Editor’s Journal: The church abuse scandal

A newspaper takes on a stonewalling cardinal and nobody wins

I’d like to get the last six weeks off my chest.

That’s how long it took my newspaper to drag out of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles the simple confirmation that a specific number of priests had been fired recently for long-ago sexual abuses.

Editor's Journal: The church abuse scandal

Editor's Journal: The church abuse scandal

The odds are, the L.A. Times would still be banging its head against the church doors if some still-unknown soul hadn’t leaked scores of internal e-mails between L.A.’s Cardinal Roger Mahony and his inner circle. (More on that later.)

Our experience parallels that of many newspapers as they try to cover the ongoing scandal of church sexual abuse, in which the real story is not that molestation occurred–that’s old hat– but that so many bishops were willing to move errant priests to other parishes rather than fire them.

I’ve compiled a chronology of Times coverage, some of which I oversaw. (I work with seven reporters, two of whom, Larry Stammer and Teresa Watanabe, cover religion full-time.) Our deployment, enterprise and frustrations may help you make some decisions on your own the next time you tackle a multi-faceted story in which there are more directions to pursue than available reporters.

Here’s the backdrop: For decades, newspapers have run isolated stories of priest abuse. But earlier this year the Boston Globe broke a story that told how the Boston diocese knew but kept silent about many abusive priests. Boston’s cardinal, Bernard Law, eventually turned over to law enforcement the names of 80 priests accused over the last 40 years of molesting children. The one who’s received the most recent attention, John Geoghan, was sentenced in February to between nine and 10 years in prison for molesting a 10-year-old boy at a community swimming pool in 1991. The Globe revealed that more than 130 people had accused Geoghan of molesting them during his 30 years as a priest. That led to demands that Cardinal Law resign–something no American cardinal has ever done.

We had our own mini-scandal in 2001 when Bill Lobdell, a religion writer in our Orange County edition, reported a million-dollar abuse settlement. Our Metro columnist, Steve Lopez, followed that up with several columns, including many frank personal revelations from another priest whose misdeeds were part of the lawsuit. Steve referred to the priest only as “Father X,” but the church figured out who he was and removed him from his parish.

As the Boston story broke, other U.S. dioceses began their own belated house-cleaning. We heard about ours in early March. Let’s take it day by day:

March 2: Bill Lobdell learns of a lone priest dismissal in the Diocese of Orange. His sources tell him there’s been more firings in the L.A. Archdiocese. Larry Stammer, who has our best Catholic church sources, cuts short a book leave and starts making calls.

March 4: We publish a story that the Los Angeles archdiocese has fired between six and 12 priests, accounting to church sources during the last two weeks. Unlike some other dioceses, the Archdiocese has chosen not to inform churchgoers or the public, and will not confirm our report. As the story notes, there’s more we don’t know than do know:

…None of the priests in the Los Angeles Archdiocese are believed to be involved in any recent cases of sexually abusing minors. Their cases occurred as long as a decade ago, and all had undergone psychological counseling, according to one of the sources.

…It was unclear Sunday whether the names of any of the priests in the Los Angeles Archdiocese–which includes Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties–would be given to law enforcement authorities, or whether any of the priests planned to appeal their dismissals.

March 13: No progress. We’re stonewalled. Part of this is my fault. I let Larry return to his book leave (he’ll return today), and I told Teresa to finish a project on a local mosque that grew out of her prolonged post-Sept. 11 coverage of Islam. Steve Lopez offers in today’s column:

Across the land, the Catholic Church is being forced to come clean about the sins of the fathers, and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles appears to be falling into line. But the million-dollar word there is “appears.”

As reported in The Times, Cardinal Roger Mahony dismissed as many as a dozen priests for allegations of sexual abuse. But local authorities said they hadn’t gotten any calls from church officials regarding those allegations.

A reasonable person might ask, What gives? Does the church consider itself to be above the law?

