Vatican impeded Mahony attempts to remove priests, files show

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Newly released documents trace the cardinal’s frustration with ongoing delays in his efforts to get some accused abusers out of the priesthood.

The Los Angeles Times

February 15, 2013, 6:59 p.m.

By Victoria Kim and Ashley Powers, Los Angeles Times

In 1993, Cardinal Roger Mahony wrote to the Vatican with an urgent problem. One of his priests in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles had been accused of plying teenage boys with alcohol and molesting them, sometimes during prayer.

In less than eight years, Father Kevin Barmasse had, as one church official put it in newly released files, “left a wake of devastation that is hard to comprehend.” Mahony yanked Barmasse out of his parish and wanted to make sure he couldn’t return. But Barmasse appealed to the one body that could overrule Mahony: the Vatican.

“The case has been there for many, many months,” Mahony wrote to one Vatican office tasked with handling priest misconduct. “The lengthy delay has created serious problems for my own credibility as a Diocesan Bishop.”

In the wake of the court-ordered release of 12,000 pages of confidential archdiocese records, Mahony has been criticized for hiding abuse allegations from police and failing to protect parishioners from accused molesters. But the documents suggest that Mahony at times had to press an unresponsive Vatican to get molesting priests out of the church.

Although local leaders had the authority to take troubled clerics out of parishes, only the pope could remove them from the priesthood entirely. And when Mahony turned to the Vatican, the papers show, he ran into a bureaucracy steeped in ritual, mired in delays and reluctant to come to terms with the burgeoning problem.

“This was not just Mahony’s experience. Anyone in the world who had dealings with the Vatican in the ’80s and ’90s was frustrated — who’s in charge, what’s the procedure, how long it took,” said John Allen, a correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter who has written extensively on the Vatican.

Mahony dealt with multiple offices on abuse cases, including the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that defends church teaching and punishes those who commit delicta graviora — grave offenses. Joseph Ratzinger led the office for more than two decades before becoming Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. The pontiff recently announced that he will step down by month’s end.

Mahony appeared to feel particularly impeded in dealing with Barmasse. The priest, who was accused of abusing at least eight teenage boys, had challenged Mahony’s decision to remove him from ministry. As the appeal dragged on, Mahony told a Vatican official with the Congregation for the Clergy that he planned to visit Rome in December 1993. He suggested they meet in person — he would be staying, he wrote, at “Via della Conciliazione, 36 — very near to your offices.” But even after his visit, the case remained unresolved.

Four months later, in March 1994, Mahony wrote: “Given the pastoral situation in the United States today, which is all too well known, Bishops need to be able to act quickly and decisively in cases of alleged clerical misconduct to assure the People of God that their rights are being fully protected.”

In April, he wrote to the Vatican official: “It is now almost five months since my meeting with you and yet nothing further has come from you or your Congregation.”

Another decade would pass before Barmasse was defrocked. Troy Gray, 44, who said Barmasse molested him in the late ’80s while working in Tucson, cringed at the lengthy delay.

“They had their own procedures and protocols,” he said in an interview. “It angers me that the children were put on the back burner.”

Neither Mahony nor Vatican officials responded to requests for comment. In a 2010 interview with an Italian newspaper that the Vatican posted on its website, a top official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said accusations that it moved glacially were “unjustified,” particularly in recent years.

Observers said the Vatican response was markedly slower in decades past.

“This is not to give the American bishops a pass, but they really had no leadership from Rome,” said Jason Berry, author of “Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church.”

Bishops started asking the Holy See in the 1980s for the power to remove abusers from the priesthood. But a formal request by American bishops was turned down by the Vatican in 1993, observers said.

At the Ratzinger-led Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a staff of 45 was left “struggling to cope” with the caseload generated by the world’s 400,000 priests, wrote Timothy Radcliffe, a Dominican priest who worked with the Vatican as head of the order from 1992 to 2001.

