April 19, 2006

Cardinals and the Law

International Herald Tribune

New York Times


After years of stonewalling, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles has run out of excuses for blocking the prosecution of rogue priests accused in the Catholic Church's pedophilia scandal. While other bishops and cardinals cooperated with the authorities, Mahony became a study in arrogance who only compounded the church's embarrassment. His lawyers concocted elaborate hypotheses that church leaders and priests - under the confidentiality of "the sanctification process" - somehow enjoyed shelter from their basic duty to cooperate with criminal law enforcement. The Supreme Court put an end to the evasions on Monday in refusing to hear the cardinal's final appeal.

The archdiocese must now follow lower court orders to yield church documents in the cases of two defrocked priests facing criminal trials. The diocese should have to make available similar material affecting the civil suits of more than 500 people who say they were sexually abused by priests in years past, beyond the criminal statutes of limitation. The archdiocese is just one shard of a scandal that in the past four years has forced the Roman Catholic Church in the United States to promise reforms, pay hundreds of millions in settlements, and dismiss more than 700 priests accused of sexually ravaging thousands of schoolchildren.

Mahony's resistance to civil authorities is a reminder of the one factor in the scandal that has not been fully scrutinized: the misbehavior of ranking churchmen who fiercely protected and even reassigned guilty priests to prey again upon their flocks.

The church's own laity panel singled out Mahony and Cardinal Edward Egan of New York for criticism, but both have defended their past management of scandalous priests. The panel warned that "there must be consequences" for culpable prelates as well as for the priests.

Posted by kshaw at April 19, 2006 12:18 PM