On Sunday, the archdiocese sent priests into pulpits to read a statement from Mahony. My hat is off to the author, whether it was Mahony himself, a team of lawyers or a high-priced flack, because it was a beautiful piece of work.

March 15: Teresa Watanabe, her project finished, gets a tip that Cardinal Mahony has ordered all priests to attend a mandatory workshop on sex abuse. It turns out to have been planned for months but it allows us to express in the next day’s paper the resentment many priests feel:

…Several priests [who Teresa interviewed after the session] lamented that the furor has caused them to shrink back from normal gestures of affection, such as hugging children.

Father Roger Labonte of Holy Family Church in South Pasadena said he has found himself hesitating over whether to place his hands on a parishioner’s head during absolution rituals, straighten an altar server’s collar or even take some neighborhood children to a movie. After Mass last Sunday, he said, several children ran to him, hugging his legs, but he kept his arms straight at his side.

Labonte, a Canadian native who said that touch is important in his culture, said the self-imposed restrictions are “just not me.”

March 14: The LAPD, in response to our March 4 story, has begun “general inquiries” of whether any priests committed crimes.

March 15: Lopez columnizes about fed-up Catholics.

March 17: Lopez, who writes three times a week, responds to allegations that his columns are guilty of Catholic bashing:

I don’t really care whether it’s a church, a temple, the White House or the next-door neighbor. I write about users and abusers wherever I find them. But yes, I was Catholic once, and I suppose I still am.

…I probably never was a hall of fame Catholic. But nothing drove me away. I was never abused, nor did I ever hear of anyone who was. As an adult, when I did consciously drift away, it was because I found the church’s attitudes about contraception out of touch and its anti-gay preaching repugnant. But to tell you the truth, I later regretted walking away from what was good about the church just because of the things that bothered me.

…Dozens of people have told me, over the years, about abuse by clergy. Almost all of them, when they can rise up from their torment and self-hatred, talk about two shattering betrayals.

The first is when a priest uses church authority to have his way with a child. The second is when the church calls the victim a liar.

For decades, the church has merely transferred known molesters to other parishes, or sent them to drive-thru therapy, and then recycled them back into the care of future victims.

I don’t have words adequate to the task of describing that violation of trust and failure of basic human consideration. And the failure goes to the very top ranks of an institution that every Sunday preaches Christian morality.

So in the end, yes, I’m completely biased against, and intolerant of, hypocrisy. And without apology, I fully intend to keep banging on the door.

Blame it on the nuns. They said you should always ask yourself: What would Jesus do?

March 18: Teresa Watanabe, on another tip, visits a Sunday sermon by a prominent priest, allowing us to report:

In a searingly blunt sermon that led to a standing ovation, one of the Southland’s most prominent priests exhorted the Roman Catholic Church on Sunday to summon the “raw courage” to openly address the problem of clergy sex abuse.

That painful process would lead to the church’s purification, said Msgr. Clement J. Connolly, who served as secretary to Cardinals Francis McIntyre and Timothy Manning before taking the reins at Holy Family Church in South Pasadena.

Connolly, a priest for 38 years, told his congregations at all six Masses that church leaders had failed the people in neglecting the problem, which he said had caused irreparable wounds to victims, damage to the priesthood and feelings of betrayal, anger and shame among many Catholics. He said once-unquestioned church leaders must now be accountable to the people, and he asked parishioners to accept his remarks Sunday as “part of me being accountable as a pastor.”

“We have let this malignancy grow and allowed it to reach the awesome proportions it has today,” Connolly said of the sex-abuse problems. “Not to speak about it now would be to compound and continue the malfeasance.”

Roman Catholic leaders in Southern California have yet to give a public accounting of their handling of priestly abuse cases. Church sources maintain that Cardinal Roger M. Mahony in recent weeks dismissed or forced the resignations of a number of priests who were involved in molestation incidents but continued to work for the archdiocese. However, the archdiocese has declined to confirm those actions. It has issued two general statements on the problem of abuse, apologizing to victims and explaining church policies.

