 11 or 12, I was living in Nova Scotia, Canada, and I was attending Hebrew school there. A Hebrew school teacher by the name of Cantor Freedman(ph) was, I believe, arrested for possession of child pornography. I haven't looked into this as an adult, so I'm not familiar with all the details, but I know he was arrested for possession of child pornography in his apartment. He wasn't married at the time, and then he was deported from Canada, and I believe served a jail term in the United States.

CONAN: So he was evidently an American citizen and working in Canada in this capacity. Was the Hebrew school itself involved in the investigation in any way, or - this was a long time ago. You were a kid, and you may not remember the details.

JOSH: I don't remember the exact details. So I'm not sure if somebody in the organization turned him over or if he was found by the police through other means. I'm not really sure. I'd have to look into it more. But I just wanted to sort of relate that story.

CONAN: Yeah.

JOSH: But in sort of response to what your guest commented about, the church trials and all those sort of things, it sort of angers me as a faithful person that they would choose to go through that route, as opposed to what any sane human being should do, which is if, you know, your child has been abused by a priest, go to the police, put them in jail, save the defrocking for later.

CONAN: All right.

HAGERTY: Right. And, you know, that's a very interesting point. You know, some documents, there's a document from 1962 that many plaintiffs' attorneys point at, actually, in suing the Vatican, trying to get the Vatican involved in all of this.

And what these documents seem to suggest is that you don't want - you want to keep all the proceedings very, very quiet, very secret. In fact, these documents say that if someone involved in the trial - whether it's, you know, a bishop or whatever - talks about this case, this case of abuse, that they can be excommunicated.

And so what these documents seem to suggest, at least to some people, is that the Vatican was sending the signal: You keep these things quiet.

Now, the Vatican would dispute that. They would say we're only talking about church trials, that if there's actually real abuse, then you should give it to the police. But that - frankly, that wasn't happening.

I mean, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The bishops were not turning over abusers to the police, and so I think they were looking at Vatican policy and saying, you know, maybe we need to keep this quiet.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Josh, thanks very much for the phone call, appreciate it.

The - some defenders of the institution say, wait a minute. This isn't fair. You're having some states like New York trying to extend civil liability for child abuse cases for an additional period of years. In effect, this only covers Catholic schools. You can't sue public school teachers because they're protected by sovereign immunity. And there's just as many of these abusers in public schools as there are in Catholic schools.

HAGERTY: Yeah, I guess that's an interesting argument. I don't know what to - really, what to say about it except that, you know, if they - if there hadn't been so much abuse, maybe there wouldn't be -and so much cover-up, maybe there wouldn't be these moves for these kind of changes in the law.

CONAN: Let's go next to Becky, and Becky's with us from Charlotte.

BECKY (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Becky. Go ahead, please.

BECKY: Well, I'm a Baptist in Charlotte - hold on, I have a truck going past me right now. It's very loud. Let me slow down. And the pastor in our church actually was accused of abuse of teenage girls, and it seemed to have made the news for a few days, and then everything just got quiet about it.

There was nothing really ever said anymore, except that the families of the girls no longer attend our church. And it seems to me in looking at it - and I have to say my husband is Catholic, and so we talk about this quite a bit - but it seems to me that because the Catholic Church is so organized and so wealthy, that that is why everybody seems to go after it.

You know, if you have a single pastor in a parish - I'm sorry, in a Baptist church that is accused, there's really nothing to go after. And the girls...

CONAN: Oh, that they don't have the assets to pay a big settlement, is what you're saying.

BECKY: Absolutely.

HAGERTY: Gosh, I mean, that's a really, really interesting thought, and I know that the Vatican has believed that, also. However, there have been, since 1950, 11,000 accusations of abuse by - on the part of, I think, something like 4,000 priests. That's...

BECKY: Well, when you look at the unity of the Catholic Church and how it's this one giant organization, and every little...

CONAN: Oh, it would deny that it's one giant organization. It's a series of archdioceses.

HAGERTY: Right.

BECKY: But, you know, all these individual little churches all across the rest of the world, how many accusations have there been there? No one keeps count because they're not the same huge, unified entity.

CONAN: Well, because they are relative, much smaller organizations, there could be cases of abuse that are covered up, but not...

HAGERTY: But probably not quite as many.

CONAN: And not on an institutional scale.

