Hypocrisy in religion is nothing new. Whether the oxymoron of Bible-thumpers spewing hate, the pious denigrating those with differing beliefs, or right-to-lifers who push guns and the death penalty, there is no shortage of examples to be found in these modern times. Perhaps more egregious than any other religious hypocrisy is the craven and callous manipulations of the Catholic church as revealed in the just-released cache of letters between then-Archbishop Roger M. Mahony and other church leaders which detail the efforts made to both cover-up the actions of molester priests within their jurisdictions and to evade the law.
This stunning development–which followed years of effort by victims to get the confidential written evidence of the Church’s collusion in the crime–came in response to the demands of the civil case filed against a now-deceased priest, Monsignor Peter Garcia, who is accused of molesting 26 children during the 1980s. The letters, as well as other personnel documents related to this and other molestation cases, were released this week as evidence in that case, and their contents have offered a gut-turning glimpse into the efforts of the church hierarchy to circumvent the law and prevent victims from taking action. Much of the correspondence was between Mahony and Monsignor Thomas Curry. From the Los Angeles Times:
One such case that has previously received little attention is that of Msgr. Peter Garcia, who admitted preying for decades on undocumented children in predominantly Spanish-speaking parishes. After Garcia’s discharge from a New Mexico treatment center for pedophile clergy, Mahony ordered him to stay away from California “for the foreseeable future” in order to avoid legal accountability, the files show. “I believe that if Monsignor Garcia were to reappear here within the archdiocese we might very well have some type of legal action filed in both the criminal and civil sectors,” the archbishop wrote to the treatment center’s director in July 1986.
The following year, in a letter to Mahony about bringing Garcia back to work in the archdiocese, Curry said he was worried that victims in Los Angeles might see the priest and call police. ”[T]here are numerous — maybe twenty — adolescents or young adults that Peter was involved with in a first degree felony manner. The possibility of one of these seeing him is simply too great,” Curry wrote in May 1987. […]
Curry proposed strategies to prevent police from investigating three priests who had admitted to church officials that they abused young boys. Curry suggested to Mahony that they prevent them from seeing therapists who might alert authorities and that they give the priests out-of-state assignments to avoid criminal investigators.
At this juncture, after years of unfolding scandals and thousands of victims around the world whose lives have been forever tainted by the criminal sexual actions of the priests who abused them, it is all the more revolting to realize the amorality of the supposed “spiritual leaders” within that church whose positions and job descriptions would suggest a far more honorable and compassionate “tending of the flock.” Instead, the concerns they repeatedly expressed were not for the children, but for protecting the image of the church and avoiding criminal and civil consequences.
Reading the documentation reveals a bombardment of atrocities. For example, it’s revealed that Msgr. Peter Garcia did ultimately come back to Los Angeles. After Garcia refused to take medication to “suppress his sexual urges,” the church, in a rare logical move, refused him a ministerial assignment. He died in 2009 without facing prosecution, but before his death, he apparently assured church officials that his victims were unlikely to come forward “because of their immigration status.” It was reported that he “threatened to have a boy he had raped deported if he went to the police.”
When one views this in the context of the long and controversial history of the Catholic church, this level of depravity with its sociopathic treatment of children has to be one of the most appalling crimes attributable to this organization. Many Catholics refuse to see these acts as evidence of any deeper, systemic corruption, preferring to categorize them as the anomalous sins of a (considerable) few whom the church has now ferreted from its ranks, but it is impossible for any objective viewer to see it so casually, particularly when we’re speaking of a church headed by a Pope who can include in his holiday message the assertion that abortion and gay marriage are doing “serious harm to justice and peace.” Voices would clamor: your Holiness, raping children, threatening their well-being, colluding to keep them quiet, evading the law, and risking the lives and future emotion health of those in your spiritual care is the true sin against justice and peace, as is the church’s deflection from that to other issues as cause of global unrest, which is itself as reprehensible as any sin.
The Los Angeles Times offers a long list of excerpts from the voluminous documentation released and, one after the other, each makes clear the pervasiveness of the conspiracy. Some content is shocking in its blatant show of unscrupulous thinking; other excerpts highlight the banality and ease with which these men dismissed any true concern for the molested children:
Curry expressed similar concerns to Mahony about Father Michael Baker, who had admitted his abuse of young boys during a private 1986 meeting with the archbishop.
