Files show church missteps, evasions with priests
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Archdiocese of Los Angeles released 12,000 pages of personnel files on sexually abusive priests that Archbishop Jose Gomez described as "brutal and painful reading." While many of the names of the abusers and accusations against them were known, the files reveal previously undisclosed details of how the church transferred priests out of state, sent them to therapists who wouldn't report crimes and suppressed information from reaching the public. Lawyers for the archdiocese and priests who objected to the records being released did not return phone calls or an email seeking comment. Among the revelations in the trove of documents:
A WARNING NOT HEEDED
It's well documented in the records that the Rev. Richard Henry had a problem. As far back as March 1988, then-Archbishop Roger Mahony was warned in a confidential memo that the priest's behavior around young boys — long embraces, rubbing noses, leading them to the privacy of his room — was unsettling to those who witnessed it. Nuns and priests confirmed a pattern: "None of the people we talked to accused him of anything illegal, but all of them feared that other adults seeing this would do so," the memo concluded. In October that year, Henry was ordered in a letter from a superior, then-Monsignor Thomas Curry, to "not be alone with minors." The documents taper off in mid-1989. In August 1991, Mahony is notified that Henry is under investigation for child molestation. A detective asks for a list of altar boys at the church but Father Timothy Dyer tells Mahony in a memo, "I have declined to have anyone give him such a list." Henry served prison time for abusing several boys.
The church records show the archdiocese maneuvered behind the scenes to avoid a possible lawsuit against a priest over abuse allegations in Los Angeles. In 2007, five former altar boys from Tucson, Ariz., were awarded $1.5 million each as part of the archdiocese's $660 million clergy-abuse settlement. The five said they were abused by the Rev. Kevin Barmasse, who was sent to Arizona during the 1980s after he'd been accused of child molestation in Los Angeles. The records show Monsignor Thomas Curry told Mahony in a Nov. 10, 1989, confidential memo that "the young boy involved is now about eighteen, so Kevin should certainly not return for another two years by which time the period for filing law suits will have passed." Later that month, Mahony advised Barmasse to stay away from Los Angeles. "Your presence in this area ... would greatly increase the possibility of a suit against you," Mahony wrote. Barmasse was never criminally prosecuted.
Father Michael Nocita voluntarily left active ministry in 1991 after several complaints surfaced about affairs with teenage girls at local Catholic high schools. In a 1991 memo to Mahony, Vicar for Clergy Timothy Dyer reported that he met with Nocita, who was then working as a counselor at a youth center in suburban Los Angeles, and asked Nocita to return to active ministry, stating his departure "was a significant loss to the archdiocese." Nocita said he did not want to return to active ministry because he wanted to marry. Dyer said he told Nocita that "given his file," church officials were concerned that he was working with children. Nocita clarified that "youth" meant children under 8. Mahony wrote "very sad" on the memo. A call to a Michael Nocita of Redondo Beach was not immediately returned.
MAKING PRIESTS PAY
The Rev. Neville Rucker was accused of molesting 39 girls as far back as 1947. As victims started coming forward around 2000, Monsignor Thomas Curry offered to have Rucker pay for their therapy, saying it was archdiocese policy. In letters to victims, Rucker agreed to pay, but noted he was not wealthy "having spent 12 years as pastor of an inner city black parish." In another letter, he said he was forced to borrow money and sell stock his mother owned. Rucker did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
ABUSE WAS GOD'S WILL
Rucker met with a victim in Seattle in 1991 and reported "the meetings were pretty grim." In a letter to Curry, a meeting attendee whose name was removed from the file, said Rucker refused to fully accept responsibility for his actions, blaming them on steroid medication and even God. Rucker told the facilitator, "Well, God called me into the priesthood and God doesn't make mistakes so I assume all of this happened as part of God's plan for (the victim's) salvation." The facilitator commented, "It's the first time I ever heard someone lay responsibility for their sexual abuse of someone at God's doorstep!"
A draft of a plan carrying Cardinal Roger Mahony's name calls for sending a molester priest to his native Spain for at least seven years, paying his health insurance and $400 a month. In return, the cardinal would agree to write the Vatican and ask them to cancel his excommunication, leaving the door open for him to return as a priest someday. The deal with the Rev. Jose Ugarte, who had been reported to the archdiocese years earlier by a physician for drugging and raping a boy in a hotel in Ensenada, eventually broke down.
Associated Press news researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.