HAGERTY: Right. I mean, when you look at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, they settled with over 500 victims for $660 million. And, you know, you don't - it's such a large organization, but also it's not just that it's a large organization. What people have been able to show is that bishops actually transferred priests around.

They transferred abusers. You don't have that with an individual church. You don't have - and you don't have, you know, in, say, the Dominicans transferring a Dominican priest from one state to another, from one country to another. What you have is much more of a sense of organization in the cover-up than you can possibly have in an individual church where, you know, once a pastor is outed as being an abuser, he's outed as being an abuser, and no one is really covering it up.

CONAN: Becky, thanks very much for the call. Drive carefully. Here's a -by the way, our staff looked up on the Internet: A synagogue official deported from Canada after mailing child pornography to an undercover FBI agent in Southern California was sentenced in Los Angeles, Monday, to 15 months in federal prison, this from the Los Angeles Times in March of 1999. Stuart Friedman, who served as a cantor of a synagogue, must also undergo three years of supervised release after finishing his prison term. U.S. District Judge Carlos R. Moreno said he pleaded guilty in November to one count of distributing child pornography. So that's a verification of the case from the caller we had earlier.

Here's an email who wishes to remain anonymous from Cincinnati: I can say with certainty that, no, the Catholic Church is not different than other organizations. I grew up a Jehovah's Witness, and the way it is handled is much the same. Elders are simply moved to other congregations, and the families are told not to pursue criminal charges. Knowledge of this from friends who were abused are part of the reason I discontinued that religious path. The only reason the Catholic Church is different because they have more money and power and, therefore, are a bigger target.

HAGERTY: Well, that's interesting. The Jehovah's Witness is apparently a little bit more hierarchical than many other religions like - other denominations like the Baptists or whatever. But you did - and I should say you do see this on a smaller scale in other religions. We just haven't seen it - in other denominations, but we just haven't seen it on the scale that we have in the Catholic Church. But that's a really, really interesting point.

CONAN: Here's an email, another one. This one from Cynthia in Harrisonburg, Virginia: In the Episcopal Church, all clergy and all who work with children are required to take a training course in the prevention of child sexual abuse. In Virginia, where I'm an Episcopal priest, clergy are, by state law, mandated reporters - that is, if I observe or I'm told about possible child sexual abuse, I must report to Child Protective Services. No system is perfect, but the training we get is quite good.

HAGERTY: And that's a really good point. That lets me say something nice about the Catholic Church, which is since 2002, they have put in a series of reforms - among them, training people, everyone, to be able to recognize sexual abuse, even training the kids, you know, about what should and shouldn't happen. And so we have seen a number of reforms.

We see zero tolerance, where the Catholic Church says that if a priest is accused of abuse, they will pull him out of ministry immediately until they can figure out if the charges are correct, the allegations are correct or not. So we are beginning to see, since 2002, some changes, and a lot of dioceses do it very well. And, you know, we'll have to find out in the long term whether the Catholic Church and other churches are truly reformed or not.

CONAN: We're talking with NPR religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And again, just getting back to that caller we had earlier. A cantor, you might say, what's his - we're hearing information: Cantors usually train bar mitzvah boys. So that's their access to children.

HAGERTY: Right. A crime of opportunity, so to speak.

CONAN: In any case. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Susan, Susan with us from Nashville.

SUSAN (Caller): Yes, hello. I was listening to what you were saying about the Roman Catholic Church being the church that, you know, can be most liable for this other than - than any other religious institution.

CONAN: Or bigger target, is what people are saying.

SUSAN: Right. And what I wanted to say was I was actually an ordained Methodist minister and had a horrendous experience with the district superintendents, which control the flowing and the appointments of the Methodist ministers in the Methodist church. And they actually sent a pedophile minister to minister with me - which I didn't know at the time, of course.

But later, when people came to me and told me about the previous charges over a 20-year span, and the district superintendents had knowledge of this and had taken this person and moved him around in the church in different congregations. And so what I wanted to say was the Catholic Church does not only have the corner on the market for this.

I actually went to an attorney and went to sue them under the RICO Act because they fully, in full knowledge, knew. For 20 years, they moved this man around, but he was such a - had such a huge personality and was able to raise enormous amounts of money for building campaigns and other things and was also connected with some very high-up bishops, that it was just a horrible, horrible situation. So I just want to make it clear. It's not just the Catholic Church.

