Special Report: Los Angeles Archdiocese kept sexual abuse in the shadows

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On the first Sunday after a flood of newly released documents showed how Catholic leaders shielded priests accused of child sex abuse, parishioners at churches across Los Angeles and beyond said they were troubled by the revelations but remained strong in their faith.

At the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles, Archbishop Jose Gomez had been quiet about the issue all week, but spoke out briefly about it during his morning sermon.

"This has been a challenging week for all of us in Los Angeles because of the abuse of many by priests," Gomez said somberly to the hundreds of parishioners who had filled the sanctuary.

"Today we want to especially pray for anyone who has been hurt by the church. We also want to renew and strengthen our policies on the protection of children within the diocese."

Gomez became leader of the largest Roman Catholic Archdiocese after Cardinal Roger Mahony retired in 2011.


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It is Mahony, however, who remains at the center of allegations of how the Los Angeles Archdiocese concealed sexually abusive clergy in the late 1980s.

The letters, memos and depositions by victims within the files of 14 priests show how he and then-Monsignor Thomas Curry tried to prevent police and parishioners from learning that children - mostly young boys - were being molested.

The details renewed anger among victims of clerical abuse, who last week called for Mahony and Curry to be held accountable. The Los Angeles District Attorney's office promised to look into the files.

Yet despite being shocked and concerned by the new information, parishioners far and wide expressed nearly the same sentiment, that the sins of men, even those of the cloth, do not affect their faith in God.

Maria Marciano, a parishioner at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Rancho Cucamonga, said she and other Catholics will not lose faith.

"If you have faith in God, that's not going to stop," she said. "We don't come to see the priest."

Marciano, who lives in Fontana, said clergy who abused children will ultimately face responsibility for their sins.

"Whoever did wrong things, ... they're going to (answer to) God for what they've done," she said.

"It's devastating that something like that would happen, but as Christians and Catholics, we still have our faith," said Debbie Garcia, who attended Mass at St. Christopher Church in West Covina with her husband, Gilbert Garcia.

She and other parishioners said the disturbing revelations only highlight the sinful nature of mankind, and the need for divine guidance. Several church-goers said the involved victims, as well as the involved priests, are in their prayers.

"It's sad that it happens, but you've got to keep going forward," Gilbert Garcia said.

Debbie Garcia said she felt confident the church has changed its ways and is now handling the issue in a more forthright and appropriate manner, though she added that the change comes late.

Don Kohles stands in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 with his sign, in reference to the
Don Kohles stands in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 with his sign, in reference to the ongoing sexual abuse cases. (Gene Blevins/Special to the Daily News)

The archdiocese released a statement last week, saying lessons have been learned from the allegations and that layers of safe practices have been in place in the last decade.

"We have apologized for the sad and shameful actions of some priests, as well as for our inadequate responses in assisting victims and in dealing with perpetrators to promptly report abuse allegations to civil authorities, to screen all those who supervise children, and to train adults and children in the latest abuse prevention procedures," the archdiocese said.

"It should have been dealt with from the beginning," Garcia said. 

The Catholic church is not alone in recent revelations regarding allegations of failing to properly address child sex abuse, parishioners said, pointing out other instances, such as allegations that have recently surfaced regarding teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

St. Christopher Parishioner Ruben Reza said he was also deeply unsettled by the information emerging regarding the church's handling of child sex abuse allegations, but his faith remained unshaken.

"It's got nothing to do with my faith," he said. "As far as I know, there has only been one perfect person, and that's Jesus Christ," he added. "I don't believe in the priests, I believe in God."

Some parishioners at Lakewood's Saint Pancratius Catholic Church wouldn't talk about the document revelation. But Daniel Esparza, 79, of Long Beach, said the document revelation doesn't challenge his faith.

"I still respect the priest here,"he said.

However, Esparza had harsh words about Mahony.

"Mahony should be prosecuted," Esparza said. "He protected (the priests). They're just like anyone else. You break the law, you should be punished."

Another parishioner, Dwayne McDowell, said the crimes of some priests don't indict the entire Catholic church.

"It doesn't go across the whole church," McDowell said. "Some of them chose not to follow the teachings."

Another 75 cases of abusive priests are due to be released in the coming weeks under the terms of an unprecedented $660 million settlement the church reached with more than 500 victims in 2007.

But nothing in those contents will surprise Donald Kohles, an 85-year-old Los Angeles man who has known about the cover-ups since the 1980s. That's when his then 15-year-old nephew was abused, he said.

For the last nine years, Kohles has dressed in a suit and tie and has stood at the entrance of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, with a hand made sign that reads "Phony Mahony."

He said the release of more files will further help cleanse the church. But he also thinks Mahony should be jailed.

"I love my church, and I'm a strong Catholic," Kohles said. "But it's time to alert people of the wolves and the sheep inside."

susan.abram@dailynews.com

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