Friday, January 30, 2009

In LA, "Mystified and Puzzled"

As word of a Federal investigation into his archdiocese's policies on transferring abusive priests leaked out, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles took to the airwaves yesterday to defend his handling of accused clergy, seeking to underscore that any malpractice in personnel decisions took place "years ago, decades ago."

Calling into a local talk-radio station for an extended chat, the head of the nation's largest local church said he "didn't know" what the goverment was looking for.

"Basically, we were mystified and puzzled by the whole thing" the cardinal said, noting that of the 22 priests whose records were subpoenaed by Federal prosecutors, two are dead and the other twenty laicized "and long gone."

Asked whether he was a target of the probe, Mahony said he didn't know.

"We have not been told anyone is a target of investigation," he said.

However, "if I can glean between what's being leaked, etc.," he added that "it seems to have to do with who got transferred when, and how, and whether or not all the folks in the parishes were notified," going on to say that "most of these situations" of the 22 whose records were requested "go back into the '60s and '70s -- years and years ago -- and there's no question that the way things were done then is not the way things are done today."

"We have said repeatedly that our understanding of this problem and the way it's dealt with today evolved," Mahony said, "and that in those years ago, decades ago, people didn't realize how serious this was.

"And so -- rather than pulling people out of ministry directly and fully -- they were moved. But that started changing in the early '90s, and over the years, we just don't do that anymore."

Mahony became head of the 4.2 million-member LA church in 1985. Long on the hot seat for the archdiocese's handling of abuse cases, he oversaw the largest settlement with clergy sex-abuse victims agreed to by a US diocese -- 2007's $660 million deal with 508 survivors.

In 2005, the Los Angeles Times reported that "the number of abusive priests" in the SoCal church "peaked in 1983." According to the paper's investigation, 11% of Los Angeles' active presbyterate as it then stood would eventually be accused of sexual abuse.