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Lawsuit accuses Mahony of improper response in abuse case; archdiocese denies it

May 7, 2009 |  2:35 pm

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony and the Vatican engaged in a "conspiracy of silence" by transferring a priest from Italy to Los Angeles, where he went on to molest teenagers at a Koreatown church, a lawsuit alleges.

The complaint also accuses Roman Catholic officials, including Mahony, of "destroying and manipulating evidence" of the molestations in 2003 by Father Fernando Lopez.

Lopez was convicted in 2005 of molesting three teenagers he met through parish functions from 2001 to 2004 while he was an associate pastor at St. Thomas the Apostle parish.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles archdiocese strongly denied the claims, saying officials had acted promptly, including notifying police, when allegations about Lopez first surfaced.

The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court last week by one of the victims, identified in court papers as John V.G. Doe, who said that at age 14 he was molested by Lopez in the church rectory, office and Lopez's car.

In his lawsuit, the plaintiff, now 20, alleges that Vatican officials in Rome transferred Lopez to Los Angeles, knowing that he was a sexual abuser. The complaint contends that Lopez was sent to a low-income, primarily Latino parish where parishioners would be reluctant to contact law enforcement because of their devotion to the church.

Tod M. Tamberg, a spokesman for Mahony and the Los Angeles archdiocese, vehemently denied the allegations.

Tamberg said the archdiocese removed Lopez from ministry within two hours of learning about the sexual abuse allegations at the Koreatown church. He said the archdiocese conducted its own investigation at the parish, which turned up two additional victims.

Tamberg said police were notified immediately of all three cases. "All along the way, we have done the correct thing," the spokesman said.

-- Duke Helfand and Victoria Kim

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