March 21: Bill Lobdell reports on the unlikely triumph of the victims movement:

After years of being disdained, dismissed or simply ignored, longtime crusaders against sexual abuse by priests suddenly have entered a kind of promised land. It’s an unfamiliar place where Catholic bishops apologize, prosecutors and politicians listen, and a friendly media army helps fight their battles.

And, perhaps most soothing to the victims’ scarred souls, people finally believe them.

“I’d never thought I’d see this day,” said David Clohessy, national director of the St. Louis-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, one of the nation’s two largest such groups, with 3,500 members. “We’ve been crying from the rooftops for someone to notice what’s going on for so long.”

Clohessy is among the 10 or so original activists who found each other a decade ago and became bound by phone calls, e-mails and anger.

They quickly got used to losing: Catholic dioceses avoided many potential court fights and messy publicity by writing settlement checks on the condition that the victims remained silent. Some priests implicated in abuse cases were quietly transferred to other churches. Other victims were told their complaint was an isolated incident and that the priest was now rehabilitated.

…Since the Boston case broke, the victims have watched the dominoes fall in ways they scarcely imagined: Dioceses are combing through personnel files to rid their ranks of any priest with a molestation in his background. Politicians are introducing legislation to eliminate the statue of limitations for sexual abuse of minors. Priests are attending mandatory classes on sexual abuse of minors.

Says Peter Isely, a 41-year-old victim of priest abuse from Milwaukee who entered the battle 10 years ago: “The dioceses spent tens of millions of dollars on the highest-priced lawyers from across the country and hired the best public relations firm to fight us. And what did we have? All we had was the truth.”

Other reporters on our staff are trying simultaneously to confirm through the LAPD the names of the suspected priests, but Cardinal Mahony had yet to turn over the details. We continued to pursue explanatory stories to put the crisis into perspective, always nagged by our inability to find out just who had been dismissed so we could track their movements and see whether the L.A. Archdiocese had been guilty of protecting them.

March 21: The pope offers a tepid comment from Rome. Our Rome bureau chief is occupied, so Larry writes the story. Managing Editor Dean Baquet prods us to get high and clear the pope’s semantic decision to blame the power of “evil,” rather than to simply hold errant priests accountable.

March 22: We learn about a fresh case. In response to last year’s abuse settlement, the archdiocese installed a sexual abuse hot line, and someone has reported that the head of a prestigious Catholic high school in the San Fernando Valley molested two students in the ’70s. It’s a different world now–the allegation has led to his firing.

March 25: Watanabe provides perspective on how other faiths deal with clergy abuse:

The wave of clergy sex scandals now engulfing the Roman Catholic Church has battered other denominations as well, producing an uneven record of response that ranges from the Episcopal Church’s aggressive and detailed policies to the Southern Baptist Convention’s widespread lack of written standards.

In the last decade, clergy sexual misconduct has been exposed in virtually every faith tradition. National studies have shown no differences in its frequency by denomination, region, theology or institutional structure.

Mainline Protestant denominations have generally taken the earliest and most aggressive measures against clergy abuse and fundamentalist churches the least, according to Gary Schoener, a Minneapolis psychotherapist who has handled more than 2,000 cases of clergy sexual abuse over the past 10 years. Rabbis began working on their policies more recently.

The Roman Catholic response has varied dramatically, in part because each of the 195 American dioceses operates independently. One of the first to take action was the Seattle Archdiocese, which in the early 1980s began exposing the problems and commissioning training materials. By contrast, as recently as January, church officials in Boston were accused of having routinely assigned as many as 80 priests suspected of molesting minors to different churches. It was the Boston cases that sparked the current national furor over priestly sexual abuse.

In faith after faith, the problem of clergy misconduct was exposed during the past 10 to 15 years because victims began stepping forward, plaintiffs began winning large awards and insurers began demanding policies to prevent abuse.

