Los Angeles — Faced with allegations that parish priests had sexually abused minors, the Los Angeles Archdiocese under Cardinal Roger M. Mahony for many years withheld information from police and allowed clerics facing prosecution to flee to foreign countries, internal records and interviews show.
At the same time, Mahony has been more aggressive than many U.S. bishops in dismissing members of the clergy. According to newly obtained information, the cardinal quietly removed 17 priests from ministry during the last decade who had either admitted or credibly had been accused of molesting minors.
In recent months, as the Roman Catholic Church has struggled to contain the clergy sex abuse scandal, Mahony has taken a stance as an outspoken reformer on a mission to oust all sex offenders from the priesthood.
But an examination of sexual abuse cases during his tenure in Los Angeles since 1985 shows that the archdiocese also worked to keep a growing problem from the eyes of the public and the hands of the law. The Los Angeles Times examination found:
l Five parish priests fled the country and one disappeared after learning of complaints that they sexually had abused underage victims. Two of the clergymen left after a top aide to Mahony informed them of allegations, and a third was told to join the priesthood in the Philippines. Of the six, two are fugitives.
l Police complained in two cases that church officials had hampered criminal investigations by refusing to cooperate. In one inquiry, Long Beach police said, they were turned away from archdiocese headquarters when they asked for help.
"The door was shut in our face," said Long Beach Detective Randi Castillo, a 26-year veteran who led an investigation in the mid-1990s of a popular pastor who allegedly had molested at least 10 altar boys. "This was absolutely something I had never encountered in all my years in law enforcement."
l Two convicted sex offenders were allowed to continue serving as priests for years before Mahony dismissed them in February in response to the growing furor over clergy sex abuse. Both priests resided at parishes within walking distance of Catholic elementary schools, where administrators and parents were not informed of their criminal backgrounds.
Now, Mahony and the archdiocese are bracing for possible indictments of 15 current and former priests on felony sex charges, according to law enforcement sources. In addition, the archdiocese is facing a class-action suit, filed last month, seeking millions of dollars.