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Priest files reveal disturbing stories of child molestation, coverup

Abuse victim at news conference

More disturbing stories of priests' molestations of children -- and questionable actions by church leaders -- emerged in 12,000 pages of once-confidential personnel files.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles posted the documents on its website Thursday night, an hour after a Los Angeles judge ended 5-1/2 years of legal wrangling over the release of the files with an order compelling the church to make the documents public within three weeks.

Victims, their lawyers, reporters and other members of the public spent hours Friday poring through records that stretched back to the 1940s and provided details about the scope of abuse in church ranks never before seen.

The archdiocese of Los Angeles learned in the late 1970s that one of its priests had sexually assaulted a 16-year-old boy so violently that he was left bleeding and "in a state of shock." The priest said he was too drunk to remember what happened and officials took no further action.

But two decades later, word reached Cardinal Roger M. Mahony that the same priest was molesting again and improperly performing the sacrament of confession on his victim. The archdiocese sprang to action: It dispatched investigators, interviewed a raft of witnesses and discussed the harshest of all church penalties — not for the abuse but for the violation of church law.

"Given the seriousness of this abuse of the sacrament of penance … it is your responsibility to formally declare the existence of the excommunication and then refer the matter to Rome," one cleric told Mahony in a memo.

Full coverage: Priest Abuse Scandal

The case of Father Jose Ugarte is one of several instances detailed in newly released records in which archdiocese officials displayed outrage over a priest's ecclesiastical missteps while doing little for the victims of his sexual abuse.

The files also suggested that the attempts to protect abusers from law enforcement extended beyond the L.A. archdiocese to a Catholic order tasked with rehabilitating abusers.

"Once more, we ask you to PLEASE DESTROY THESE PAGES AND ANY OTHER MATERIAL YOU HAVE RECEIVED FROM US," the acting director of the order's treatment program wrote to Mahony in 1988 in a letter detailing therapists' reports about a prolific molester. "This is stated for your own and our legal protection."

The order, the Servants of the Paraclete, closed the New Mexico facility where many Los Angeles priests were sent amid a flood of lawsuits in the mid-1990s. A lawyer for the order declined to comment, but indicated in a 2011 civil court filing that all treatment records were destroyed.

Mahony disregarded the order's advice, and therapy memos are among the most detailed records in the files.

One evaluation recounts how Father Joseph Pina, an East L.A. parish priest, said he was attracted to a victim, an eighth-grade girl, when he saw her in a costume.

"She dressed as Snow White … I had a crush on Snow White, so I started to open myself up to her," he told the psychologist. In a report sent to a top Mahony aide, the psychologist expressed concern the abuse was never reported to authorities.

"All so very sad," Mahony wrote years later after Pina was placed on leave. He was defrocked in 2006.

The limitations of the treatment at the Servants' center are evident in the file. After months of therapy in 1994, Father John Dawson was allowed to leave the facility for a weekend. Among the first things Dawson, who had been accused of plying altar boy victims with pot and beer, did was apply for a job at the Arizona Boys School in Phoenix.

Treatment center staff found out only after the school phoned Dawson to arrange an interview. "Had they not called the Villa, it is doubtful that Fr. Dawson would have informed us of that job application and interview," according to a 1994 letter to Mahony's vicar for clergy, Msgr. Timothy Dyer.

Responding to a public rebuke by his successor, Mahony insisted Friday that he tried his best to deal with the priest molestation scandal but fell short because not enough was known about the problem early in his career.

In an extraordinary open letter to Archbishop Jose Gomez, Mahony insisted Friday that he ultimately instituted state-of-the-art protections against child sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He seemed to suggest that Gomez had acted unfairly by publicly announcing that he was stripping the cardinal of any public role in the local church.

"Not once over these past years did you ever raise any questions about our policies, practices or procedures in dealing with the problem of clergy sexual misconduct involving minors," he wrote.

PHOTOS: Cardinal Roger Mahony over the years

"Unfortunately, I cannot return now to the 1980s and reverse actions and decisions made then," he added. "But when I retired as the active archbishop, I handed over to you an archdiocese that was second to none in protecting children and youth."

Mahony posted the letter on his blog Friday afternoon, hours after he said he had sent it to Gomez.

In a letter Thursday to parishioners, Gomez announced that "effective immediately, I have informed Cardinal Mahony that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties." The move came a week after the release of church records showing Mahony worked to conceal abusers from police in the 1980s.

-- Harriet Ryan, Victoria Kim, Ashley Powers, Mitchell Landsberg and Teresa Watanabe

Photo: At a news conference Friday at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Esther Miller, 54, holding photos of other victims, breaks down while talking about being abused by a Catholic priest when she was a young girl. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

 
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