California Priest Abuse

Catholicism’s presence and influence in California dates back to the 16th century when Spanish missionaries from religious orders such as the Franciscans and Jesuits began to perform mission work in the area.  Today, the Catholic Church is one of the primary religious organizations in the state with ten dioceses (Fresno, Monterey, Oakland, Orange, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Jose, Santa Rosa, and Stockton) as well as two metropolitan sees known as Archdioceses (Los Angeles and San Francisco).  Those who identify themselves as Catholic comprise nearly 1/3 of the entire population of the State of California.  The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is the largest Catholic archdiocese in the country.  Given the tremendous influence of the Catholic Church in California, it is no surprise California became an epicenter in the most recent outbreak of the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis which began in Boston in 2002.

However, the priest sexual abuse issue in California didn’t begin with the Boston Globe investigation.  As early as the mid-1980’s, the Diocese of Oakland was forced to deal with the sexual abuse of minors by Oakland Catholic priests.  As early as 1988 the Oakland Diocesan Senate of Priests developed a one-page set of guidelines for dealing with any report of sexual abuse by a priest, religious or other Church employee. Policies required prompt response to all allegations, even if the complaint is anonymous. While the allegation is being investigated, the priest is placed on administrative leave. In the case of a minor, if the allegation of sexual abuse is true, the priest will not be returned to ministry.  These guidelines were enacted because the Diocese of Oakland had received numerous complaints concerning the sexual abuse of minors.  In December 1993 then-Bishop John Cummins issues an update concerning policies and procedures for dealing with sexual abuse cases in the Diocese of Oakland.  Between 1994 and 2003, the Diocese of Oakland paid more than $1.5 million to survivors of sexual abuse by priests.  In 2005, the Diocese of Oakland paid $56 million in sexual abuse lawsuit cases.  One year prior to the Diocese of Oakland priest abuse settlement, the Diocese of Orange agrees to pay 87 victims of sexual abuse $100 million.  Six months later in June 2005, the Diocese of Sacramento settled with 33 sexual abuse survivors for $33 million.

In order to place the history of clergy sexual abuse in California in its proper context, one must examine the Catholic bishops who led the Catholic Church in California, particularly in the 1980’s.  There is no figure who looms larger in this recent history than recently retired Roger Cardinal Mahony.  Mahony, a California native who grew up in Hollywood, was ordained a Catholic priest in 1962.  His rise was meteoric and he was generally viewed as a darling of the post Vatican II church.  He was bilingual and supported Cesar Chavez in the fight for equality and justice for California’s immigrant farmworkers.  In 1975, at the age of 38, he was named auxiliary bishop of Fresno and in 1980 he was made ordinary (bishop in charge) of the Diocese of Stockton.  This is where Mahony’s complex involvement with priest sexual abuse in California begins (this wasn’t revealed until deposition transcripts in 1998 revealed it).  Mahony was bishop of Stockton from 1980 until 1985 and during that time he supervised one of the worst serial pedophiles in the country, Fr. Oliver O’Grady.  According to an article in USA Today, “As bishop in Stockton, Mahony transferred the Rev. Oliver O’Grady to a new parish after the priest admitted during a therapy session to sexually molesting a young child. Mahony made the transfer despite a psychiatric evaluation that indicated the priest was sexually immature and might not be fit for the priesthood.

O’Grady continued to molest children at his new post, according to lawsuits, and served seven years in prison before being deported to his native Ireland, where he was arrested late last year on child pornography charges. To date, the Stockton diocese has paid nearly $21 million to O’Grady’s alleged victims.” Click here to read more.

Our office handled one of the worst abuse cases I’ve seen involving O’Grady.  Yet, he wasn’t the only priest whom Mahony may have ignored or transferred in order to keep the sexual abuse secret.  Fr. Antonio Camacho, a extern (visiting) priest from Mexico was accused of abusing two high school boys at St. Stanislaus Catholic High School in Modesto in 1983 or 1984.  Apparently, rather than reporting the priest to law enforcement, Mahony had him transferred back to Mexico with no warnings about his behavior or the sex abuse allegations. 

