“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,” retired Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony said after the court-ordered release of personnel files detailing his elaborate efforts to hide abusers from the police. How comforted the victims must feel knowing their names appear on his 3 x 5 cards. How big of him to entrust the victims of his pedophile-shuffling to the efficacy of his prayers.
Such acts of chutzpah come naturally to the cardinal. At the height of the abuse scandal, even as he retained an army of lawyers and publicists to conceal his own complicity in it, he had the gall to join the media in calling for Boston Cardinal Bernard Law’s resignation. Referring to Law, Cardinal Mahony piously told the press that “he would find it difficult to walk down an aisle in church if he had been guilty of gross negligence.”
Meanwhile, Cardinal Mahony was unleashing his attack dogs on anyone who probed his staggering negligence. Until the media furor of 2001, he had been planning on making a pedophile long known to him and residing in his living quarters, Father Carl Sutphin (with whom he had gone to seminary), associate pastor of the archdiocesan cathedral. “I can’t believe a cardinal keeps a pedophile on staff,” said one of Sutphin’s victims.
Long before Leon Panetta joined the Obama administration as CIA director, he had scented out Cardinal Mahony’s misdeeds. He “has done tremendous damage to his reputation and the archdiocese,” said Panetta after his spell as a member of the National Review Board, a watchdog group formed in the wake of the scandal. Panetta recalled a meeting at which Cardinal Mahony turned up with “more lawyers in the room than I’ve ever seen.”
After Cardinal Mahony helped orchestrate the ousting of former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating from the chairmanship of the National Review Board, Keating complained to the press that the cardinal had kneecapped him, likening his vicious behavior to that of “La Cosa Nostra.”
Throughout the abuse scandal, Cardinal Mahony has cast himself as a “naïve” waif, guilty not of a cover-up but of mere cluelessness. The recently released files explode that claim. He knew perfectly well that he was hiding criminals. “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,” he wrote to the director of a New Mexico treatment center, asking him to keep the fugitive from justice holed up there.
Together with one of his auxiliary bishops, Thomas Curry (who remains in that position to this day), Mahony plotted to keep pedophile priests from going to therapists who might report them to the police as the law required. The Los Angeles Times captured the scheming:
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.”
Even when priests wanted to turn themselves in to the police, Cardinal Mahony blocked it. Fr. Michael Baker, a convicted abuser, has previously recounted to the press a meeting with the cardinal in which Mahony said “no, no, no” to the suggestion of calling the police. For the next fourteen years Baker was shuffled from parish to parish. According to these new documents, Curry told Mahony that they should keep Baker away from therapists who might report him. Cardinal Mahony’s response: “Sounds good-please proceed!!”
These documents explain why Mahony in 2007 agreed to the largest Catholic Church settlement ($660 milion) in American history rather than go through the sustained exposure of a civil trial. He agreed to the settlement just days before he was scheduled to appear as the trial’s first witness. As the Times notes, one of his alibis has been that in the 1990s therapists, not bishops, were required to report abuse. Now it is clear that he took steps to ensure that molesting priests didn’t go to them unless the therapist doubled as a lawyer.
Keating was roundly criticized for likening Mahony’s conduct to “La Cosa Nostra.” But these documents confirm a level of devious maneuvering beyond even the dark satire of the Sopranos.
On Cardinal Mahony’s 3 x 5 note cards, he says that “I also list in parenthesis the name of the clergy perpetrator lest I forget that real priests created this appalling harm in the lives of innocent people.” Noticeably absent from his cards is the name of the real cardinal who abetted that harm.
This column first appeared January 25, 2013 in RealClearReligion.org and is reprinted with permission.