“It is generally imagined that the Vatican is a vast and efficient [organization]. In fact it is tiny,” he wrote in a 2010 column for the British Catholic weekly The Tablet. “Documents slipped through the cracks. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger lamented to me that the staff was simply too small for the job.”

The labyrinthine protocol of the Vatican also made it ill-equipped to respond to a fast-evolving crisis. Each time bishops opened a case about a problematic priest, they cut a check to the Holy See for $500, a fee known as “taxa.” Letters were sent to the Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C., then forwarded via diplomatic pouch. (Once, when Mahony seemed especially anxious for a response, he noted that he’d also sent the letter by fax.)

When one Los Angeles priest was defrocked in 2007, the files show, he was sent two notarized copies of the Latin decree, a third copy in English and instructions to write the date by his signature “with the month spelt out in full rather than using a number.”

“It’s not a court system,” Berry said. “It’s a system of tribunals in a monarchical form of government.”

The Vatican began revamping how it handled sex abuse cases in 2001, when Ratzinger centralized them in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The move has been hailed by observers as one of the Holy See’s first concrete efforts to address the abuse crisis. Until Ratzinger became pope, he spent Friday mornings sifting through allegations of abuse from around the globe, work he reportedly called “our Friday penance.”

Between 2001 and 2010, the office handled about 3,000 cases, the vast majority from the U.S., Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, then the office’s chief internal prosecutor, told the Italian paper. About 20% of the cases ended with the cleric being formally dismissed from the priesthood. In one such case, the documents show, Mahony asked the Holy See for a favor.

By 2004, when Father Carl Sutphin was 72 and living with his ailing mother, at least 16 people had accused him of molesting them decades before, sometimes while hearing their confessions. Sutphin said Mass for his mother every day, which Mahony called “one of her few remaining consolations in this world.” The cardinal asked if Sutphin could remain a priest as long as she was alive.

The Vatican agreed. Although Sutphin was defrocked in December 2005, the Holy See held off notifying him until February 2006 — after officials learned that his mother had died.

Neither Sutphin nor Barmasse responded to requests for comment.

In another case, Mahony found himself in a familiar position: struggling with Vatican delays.

Father Arwyn Diesta’s alleged sexual abuse of a seminary student first came to Mahony’s attention in 1992. By then, the priest had returned to his native Philippines. Mahony wrote to Diesta’s bishop, urging him to keep the priest away from teenage boys and have him undergo a psychological evaluation. When the bishop scoffed at the claims, Mahony went over his head.

“Obviously, if Father Diesta has indeed engaged in such sexual misconduct in the past, and I am convinced that he has, then he should not be in any ministry involving young people — especially young seminarians,” Mahony told the Vatican office in charge of seminaries in 1993. The cardinal running the office, Pio Laghi, said he’d alert an archbishop in the Philippines.

In 2001, Mahony visited a U.S. military base in Okinawa — and ran into Diesta. He was working as a U.S. Navy chaplain and at a seminary in the Philippines.

Mahony again wrote to the Vatican, asking why nothing had been done. So did the mother of one alleged victim.

“How many other young men have been needlessly subjected to sexual abuse by Fr. Diesta since he was reported … 10 years ago?” wrote the mother, who learned that Diesta was still in ministry through an Internet search.

In April 2002, the Vatican told Mahony that Diesta’s bishop remained dead set against taking action. Nine years after Mahony’s first letter, officials wrote: “We have forwarded the dossier on the aforementioned priest to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

Clearly frustrated, Mahony tried to work around the Vatican. Over the next two years, the archdiocese reported the allegations against Diesta to church officials who worked with the military, the Los Angeles Police Department and child welfare officials in the Philippines.

Diesta could not be reached for comment. According to the Diocese of Sorsogon in the Philippines, he remains a parish priest.

Times staff writers Nita Lelyveld, Harriet Ryan and Alan Zarembo contributed to this report.

