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Cardinal Roger M. Mahony Actively Protected Priests Molesting Children

By January 25, 2013

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According to recently released church records, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, as well as one of his top advisors actively worked to protect from the police Catholic priests who raped and molested children. The advisor who helped protect criminals was Msgr. Thomas J. Curry, the archdiocese's chief advisor on sex abuse cases at the time.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony
Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty

It's hardly a surprise that Catholic officials have been fighting for years to prevent the public from seeing this evidence, just as they fought for decades to conceal the priests themselves. These records provide clear evidence that predator priests weren't protected due to mere negligence on the part of church officials, but rather out of active malice towards the rule of law and justice.

The letters in question here have only been revealed because they are part of a civil lawsuit against the Catholic archdiocese. They weren't released as part of an ongoing criminal case or investigation. I think that does a lot to justify and validate the use of civil lawsuits against Catholic churches; without them, how much evidence would continue to be hidden or even destroyed?

In the confidential letters, filed this month as evidence in a civil court case, Curry proposed strategies to prevent police from investigating three priests who had admitted to church officials that they abused young boys. Curry suggested to Mahony that they prevent them from seeing therapists who might alert authorities and that they give the priests out-of-state assignments to avoid criminal investigators.

One such case that has previously received little attention is that of Msgr. Peter Garcia, who admitted preying for decades on undocumented children in predominantly Spanish-speaking parishes. After Garcia's discharge from a New Mexico treatment center for pedophile clergy, Mahony ordered him to stay away from California "for the foreseeable future" in order to avoid legal accountability, the files show. "I believe that if Monsignor 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," the archbishop wrote to the treatment center's director in July 1986.

The following year, in a letter to Mahony about bringing Garcia back to work in the archdiocese, Curry said he was worried that victims in Los Angeles might see the priest and call police.

"[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," Curry wrote in May 1987. ...

Garcia was never prosecuted and died in 2009. The files show he admitted to a therapist that he had sexually abused boys "on and off" since his 1966 ordination. He assured church officials his victims were unlikely to come forward because of their immigration status. In at least one case, according to a church memo, he threatened to have a boy he had raped deported if he went to police.

Source: Los Angeles Times

The lawsuit was filed by a man who says he was raped by one of the priests mentioned in the letters, Father Nicholas Aguilar Rivera. According to his lawyer, the letters have been submitted as evidence to demonstrate that the Catholic church has been engaged in a pervasive "practice of thwarting law enforcement investigations" into priests who molest and rape children.

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.

Archbishop Roger M. Mahony has apologized for "errors" in handling accusations of abuse against priests. He does not seem to have apologized for actively trying to protect priests from legal investigation and arrest. Curry is currently the archdiocese's auxiliary bishop for Santa Barbara and he hasn't commented on why he tried to protect rapists from seeing justice.

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