By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Mahony’s strategy has been executed masterfully by J. Michael Hennigan of the law firm Hennigan, Bennett & Dorman. His plan has exploited weakness in his opponents, the media and the court. His preference to negotiate with victims behind closed doors has tested their emotional vulnerability and need for closure, while at times pitting them against their own lawyers, who can barely afford to litigate all the cases they have. Hennigan has honed in on a central problem with the state’s trial courts, which at best are underfunded and fearing a logjam of controversial sex-abuse claims, and at worst bending to Mahony’s influence as the most powerful prelate in the United States.
Media disclosures, orchestrated at times with the help of public relations gurus Sitrick and Company, have driven a wedge between key reporters at the Times, while betraying a gutless editorial policy of walking on eggshells around the cardinal. (See related story.) And his attempts to reach out to victims and the public have played on the sympathies of a passive, largely ethnic laity in Los Angeles, which has never openly questioned the integrity of Catholic leadership.
Concerns of institutional deference to Mahony should come as no surprise, but perhaps the most troubling is the judiciary. Though Dennis and fellow survivors have complained for months that they have been deprived access to the courts by the trial lawyers they turned to for help, more troubling are the judges who have protected both the Catholic Church and the court’s resources by channeling potentially explosive litigation into private backrooms where the cardinal’s dollars could make all the difference.
The legacy of power among Catholic judges in Los Angeles goes back decades. For years, until recently, no non-Catholic held the position of presiding judge. The St. Thomas More Society sponsors the annual Red Mass, a special church service for prominent members of the legal community. The society seeks “to provide a haven where those who are committed to their Catholic faith can find fellowship and encouragement in the face of overwhelming media and cultural forces working against that pursuit.” “The leadership of Los Angeles Superior Court is almost always Catholic,” says one local judge, who is not. “There is a real interest by people running the courts to protect the church and its assets and preserve papal law. It’s like a scared cow.”
Although the judges handling the clergy cases, Marvin Lager and Peter Lichtman, are not members of the St. Thomas More Society, they still have to deal with the political influence of the church if they are to function in Los Angeles, the nation’s largest archdiocese, with 5 million Catholics. Anyone who questions an institutional juggernaut like the church in the name of judicial independence runs the risk of being accused of being anti-Catholic, according to another Los Angeles judge, a non-Catholic. Similar pressure exists among Catholics, the judge says. “The Catholic Church is very totalitarian,” says the judge. “No doubt there are those who are concerned about perceptions among fellow Catholics that they are disloyal to their faith.”
Deference to Mahony and the Catholic Church bodes ill for Dennis. Although Mahony was not around at the time of her molestation, in the 1970s, he embodies the evil done to her for the simple reason that he concealed Rucker and other known pedophiles, lied about concealing them, then when his back was to the wall embarked on a high-stakes legal and public relations campaign to save himself. A key moment came in August 2002. Mahony admitted to concealing Rucker and seven other molester priests, while claiming that his dismissal of 17 other priest-pedophiles earned him a reputation as a reformer. Such logic does not hold up. When asked if Mahony conveys a mixed message, retired Los Angeles Judge Richard “Skip” Byrne, a prominent Catholic and the head of the archdiocese’s Clergy Misconduct Oversight Board, replies, “No question about it. I can see how people have a hard time accepting that.”
Likewise, Mahony’s recent denouncing of hundreds of accused priests, whose names were already public, including some who remain in the ministry, is of little solace. “May God help us all,” Dennis writes in an e-mail upon reading Mahony’s disclosure last week, in which he expresses regret for his “mistakes” — two days before a court hearing on his refusal to release Rucker documents. “Mahony will say anything to save face, and he believes he can get away with anything,” she says. “The church thinks it is above the law.”
Mahony’s impulse to deny new allegations until they are undeniable is shameless, and yields easily to a willingness to sacrifice former members of his inner circle like lambs to a slaughter. In a lawsuit filed late last year, former vicar for clergy Richard Loomis was accused of molesting a Los Angeles–area boy from 1969 to 1971. Yet he remained in the ministry. Recently a second person accused Loomis of molestation, and the church asked him to step down and quickly distanced itself. Loomis was responsible for reviewing child-abuse allegations from 1996 to 2000. When the clergy scandal broke in Los Angeles, Loomis left the administration to pursue parish work as a priest. “We are so disappointed in Monsignor Loomis,” Mahony’s lawyer Hennigan said last week, less than two weeks after the archdiocese stood by Loomis’ denial of the first charge to surface.