16 Responses to Vatican impeded Mahony attempts to remove priests, files show

  1. MS says:

    I just watched the Passionate Eye…Mea Maxima Culpa…Silence in the House of God.
    My stomach feels like I just ate manure. It could not have gone on for a thousand years without that level of protection and immunity.
    As one man said in the latter part of the documentary, “A pedophile is more than a sinner. He is a criminal who plans his activity, who is very attentive to organize situations to abuse children.” This is much worse than a stalker.

  2. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    I know, MS! I feel absolutely ill to my stomach. I fear the worst is yet to come. What should we ourselves do to try and preserve any semblance of faith that might be left, in the face of this fungus that has infected our world? Mike.

  3. Jean-Louis says:

    I have yet to see the documentary… My spirit (and my stomach) just cannot take it at this particular time… However, reading this post has brought me to tears, along with recent discussion from the International Tribunal into Crimes of Church and State ( alleging that Benedict’s sudden retirement is so that he can “Evade Justice and Hide out in the Vatican for his own legal immunity and “protection”.

    Could it be that the highest ranking clergy in the WORLD is trying to evade justice by retiring and hiding? This sounds an awful lot like my own abuser’s sudden, unexplained “retirement” on July 4th 2012… They’re both priests, only one was way more ambitious…

    Jean-Louis (jj)

    From the website:

    Exclusive Breaking News: Friday February 15, 2013
    12 midnight GMT
    An Urgent Update from the International Tribunal into Crimes of Church and State (ITCCS) – Brussels

    In a statement to Reuters today, Vatican officials announced that Joseph Ratzinger will remain a permanent resident of Vatican City after his resignation. Doing so will offer him legal protection from any attempt to prosecute him in connection with sexual abuse cases around the world, Church sources said today.

    “His continued presence in the Vatican is necessary, otherwise he might be defenseless”.

    This startling admission of guilt by the church is also a direct obstruction of justice, and lends more weight to the charge by the ITCCS and others that the Vatican has arranged with the Italian government to shield Ratzinger from criminal prosecution, in violation of international laws ratified by Italy.”

  4. JG says:

    I watched the “Passionate Eye” also last night…and right away the “timing” of this first at 11:00pm, to 01:00am, certainly wasn’t meant to have it viewed by a wide audience! Everyone in the Maritimes anyway were more concerned about getting a good night sleep before another day at work! It reminded me of any controversial “government” announcement before or during long weekends, in the summer when fewer are watching the tube. In the winter, in a snow storm…what an opportunity to get a larger audience, at an earlier time…why not “prime time” for such an important subject. Not saying it was calculated but the showing was not “prioritized”…and it can be viewed for another month on the net. Make sure you see.

    It is all in the “Timing” and the church public relations is in overdrive, everywhere.
    Just as announcements about victims settlements, about new “saints” or the celebration of 22 new cardinals, very little of the recent developments is a “surprise” as they would have us believe. The pope quitting all of a sudden is anything but a “surprise” and well calculated again to regain some “market share”..!!! because also of some “revelations” as witnessed in “Mea Culpa…” The House is infested with termites!

    You will now have the opportunity to witness the selection of another pope just before Easter! Probably the new “deceiver” will arrive just on time to “celebrate” Easter, the “rebirth” so wished by the hierarchy! Rebirth of the stones, not of the Spirit!… The new chapter in an attempt to find all blinded followers and other corrupting influences back at work “as usual”, again!
    This “revealing” documentary is a little light thrown into the abyss of the church. There is nothing new or nothing that was not discussed or nothing which was not at least suspected. I have read on this site about most of the situations and manipulations of priests, church and faithful in the past three years. Those who were not paying attention here and elsewhere will not understand the trickery and its history and how it took us here, leaving us with that stench and a taste of everything wrong …

    To fall asleep last night(this morning!) I rewound all those thoughts and more and suddenly I was able to relax when I remembered that ” the blind shall see, the deaf shall hear” now that the “mute have spoken”…
    It is amazing the “Power” these lambs were given in the face of such evil. Once considered mentally deficient, defenceless, not a threat!…These men without the “words” are showing the way, speaking the Truth.

