Recently, the Los Angeles Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church took two major actions: it released 12,000 documents relating to priests accused of child sexual abuse and simultaneously announced Cardinal Roger Mahony had been relieved of his duties. Cardinal Mahony has been heavily criticized for his handling of sex-abuse charges against Church officials, and yesterday the Church also relieved his subordinate, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry, the current Regional Bishop of Santa Barbara, of his responsibilities. As the former Vicar for Clergy, Bishop Curry served as Cardinal Mahony's point person on claims of sex abuse within the Church.
Irwin Zalkin, an attorney with The Zalkin Law Firm and an attorney who has represented numerous victims of child sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests, responded to questions today about the news from the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
Q: What's the history of these records and why are we hearing about them now?
A: In the summer of 2007, a $660 million global settlement was reached between 508 victims of sexual abuse within the LA Archdiocese and several Catholic religious Orders. The settlement required the LA Archdiocese to release files on all priests who, over the last 50 years, had credible claims of sexual abuse made against them. While the settlement included a very clear process for identifying which records to make public, it has taken six years to get the LA Archdiocese to comply with that agreement. Finally, the world can know the whole truth about what they did to protect predator clergy members and the Church's reputation at the expense of young innocent children.
Q: Why didn't the Church turn over the files in 2007?
A: The Catholic Church wasn't going to release these files a minute before it was absolutely forced to. The Catholic Church has known for centuries that they have a problem with sexual predators. This issue is discussed in the Book of Gamora, in Canon Law, and in a Papal Edict issued in 1962. Father Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer at the Vatican, co-authored a report to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1985 warning that if the Church did not act on the problem of sexual-predator priests it would end up costing over one billion dollars. For his efforts, he was made a military chaplain and sent to an American Air Force base in Germany. The corporate culture of the Catholic Church is to protect itself from the scandal at all costs. To the men who run the Church, this means hiding their dirty secrets at all costs. They hoped that by paying the money, everyone would just go away. That didn't happen.
Q: How did they hold up the process for six years?
A: The settlement identified a certain retired judge to decide which records to make public. That judge belonged to a Catholic Diocese lay review committee responsible for reviewing child sexual abuse claims and recused himself to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest. It took several months to identify another retired judge to replace him. For the next five years, lawyers for several priests and the LA Archdiocese made legal objections to the release of the most damaging records. The priests even went to the California Supreme Court, where they lost. The retired judge then ordered the documents released, but allowed the Church to redact the names of Archdiocese officials, including Cardinal Mahony, the Archbishop, from those records. That, of course, makes it hard to tell who within the chain of command knew what and when. Lawyers for the victims appealed, and after months of legal wrangling, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Emilie H. Elias ordered the documents released without redactions. Lawyers for the LA Archdiocese objected again, claiming it would take months to undo their redaction work. We’ve been fighting with them over this for months. Finally, yesterday, Judge Elias issued her written order compelling the LA Archdiocese to release unredacted versions of the documents.
Q: What kind of information is in the documents?
A: These documents contain detailed records of written claims of parents and children who complained about the sexual abuse suffered by victims, psychological records of the offending clergy and internal records of the LA Archdiocese showing how it failed to respond or, worse, lied about what members of its hierarchy knew. They also contain the key information that the Church tried so hard to cover-up in the more than five years of brass knuckle litigation since the global settlement: the truth about specific men in its leadership. Now we can all see exactly how men holding the titles of Cardinal, Bishop, Monsignor, and Father put the avoidance of scandal above the safety of children.
Q: What should the public hope to gain from these records?
A: The lesson learned from these records is what can happen when an institution is more concerned about protecting its reputation than the welfare of children entrusted to its care. It shows how a religious institution, in particular, can try to hide behind religion as a shield, and use it as a sword, rather than doing the right thing. What the public needs to take away from this experience is the need for transparency when it comes to those who mentor our children, teach our children, care for our children, and protect our children. Child safety should be our ultimate priority. Our children are our future, they need to be protected.
Q: What do you think of Cardinal Mahony's demotion?
A: The demotion of Cardinal Mahony is nothing more or less than a public relations ploy. He is retired and not very involved with the public anyway. This man is a criminal aider and abetter of child sexual abuse and should be in jail. Criminal prosecution against him is long overdue.