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Release of files called a ploy

first_imgThe Los Angeles Archdiocese’s surprise release of documents in the sexual-abuse scandal drew heated criticism Wednesday from prosecutors and some who say they were victims, while local priests and many parishioners maintained their support of the Catholic Church. The archdiocese released 155 pages late Tuesday summarizing the activities of 126 accused priests – some dating back to the 1930s – in what a lawyer for church officials said is an effort to speed up settlement talks in civil lawsuits, bring closure to victims and restore the church’s credibility among its members. “We have a church that is embarrassed, contrite, ashamed of what happened in the past,” Michael Hennigan, attorney for the archdiocese, said in a conference call with reporters. Now, he said, church officials are strongly committed to reform, and they regret how parishioners’ allegations of rape and molestation used to be handled. It was in keeping with old practice, he said, to counsel priests so they could continue their ministry. In the 1990s, as allegations of clerical abuse swept the nation, the Los Angeles Archdiocese and others adopted a zero-tolerance policy that requires the removal of priests who are the subject of credible accusations. The Los Angeles County district attorney, whose office is embroiled in a court battle with the archdiocese over the personnel files of accused clergy, called the release of summaries a public-relations ploy. “I urged Cardinal (Roger) Mahony to provide the fullest possible disclosure of evidence of sexual abuse by clergy,” District Attorney Steve Cooley said in a printed statement. “Despite two court rulings, Cardinal Mahony continues to claim ‘confidentiality privileges’ that no court has recognized. “What we’re looking for is evidence and investigative leads, not institutional !ital!mea culpas!off!.” Meanwhile, victims’ advocates demonstrated outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles, carrying signs reading “Protect kids, not priests,” and demanding the disclosure of complete personnel files. “What we want is full disclosure and a criminal investigation. What we are seeing is the continued cover-up by Mahony of the actions of priests,” said Mary Grant, regional director of the group known as SNAP – Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “All the cardinal did was release summaries of the cases and not the details,” she said. The documents drew mixed reaction from some local Catholics, who remained steadfast in their faith but were critical of the church’s leaders. “Do I feel betrayed by my church? Well, this isn’t any more than a nation would do to cover up if the president was having an affair,” said Musette Caing of Valencia. “The religion itself isn’t bad, but them not doing anything to these men is betrayal.” Priests, stung by three years in the media spotlight, said they continue to support Mahony, who has headed the archdiocese since 1985, but concede the issue of clerical abuse has become increasingly sensitive. “There were times at first when I went to the hospital and I was thinking, ‘Should I wear my collar?’ I decided that there will (be) people who will think I am a molester, too,” said the Rev. Robert McNamara at St. Bernardine of Siena Catholic Church in Woodland Hills. “But at this point, any priest in any Catholic church is probably the least likely molester. We have been cleaned out.” The archdiocese has implemented programs to train church members on how to spot signs of molestation. At St. Bernardine’s, McNamara points out, those working with children are fingerprinted, all closets are kept locked, and bathrooms for children are separated from those for adults. More than 560 individuals who have accused the clergy of sexual abuse have filed lawsuits against the Los Angeles Archdiocese, the nation’s largest, with some 5 million members. Some experts have estimated that it could cost the archdiocese more than $500 million to settle the cases. In addition to the civil suits, the archdiocese is dealing with criminal charges against a handful of former clergy. As part of the crackdown on clerical abuse that began in 2002, Cooley filed criminal charges against 11 current and former priests based on allegations of molestations that occurred years earlier. All of those cases were eventually dropped, however, because of a California Supreme Court ruling in June 2003 that limited prosecution of long-ago offenses. New charges were filed, however, against former priest Michael Wempe after new accusations surfaced that he sexually molested a minor, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for Cooley. Wempe, who also served as a priest in Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley, is scheduled to be tried next month on three counts of lewd acts and two counts of oral copulation on a child. Prosecutors also have filed charges against retired priest Stephen Charles Hernandez, 71, who is accused of molesting a boy while assigned as a counselor at Eastlake Juvenile Hall. Staff Writers Carol Rock and Susan Abram contributed to this report. Rachel Uranga, (818) 713-3741 [email protected] AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more