    This battle is not over until all is revealed… and the church did not invent “Timing”!
    I believe more than ever that it is all worth it if only for “one child”!
    We have to keep looking for the “Light” in this darkness…and “Hope” will live again.
    “Do not despair” seems so appropriate right now…

  5. Jerry Boyle says:

    I stayed up late to watch Mea Maxima Cupla the other night. My wife Josette also watched the revealing documentary in a different room. During the two hour broadcast Josette came into the family room where I was to see how I was holding up. I spent two hours pacing back and forth. It rekindled the two years of horrors I experienced at the hands of Hod Marshall.

    She had tears in her eyes. She could not believe what these criminals were doing to children and how the church covered up and protected the offenders. There was little said by any church official about the victims. They illustrated their concern for the church even when they condemned the actions of the priests.

    Josette now has a better understanding of what I experienced. There were many similarities to the cases revealed and what I was exposed to. While the victims in the case of Murphy were muted by their physical capabilities, we were muted by fear. Many of the victims observed others being assualted by Murphy.

    What I find even more frightening and personal is the fact that there were no other victims but at least four other priests that witnessed Marshall assaulting me and they did nothing. So many lives would have been changed if they stopped him when they saw what he was doing.

    Many have voiced their concern on the timing of the broadcast. It is something that is hard to understand. The show was aired in the U.S. on February 8th at prime time. How much influence does the church have in Canada? The interest is there in our community. The truth hurts the source of the income to the church. That is all I can see as the rational for hiding the information from the public. It is one thing to relay the message to those skeptical of the pending litigation but quite another for the public to see the documentary and the inaction by the Vatican for so many years.

    Canada has the advantage of the statute of limitations not protecting sex offenders. However, the penalties and prison terms do not match the crimes.

    Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has said the “victim’s bill of rights” was one of three get tough-on-crime themes the government is to introduce this year. It is time!!! There was some success in Manitoba Superior Court in overturning the light sentence of sex offenders. We have to challenge all light sentences until the crimes are given there just penalties.

    The victims are simply witnesses. That has to change!!

    Hopefully there will be enough support at the upcoming Marshall trial in Windsor on March 4th to get the ear of the media. Any support and participation by the readers could be very effective.

  6. PJ says:

    “His continued presence in the Vatican is necessary, otherwise he might be defenseless”.
    That’s right…keep defending your pervert collars and ole raccoon eyes…you’re nothing but a piece of sh!t in my eyes. And HE’s “defenseless”?? What about all the victims of those collars?? I guess we’re not or never were defenseless as children at the hands of those perverts. Yeah, that must be it…we brought it all on ourselves and accordingly, the collars must have been manipulated by us instead of the other way around. At least it makes it perfectly clear to me why that church is going to hell…they have strayed away from Christ’s teachings and now worship their own golden calf (money and power).