CONAN: Well, that...

HAGERTY: That's a really great point. And, you know, one of the through lines you see with a lot of these abusive priests is they tend to be very charismatic, larger-than-life people. In fact, Marcial Maciel, who is the head of the Legionaries of Christ, was a good friend of Pope John Paul II. He abused everything that walked - I mean, literally. I'm not exaggerating. He was a huge money raiser for the Catholic Church.

SUSAN: Well, let me tell you something else. This is really interesting. He'd only been at the parish, like, two months. I'll never forget this, and there was something weird about him to me. He closed my door, knocked on the door and said, can I come in a minute? And then he came and shut the door and put his arm over me - I'll never forget this - over my shoulder and looked at me and he said, let me tell you something. And I won't say the word on the air, but it begins with a B. And he said, I'm in control here, and before you know it, you'll find out who's in charge here. And the people that I know - and I'll never forget. He said, don't tell anybody we had this conversation. Terrified me. He walks back out, and he sees one of the big parishioners and smiles and hugs him and they're going to go play golf together.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

SUSAN: So you're right. It's so terrifying...

CONAN: Well, in...

SUSAN: ...when you have an organization like bishops or district superintendents that have full knowledge and control this horrendous behavior.

CONAN: Well, thanks very much. That's an amazing story, Susan. We appreciate the phone call.

SUSAN: Thank you.

CONAN: It's also true, teachers who are abusive, again, a lot of them have this - they're the most popular teacher in school.

HAGERTY: That's right. That's right. And they get away with it. And one thing I can say about Pope Benedict is he has been very quick. He's been really very good about removing abusive priests, like the head of the Legionaries of Christ. I mean, he get - I should say this: He gets it.

From 2001, he began getting - when he was then Cardinal Ratzinger, he began getting all of the cases of abuse that were coming from America. And every Friday, every Friday afternoon, apparently, he would look through the stack of pile - stack of abusive - cases of abuse, and he would literally get sick. And I do believe, and most people do believe that he truly gets it about what a problem this is. And so when he became pope, he did institute some reforms. But it's hard to change the Catholic Church. It's a pretty old institution, and it's a pretty conservative one.

CONAN: One more thing, very quickly, and that is a lot of people say, wait a minute. You're talking about 1986 here. This is old stuff.

HAGERTY: It's, you know, the - a lot of the abuse occurred in the '60s and '70s, I'll say that, in the United States. But the cover-up has been going on, when it's occurred, has been going on right into recent times. And, you know, it's only now that people are beginning to come forward -people - especially in 2002 and later - when they came forward that you began to look at the actions of the bishops. And you saw that it wasn't just about the abuse. It was about moving around priests and covering it up. And that is a recent phenomenon.

CONAN: Two aspects: sexual abuse and the cover-up. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, thank you very much for your time today.

HAGERTY: It's been fun to be here.

CONAN: NPR's religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty. We posted a link to her story on the L.A. archdiocese at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

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How L.A. Archdiocese Mishandled A Pedophile Priest

Michael Baker i i

Michael Stephen Baker, a former Catholic priest, during a court appearance in 2007. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for molesting two boys. Damian Dovarganes/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Damian Dovarganes/AP
Michael Baker

Michael Stephen Baker, a former Catholic priest, during a court appearance in 2007. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for molesting two boys.

Damian Dovarganes/AP

The Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles is still reeling from a major sex abuse scandal that broke eight years ago. A federal grand jury is investigating the church for how it handled sex abuse allegations, and the church is still fielding lawsuits even though it has already paid out $660 million to more than 500 victims.

An NPR investigation reveals that Cardinal Roger Mahony, his top officials or even his review board failed to act when presented with pedophile priests — and in particular, the case of one of the most notorious abusers, the Rev. Michael Baker.

In 1986, Cardinal Mahony, the archbishop of Los Angeles, found out that Baker had been abusing boys from an impeccable source: the priest himself. Baker told Mahony that he had molested two boys, beginning in 1978. According to Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the archdiocese, Mahony responded the way everyone did back then.

"Cardinal Mahony decided to handle it pastorally," says Tamberg, "and thought the thing to do would be to make sure that Michael Baker got the kind of treatment he needed and the help he needed so that he could make himself whole again."

