Last clergy files released in Los Angeles 8 years after deal

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Posted: May 01, 2015 6:49 PM
Last clergy files released in Los Angeles 8 years after deal

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An attorney for hundreds of sex abuse victims in Los Angeles released the last batch of files Friday kept by the Roman Catholic church on priests accused of molesting children.

The final 11 files were made public eight years after the Archdiocese of Los Angeles paid $660 million to settle hundreds of sex abuse claims. Overall, 205 confidential clergy files have been released by the nation's largest archdiocese and more than two dozen religious orders.

The public airing of the final 2,400 pages brings a close to the devastating saga that began in 2002, when state lawmakers created a one-year window that allowed sex abuse victims to sue for abuse that happened years before. In all, more than 500 people filed lawsuits.

Part of the 2007 settlement included a process for the church to open its confidential records on priests who had been accused of molestation.

The files released Friday were kept by three religious orders — the Servites, Carmelites and Redemptorists — that had clergy working in the Los Angeles archdiocese.

"These files are so important and so damning," said Ray Boucher, the lead attorney for plaintiffs who worked for years to get the totality of the files released. "There are always more cases, but nothing of this magnitude."

Here are some things to know about the case:

HOW MANY FILES HAVE BEEN RELEASED ALREADY?

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles released 128 files in 2013 after a years-long battle to keep them private.

Since then, an additional 68 files kept on priests, nuns and religious brothers who belonged to 26 different religious orders have been made public in batches, as well as nine files from other dioceses, including New York, Boston, Gallup, New Mexico, and Newark, New Jersey.

Earlier this month, the Carmelite, Servite and Redemptorist orders handed over their documents to Boucher. In some cases, the archdiocese and the religious order released separate files on the same person.

WHAT DO THE FILES SHOW?

Taken as a whole, the files show top leaders of the Los Angeles archdiocese, including now-retired Cardinal Roger Mahony, worked behind the scenes to keep accused priests safe from prosecution and to minimize the risk of civil lawsuits.

In some cases, accused priests were shuffled from parish to parish to avoid scandal. In other instances, priests were moved overseas to avoid trouble. Some files include correspondence with the Vatican asking for a priest to be defrocked and others include detailed psychological records and accounts of sex crimes.

WHAT ARE RELIGIOUS ORDERS AND WHY DO THEY MATTER HERE?

Roughly a third of the files released were kept on clergy who belonged to a religious order, not the Los Angeles archdiocese. These priests, however, were often posted in local parishes and Catholic schools to fill out the priest ranks.

Their orders kept separate paperwork on them and these documents shed light on how the orders and the archdiocese worked together to shield molester priests when trouble arose.

WHAT ARE SOME DETAILS FROM THE FILES RELEASED FRIDAY?

In one file, a religious brother with the Servites was sent to California after molesting children in Ireland and was quickly accused of masochism and sadism at a Los Angeles-area junior seminary and shuttled back to Ireland.

Another Servite priest wrote to his superior while he was getting in-patient psychological treatment that he would not be able to relax until 1995 — presumably the year authorities would no longer be able to prosecute him.

One file includes letters that detail how a suicidal Carmelite priest who was transferred to Los Angeles from Indonesia was whisked away to a hotel in Desert Hot Springs after he molested someone in the neighborhood and there was a threat of physical injury and police action.

IS THERE A FILE RELEASED FOR EVERY PRIEST ACCUSED IN A LAWSUIT?

In some instances, the religious order or archdiocese did not have any file on an accused priest. A small number of priests were exonerated.

WERE ANY OF THESE PRIESTS CRIMINALLY PROSECUTED?

Yes. But the majority of the allegations were made after 2002, long after the legal window for filing criminal charges had closed. That left civil litigation as the only venue for many who claimed abuse.

WHAT DOES THE CHURCH SAY?

The Rev. John Fontana, prior provincial for the Servites, said the cases released Friday are decades old and there have been no new cases in years. The order has instituted strict guidelines to prevent new abuse.

An attorney for the Rome-based Carmelites did not return a call or email. A spokeswoman for the Baltimore-based Redemptorists also did not return a call.