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Church in Crisis

Lawsuit filed under racketeering law charges cover-up

On May 20, a former altar boy charged sexual molestation by Fr. Michael Stephen Baker, 54. The boy’s lawyer, Jeffrey Anderson, according to the next day’s Los Angeles Times, told reporters, “Cardinal Roger Mahony belongs in prison for aiding and abetting Michael Baker, for protecting a pedophile priest.”

Three other complainants are party to the suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Courthouse under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO. The complaint alleged that for 14 years, from 1975 on, Baker abused at least a dozen young boys, and that even after Baker admitted his abuse to the cardinal, the archdiocese failed to keep the priest away from youngsters and did not report the abuse to police, the Times reported.

Mahony referred to the racketeering charges as “baseless and irresponsible,” the paper stated. (RICO convictions permit tripled damages.)

A week earlier, the newspaper reported that Mahony, who transferred Baker nine times to other parishes after 1986, made confidentiality a condition of $1.3 million settled on two male complainants, brothers, who alleged that as boys Baker repeatedly molested them over a 15-year period.

Baker had already told the Times that in 1986 he’d informed Mahony he’d “abused ‘two or three’ children. Baker said the cardinal did not press him for details and he did not provide any. Late in 2000, the cardinal arranged for Baker to retire quietly from the priesthood without notifying law enforcement authorities or informing parishioners of the alleged abuses.”

The new allegations concern abuse that occurred after Baker informed Mahony of his past.

In May Mahony told the Times he would provide all relevant records to the district attorney and, “we told [Los Angeles Police Department] detectives whatever they wanted, they could have.”

On Aug. 18 the Times stated that in 1986 during “a series of summer retreats with about 1,100 archdiocesan priests,” the cardinal encouraged “any priest with a history of sexual abuse to step forward.” Subsequently Baker met with Mahony, Baker told the Times. “I told Mahony I had a problem,” Baker said. “He was very solicitous and understanding. I was glad I brought it up.”

Mahony earlier this year told the Times he could not recall the meeting, but more recently said the Baker meeting was “ ‘very brief.’ ”

During what the Times described as “a series of interviews” with the newspaper, Mahony said that “authorities have long known about nearly all the sexual abuse cases in the Los Angeles archdiocese. There was no sort of policy on my part that we would not cooperate with law enforcement.”

According to the Times, Mahony said, “Because reporting was not mandated until 1997, ‘this was not an area of responsibility for the church. We always made sure that people knew that they themselves were the ones who should contact police. We also have cases, if I might say so, where the police didn’t do much about it either.’

“Los Angeles County District Attorney called Mahony’s characterization ‘disingenuous,’ ” the newspaper stated.

The cardinal told the Times that archdiocesan lawyers “took the position that members of the clergy were not required by law to disclose accusations by adults who came forward to report sexual abuse that had occurred when they were minors. These people, the lawyers said, had been informed that they could report allegations to the police on their own.

“That practice changed earlier this year as the clergy sex scandal boiled over,” the Times reported. The cardinal said his top aides had been ordered to provide all documentation on all priests suspected of sex crimes to the police.

-- Arthur Jones

National Catholic Reporter, August 30, 2002