Mea minima culpa, cries the beleaguered Cardinal Roger Mahony, as he dukes it out with his successor in the See of Los Angeles, Archbishop Jose Gomez. It won’t wash.
Let’s go back to the summer of 1986, when Mahony was Los Angeles’ newly minted archbishop. It was the dawning of the sexual abuse crisis, and he was, according to himself, doing his darnedest to get his arms around the problem.
Nothing in my own background or education equipped me to deal with this grave problem. In two years [1962—1964] spent in graduate school earning a Master’s Degree in Social Work, no textbook and no lecture ever referred to the sexual abuse of children. While there was some information dealing with child neglect, sexual abuse was never discussed.
Shortly after I was installed on September 5, 1985 I took steps to create an Office of the Vicar for the Clergy so that all our efforts in helping our priests could be located in one place. In the summer of 1986 I invited an attorney-friend from Stockton to address our priests during our annual retreat at St. John’s Seminary on the topic of the sexual abuse of minors. Towards the end of 1986 work began with the Council of Priests to develop policies and procedures to guide all of us in dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct.
But here’s the thing. In the summer of 1986, Mahony also happened to be dealing with the situation of Msgr. Peter Garcia, who had been sent to New Mexico for treatment after being credibly accused of sexually abusing two teenage boys. On July 22, he wrote to the treatment center explaining why why “it would not be possible” for Garcia to return to California: “I believe that if Monsignor Garcia were to reappear here within the Archdiocese we might very well have some type of legal action filed in both the criminal and civil sectors.”
Mahony may not have been equipped to understand sexual abuse. But he knew it was a crime and he knew it could subject his archdiocese to civil liability. And he did what he needed to do to avoid legal action. He covered up the Garcia case so well, in fact, that it remained hidden until late last fall–three years after Garcia went to his eternal reward.