March 25: We run a story comparing Mahony’s secretiveness to the more open policies of the bishop of Orange. This day, Mahony holds an extraordinary “Mass of reparations,” telling about 300 Catholic priests that he would support victims of long-ago sexual abuse who want to break confidentiality agreements and talk, but would not release the names of their abusers. Mahony also says he is willing to consider changing the church’s celibacy policy to allow priests to marry.

March 27: Stammer does a quick takeout on Mahony’s comments on celibacy:

Celibacy, a cornerstone of the Roman Catholic priesthood for a thousand years and a symbol of ordained holiness, is being questioned with a new urgency as the church’s sexual abuse scandal sweeps across the nation.

In a sharp departure from Pope John Paul II’s insistence that the celibacy issue is closed, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony on Monday became the first American cardinal to declare that discussion of a married priesthood remains open.

Lopez writes his column on the premise that the church’s abuse problem begins with celibacy. We report separately on a demand by the D.A. that the church comply with state abuse-reporting law requirements.

March 29: The LAPD chief, irritated by the archdiocese’s slowness, demands the names of priests suspected of abuse. Cardinal Mahony insists the LAPD already has the names. Bill Lobdell reports that “Father X,” John Lenihan–the priest who told Steve Lopez how his lack of a mature sexual identity led him to molest girls–has agreed to leave the clergy. We’re aware a settlement with a Lenihan victim is days away.

April 2: Lobdell reports the settlement:

The Roman Catholic dioceses of Orange and Los Angeles paid $1.2 million Monday to a 37-year-old woman who alleged in a lawsuit that a popular priest molested her as a teenager, got her pregnant and paid for her abortion.

The church’s settlement with Lori Haigh was the second high-profile settlement the two dioceses have paid in eight months to a victim of priestly abuse. It was the latest in a mounting string of cases throughout the nation that have focused attention on the church’s tolerance of abusive clergy.

Haigh, of San Francisco, held a morning news conference Monday at her attorney’s office in Irvine, and then filed a criminal complaint against Father John Lenihan with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. A spokesman for the department said it would launch an investigation.

Haigh’s lawsuit also claimed that two other priests–now high-ranking officials with the Diocese of Orange–ignored her pleas for help 20 years ago. She said she was abused from age 14 to 17.

Lenihan’s attorney, Ron Talmo, declined to comment. But in a written statement, Bishop of Orange Tod D. Brown said, “I am deeply sorry for the hurt caused by the actions of Father Lenihan, and extend my apology to Ms. Haigh and all victims of sexual clergy abuse.”

According to church officials, the two other priests deny ever meeting Haigh. One of them, Msgr. Lawrence J. Baird, held his own press conference later in the day and threatened to file a defamation suit against Haigh.

At her press conference, Haigh said she got to know Lenihan because she played the guitar in a youth group that performed at Sunday evening Mass at St. Norbert Church in Orange, where he was a priest.

On the same day, Richard Winton reports that sheriff’s detectives are questioning altar boys at a church in Azusa, a distant suburb of Los Angeles County about recent abuse by an unnamed adult who we suspect to be the priest but can’t confirm.

April 3: Cardinal Mahony has told Larry Stammer he wants to be interviewed. We expect little and are not surprised:

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, in his first interview since the priest-abuse scandal broke, said Tuesday his refusal to give details about priests dismissed from the Los Angeles Archdiocese was based on requests from police and victims.

The cardinal, the archbishop of Los Angeles, requested an interview with a Times reporter to clear the air about the archdiocese’s role in the sex abuse cases. He compared the church’s sexual abuse crisis to a cancer, saying that until the “last injurious cell” is removed, the church will not be able to move on.

(You know you’re being stonewalled when you have to say what your subject won’t say as high as the third graf.)

However, Mahony did little to clarify the types of abuses committed by the six to 12 archdiocese priests sources said he removed earlier this year. Nor would he say exactly how many priests were dismissed. He said two victims in “heart-wrenching pleas” urged him not to reveal the priests’ identities.

…While refusing to say how many priests were dismissed, Mahony said that none were currently involved in any ministry involving children or youths.

