“Cardinal Mahony Kept Cleric’s Abuse Secret for 16 Years,” reads the above-the-fold headline in Thursday’s Los Angeles Times. Glenn Bunting, not religion reporter Larry Stammer, wrote the story — a concession perhaps to those who questioned the paper’s credibility after leaked e-mails from the cardinal revealed Stammer’s cozy relations with him.
The New Times — a Los Angeles alternative weekly newspaper staffed, in part, by former L.A. Times reporters — has shamed the mainstream editors on Spring Street into covering the Mahony story seriously. Ron Russell, a former Times reporter, has been smoking out Mahony for weeks in the pages of the New Times. In this week’s story, Russell revealed that Mahony blocked a molested seminarian’s entry to St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo after he learned that the seminarian had knowledge of allegations of misconduct involving high-ranking church officials.
But Mahony could ignore Russell’s reporting since it didn’t appear in the “respectable” press. A revealing story in the Los Angeles Times, on the other hand, commands his full attention. Anticipating Bunting’s story, Mahony penned a non-apology apology to the archdiocese’s priests this week. “It is quite likely that very soon the public media will highlight the case of Michael Baker, a former priest of this archdiocese. You need to be aware of the seriousness of his case,” he wrote.
Well, they won’t learn the seriousness of the case from his letter. He relies first on euphemism, calling Baker’s molestation of children “acting out sexually with two minors.” Then he moves to rationalization: “Baker was sent to a treatment center for evaluation and recommendation for his future. Following treatment, it was decided that he could do specialized priestly ministry not related to children and youth. He was subsequently given various ministries, such as special outreach to our retired priests. All during this time, we had no reports of abuse.”
This leaves the impression that Baker was holed up in an obscure office. In fact, the Los Angeles Times reports, he served at six parishes with “elementary schools adjacent to the rectory” and “was sent to at least three parishes to fill in for pastors who had either retired or been transferred, leaving no superior to monitor his day-to-day activities.”
Did Mahony inform any of the parents at these parishes of Baker’s record as an accused molester? No, they didn’t need to know such a trivial detail, deemed the cardinal. But then, he didn’t want to know too much about Baker’s past either. According to Baker, when he told Mahony in 1986 about his abuse of minors, the cardinal “was very solicitous and understanding” and neither he nor his aides asked for more specific information: “I don’t recall them pressing for details, and I didn’t give them any.”
Mahony, known for his detail-oriented administration, told the Los Angeles Times last month that he couldn’t remember this meeting with Baker. Apparently it wasn’t momentous enough to lodge in his usually sharp memory. Baker, however, thought the meeting particularly memorable. During it, John P. McNicholas, a lawyer for the archdiocese, suggested that the cardinal call the cops to investigate Baker. The Times reports that Baker said “he became startled when McNicholas blurted, ‘Should we call the police now?’ Baker said he recalled Mahony’s response : ‘No, no, no…”
Even after the Boston scandal broke, Mahony still hoped to avoid informing the police about Baker. Sister Judy Murphy, an archdiocesan lawyer, said he was “reluctant” to call the police. Why? Perhaps because he had gone to so much trouble to prevent the Baker story from ever coming out. He used $1.3 million of the faithful’s money to settle with two of Baker’s accusers, because, as their attorney put it, archdiocesan officials knew “the allegations against Baker were true, there would be more victims, and they didn’t want any publicity. What they were buying was silence.”
After years of protecting accused felons, exposing children to known molesters, and asking for money from parents he left in the dark, Mahony is suddenly a wised-up, get-tough reformer. “No one who has been determined to have sexually abused a minor can be allowed to serve in any ministry in the church,” he says.
In the case of Michael Baker, Mahony’s enlightenment came 16 years too late.