Catholic World News

Cardinal Mahony, future bishop discussed ways to shield abusive priests from prosecution

January 23, 2013

In 1986 and 1987, Cardinal Roger Mahony, then archbishop of Los Angeles, and Father Thomas Curry, his vicar for clergy, discussed ways to shield abusive priests from prosecution, according to a Los Angeles Times report on archdiocesan documents released on January 21.

Ordained to the episcopate in 1994, Bishop Curry is Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles and was until recently the chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Education.

“I believe that if Monsignor [Peter] Garcia were to reappear here within the archdiocese we might very well have some type of legal action filed in both the criminal and civil sectors,” Cardinal Mahony wrote in a 1986 letter to a treatment center for abusive clergy. “[T]here are numerous — maybe twenty — adolescents or young adults that Peter was involved with in a first degree felony manner. The possibility of one of these seeing him is simply too great,” Bishop Curry said in a 1987 memo.

The Los Angeles Times also reported:

In a letter about Father Michael Wempe, who had acknowledged using a 12-year-old parishioner as what a church official called his "sex partner," Curry recounted extensive conversations with the priest about potential criminal prosecution.

"He is afraid ... records will be sought by the courts at some time and that they could convict him," Curry wrote to Mahony. "He is very aware that what he did comes within the scope of criminal law."

Curry proposed Wempe could go to an out-of-state diocese "if need be." He called it "surprising" that a church-paid counselor hadn't reported Wempe to police and wrote that he and Wempe "agreed it would be better if Mike did not return to him."

Perhaps, Curry added, the priest could be sent to "a lawyer who is also a psychiatrist" thereby putting "the reports under the protection of privilege."

Curry expressed similar concerns to Mahony about Father Michael Baker, who had admitted his abuse of young boys during a private 1986 meeting with the archbishop.

In a memo about Baker's return to ministry, Curry wrote, "I see a difficulty here, in that if he were to mention his problem with child abuse it would put the therapist in the position of having to report him … he cannot mention his past problem."

Mahony's response to the memo was handwritten across the bottom of the page: "Sounds good —please proceed!!" Two decades would pass before authorities gathered enough information to convict Baker and Wempe of abusing boys.
Both prelates offered apologies. “I wish to acknowledge and apologize for those instances when I made decisions regarding the treatment and disposition of clergy accused of sexual abuse that in retrospect appear inadequate or mistaken,” said Bishop Curry. “Most especially, I wish to express my sympathy to all the victims of sexual abuse by clergy. Like many others, I have come to a clearer understanding over the years of the causes and treatment of sexual abuse.” “I have a 3 x 5 card for every victim I met with on the altar of my small chapel. I pray for them every single day," said Cardinal Mahony, who governed the Archdiocese of Los Angeles from 1985 to 2011. “As I thumb through those cards I often pause as I am reminded of each personal story and the anguish that accompanies that life story.” “It remains my daily and fervent prayer that God's grace will flood the heart and soul of each victim, and that their life-journey continues forward with ever greater healing,” he added. “I am sorry.”

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  • Posted by: - Jan. 24, 2013 10:38 AM ET USA

    Putting faith in psychiatrists, pschologists, and pschotherapists of any kind is the biggest mistake, in my opinion, that these prelates and their staff made. The issue is one of sin, confession, and meditating on hell, not one of mental illness and treatment. The so-called science of psychology cares nothing about the Final Judgment. That's what should mainly concern the clergy. Are they too embarrassed to do their job or what?

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Jan. 24, 2013 10:14 AM ET USA

    We should pray for these men whose evil actions (or lack of same) caused such damage. We should also pray that civil justice be carried out, and that both Mahony and Curry be formally accused of crimes, face a jury of their peers, and suffer all the prescribed consequences. Let us also hope that every bishop across the country who participated in this kind of criminal cover-up be indicted and undergo a fair trial. Enough already of their tartuffery!

  • Posted by: koinonia - Jan. 24, 2013 8:35 AM ET USA

    Credibility- "the quality or power of inspiring belief." (Merriam) There is a credibility problem, and souls will suffer. The Church is charged with bringing the love of Christ to men. This is her mission, and it involves the cross. A new understanding has distorted the essentials, and the consequences are difficult to endure. God willing and with prayer, there will be a return to the cross so that none of those who suffer in the Church will ever do so at the hands of her priests again.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Jan. 23, 2013 5:21 PM ET USA

    I wonder if the card also contains a statement of Cardinal Mahony's personal responsibility for the damage done to each child. He would do well to beg for mercy. We would do well to beseech it on his behalf.