…Boston Cardinal Bernard Law has come under pressure to resign. Mahony declined to take a stand on Law’s future Tuesday, but said, “I don’t know how I could face people. I don’t know how I could walk down the main aisle of the church myself comfortably, interiorly, if I had been [guilty] of grave neglect.” He said later in an e-mail that his use of the term “grave neglect” was not a personal judgment, but a frequently used characterization by Catholics in Boston.

On the same day, Lopez writes the first of what will turn out to be four columns in five days about this topic. This one suggests that priestly silence is crushing the victims of abuse.

April 4: The fun starts.

The producer for two psuedo-populist radio talk-show hosts, Ken & John, calls Lopez and tells him about a big scoop: Somebody anonymously has given the radio station scores of Mahony e-mails. Ken & John will broadcast their show from outside the archdiocese’s office this afternoon and will read the e-mails. Lopez asks to see them. The producer sends over a half-dozen. They show a piqued Mahony obsessed with spin control. They also appear to refer indirectly to a couple of the cases we’ve been unable to convince the archdiocese to describe.

The question is: Are they real? E-mails can be altered invisibly during the forwarding process. Stammer and Lopez, both of whom have received real Mahony e-mails, say these look authentic. One of the e-mails from Mahony to a colleague describes a conversation Mahony had with Stammer. No way to make that up. But the archdiocese, not surprisingly, will not confirm these are real-instead, it sends out a cease-and-desist demand letter, maintaining these are confidential communications and illegal to reproduce. None of the church staffers who received copies will comment.

By 7 p.m. we have reluctantly decided not to use the e-mails. We’ll seek further confirmation tomorrow.

Instead, the archdiocese lays it in our lap. One of its lawyers obtains a highly unusual 10:30 p.m. court hearing to seek a restraining order prohibiting us from publishing. (If you were anybody else in L.A., you’d have to warn the clerks in the writs courts earlier in the day that you might seek an after-hours hearing. In this case, the archdiocese’s lawyer talked to the retired presiding judge of the Superior Court a little before 9 p.m. and set the wheels in motion.)

Our lawyer, Karlene Goller, rushes over to court to fight the motion. During the hearing, she is able to ask the church’s lawyer: Are these e-mails real? Yes, the lawyer says. Thank you, Karlene says.

Shortly before midnight the judge rules against the church’s request, saying the constitution does not permit prior restraint. We manage to get a short story about the e-mails on B-5 and hit 400,000 of our 1 million readers.

In that morning’s paper, Lopez columnizes about the recent settlement of the Orange County abuse case and his relationship with “Father X”:

Well, there goes another round of Sunday offerings. Your Easter tithes won’t pay for hymnbooks or boost the salaries of underpaid Catholic schoolteachers, but will go straight into the scandal management fund.

You read about these sex abuse cases each day and wonder if the national spectacle of hypocrisy and betrayal can get any more outrageous, and now we know the answer is yes. The latest case involves an Orange County priest who allegedly got a teenager pregnant roughly 20 years ago and then quietly paid for her abortion, breaking perhaps a half-dozen commandments in this one relationship alone.

But I can’t say I’m surprised. The priest happens to be an acquaintance of mine.

We return to work on Friday, April 5, planning on either doing a broader story about the content of those half-dozen e-mails or, hopefully, convincing the producer of the “John & Ken” show to share his entire collection. Lopez lobbies the producer, who finally sends all the e-mails over to us at about 3 p.m.

Larry Stammer will write the story, and he has about three hours to distill everything and present a coherent story for the National Edition. We get it mostly right, then expand and polish it for the home edition. The best e-mails will be compressed into two-graf bullets, but there’s a judgment call: One of the e-mails alludes to an abuse allegation against Mahony himself in Fresno. That had only been a rumor to us. Now we’re able to call Fresno PD, which confirms it has a recent claim from a woman who says Mahony molested her 32 years ago.

