Big development in the high-stakes legal and public-image chess match over allegations of clergy sexual abuse and coverups by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. On Tuesday, the archdiocese released records that enumerate (in abridged but still disturbing detail) more complaints against priests than were previously reported. The files were made public in part to encourage settlement talks in 500-plus lawsuits filed by parishioners who say they are victims. The archdiocese possibly faces $1 billion in damages. Late Tuesday night the archdiocese website posted summaries of the allegations and how the church responded, as an amendment to Cardinal Roger Mahony's 2004 "Report to the People of God" that had listed complaints lodged against 219 priests, brothers and other clergy. The New York Times says it was given an advance look; today's story by Los Angeles bureau chief John Broder runs at the top of the front page even in the New York City edition.
The confidential personnel files of 126 clergymen in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles accused of sexual misconduct with children provide a numbing chronicle of 75 years of the church's shame, revealing case after case in which the church was warned of abuse but failed to protect its parishioners.
In some cases, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and his predecessors quietly shuffled the priests off to counseling and then to new assignments. In others, parents were offered counseling for their children and were urged to remain silent.
Throughout the files, cases of child molesting or rape are dealt with by indirection or euphemism, with references to questions of "moral fitness" or accusations of "boundary violations." For years, anonymous complaints of abuse were ignored and priests were given the benefit of every doubt.
If the NYT was given favored access, it represents another slap at the L.A. Times by Mahony, his lawyers and the archdiocese's crisis PR adviser, Sitrick and Company. They have skirmished before, and the law firm of archdiocese attorney J. Michael Hennigan has even put up a website alleging that "the media in general - and the Los Angeles Times in particular - often get it wrong in their coverage of the Archdiocese and clergy sexual abuse legal issues." I don't know who's right in that fight, but today's LAT lede by Jean Guccione and Nita Lelyveld seems less tough on the archdiocese:
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles allowed at least eight priests to remain in contact with children even after receiving complaints that the clerics had a sexual interest in minors, according to church documents produced in the lawsuits by hundreds of alleged sexual-abuse victims.
That is twice as many as the church had previously conceded.
The documents, which became public Tuesday, indicate that numerous children might have avoided harm if church leaders in the 1960s, '70s and '80s had reacted more vigorously to warnings about abusive priests....The documents offer the most unfiltered look yet at the way the archdiocese responded to child-molestation allegations involving its priests over the last half-century.
Attorneys for the lawsuit plaintiffs say the newly released documents were cleansed too thoroughly of details and that the archdiocese offers to settle don't go far enough.