Cardinal Mahony defends handling of child abuse, offers apology

By Robert Jablon The Associated Press
Tuesday March 26, 2002

LONG BEACH — Cardinal Roger Mahony on Monday defended his handling of alleged child abuse by priests, while calling on Catholic clergy to renew their vows of celibacy. 

As head of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Mahony said he accepts full responsibility for the abuses. He offered “my sincere apologies” to the victims. 

“This year the sins of bishops and priests are exposed and trumpeted for all to see,” Mahony said. 

The actions of a few priests, he said, had tarnished the reputation of all, adding that the church would need “an incredible purification.” 

Mahony was the target of protesters in Camarillo on Sunday who urged him to release the names of priests he has dismissed for alleged sex abuse. 

While the cardinal has acknowledged that a few priests have been removed for harming children, he has refused to confirm published reports that as many as 12 were banished from the Los Angeles Archdiocese for sexually abusing minors. 

The archdiocese’s policy, Mahony said Monday, has been to reveal the names of priests who have been removed for sexual misconduct directly to their parishioners when new cases involving them develop. 

But he said an advisory board on clergy sexual abuse has recommended not releasing the names of those involved in cases that are years old because it could cause further pain or harm to the victims. 

At a news conference following the Mass, Mahony said he knows of only two local cases involving alleged priest abuse that are actively under investigation. 

He said one involved the Rev. Dominic Savino, 63, who was fired last week as president of Crespi Carmelite High School in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley after reports surfaced that he allegedly molested boys in the 1970s. The allegations are being investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department. 

The other involves a priest under investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Mahony said, adding he doesn’t know the priest’s identity or which parish he was assigned to. 

The Los Angeles Archdiocese is the nation’s largest. Representing 5 million Roman Catholic followers, it encompasses 284 parishes in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. 

Mahony made his remarks at Our Lady of Refuge Church in Long Beach, where about 300 priests gathered for the annual Chrism Mass held to bless the sacramental oils used during services and to renew the commitment of priests and other clergy to their calling. 

This year the service also provided an opportunity to seek forgiveness from those abused and “to help the church become more open, honest and trustworthy,” Mahony said. 

He asked a ritual series of questions, including one addressed to celebate priests: “Are you resolved to continue to love God and his people in chaste celibacy?” 

“I am,” they responded. 

After the Mass, Mahony told reporters he does not believe there is a relationship between celibacy vows taken by priests and the abuse of children. 

“I personally don’t think there’s any connection between child abuse and celibacy,” he said. “You’ve got to remember, 90 to 95 percent of the child abuse in our country happens in homes and families.”