  7. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    Jerry, PJ, JG, and all;
    The recent media coverage on sexual abuse by roman catholic collars has pushed our buttons! You know, with money comes power, and power begets more money. Until the money dries up, I see no change in the way the Vatican does “business”. This “church” does NOT represent god here on earth.
    We were taught as young people to be wary of the 7 deadly sins. Continued commision of these spiritually deadly sins would render our souls to hell. Perhaps I am blinded by my anger, but Lust, Gluttony (just look at Cardinal Dolan), Avarice, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, and Pride appear to be the rule of thumb for this “church”. We are being told to follow the example set for us by these self-professed representatives of Christ here on earth! O.M.G.!
    My only sanity in these dark times is revelling in my association with you folks. You “guys” are the real representatives of love, compassion, and understanding. I think the comfort and power we get by our association here on Sylvia’s site will help us get through the madness. It’s helping me, at least.
    When I heard that Archbishop Dolan (now Cardinal) had transferred 55 million dollars (that’s a LOT of coin) into a cemetery trust fund, then promptly arranged a bankruptcy proceeding for his Archdiocese (after hiding this money), I lost it! What’s up here? Were the dead people in the cemetery getting cold, and needed a central air and heating system? No, the Archbishop was making sure that the victims in this diocese couldn/t touch the money. He wanted it for himself (King Midas, it’s all mine, mine, mine).
    When I see our judiciary handing out more serious punishment to a young man who was growing marijuana in his basement (1 year of house arrest, 2 years of probation, and a 10 year weapons prohibition) than to a Monsignor convicted of criminal sexual assault, a crime against the person (9 months of house arrest, 2 years probation) I know we have a long way to go.
    I felt the same emotions that Jerry and his wife did while watching this documentary. Lovey left the room after the first 20 minutes. My reaction was upsetting her, and she said later that she felt helpless to do anything about it. It was a revealing moment for me when I realized that we are not the only victims of this church! Most of the wonderful people we victims come into contact with will be affected by our resultant behaviour as well. We must be aware of this!
    I know I’m ranting, so time to stop, or Sylvia will shut me down! Please let’s all stick together, and maybe we can do something good! Mike.

    • PJ says:

      Your words bring comfort to me as I feel the same way. That church doesn’t get it though…maybe they never will. As long as we keep up the fight and stick together we will survive. Stay strong my friend.

  8. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    Thanks PJ, and I’m glad! By the way, I may have been somewhat in error regarding Cardinal Dolan of New York. I hadn’t realized until now that a Federal Bankruptcy Judge has overturned Dolan’s lame attempt to hide 55 million dollars in a cemetery trust fund.
    Judge Susan V. Kelley has found it hard to believe that the Archdiocese needs 55 million dollars to continue to cut the grass in it’s cemeteries. She has stated that there is “something fishy about the transfer”, and has ordered the funds opened for compensation to abuse victims.
    The information is shown on “Huff Post, Religion Canada”. It appears that the friendly grinning Irishman’s face is actually the facade of an expert hypocrite, masquerading as a “man of god”.
    Nothing new, huh? He is so pompous! To think that he could be the next pope curdles my snot!!!! Mike.

  9. Brenda Brunelle says:

    One statement that came through loud and clear was the sea of money flowing in every weekend from the Sunday collections.

    I have been trying to decide what I should do with all the pennies I have collected over the years as they soon will no longer be legal tender. Would it not be great if all of Canada’s faithful, deposited their pennies in exchange for their regular weekly donations in an attempt to send a loud message, not only from the first hand victims, but also from the faithful that have been betrayed by the very acts of the faith they so desperately cling to.

    Perhaps it is time to re introduce the .02 cent Sunday.

    • PJ says:

      Why not put envelopes in the collection plate with a note inside saying something about supporting the victims instead of fighting us tooth and nail? They will accept the pennies because they worship money. The empty envelopes with notes might be the best way for parishioners to express their dismay.

  10. Brenda Brunelle says:

    PJ. you are so right! Plus, the envelopes are an expense to the church, so to receive notes in place of pennies or cash, it truly would send a loud message.


  11. Pattmando says:

    These are my thoughts reading of the vatican’s crimes above.

    They are clearly a criminal organization. This of course does not make all members criminals as it is not the people making the decisions and taking the actions of protecting the child abusers and their enablers. It is the leaders such as Ratzinger himself, and the Cardinals and Bishops all working to protect themselves and their kind.

