I wasn't aware of this, but no U.S. Catholic leader has been prosecuted for the church’s child-sex scandals. But officials are weighing obstruction and perjury charges against Cardinal Roger Mahony—and studying emails showing Mahony discussing with his lawyers ways to avoid giving law enforcement the names of abusive priests. Philip Shenon reports today:
Law-enforcement officials tell The Daily Beast that prosecutors are weighing charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury against the 74-year-old cardinal and his deputies over allegations that they covered up rampant child sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
The cardinal denies wrongdoing and insists he has been assured he is not a target of the federal inquiry. But officials with knowledge of the grand jury’s work say that Mahony remains at the center of the Justice Department’s two-year-old investigation.
Federal prosecutors are paying special attention to seemingly damning emails between the cardinal and his lawyers—in which Mahony outlined tactics to avoid providing prosecutors with the names of abusive priests, the officials said.
One official said the Justice Department has received important assistance from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office; a related investigation by the D.A.’s office stalled because of the restrictive statute of limitations under California state law. (In a memo released this week, the DA's office said that while it had found evidence of possible "criminal culpability" by archdiocese leaders, the statute of limitations issues made the likelihood of bringing criminal charges "more and more remote with each passing day.") No federal charges are imminent, the official said. But “the church would like to pretend this investigation has gone away. It hasn’t.” The cardinal’s lawyer, J. Michael Hennigan, said in an interview he was “unaware of any indictable crime that might have been conducted by any church official” in the hierarchy of the archdiocese, including Mahony.
The day that Mahony steps down next year is the day that he leaves for the Vatican and never comes back,” predicted Joelle Casteix, southwestern regional director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
The victims groups draw comparisons to Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who resigned his post in Massachusetts in 2002 and left for a comfortable new assignment in Rome in the midst of allegations that he covered up for several abusive priests in New England.
As cardinals, Mahony and Law are entitled to diplomatic protections from the Vatican.
“Mahony should be in jail for what he did,” Casteix told The Daily Beast. “I personally know of dozens of people who were molested because of decisions made by Roger Mahony—decisions that he made personally. If I were Mahony, I’d flee the country.”