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Clergy Abuse Cases Highlight Cardinal

July 2, 2004

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The case of a notorious molester from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Stockton has come back to vex Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, who testified at a 1998 civil trial involving the former priest.

Six lawsuits accusing ex-priest Oliver O’Grady of abuse were filed last year, under a California law that lifted for one year the statute of limitations in old sex-abuse cases.

Now plaintiffs’ lawyers want to discover what Mahony knew about the activities of O’Grady, a former Stockton priest who pleaded guilty in 1993 to molesting two brothers and served seven years in prison before being deported to his native Ireland. Mahony was bishop in Stockton from 1980 to 1985, during part of O’Grady’s tenure there.

The brothers won a $30 million judgment against the Stockton Diocese after the 1998 trial, which featured dozens of pages of confidential church documents and sworn testimony from Mahony, who was by then leading the Los Angeles Archdiocese. The award was later reduced to $7.5 million in a settlement with the diocese.

The six new cases threaten to reopen a controversial part of Mahony’s past at a time when he has been criticized for his handling of the abuse scandal that has enveloped the church nationwide since 2002.

This week, plaintiffs’ attorneys asked a Northern California judge to consider holding Mahony in contempt of court for not appearing at depositions in the six cases, which allege abuse by O’Grady dating back to the early 1970s. At least two of the victims claim they were molested while Mahony led the Stockton Diocese.

John Manly, a plaintiffs’ lawyers, said he wants to ask Mahony questions such as: ``Was there any investigation done? Did you look into it? What did you do?″

``The reason Mahony doesn’t want to be deposed is because he knows a lot,″ Manly said. ``The diocese knew in 1976, at least, that this guy’s a perpetrator.″

Mahony’s lawyers responded to the contempt motion by asking the judge to sanction the plaintiffs’ attorneys for filing an improper motion. Mahony was scheduled to be deposed in April, but did not attend after the two sides disagreed on the ground rules.

The cardinal repeatedly has said the current Stockton cases stem from alleged abuse that happened years before he arrived in the diocese.

Donald Woods Jr., an attorney for the Los Angeles Archdiocese, said Mahony has already testified four times about Stockton events and has nothing more to offer. Mahony became the archbishop of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest archdiocese, in 1985 and was made a cardinal in 1991.

``He doesn’t know very much about O’Grady,″ Woods said. ``His recollection about what happened has been exhausted in those transcripts.″

The Stockton cases are the latest clergy abuse problems for Mahony, who has been criticized for being too lenient on some accused priests. In a detailed report prepared by the archdiocese and released earlier this year, Mahony apologized repeatedly for mishandling some cases since coming to Los Angeles.

The archdiocese faces more than 400 civil cases and has been criticized by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office and by a national Catholic oversight panel for fighting the release of thousands of pages of priest personnel documents.

This week, the archdiocese also sought to join a federal challenge to the constitutionality of the 2002 state law that temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for molestation cases. The law resulted in more than 700 claims statewide, including those against the Stockton Diocese, which covers a largely rural region south of Sacramento.

In October 1984, while Mahony was in Stockton, O’Grady’s therapist reported to Child Protective Services that the priest had admitted having ``contact of a sexual nature″ with a child and ``other past behaviors of a similar nature,″ according to a police report in O’Grady’s confidential church file that was part of the 1998 trial.

Stockton police investigated, but were unable to confirm the abuse of a 9-year-old boy and dropped the case. A police report said a diocesan attorney promised officers O’Grady would be removed from the parish and transferred to a location where he ``will only be working with adults and away from children.″

In December of that year, O’Grady was sent to a rural parish in San Andreas, where he was named parish administrator, according to letters from Mahony in O’Grady’s personnel file.

That same month, a psychiatrist completed an evaluation of O’Grady that Mahony requested. In a letter to Mahony, contained in O’Grady’s personnel file, the psychiatrist reported that O’Grady ``reveals a severe defect in maturation, not only in the matter of sex, but more importantly in the matter of social relationships.″

When Mahony testified in 1998, he said he was told by the psychiatrist that counseling, spiritual guidance and a possible retreat were all that were necessary for the priest. Mahony also testified that the diocese’s vicar general told him police had cleared O’Grady.

O’Grady worked in the San Andreas parish for more than eight years, but the 1998 case revealed that he continued to molest the 9-year-old boy and his younger brother, even though they lived in a distant town.

Cristin Perez, the brothers’ sister and a current plaintiff against the Stockton Diocese, said Mahony should have investigated more thoroughly in 1984, when the priest first admitted molesting her brother.

``We got O’Grady off the street and protected the kids of Stockton, and he didn’t,″ she said. ``And he’ll always have to live with that.″

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