Reaction was fast and fierce to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ release of files relating to its handling of allegations of abuse against 127 priests. The release was part of a settlement five years ago of a class action civil case regarding sexual abuse by clergy.
A victim’s group held a press conference Friday outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, calling for further investigation. Lawyers representing alleged victims of abuse decried the manner in which the files were released. Twitter feeds lit up. And Catholics struggled with the revelations that church leaders tried to hide abuse from law enforcement authorities.
“It doesn’t decrease my faith. As a matter of fact, it shows me God’s mercy and love,” said one woman as she walked into mass at St. Charles Borromeo Church in North Hollywood. “These are men, they have harmed a lot of children but they need prayer. More prayer than anyone.”
Retired Cardinal Roger Mahony attended St. Charles as a boy, now lives there permanently and occasionally leads church services. Parishioners at a mid-day service on Friday reacted to the implication in the newly-released records that Mahony was involved in a decades-long cover up, essentially playing musical chairs with priests accused of abuse, moving them from one parish to another or, in some cases, out of the country.
“It’s appalling,” said Connie Wilson, a psychiatric nurse who works with victims of abuse and whose son is a student at St. Charles. “Cardinal Mahony should definitely be brought to justice, as should all of the perpetrators of the abuse. It makes me ashamed to say that I go to Catholic Church.”
But others attending services weren’t so aggrieved. One said it’s time to move on.
Their reactions mirrored those of people across Southern California, as news spread Friday.
“I think the release of these files will continue to bring bad publicity to the church I love,” said Chip Bolcik, 54, a voiceover actor who lives in Thousand Oaks and grew up in the church, though he no longer is a part of it. “For outsiders and for many lapsed Catholics, this continuing sad news will wholly shape their opinion of the Catholic Church, which is too bad.”
Bolcik was an altar boy as a child and his experiences were nothing like those detailed in the thousands of pages of records the church released.
“There are many more good priests than bad ones,” he said. “Those who committed these crimes get the headlines, but the ones quietly shaping lives and doing good in their communities get no recognition.”
James Koenig, 55, of Los Angeles is a musician and performs at Catholic churches, among other denominations. He said the actions of church leaders affect everyone in the city and is horrified that abuse was not reported to authorities.
Koenig was unimpressed by current Archbishop José Gomez’s announcement that he stripped Mahony of his public duties.
"Too little, too late," Koenig said. “The damage is done to the individuals and to the image of the church.”
Joelle Casteix, of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, agreed.
“If Gomez really cared about child safety, he would have done something when he first came into power in Los Angeles," she said at a morning press conference outside the cathedral. “Really, all Gomez did was give [Mahony] a little more relaxing of a retirement. He won't be presiding over confirmations any time soon, but it's just a little more than a symbolic gesture.”
Ester Miller, another member of the group, seethed. She said Catholics should stop giving money to the church that’s being used to pay for lawsuits.
“You Catholics who remain blind to the crime that is still today being perpetrated — what are you going to do as Catholics?” she asked.
In a letter to his flock Thursday, Gomez said he found the files “painful” reading and spelled out the steps he took, including accepting the resignation of Thomas Curry from his post as regional bishop of Santa Barbara.
“The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed,” he said. “We need to acknowledge that terrible failure today.”
Mahony posted a letter on his personal blog Friday that he said he sent to Gomez. In it, he presented his handling of the cases as a journey from a young priest with no training in how to deal with sexual abuse, through years of change in the church and the Los Angeles archdiocese.
He said that when Gomez took the reins in 2011 after Mahony’s retirement, he inherited “an Archdiocese that was second to none in protecting children and youth.” He did not discuss allegations that the archdiocese hid information from law enforcement.
He ended the letter with an apology.
“I have stated time and time again that I made mistakes, especially in the mid-1980s,” he said. “Unfortunately, I cannot return now to the 1980s and reverse actions and decisions made then.”