Election Section

E-mails show LA archdiocese struggling to get handle on abuse cases

By Leon Druin Keith, The Associated Press
Saturday April 06, 2002

LOS ANGELES — Leaked e-mails sent by officials and attorneys with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles paint a picture of an organization scrambling to defend its handling of sexual abuse by priests even as more allegations surface. 

“It’s the new cases ... that keep the story alive,” Cardinal Roger Mahony wrote Wednesday in an e-mail. “With our various cases now I don’t even know what the numbers (of accused priests) are myself!” 

The e-mail was among about 60 released by radio station KFI of Los Angeles on Friday. Talk show host Ken Champou said they came from a listener who had contacted the station through its Web site. 

The Los Angeles archdiocese — the nation’s largest — went to court Thursday to prevent KFI and the Los Angeles Times from disseminating related e-mails, but a judge rejected the request. 

In a letter faxed to The Associated Press and others, archdiocese attorney John P. McNicholas exhorted media outlets not to publish the e-mails and return to him any copies they receive. Publishing the communications “will violate state and federal statutes and tort law regarding invasion of privacy,” he wrote. 

Archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg’s only comment on the e-mails Friday was that they were “illegally obtained” and that the FBI, Los Angeles Police Department and federal prosecutors had been contacted. 

“Beyond that, I would say the people who are in ministry positions in the archdiocese are in full compliance with California law in the mandatory reporting of child neglect and sexual abuse,” Tamberg said. The law requires priests, teachers and others to report abuse allegations. 

FBI spokesman Matt McLaughlin said agents were investigating whether someone obtained the e-mails through hacking or other illegal means. 

Pressure on the archdiocese to release information on alleged sexual abuse among priests increased when the Times reported last month that six to 12 priests accused of wrongdoing dating back as far as 10 years had been removed. 

The archdiocese has not released the number of priests removed, although Mahony has said some priests have been ousted and that the archdiocese cooperates with law enforcement when accusations arise. 

The e-mails — most of them marked “privileged client-attorney communication” — show top-level archdiocesan officials learned about the removal of at least two priests just last month. Both were members of religious orders, meaning they did not work directly for the archdiocese. 

The e-mails indicate officials were concerned about priests beyond “the big 8” Mahony referred to in a March 30 memo to his attorney, Sister Judith Ann Murphy. 

In an earlier memo, Mahony told Murphy the archdiocese made a “huge mistake” in failing to turn over three sexual abuse cases involving priests to police, and urged her to talk with detectives about the cases. 

“It was a huge mistake on our part,” Mahony wrote. “If we don’t, today, ’consult’ with the detective about those three names, I can guarantee you that I will get hauled into a grand jury proceeding and I will be forced to give all the names, etc.” 

In other e-mails, officials warned Mahony against overstating what the archdiocese’s response has been in communications with media and law enforcement. 

For instance, a draft of a letter to Police Chief Bernard Parks “gives the impression that for years we gave names over to law enforcement contemporaneously with the time we learned of events,” Monsignor Craig A. Cox wrote March 28. “If an example of even one case comes out where we didn’t pass on the name then, but only more recently, it will blow up.” 

The issue of how much information to release to police is discussed in several e-mails. 

In the case of one priest under scrutiny, “I am leaning towards giving it to the LAPD to review,” Mahony wrote in a Monday e-mail. “We could be very vulnerable on any case where there is a dispute among folks, and we have not referred it out.” 

In preparing Monsignors. Cox and Richard A. Loomis for interviews with investigators, Murphy wrote, “Remember Sergeant Joe Friday — ’Only the facts, sir, only the facts.’ ... Do not volunteer information. This is not a session to be chatty.” 

In some cases the desires of victims complicated the release of information, Mahony wrote March 30 after meeting with three victims “from very old cases, two from the big 8.” 

“All insisted strongly that I not release the names of their perpetrators since their personal lives would be placed in jeopardy — marriages, jobs, etc.,” Mahony wrote. 

In his Wednesday e-mail, Mahony estimated that by mid-May, “any new problems will have been uncovered, and that we can begin the healing process over the coming months.”