We get the woman on the phone. Her coherency is suspect. We won’t put this allegation in the lead, even though we know the local TV stations will lead their broadcasts with it at 11 p.m. We make the abuse allegation the first bullet, six or seven grafs down. Our superiors ask that it be higher, in the fourth graf, but with more detail about the marginal quality of the allegation.

The home-edition story on April 6 reads:

A series of confidential e-mails written by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony show how pervasively the nationwide child-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church has affected the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

The e-mails, leaked to radio station KFI, which provided copies to The Times, paint a picture of a sometimes-agitated archbishop alarmed that he is losing public relations ground.

The memos, written during the past three weeks, capture an archdiocese confronting political, legal and moral challenges: where to place a priest newly accused of molesting children; whether the church should start a victims support group; how to anticipate and counteract media accusations; how to give “instruction” in child-abuse law to Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, and how to measure the number of weeks or months before a “healing” process begins in the church.

The e-mail also reveals that a Fresno woman made a 32-year-old unspecified “claim” against Mahony. Questions by reporters prompted the cardinal Friday night to issue a denial.

Fresno police Lt. Keith Foster confirmed Friday that an investigation is underway. The Fresno Diocese turned over a recent two-hour taped interview with the woman to police, an e-mail says.

The woman told The Times on Friday that Mahony molested her in 1970 when he visited the San Joaquin Memorial Catholic High School, where she was a student. She provided few other details, saying police asked her not to talk.

Mahony, who was then a priest in Fresno and rose to the position of auxiliary bishop, “categorically” denied “ever having molested anyone.”

In a March 28 e-mail, Mahony expressed willingness to be interviewed by Fresno detectives and wrote his advisors that he did not need an attorney because he had no recollection of the woman making the complaint and informed the LAPD the same day he was told of the accusation.

Other e-mails focus on the growing demands that Mahony fully disclose the names of the eight priests he had fired in February for molesting minors. The archdiocese subsequently turned the information over to police but has yet to disclose it to the public.

In one e-mail, a top Mahony advisor recommends that the cardinal remain deliberately vague about where the eight priests served before Mahony fired them. While Mahony told The Times in a separate interview that none of the priests were in parish ministries, the e-mail from Msgr. Craig Cox, vicar for clergy, says that some did serve on a part-time basis in parishes–a fact that implies they had were around children.

At times, Mahony and his inner circle are shown attempting to promptly cooperate with police on new allegations of sexual abuse. In other e-mails, there is a clear determination to protect the institution.

(The bullets began here:)

The communications also reveal that:

* Mahony was so upset by the archdiocese’s failure to turn over some names of several dismissed priests to police that he warned his general counsel he might be subpoenaed by a grand jury.

“If we don’t, today, “consult” with the [detective] about those three names, I can guarantee you that I will get hauled into a Grand Jury proceeding and I will be forced to give all the names, etc.,” Mahony wrote to his top lawyer, Sister Judith Murphy.

At that point, March 27, the archdiocese had not turned over to police the names of three of eight priests he dismissed in February. The names were subsequently turned over to authorities.

* Mahony wrote Murphy in that same e-mail that the archdiocese had made a “huge mistake” by withholding the names of the three priests…

Lopez decides to write an extra column so he can appear in the same day’s paper. He begins:

There is talk of telling police as little as possible about priests who were known sex offenders.

There is the crafting of statements to avoid being caught in a lie down the road.

The truth is framed, needled and massaged in the name of protecting the church.

All this from those who hold themselves up as paragons of morality and virtue, with God as their guide.

April 7: We run a front-page story that examines in far more detail the troubled mental history of Mahony’s accuser. It runs on A-1.

On B-1, Stammer writes a news analysis comparing Mahony’s case with a famous abuse allegation lodged against a Chicago cardinal a decade earlier–one that proved false, and sucked credibility out of the national crusade against abusive priests.

