Cardinal Fights Document Release

By Sandra Marquez
Monterey Herald [Los Angeles CA]
Downloaded March 31, 2003

LOS ANGELES - Last spring, following an emergency Vatican summit on clergy sex abuse, Cardinal Roger Mahony met with a roomful of reporters to present himself as a reformer in the scandal consuming the Catholic church.

"Here in Los Angeles, our continuing progress in how we handle these matters is very gratifying," Mahony said.

Since then, the leader of 5 million Catholics in the nation's largest archdiocese has consistently said he wants to help those who were sexually molested by priests. At the same time, the archdiocese has acted aggressively to keep internal church documents concealed from prosecutors and the public.

On Tuesday, church lawyers will make their case in court, claiming that communication between Mahony and the suspected priests is protected by the First Amendment. The lawyers say priest-bishop confidentiality is a foundation of Catholicism and that interfering with it violates the free exercise of religion.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office asked for the documents as part of cases against six priests it has charged with sexual abuse. It is looking into allegations against dozens of other priests.

Threatened with a grand jury investigation, Mahony last May pledged to turn over such documents: "We want every single thing out, open and dealt with, period," he said.

"The archdiocese has every legal right to pursue this in court, but it's important to note that they could willingly turn over those files if they wanted to," said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office. "They have changed their stated position between one of openness to one of resistance. What they say and what they do are two different things."

Several telephone messages left for archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg were not returned.

California has become a focal point of the national sex-abuse scandal in the Catholic church thanks to a law that took effect Jan. 1. That law temporarily lifts the statute of limitations for one year for civil sexual abuse cases in which an institution knowingly employed a molester.

It is expected to allow hundreds of alleged victims to sue and could lead to millions of dollars in settlements.

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