After six months of treatment, Baker was put in restricted ministry. Tamberg says Baker did only administrative work. He was supposed to have no contact with children and was theoretically monitored by other priests. But over the next 14 years, Baker was moved to nine different parishes, several of which had elementary schools adjacent to the rectory.

"Why is it the church's job to monitor them?" wonders plaintiffs attorney Lynne Cadigan. "Why doesn't he be monitored in jail or prison like any other person?"

Cadigan represents two brothers who say Baker began molesting them in 1984, when they were 5 and 7 years old. The boys had no father at home, and the priest babysat them while their mother went to work. When they moved to Mexico, Baker visited them, took them on trips and helped arrange for them to move to Tucson, Ariz., where he was a frequent guest. All that time he was theoretically being monitored by the archdiocese.

"Baker obviously wasn't monitored," Cadigan says. "He paid for everything, he bought them a house, and he supported their mother. So they really felt that they no choice except to go along with everything even as they became older."

Sexual Abuse Advisory Board

Cardinal Mahony did set up stronger policies to stop abuse. For example, he created the Sexual Abuse Advisory Board in 1994. The four priests and four Catholic laypersons on the board were supposed to be advocates for victims, to help the archdiocese root out sexual abuse.

Richard Byrne, a retired judge on the Los Angeles Superior Court, has served on the board since the beginning. He says about eight times a year, the vicar for clergy, who oversaw all the priests in the archdiocese, would call a meeting. There he would present each case as a hypothetical, with no names of victims or suspected priests.

"And then we would discuss that," he says. "This was purely advisory to the vicar. We assumed that the vicar then spoke to the cardinal."

Byrne says the board did not have authority to make recommendations, nor could it conduct investigations. Those were done by the archdiocese.

"It was in-house, so to speak," he says, conceding that the board relied on the priest for all its information.

Did the board ever feel it was not getting all the information?

"No, it did not make me feel uncomfortable," he says. "I assumed they wanted our input or they would not have asked us to do it in the first place."

Cardinal Roger Mahony in 2006. i i

Cardinal Roger Mahony in 2006. The Los Angeles archbishop found out that Father Baker had been abusing boys from the priest himself. Reed Saxon/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Reed Saxon/AP
Cardinal Roger Mahony in 2006.

Cardinal Roger Mahony in 2006. The Los Angeles archbishop found out that Father Baker had been abusing boys from the priest himself.

Reed Saxon/AP

Byrne says in the 1990s, the review board heard dozens of cases of alleged abuse. Byrne says the board never once recommended that the archdiocese report any of the allegations to the police: "We didn't feel that was part of our responsibility."

Nor did the board ever recommend that the archdiocese alert the parishes when a priest was accused of abusing a child, even though that was church policy.

"We assumed that the church was doing what it should do at that time, what it was required to do and what it felt it should do," Byrne says.

Rev. Baker's Case

One of the cases that went before the board involved a new allegation against Baker. In 1994, Baker had befriended a 14-year-old boy named Luis, who served as an altar boy at St. Columbkille parish in Los Angeles. According to Luis' attorney, John Manly, the sexual molestation began immediately after the two met. One day in 1996, the Rev. Timothy Dyer, who was supposed to be monitoring Baker, spotted the boy in the rectory.

"Father Dyer came home to St. Columbkille and found Luis upstairs in the living area coming out of Baker's room," Manly says. "Father Dyer had an obligation to report. He didn't report."

Archdiocese spokesman Tamberg says the church wasn't legally obligated to call the police because priests were not mandated reporters until a year later. The church notified neither the police nor the parish. The archdiocese did conduct an investigation. There's a dispute about whether they talked to Luis — but in the end, both the archdiocese and the review board concluded that no abuse occurred. And how did they know that?

"Baker was asked about it," Tamberg says. "He explained it away, and our mistake at the time was accepting his explanation at face value."

For four years, the church heard no further complaints about Baker. Then in 2000, two brothers walked into the office of attorney Cadigan. They were the two boys from Tucson. They detailed trips and visits that Baker had taken with them over 15 years. They described the sex and showed her his love letters. Cadigan quickly sent a 14-page letter to Baker, and four days later, Baker called her up.

"It was shocking," Cadigan says. "I had never had a priest confess to me."

Cadigan says Baker spoke of the many children he had had sex with, in the United States, Mexico, Thailand and Nepal. He said Cardinal Mahony knew about the abuse, but not the extent. She wrote the archdiocese threatening to sue. Within two months she had a check for $1.3 million.

