LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez on Thursday announced dramatic actions in response to the priest abuse scandal, saying that Cardinal Roger Mahony would be stripped of public duties in the church and that Santa Barbara Bishop Thomas J. Curry has stepped down.
Gomez said in a statement that Mahony – who led the L.A. archdiocese from 1985 to 2011 – “will no longer have any administrative or public duties.”
Gomez also announced the church has released a trove of confidential church files detailing how the Los Angeles archdiocese dealt with priests accused of molestation.
Gomez wrote in a letter to parishioners that the files would be disturbing to read.
“I find these files to be brutal and painful reading. The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil. There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children. The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed,” he wrote. “We need to acknowledge that terrible failure today.”
Gomez’s statement came a week after the release of internal Catholic Church records. The records showed that 15 years before the clergy sex abuse scandal came to light, Mahony and Curry discussed ways to conceal the molestation of children from law enforcement. Those records represent just a fraction of the files the church released Thursday. The Los Angeles Times is now reviewing those files.
The records released last week 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 Curry, then the archdiocese’s chief adviser 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.
Gomez’s letter detailed changes in the status of Curry and Mahony in the church.
“Effective immediately, I have informed Cardinal Mahony that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties. Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry has also publicly apologized for his decisions while serving as vicar for clergy. I have accepted his request to be relieved of his responsibility as the regional bishop of Santa Barbara,” Gomez wrote in a letter.
The records were released hours after a judge signed an order requiring the church to do so.
In a written order, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Emilie H. Elias gave the church a Feb. 22 deadline to turn over about 30,000 pages of internal memos, psychiatric reports, Vatican correspondence and other documents.
“Let’s just get it done,” Elias said in court Thursday.
Her order brought to a close five and a half years of legal wrangling and delays and set the stage for a raft of new and almost certainly embarrassing revelations about the church’s handling of pedophile priests.
The files Elias ordered released are the final piece of a landmark 2007 settlement between the archdiocese and about 500 people who said clergy abused them. As part of that $660 million settlement, the archdiocese agreed to hand over the personnel files of accused abusers. Victims said the files would provide accountability for church leaders who let pedophiles remain in the ministry; law enforcement officials said the records would be important investigative tools.
But the release was delayed for years by appeals and the painstaking process of reading and redacting 89 files, some hundreds of pages long. A private mediator in 2011 ordered the church to black out the names of victims and archdiocese employees not accused of abuse, saying he wanted to avoid “guilt by association.”
Earlier this month, at the urging of the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press, Elias ordered the names restored, saying the public had a right to know what Mahony and others in charge did about abuse. The church complained about the cost of restoring the redactions and suggested to the judge earlier this week that generic cover sheets for the files listing top officials and their dates of service should suffice.
After criticism from attorneys for the victims and the media, the church abandoned that plan and its lawyers said in court Thursday “anybody in a supervisory role” would be named in the documents. Elias’ order specified that the names of the archbishop, the vicar who handled clergy abuse, bishops and the heads of Catholic treatment centers for pedophiles be included.