Files depict L.A. church leaders' damage control

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photoFormer Cardinal Roger Mahony

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LOS ANGELES — Retired Cardinal Roger Mahony and other top Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles officials maneuvered behind the scenes to shield molester priests, provide damage control for the church and keep parishioners in the dark, according to church personnel files.

The confidential records filed in a lawsuit against the archdiocese disclose how the church handled abuse allegations for decades and also reveal dissent from a top Mahony aide who criticized his superiors for covering up allegations of abuse rather than protecting children.

Notes inked by Mahony demonstrate he was disturbed about abuse and sent problem priests for treatment, but there also were lengthy delays or oversights in some cases. Mahony received psychological reports on some priests that mentioned the possibility of many other victims, for example, but there is no indication that he or other church leaders investigated further.

"This is all intolerable and unacceptable to me," Mahony wrote in 1991 on a file of the Rev. Lynn Caffoe, a priest suspected of locking boys in his room, videotaping their crotches and running up a $100 phone sex bill while with a boy. Caffoe was sent for therapy and removed from ministry, but Mahony didn't move to defrock him until 2004, a decade after the archdiocese lost track of him.

"He is a fugitive from justice," Mahony wrote to the Vatican's Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI. "A check of the Social Security index discloses no report of his demise, so presumably he is alive somewhere."

Caffoe died in 2009, six years after a newspaper reporter found him working at a homeless mission two blocks from a Salinas elementary school.

Mahony was out of town but issued a statement Monday apologizing for his mistakes and saying he had been "naive" about the lasting impacts of abuse. He has since met with 90 abuse victims privately and keeps an index card with each victim's name in his private chapel, where he prays for them daily, he said. The card also includes the name of the molesting priest "lest I forget that real priests created this appalling harm."

The church's sex abuse policy was evolving and Mahony inherited some of the worst cases from his predecessor when he took over in 1985, J. Michael Hennigan, an archdiocese attorney, said in a separate series of emails.

Mahony, who retired in 2011 after 26 years at the helm of the 4.3-million person archdiocese, has been particularly hounded by the case of the Rev. Michael Baker, who was sentenced to prison in 2007 for molestation -- two decades after the priest confessed his abuse to Mahony.

Mahony noted the "extremely grave and serious situation" when he sent Baker for psychological treatment after the priest told him in 1986 that he had molested two brothers over seven years.

Baker returned to ministry the next year with a doctor's recommendation that he be defrocked immediately if he spent any time with minors. Despite several documented instances of being alone with boys, the priest wasn't removed from ministry until 2000. Around the same time, the church learned he was conducting baptisms without permission.

Church officials discussed announcing Baker's abuse in churches where he had worked, but Mahony rejected the idea.

"We could open up another firestorm -- and it takes us years to recover from those," Mahony wrote in an Oct. 6, 2000, memo. "Is there no alternative to public announcements at all the Masses in 15 parishes??? Wow -- that really scares the daylights out of me!!"