Golden State Of Silence

September 14, 2018

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has a reputation for going after anyone or anything that he feels threatens our Golden State. He has filed 35 lawsuits just against the Trump administration. He has stood with “Dreamers” and against gun manufacturers. So far, Becerra’s office has stayed mum on one of California’s biggest outrages: sex abuse in the Catholic Church. This scandal flared up again last month with the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report. It detailed how 300 priests molested at least 1,000 children. But the equally horrific crime, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro correctly argued, was that church hierarchy and law enforcement officials largely ignored victims and let offenders continue their depravities. That was the case in California, too. Many of the bishops and cardinals involved in the pedophile priest problem have never faced appropriate consequences. In New Jersey and New York, the attorneys general have launched new investigations. Becerra should do the same here. I’ve covered the scandal in the Diocese of Orange since 2003. In 1981, a Benicia police officer found Jerome Henson, a Dominican priest, with a 13-year-old boy’s legs around his shoulders. The Diocese of Sacramento transferred Henson to the Diocese of Reno, then to the Orange diocese. There, Henson worked under Tom Fuentes, where the two helped to keep parishioners unaware of the predators. Fuentes went on to become the architect of the Republican Party in Orange County. In 1984 Oliver O’Grady, an Irish priest in Stockton, admitted to detectives that he had molested children. But when Roger Mahony, then bishop of Stockton, promised to put O’Grady into therapy, the detectives halted their investigation. O’Grady went on to assault dozens of children before he finally was convicted in 1993. By then, Mahony was cardinal for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. In 1975, church officials in Orange County told prosecutors that Eleuterio Ramos had molested a boy; the district attorney suggested psychological care. Ramos became the most prolific pedophile priest in Orange County history. Our sainted Sen. Kamala Harris, who trumpets her prosecution of Backpage.com as evidence that she’s tough on sex crimes, also is tarred. In 2005, while San Francisco’s district attorney, Harris rebuffed a records request by SF Weekly to release personnel files from the Archdiocese of San Francisco. (Her predecessor had planned to make them public, but the California Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a 2002 law that lifted the statute of limitations.) “We’re not interested in selling out our victims to look good in the paper,” Harris said, even though many victims pleaded with her to release the documents. Gov. Jerry Brown twice vetoed bills that would have extended the statute of limitations for victims to bring civil lawsuits against church leaders. “There comes a time,” he wrote in 2013, “when an individual or organization should be secure in the ... expectation that past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits.” So who feels secure? People like Mahony live in easy retirement. Monsignor John Urell, a clergy sex abuse investigator in the Orange diocese as priests were shuffled around and paid to leave the priesthood, sits comfy as pastor of St. Timothy Church in Laguna Niguel. The public deserves to know which church leaders did nothing as its priests raped kids and who in law enforcement and beyond enabled the abuse. I can hear the naysayers: Why should Becerra go on a fishing expedition into old cases for which the Orange, San Diego, and Los Angeles dioceses paid out more than $1 billion in the last 15 years? “That’s a big misconception that most of the (coverup) stuff is already out there,” counters Joelle Casteix, an expert on institutional child sex abuse who was molested by a choir teacher in Santa Ana in the 1980s. “Most of what we learned about clergy sex abuse and coverup in Pennsylvania concerned victims whose statutes had expired. I bet it will be the same in California.” Casteix and other survivors are now calling on the Catholic Becerra to investigate California’s 12 dioceses. The church hierarchy inflicted horrendous pain on children for decades and it’s time that the princes of the church face justice. GUSTAVO ARELLANO writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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