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Friday, 30 January 2009 23:48

U.S. Investigates Los Angeles Archdiocese Officials

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By John R Emshwiller
Wall Street Journal
Thusrday, January 29, 2009

LOS ANGELES -- Federal authorities are investigating the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles to see whether top church officials tried to cover up the sexual abuse of minors by priests, said a person familiar with the matter.

[caption id="attachment_3486" align="alignright" width="262" caption="Cardinal Roger Mahoney"]Cardinal Roger Mahoney[/caption]

A federal grand jury has issued subpoenas and begun calling witnesses in the probe, which began late last year, said this person. The investigation is still in its early, fact-gathering stage, and it isn't known whether any criminal charges will result.

J. Michael Hennigan, a lawyer for the archdiocese, said in an email on behalf of church officials: "The Archdiocese has received requests from the U.S. Attorney's office for information about a number of individual priests, two of whom are deceased; none of whom remain in ministry. We have been and will continue to be fully cooperative with the investigation."

Cardinal Roger Mahony, who heads the archdiocese, the largest in the U.S., has been criticized by victims' groups for his past handling of sexual-abuse allegations against priests. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's office has been investigating allegations of such abuses for several years.

District Attorney Steve Cooley criticized the archdiocese in 2007 for its "institutional moral failure" to "supervise predatory priests." A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office said their investigation is still open.

Catholic Church leaders said they have done much to address the priest sexual-abuse problem. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, for example, set up a national review board in 2002 aimed at "preventing the sexual abuse of minors in the United States by persons in the service of the Church," according to the organization's Web site. Individual dioceses "have made significant strides to instill practices that will ensure the safety of children in the church," said the organization's Web site.

The district attorney's investigation began in 2002, around the same time that internal archdiocese emails about priests accused of abuse surfaced in the media.

Over the following two years, dozens of alleged victims stepped forward, with many filing lawsuits. They claimed the archdiocese shielded priests accused of molestation by keeping the allegations secret and allowing them to keep working, sometimes moving them from one parish to another.

In 2004, the archdiocese, which covers three Southern California counties containing more than four million Catholics, issued a report on the priest sex-abuse scandal. Cardinal Mahony apologized to victims and acknowledged "my own mistakes during my 18 years" as the archdiocese's leader.

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