Next to Stammer’s story on the page is another Lopez column. He has researched depositions that Mahony gave a few years earlier in a child abuse lawsuit in Stockton, in central California, dealing with Mahony’s oversight of an abuse case when he was bishop of Stockton in the 1970s:

In 1998, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony was a central figure in one of the most notorious sex-abuse trials in Catholic church history.

The case involved two Stockton-area brothers who had been abused by a priest from the time they were toddlers until they were in their late teens, both before and after the Stockton diocese had received complaints against the priest.

A jury was so disturbed by the drama that unfolded in San Joaquin County Superior Court, it awarded $30 million in damages to the brothers, an amount later negotiated to $7 million.

Mahony was not a defendant in the case, but he was the bishop of Stockton during a critical period addressed in the lawsuit. He had ordered an evaluation after the priest himself admitted he was a molester, then reassigned him to another parish, where he abused victims for years to come.

“Mahony is the Teflon cardinal,” says Jeff Anderson, who represented the victims and was amazed that Mahony’s reputation in Los Angeles was scarcely tainted by the Stockton verdict, which at the time was the largest-ever per-person settlement in such a case.

April 9: We struggle to use the e-mails to assemble a list of which priests Mahony has gotten rid of. It’s imprecise. One of the e-mails allows us to publish a story today about a priest accused of molesting boys while wrestling more than a decade ago.

Also running today is a piece by Elizabeth Mehren, our Boston staffer, that Cardinal Law had approved the transfer of a pedophile priest from Boston to California. Give the Globe credit for breaking that story weeks earlier; today’s story was sexier because it detailed hundreds of pages of court documents about the misconduct of that priest, released by lawyers of his alleged victims:

BOSTON–Although well aware of sexual abuse complaints against Father Paul Shanley, Catholic Church officials here failed to disclose his history when they approved his 1990 transfer to a Southern California parish, documents released Monday show.

On the contrary, a recommendation to the diocese of San Bernardino described Shanley as “a priest in good standing.”

At an extraordinary 2 1/2-hour news conference, lawyers for a family that has filed a civil lawsuit against Shanley displayed material from his personnel file on a giant video screen. The papers showed that church officials have known of sexual misconduct charges against the priest since at least 1967. Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law also is named in the suit. “They gave [Shanley] their seal of approval and shipped him out,” said Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer representing 24-year-old Gregory Ford. Ford has alleged that Shanley abused him over several years, starting when he was 5 or 6.

“He was taking children on youth retreats in San Bernardino, and the archdiocese of Boston knew about it,” MacLeish said.

In a statement that failed to mention Shanley, Boston archdiocese spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey said Monday that “whatever may have occurred in the past, there were no deliberate decisions to put children at risk.”

Shanley, 71, now lives in San Diego. He was fired last week from his post as a police department volunteer and, MacLeish said, “many people are looking for him.”

The allegations against Shanley, first reported in the Boston Globe, were the latest bombshell in a sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church since early this year. Prosecutors here would not say Monday whether Shanley’s name was on a list of more than 80 priests suspected of molesting children that Boston church officials provided after the January conviction of former priest John J. Geoghan. Geoghan, who has been accused of molesting more than 130 young people, is in prison for groping a boy at a community swimming pool

Also running today is an A-1 feature by Bill Lobdell about Lori Haigh, the woman who last week settled her suit against Father Lenihan:

Lori Haigh couldn’t stand the voice of Father John Lenihan any longer. So she sat among the congregants in the parish hall and stabbed a pencil into her left thigh again and again, until blood began to flow.

The 16-year-old was hoping someone at St. Norbert Church in Orange would ask her what was wrong. That’s when she would blurt it all out:

Father John was molesting me. Three, four, five times a week for the past two years. He got me pregnant and then paid for the abortion. He set me up with another priest.

But no one asked.

It took Haigh 20 years and a million-dollar lawsuit to be noticed.

The dioceses of Los Angeles and Orange last week agreed to pay her $1.2 million to settle her accusations against Lenihan and the church. Though Lenihan neither admitted nor denied the allegations involving Haigh, he previously admitted to molesting another teenage girl and having several sexual relationships with adult women. He agreed last month to be removed from the priesthood.

