John Manly, an Orange County attorney who represents close to 100 victims of sexual abuse, was encouraged by the apparent erosion of the court’s patience for church stall and avoidance tactics, which include preventing media access to critical hearings. "Mahony may be royalty in Vatican City, but his ecclesiastical standing does not give him special standing in court," Manly said. "He wraps himself in the First Amendment to limit access to him and his secret files, but he is opposed to it when it involves access by the press." Manly noted that Nuss’ ruling rejected arguments by Mahony’s lawyers that special treatment is warranted for the cardinal because "Roman Catholic Church dogma teaches as one of its fundamental beliefs that bishops are direct successors of the apostles of Jesus Christ." Manly, a Catholic, observed, "Mahony needs to act like one. Dammit, that is a call for radical faith. He should step up to that mantle."
With the scandal having long ago receded behind closed doors, and with Catholic parishes closing around the country — some going bankrupt as a result of civil settlements — victims have become frustrated by the scorched-earth legal tactics employed by Mahony’s lawyers, even in criminal court. Yet criminal court is where the church has fared the best so far. The Nuss ruling pertains largely to the fate of priests who have been or could be charged with molestation, and its importance to victims and prosecutors is muted by a U.S Supreme Court ruling that struck down California’s child-abuse statute last July, resulting in the dismissal of hundreds of criminal cases statewide and the halting of 30 criminal grand-jury investigations in Los Angeles. Then the church’s legal strategy to forestall the inevitable got an assist from Nuss himself, who sealed all documents and court proceedings last year after the Daily Journal revealed that the Los Angeles Archdiocese was paying his $350-per-hour fee to act as a referee in ruling on the church’s document-privilege arguments. Legal action by the Journal and the Los Angeles Times to compel Nuss to release a tentative ruling forced the Court of Appeal to require Nuss to reconsider his position. In July, Nuss began releasing transcripts of hearings in which Mahony’s lawyers asserted their First Amendment defenses — a withering set of legal arguments that have mostly just bought the cardinal time.
Jackie Dennis, who alleges that she is a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of retired priest Neville Rucker, said, "It’s so sad that the church is fighting tooth and nail. But all it takes is a few cases to show what has really been going on.