In a memo about Baker’s return to ministry, Curry wrote, “I see a difficulty here, in that if he were to mention his problem with child abuse it would put the therapist in the position of having to report him … he cannot mention his past problem.”
Mahony’s response to the memo was handwritten across the bottom of the page: “Sounds good —please proceed!!” Two decades would pass before authorities gathered enough information to convict Baker and Wempe of abusing boys. [Source]
What is clearly on the minds of likely anyone reading this information is this: what legal action is going to be taken against the Church, the Archbishop, Curry, or any of the other collaborators involved, now that this information has been revealed? The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office investigated conspiracy charges in 2007; the U.S. Attorney’s office then convened a grand jury in 2009, but nothing came of either.
There seems to be no particular fervor to prosecute the church and, for many, this is stunning. Joelle Casteix of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), found vindication in the release of these documents, but stated clearly that’s not enough:
“What he [Mahony] needs to do now if he is truly sorry is hold himself accountable to law enforcement,” said Casteix. [Source]
Mahony’s current point of view can be found in a statement he released in response to the revelations now finding their way around the world. Following is his statement in its entirety:
STATEMENT FROM CARDINAL ROGER M. MAHONY REGARDING SEXUAL ABUSE OF MINORS BY CLERGY
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony
Archbishop Emeritus of Los Angeles
January 21, 2013
With the upcoming release of priests’ personnel files in the Archdiocese’s long struggle with the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, my thoughts and prayers turn toward the victims of this sinful abuse.
Various steps toward safeguarding all children in the Church began here in 1987 and progressed year by year as we learned more about those who abused and the ineffectiveness of so-called “treatments” at the time. Nonetheless, even as we began to confront the problem, I remained naive myself about the full and lasting impact these horrible acts would have on the lives of those who were abused by men who were supposed to be their spiritual guides. That fuller awareness came for me when I began visiting personally with victims. During 2006, 2007 and 2008, I held personal visits with some 90 such victims.
Those visits were heart-wrenching experiences for me as I listened to the victims describe how they had their childhood and innocence stolen from them by clergy and by the Church. At times we cried together, we prayed together, we spent quiet moments in remembrance of their dreadful experience; at times the victims vented their pent up anger and frustration against me and the Church.
Toward the end of our visits I would offer the victims my personal apology–and took full responsibility–for my own failure to protect fully the children and youth entrusted into my care. I apologized for all of us in the Church for the years when ignorance, bad decisions and moral failings resulted in the unintended consequences of more being done to protect the Church–and even the clergy perpetrators–than was done to protect our children.
I have a 3 x 5 card for every victim I met with on the altar of my small chapel. I pray for them every single day. As I thumb through those cards I often pause as I am reminded of each personal story and the anguish that accompanies that life story.
The cards contain the name of each victim since each one is precious in God’s eyes and deserving of my own prayer and sacrifices for them. But I also list in parenthesis the name of the clergy perpetrator lest I forget that real priests created this appalling harm in the lives of innocent young people.
It remains my daily and fervent prayer that God’s grace will flood the heart and soul of each victim, and that their life-journey continues forward with ever greater healing.
I am sorry.
“I am sorry.” While clearly there is some vindication in knowing Cardinal Mahony feels remorse, that alone does not abdicate him from legal responsibility or the consequences of his illegal actions. He spent years breaking the law at the expense of innumerable children whom he now claims to feel protective toward. “I’m sorry” is not enough; there has to be some consequence for decades of grievous damage.
This church – this Catholic church – a historical and monolithic organization that believes firmly in sin and the punishment of sin, cannot expect absolution so blithely. Absolution in a confessional may be as simple as the confessor declaring it so; in the secular world, however–the world in which crime and punishment remain a logical sequence, particularly when involving decades-long crimes against innocent children–the consequences cannot be, and are not, so simple.
To repeat Joelle Casteix’s statement:
“What he [Mahony] needs to do now if he is truly sorry is hold himself accountable to law enforcement.” [Source]
I have no doubt the abused children, their families, their communities, and the compassionate concerned of the world, would agree.
To access the Los Angeles Times article with excerpts, click here.