Bishop Tod D. Brown of Orange County last week acknowledged that Haigh had been molested, saying, “I am deeply sorry for the hurt caused by the actions of Father Lenihan, and extend my apology to Ms. Haigh and all victims of sexual abuse by clergy.”

The sexual abuse scandal now racking the U.S. Roman Catholic Church has many victims. But Lori Haigh stands apart on several grounds. The allegations that led to the settlement are among the most serious yet leveled against a priest. And while many victims contend that molestations haunted them for years, Haigh is among the few willing to detail how her life spiraled downward after repeated sexual abuse, while the church ignored her complaints.

She is now a San Francisco mother who appears to lead an enviable life as a video entrepreneur and songwriter.

But she says that she hates to wear dresses because they make her feel vulnerable–the same way she felt when Lenihan allegedly would take her in his silver Mercury Monarch and park on deserted roads. She picks at the skin around her fingernails, leaving them bloody, saying it distracts her from bad thoughts. She says she has tried to commit suicide more than 10 times, beginning at 16, when Lenihan allegedly got her pregnant…

In the next few days, the Fresno PD ends its investigation of Cardinal Mahony, saying there is no evidence wrongdoing occurred. (It runs on A-1.) Thanks to the archdiocese e-mail and more chatting up of police sources, we’re able to advance on a couple of fronts: We confirm that the priest is the suspect at that Azusa church where detectives questioned altar boys. And we learn that the archdiocese transferred a priest suspected of molestation to a hospital that had a pediatrics ward, despite concerns the priest should not be allowed to work around children.

Nailing down that second case allows police reporter Beth Shuster to seek confirmation from Mahony with the leverage we need. Only now, during the discussion of this case, does the cardinal give us the breakdown of who he dismissed–the breakdown we initially requested on March 3.

The information is published in the eighth graf of this April 13 story by Beth and Richard Winton:

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony said Friday he erred when he transferred a priest accused of molesting children to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center about 14 years ago without telling hospital officials about the allegations.

In his first public comments on a sex abuse case involving the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Mahony said he never should have assigned Father Michael Wempe to Cedars-Sinai without informing hospital officials that he had removed Wempe from his parish and ordered him to a New Mexico treatment facility for evaluation and counseling.

After the treatment, Mahony said, he was told Wempe could be trusted to work as a priest if he were in a supervised job without access to children. Mahony said he was told Wempe could serve in a prison or a hospital. When he assigned Wempe to Cedars-Sinai, Mahony said, he did not know it had a pediatric unit.

“I think that was a mistake on our part then to not simply tell them of his background,” Mahony told The Times. “That should have been done. I take responsibility for that.”

In retrospect, Mahony said, he should have forced Wempe to immediately resign after hearing of the abuse allegations. “Fourteen years [later] is so different,” said Mahony, who has headed the L.A. Archdiocese since 1985. “If that had been today, he would have been out of the priesthood.”

…The Times reported in March that six to 12 priests had been dismissed by Mahony in February for past sexual abuse of minors. Mahony, under growing pressure to reveal details about the cases, would say only that “a few” priests, almost all of them retired, were involved.

On Friday, Mahony continued to refuse to name priests accused of sexual abuse, repeating earlier statements that he has been asked by two victims not to divulge the priests’ names.

For the first time, however, Mahony clarified the number of known sex abuse cases. He said seven cases allegedly occurred before 1997, four in the last five years and another four were connected to priests who have since left the ministry and cannot be found. There were also a smaller group of allegedly abusive priests who are now dead, Mahony said.

Conclusion: There is no conclusion. I have to wake up tomorrow morning and dive back into this. Don’t ask me to grade what we’ve done so far. There hasn’t been enough time to contemplate. Thanks, though, for indulging my catharsis. And if you’re interested in seeing the Boston Globe’s fine work that drove this national scandal, go to: http://www.boston.com/globe/spotlight/

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