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Prosecutors to review new church abuse records; ex-D.A. skeptical

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony in June 2010.

This post has been updated. See below for details.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said Tuesday it plans to review newly released records from the late 1980s that show then-Archbishop Roger M. Mahony and a top aide worked to conceal pedophile priests from law enforcement.

The office “will review and evaluate all documents as they become available to us,” a spokeswoman for Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said.

[Updated, 12:13 p.m. Jan. 22: Internal Catholic church records released Monday show that 15 years before the clergy sex abuse scandal came to light, Mahony and a top advisor discussed ways to conceal the molestation of children from law enforcement.

DOCUMENT: Los Angeles Archdiocese priest abuse files

The records offer the strongest evidence yet of a concerted effort by officials in the nation's largest Catholic diocese to shield abusers from police. The newly released records, which the archdiocese fought for years to keep secret, reveal in church leaders' own words a desire to keep authorities from discovering that children were being molested.

The records contain memos written in 1986 and 1987 by Mahony and Msgr. Thomas J. Curry, then the archdiocese's chief advisor on sex abuse cases. In the confidential letters, Curry proposed strategies to prevent police from investigating three priests who had admitted to church officials that they had abused young boys.

Curry suggested to Mahony that they prevent the priests from seeing therapists who might alert authorities and that they give the priests out-of-state assignments to avoid criminal investigators. Mahony, who retired in 2011, has apologized repeatedly for errors in handling abuse allegations.]

On Tuesday, Lacey’s predecessor cast doubt on the possibility of charges for Mahony and other top church officials.

Former Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who oversaw a five-year investigation of clergy sex abuse in the Los Angeles archdiocese, said a three-year statute of limitations for most felonies made it unlikely prosecutors would bring criminal cases based on memos written by the church leaders in 1986 and 1987.

“It would be great to prosecute them,” said Cooley, who stepped down last year. “But you cannot ethically prosecute someone ... when the statute has run.”

Cooley put his investigation on hold in 2007, saying he was awaiting the release of more personnel files by the church. He said he did not believe that the prosecutors who handled that investigation ever saw the documents released Monday.

In those records, Mahony and his chief aide for sex abuse cases, Msgr. Thomas J. Curry, discuss ways to keep police from discovering that three priests had molested young boys.

“Whatever they did back then was horrendous, unethical and immoral to the point of biblical proportions," Cooley said, but because of the statute of limitations "it may not be criminal."

ALSO:

Coroner to assess body that nurse allegedly had sex with

L.A. church molestation records spark call for criminal inquiry

Steve Lopez: It's too late for Cardinal Roger Mahony's apologies

 -- Harriet Ryan, Victoria Kim and Ashley Powers

Photo: Cardinal Roger M. Mahony in June 2010. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

 
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