Top US Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony, who is currently in the Sistine Chapel voting for the next Pope, has agreed to pay a total of nearly $10 million (7.7 million euros) to settle four child sex abuse cases brought against his former archdiocese in Los Angeles, lawyers for the victims said on Tuesday.
Mahony, who retired in 2011 as head of the largest US archdiocese and is now part of the Papal conclave, was accused of helping a confessed paedophile priest evade law enforcement by sending him to an out-of-state Church-run treatment centre, before placing the priest back in the Los Angeles ministry.
The former priest named in all four cases is Michael Baker, imprisoned in 2007 on 12 criminal counts of oral copulation with a minor involving two boys, who had both reached a previous settlement with the Church. The latest agreement comes four weeks before the start of civil suits brought by two men, now in their 20s, who claimed they were molested as 12-year-olds in the late 1990s.
No parties admitted wrongdoing
Of the two other newly settled cases, one dates back to the late 1970s, before Mahony was archbishop, and the other to 1986, not long after he assumed the post, said plaintiff’s lawyer Vince Finaldi. As part of the settlement, approved by a Los Angeles judge earlier this month, none of the parties admitted wrongdoing.
Finaldi said the settlement, together with the recent release of internal Church records documenting the role of Mahony and others in covering up child sexual abuse by the clergy, comes “as close to an admission of guilt as you’re going to get from the archdiocese.” A lawyer for the archdiocese, Michael Hennigan, confirmed a settlement of the amount of $9.99 million was reached. He added that the archdiocese “has always taken the position that we were responsible for the conduct of Michael Baker.”
Mahony has “admitted that he made serious mistakes in putting Michael Baker back in the ministry,” Hennigan said, but he denied that archdiocese officials were involved in a cover-up. Clergy were not legally required under California law to report suspected child abuse to authorities until 1997. Prior to that, Hennigan said, the policy of the archdiocese was to urge families of victims to go to law enforcement on their own.
Finaldi, however, disputes the notion that Mahony should be absolved of any obligation to alert authorities. “You have a priest who is confessing that he sexually molested two kids, and you don’t pick up the phone and call police? There’s no reasonable excuse for not doing that,” he said. Scandals over sex abuse in the US Catholic Church, which erupted in 1992 with a series of molestation cases uncovered in Boston, have cost the Church billions of dollars in settlements and driven prominent dioceses into bankruptcy.
By far the biggest settlement
The Los Angeles Archdiocese, which serves four million Catholics, reached a $660 million civil settlement in 2007 with more than 500 victims of child molestation, marking the biggest such agreement of its kind in the nation. At the time Mahony called the abuse “a terrible sin and crime.” The archdiocese has reached a handful of settlements in other cases since then, but the one announced on Tuesday was by far the biggest, Finaldi added.
In a rare Church rebuke of a cardinal, Mahony was censured in late January by his successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez, and stripped of all public and administrative duties, as punishment for his role in the sex abuse scandal. The censure followed the public release of over 12,000 pages of confidential files unsealed as part of previous civil suits, revealing how numerous known or suspected paedophiles in the clergy were shielded from law enforcement scrutiny by Mahony and other Church officials.
But Mahony retained his title as cardinal and his right to take part in the Vatican conclave that selects a new pontiff to replace retired Pope Benedict XVI, an authority he chose to exercise.