Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

my lawyers ate my homework

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Mar 22, 2007

Stung by the LA Times article calling attention to differences in the description of a videotape submitted to the Vatican (for one purpose) and to the general public (for another), the Archdiocese of Los Angeles issues a protest: The Cardinal didn't do it: his lawyers did!

The Tuesday, March 20th edition of the Los Angeles Times, and subsequent media reports, have wrongly claimed that Cardinal Roger Mahony himself recently wrote two different descriptions of a videotape discovered in 1992, more than a year after he removed Father Lynn Caffoe from ministry based on credible reports of misconduct with minors.

Catch the head-fake? "wrongly claimed that Cardinal Roger Mahony himself recently wrote ..." Back to the statement:

In fact, Cardinal Mahony did not write, edit or otherwise supervise the production of the "proffer" on Lynn Caffoe, as the Los Angeles Times has claimed. The Archdiocese's legal team wrote the proffer as part of a Court-ordered mediation process. The purpose of the proffers was to provide a chronological index of certain important documents in a priest's personnel file, without disclosing content. All the files and documents were entrusted to the Court and reviewed by judges to determine that they were both complete and accurate.

Another feint. The L.A. Times does not mention the proffers, but what Mahony "reported" to the public in what he called a Report to the People of God -- i.e., in an October 2005 addendum -- which includes the data included in the proffers. Doubtless the "legal team" compiled this Report. Relieved?

The lawyers who prepared the Caffoe proffer read a memo from Caffoe's personnel file describing a viewing of a videotape, the whereabouts of which had been unknown since 1992. The lawyers understood the description in the memo to involve no touching and they and the judges who reviewed the memo concluded that it therefore involved no sexual activity. And, although some of the boys on the tape were reported to have removed their shirts, none had removed their pants, or exposed themselves in any way, and they were thus described in the proffer as having been fully clothed.

You find a boy's shirtless body in a ravine: do you tell the cops he was "fully clothed"? Below is the relevant passage from the Report (p. 18):

And let's press another verbal equivocation: we're told of a video "the whereabouts of which HAD been unknown since 1992." Oddly expressed. It does not say "HAS been unknown since 1992." That leads one to ask, have the video's whereabouts become known in the interim, and is a copy available today? If so, why no mention of the fact? If not, why the strange language? The statement continues:

The other document in question is Cardinal Mahony's letter to the Vatican explaining why the Pope should revoke Lynn Caffoe's priesthood. This document, drafted for the purpose of fulfilling Church law requirements for invoking this penalty, described the same content of the videotape more aggressively. Removed shirts were described as "partial nudity," and suggestive sexual comments were described as "criminal" (a "delict") in the context of Church law.

"... described the same content of the videotape more aggressively." Now there is a lawyerly adverb! We're not told whether the Cardinal learned the contents of the tape from the same memo mentioned above or from some other source, but shirt-removal now counts as "partial nudity." More to the point, what the statement fails to mention at all is the LAT's claim in the same article "Mahony said Caffoe had videotaped 'partially naked' boys in a state of sexual arousal." The Archdiocese does not dispute this point or discuss it at all. How this "sexual arousal" is to be reconciled with the conclusion that "no sexual activity" was involved is anyone's guess. I shall pass over in decorous silence the question of how the arousal was detectable in the first place. More lawyering:

The Los Angeles Times' attempt to harmonize two documents with completely different purposes is not only misleading, it is inconsequential to the goal: removing clergy at once who are credibly accused of sexual misconduct involving minors.

Attempt to harmonize? Are to we to understand that it's not fair to ask whether two documents purporting to describe the same event should or should not say the same thing?

Indeed, the Times ignores these most important facts: Sixteen years ago, Cardinal Mahony swiftly removed Caffoe from ministry after receiving credible reports of misconduct. He sent Caffoe to a psychologist for an initial assessment. The psychologist filed a Suspected Child Abuse Report, thus notifying law enforcement. Cardinal Mahony barred Caffoe from further ministry. A short time later, Caffoe disappeared from the Archdiocese without notice.

Cardinal Mahony's letter to the Vatican seeking the removal of Caffoe from the priesthood successfully persuaded Pope Benedict XVI to approve this penalty against Caffoe in January 2006.

True, the LAT did ignore those facts. But the story wasn't about Caffoe's career but the Cardinal's astonishing flexibility with the truth. Reacting to the claim of chicanery, Mahony's lawyer had earlier offered the explanation that there was no discrepancy because, "the archdiocese was under court order not to reveal the contents of the personnel files" -- which seems to mean that, if you're not free to tell us what the files contain, you're free to lie to us about what they really say. This clarification, unsurprisingly, is not reiterated in the most recent statement.

Lawyers blunder. Bishops make mistakes. We can understand occasional discrepancies in this kind of material. But Mahony has the reputation he does because the putative mistakes, misstatements, memory lapses, etc., always work to his personal advantage. When has he ever forgotten an incident that puts him a good light? When has he mislaid a letter in which he acted to his own detriment in order to protect a spiritual good? Why is it that the Vatican got the "sexual arousal" story and the rest of us the "no sexual activity" version? -- why is it never the other way around?

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