There was one main condition: The settlement would be secret.

"It was obvious they wanted to sweep everything under the rug immediately," Cadigan says. "I had never seen such quick action to cover up and conceal sex abuse."

A Dramatic Deposition

After the settlement, Richard Loomis, the vicar for clergy, felt something had to be done about Baker. In a 2009 deposition obtained by NPR, Loomis told Luis' attorney that he suggested the police be called.

"Did they do that?" Manly asked.

"No," Loomis responded.

"Who did you suggest that to?"

"To the cardinal," Loomis said.

Describing the deposition to NPR later, Manly said that Loomis "flipped" right in the middle of the deposition.

"You know, how you used to see on Perry Mason or A Few Good Men, when someone actually flips on the stand? It just doesn't happen. And here it did," Manly said.

Later in the deposition, Loomis said he suggested that the archdiocese should alert all the parishes about Baker's activities, in case there were other victims. Again, the cardinal declined.

"I was upset because I felt we should have made the announcements," he said. "It was the right thing to do."

Loomis says he considered resigning, and suddenly, an increasingly agitated lawyer for the archdiocese, Donald Woods, stood up and grabbed Loomis in an angry bear hug, physically restraining him from talking.

"Wait, wait, woah, woah! What are you doing?" Manly asked.

"I'm instructing my client," Woods replied, as he jostled the priest and whispered in his ear.

"You're trying to shut him up!" Manly replied. "You're trying to get him to be quiet, because you don't like his answers."

Shortly after the deposition, Loomis got a new attorney. He was no longer represented by the archdiocese.

E-Mails Revealed

In 2002, the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal broke across the country. In Los Angeles, the archdiocese seemed intent on keeping quiet about the extent of its problem. But its secrets were revealed, when a cache of e-mails between Cardinal Mahony and his attorneys were leaked to the John and Ken Show, a popular talk radio program in Los Angeles.

When they received the e-mails in early April, the hosts, John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou, set up an ad hoc studio on the street outside the archdiocese. They began reading e-mails.

In one, dated March 27, 2002, Mahony notes that the church has not reported three of the eight most abusive priests, one of whom was Baker. Mahony worries that if the district attorney finds this out, "I can guarantee you that I will get hauled into a grand jury proceeding and I will be forced to give all the names."

And in another message dated April 1, 2008, Mahony suggests that the archdiocese issue a statement saying it cannot release the names or numbers of accused priests while the government is investigating. "Since that is weeks and months down the road, I hope interest would have waned by then," Mahony writes.

The 68 e-mails read as if the cardinal and his lawyers were more concerned about legal strategy and public relations than the welfare of the victims. But Tamberg, the archdiocesan spokesman, says you have to read the messages in context.

"There were legal concerns for the victims. There were legal concerns for those accused," he says. "There was an atmosphere of blood in the water, in terms of interest by the press. And I think what you see is an archdiocesan leadership faced with a crisis that was still growing and which they were still trying to understand."

Since then, everything has changed, Tamberg says. Today, if a priest is suspected of abuse, the church pulls him out of active ministry and calls the police. Moreover, the archdiocese employs four retired FBI agents to do the investigations, rather than doing them themselves.

'A Model For The Rest Of The Country'

Byrne, who still serves on the review board, believes Mahony is a "pioneer."

"I think he has been in the cutting edge — in establishing, first, a policy, and then a review board," he says. "I think the approach he has taken in L.A. can be a model to the rest of the country."

Byrne says Mahony has been wrongly tarnished by cases that predated Mahony's tenure as head of the archdiocese. And Mahony himself has said he was "misled" by Baker and other priests.

Attorney Manly doesn't buy it.

"Was he misled when he decided not to notify parishes in 2000?" Manley asks. "And was he misled in 2000 to force a confidentiality agreement on the two boys who did come forward? And was he misled in 2000 when he decided not to call the police? He wasn't misled. It was intentional, and it was hardhearted."

Earlier this year, the archdiocese settled the lawsuit with Manly's client, Luis, for $2.2 million. The archdiocese says that 23 people have accused Baker of molesting them.

Baker is now serving a 10-year sentence for sexually abusing three boys. And a federal grand jury is investigating whether the Archdiocese of Los Angeles committed fraud by allegedly covering up sexual abuse.

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