    We have a criminal organization operating under the auspices of a charity right here in our country, in every city, neighbourhood and (shudder) many schools. It seems the best way to stop them, besides shining the light of truth upon them, is to hit them in the wallet. Why should they enjoy “charitable” status and all the associated tax benefits when they should be classified as a criminal enterprise until they are purged of their evil people and evil ways? I know nothing of the law in such matters but it seems to me there could be, should be, a good case made that they no longer (never really did it would appear) qualify for such status when so many of their leaders clearly are engaged in ongoing criminal activities. How does one revoke their charitable status?

    I have heard it proposed on here many times – don’t give money in the Sunday collection, or give a penny to show your disgust, but that won’t do. Even if you give nothing, we are all subsidizing the Roman Catholic Church in Canada – every single one of us – through the tax laws. Think about THAT when you do your taxes this year. Anybody who gives money to the RC church, lowers their tax bill which in the end is made up by everybody else. We all subsidize these criminals and their criminal enterprise. Sure, they do good too but that doesn’t make them a charity. It makes them smart.

    In addition, there is the Ontario Civil Remedies Act allowing for seizure of the assets of criminal organizations.

    “In Ontario, civil forfeiture legislation focuses solely on the connection between property and unlawful activity and is not dependent on any criminal charges or convictions. The standard of proof required for civil forfeiture is the same as in all civil suits — a balance of probabilities.”

    “Ontario’s Civil Remedies Act, 2001, is an innovative piece of legislation that permits a civil court, at the request of the Attorney General, to freeze, take possession of, and forfeit to the Crown, property acquired through or likely to be used for unlawful activity. Property includes all types of assets, such as real estate, cars and cash.”

    “There are three types of civil cases that the Attorney General of Ontario can bring under the Civil Remedies Act:
    In a conspiracy case, the Attorney General must establish that two or more people conspired to engage in unlawful activity where they knew or ought to have known that the activity would likely result in injury to the public. The Ontario Superior Court of Justice may award damages for that injury or issue preventive orders. “

    Maybe someone has a thought on the subject as I do not say it as merely an idle thought but a serious question. I would back both pursuits to the fullest – the removal of their charity status and the forfeiture of their assets. After all where do they hide their criminals but in their churches?

  12. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    Pat, I completely agree although this process could go on for years. My thoughts were more for the immediate future. Dry up the easiest access to money ie; the collection basket. Why should we, or any members of our family continue to reward this instituition with monetary gain?
    I would use Cesar Milan as a perfect example of what not to do with this bunch. If you reward a dog for ill behaviour, the behaviour WILL get worse. Discipline the dog, and show it the correct behaviour, and there is a chance!
    It would be my hope that your suggestion would be seen as having merit by our legislators and lawmakers, but as we have all found out, this is a very long and slow process, and we would in all likelyhood not see the results in our lifetime.
    For the time being, I nor my immediate family and friends will be rewarding this criminal and vile behaviour! Mike.

  13. pattmando says:

    Good god by no means do I disagree with you Mike. Please do not give money to criminals.

    And my suggestion(s) would not be put into action through legislators or lawmakers but by ordinary people, with the help of a good law firm, taking up the cause. Legislators and lawmakers would never have the courage to offend the leaders of the church but if the law exists it can be used by the people. It sure looks to me like it exists.

    I am just putting it out there for thought. I am certainly thinking about it.

  14. JG says:

    I have been following this tread discreetly…I posted two replies and deleted. Jerry’s comment about being silenced by “fear” is so true, so close to home. I always thought my Father had “respect” for authority. Then in 2004 I found out it was fear, going back to his young orphaned life at the mercy of his abuser priest. He lived all his life in fear and passed some of his uncertainty to his children…and probably are showing similar signs…
    Jerry and Mike, you both saw the pain felt by their spouses with the graphic content of this film. I could probably add my wife’s difficulties, my children’s…
    It has been said before that the domino effect of the clergy abuses is underestimated…
    Mike, Jerry …you are both doing very well from where I look. You are able to see someone else’s pain in spite of your own. Very refreshing. Very generous of you both.
    You are never alone when you know you are Loved.
    Stay strong.

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