Another Mexican priest, Antonio Munoz, was accused of sexually abusing students on a church trip.  According to Cardinal Mahony’s 2004 deposition, he removed Munoz, a visiting priest from Mexico, after parents met with him and alleged that Munoz sexually abused several high school students during a 1981 trip he organized to Tijuana. When Mahony testified in the 1998 O’Grady trial, he had stated that O’Grady was the only accused priest with whom he dealt in Stockton.

In 1985, Mahony was named as the new Archbishop of Los Angeles upon the retirement of Timothy Cardinal Manning.  As the Archbishop of Los Angeles, Mahony’s involvement with the priest abuse scandal grew, according to George Neumayr. Click here to read more.

The facts that have emerged from the Los Angeles abuse cases reveal a calculated public relations campaign that is almost surreal in its deception. The press has reported that in at least 16 cases, Mahony kept priests accused of molestation in ministry. In an interview with the National Catholic Reporter writer, Richard Sipe called the Los Angeles archdiocese under Mahony one of the "worst dioceses I’ve ever seen. In 1991, 56 of the 710 archdiocesan priests active in the Los Angeles archdiocese were sexual abusers in ministry."

Until the abuse scandal enveloped the Church, Mahony had planned to make an accused molester, Fr. Carl Sutphin (one of his classmates from St. John’s Seminary), an associate pastor of Los Angeles’ new cathedral. Cardinal Mahony had brought Sutphin with him from the old cathedral, St. Vibiana’s.  "I can’t believe a cardinal keeps a pedophile on staff," Andrew Cicchillo, who says Sutphin abused him, said to the press in 2002. Asked by the press why he would share living quarters over a period of seven years with a priest accused of abuse, Cardinal Mahony implausibly cast the arrangement as a form of supervision.

After Cardinal Mahony finally fired Sutphin and expelled him from the priesthood, prosecutors considered Sutphin a "flight risk." At Sutphin’s bail hearing, prosecutors asked the judge to set bail at $500,000. "Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying . . . You’re suggesting that the Catholic Church would help him flee?" said Judge James Cloninger, as reported in the Ventura County Star. "Yes, that is what I’m suggesting," responded Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Douglas Ridley.

Cardinal Mahony’s inner circle included several accused pedophiles. One of them, Michael Baker, told the press that, in a panic-stricken state, he once begged the cardinal to call the police on him, but the cardinal refused. Baker says that after he offered to turn himself in, one of Cardinal Mahony’s lawyers said, "Should we call the police now?" To which the cardinal responded: "No, no, no."

In spite of Mahony’s behavior, he portrayed a different face to the public.  During this time in the 1990’s when he was publicly stating that he had zero tolerance for those who abuse children, he appointed Monsignor Richard Loomis (served as Mahony’s vicar for clergy until 2000) as a point man for review of sexual abuse allegations in the Archdicoese.  However, Loomis was himself accused of sexual abuse, and Mahony publicly told the parishioners of Sts. Felicitas and Perpetua parish in San Marino, there "was no credible evidence of misconduct" and that he had "complete confidence" in him. But then, inevitably it seems, more accusations came and Loomis was suspended.

Mahony is not the only California bishop to have been touched by the abuse scandal; Cardinal Wiliam Levada also has a complex relationship to abusive priests, as we will explore in a later post.


Newsletter Sign up

Want to get updates about our work delivered right to your email inbox? All you need to do is enter your email address below.

Contact Us
Fremont Place II, Suite 302, 1650 NW Naito Parkway, Portland, OR 97209
Phone: 503-306-0224
Fax: 503-306-0257
Social Links
© 2014 Abuse Attorneys at Law, O'Donnell Clark & Crew LLP