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LA Investigators Demand to See Church Documents on Child Abuse - 2002-05-17

Los Angeles, prosecutors are demanding that Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony turn over documents related to allegations of child abuse by priests. More than 30 priests in the city are under investigation.

It is part of wider scandal that is engulfing the Catholic Church in the United States. In New York, Boston, Los Angeles and elsewhere, allegations that priests have molested children have rocked the church and local communities.

Now the top official in the largest Catholic archdiocese in the United States is facing demands that he turn over his records on alleged child abusers, or face a full-scale investigation.

Sandy Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles district attorney, said Thursday that the cardinal has provided only partial information. "There has been no written documentation," she said. "The district attorney advised the cardinal that he must turn over any written documentation. If he does not do so, if that is not forthcoming, the district attorney will be forced to utilize a grand jury." That investigative body could force the church to turn over the documents.

Cardinal Mahony has faced mounting criticism over the way he has handled allegations of abuse in his archdiocese. This week, he apologized for not removing a priest who admitted in 1986 that he had sexually abused two children. The priest underwent psychiatric treatment and was then transferred to a post where he had little contact with children. He was later given assignments, however, in churches with parochial schools. After more allegations arose, he resigned from the ministry two years ago. The church paid $1.3 million to two men who said they were victimized by the priest when they were children.

Cardinal Mahony apologized for not taking firmer action. "If I had known in 1986 and 1987 what I know in 2002, obviously we would have done things differently," he said.

Local Catholic officials have not responded to the demand by the district attorney.

Cardinal Mahony says this has been a distressing time for him and the church. The Los Angeles archdiocese, like many in the country, has now adopted a "zero-tolerance" policy toward priests who are child abusers and is giving local authorities information on new allegations.

Some 200 priests have been dismissed or resigned across the country since the sexual abuse scandal surfaced in Boston early this year.

The scandal has taken a toll on both laity and clergy. Thursday, a priest accused of abuse in Bridgeport, Connecticut, was found hanged in a psychiatric center near Washington, where he was undergoing treatment. His bishop says the death, an apparent suicide, is a sign the church must face the scandal directly.

In Baltimore, Cardinal William Keeler apologized to victims of abuse in his archdiocese, where a young man shot and seriously wounded a priest on Monday. The man had accused the priest of abusing him in the early 1990s.

U.S. Catholic bishops will meet in Dallas next month to adopt guidelines on handling sexual abuse cases. And Boston College, a Catholic institution, plans to offer courses and seminars on issues raised by the scandal, including sexual ethics.