Published February 06, 2013
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles said Wednesday it would release additional documents from internal clergy abuse files after alleged victims complained that 12,000 pages released last week were missing critical memos and contained excessive redactions.
The documents in question from the file of former priest Michael Baker span a 14 year-period — from 1986 to 2000 — and provide insight into how retired Cardinal Roger Mahony and other church leaders dealt with him.
The Associated Press reported from an unredacted copy of the Baker file last month that contained documents that were not included in the archdiocese's disclosure.
The archdiocese acknowledged it had erred in keeping those pages sealed after the AP inquired Wednesday about the documents.
"They will be posted shortly," archdiocese attorney Michael Hennigan said in an email. "It is our intention to do this completely and correctly."
He did not immediately respond to a follow-up email asking how the archdiocese failed to include the Baker memos in its Jan. 31 release.
The archdiocese posted more than 120 confidential priest files online less than an hour after a Los Angeles judge ordered it to release the papers without redacting the names of members of the church hierarchy who made key decisions about how to handle priests accused of molestation.
The files show Mahony and other top church leaders shielded pedophile priests to protect the church and repeatedly failed to report child abuse to law enforcement despite clear knowledge of the crimes clergy members had committed.
The archdiocese agreed to the release as part of a $660 million settlement with abuse victims in 2007. Attorneys for individual priests fought for five years to prevent the papers from being made public, and the archdiocese tried to blot out large sections, including the names of hierarchy involved in decision making.
The AP and Los Angeles Times fought successfully to have the names of Mahony and top church officials made public.
Alleged victims and their advocates applauded the archdiocese's decision to release more pages but said there are other problems with missing pages and blacked-out names and paragraphs.
"It's not unanticipated that as things are pointed out to the archdiocese, they will go back and correct it," said plaintiff attorney Anthony De Marco. "If it's not pointed out, they won't correct it."
The archdiocese has until Feb. 22 to comply with the order by the judge, who has the power to resolve disputes.
The documents initially omitted by the archdiocese include a December 1986 letter that Mahony wrote to Baker summarizing a private meeting in which the priest said he had molested two brothers for years.
Also left out were two internal memos describing Baker's ongoing contact with minors despite a psychiatrist's recommendation that he stay away from children or be defrocked, and an August 2000 memo in which a top Mahony aide suggests that the church contact police about Baker. The priest was performing baptisms without permission and had skipped a disciplinary meeting without explanation.
"Since it appears he continues to use his status as a cleric to gain access to families, I will be consulting with the families for whom Father Baker did the baptisms and depending on what is learned there, there may be other bases for ecclesiastical penalties," wrote Msgr. Richard Loomis, the vicar for clergy in charge of priestly discipline. "We may also be in the position of reporting Father Baker's activities to the police."
Baker, who is believed to have molested 20 children in his 26-year career, was sentenced to prison for child molestation in 2007.
"Obviously, these omissions matter. If the DA or any other reader reads only the (archdiocese) file, they won't appreciate that Baker violated his restrictions repeatedly and flagrantly for years before he was permanently removed," said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-founder of BishopAccountability.org, which tracks public releases of internal clergy abuse documents from dioceses nationwide.
Doyle believes there are 66 other documents missing from Baker's file alone and said her group is considering filing a brief with the court.
Several plaintiff attorneys are also considering filing a motion, but are still poring over the files, De Marco said.
The archdiocese will review disputed documents and redactions as they are brought to its attention, Hennigan said in his email.
One of Baker's victims, Matt Severson, said he had not planned to read the priest's confidential file until a friend called him and urged him to do so.
The missing documents upset Severson, he said, but not as much as reading references to his own abuse in Baker's words.
The priest told a therapist at a center where Mahony sent him for evaluation that his relationship with Severson was "very beautiful" and that the young boy was "the focus of his affection" although he had also molested other children. The priest molested Severson for a decade, beginning when Severson was about 10.
Seeing those descriptions brought back painful memories — but also a sense of relief, said Severson, now 45.
"In the mix of all these swirling emotions, there's also a sense of validation," he said. "I see myself in here and as painful as it is, it's helpful."