Los Angeles - Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony didn't call police in 1986 after a priest admitted to molesting two boys, and he didn't warn parishioners because the priest told him the children were illegal immigrants who had returned to Mexico, according to court documents released Tuesday.
Mahony, 74, said he didn't take stronger action against the Rev. Michael Baker because he didn't know the victims' identities and because Baker told him the abuse happened outside the parish.
The cardinal testified that he also did not ask his staff to search for the boys but instead sent Baker to a residential center in New Mexico for treatment and later placed him on restricted ministry.
Much of how Mahony handled Baker has already been made public, but the testimony released by the court marked the first time the cardinal gave a sworn deposition about his actions as head of the Los Angeles archdiocese, including how he handled allegations against Baker over a 14-year period. The deposition released Tuesday was part of a sex abuse lawsuit that recently settled for $2.2 million.
The archdiocese in 2004 released a report that acknowledged Mahony made mistakes in handling the priest, who is now serving a 10-year sentence for child molestation. A federal grand jury investigation into the archdiocese's handling of the clergy abuse crisis is ongoing.
More than 30 other criminal charges were too old to be prosecuted, but the archdiocese said 23 alleged victims have accused Baker of abuse. Not all of them have filed lawsuits, said Tod Tamberg, an archdiocese spokesman.
"I believed too readily in Baker's contrition, and in our ability to treat and monitor him effectively," Mahony said in a statement Tuesday. "The past has informed the present, however, and I have made sure that our sexual abuse prevention policies and procedures will keep our children and young people safe from predators like Michael Baker."
In his testimony, Mahony said Baker confided in him at a priests' retreat in 1986 that he had molested two boys but didn't know where they were and believed they were "illegal aliens" who had returned to Mexico.
He said Baker defined the abuse as "touching" that occurred on one or two occasions.
The account differed from what the archdiocese included in its 2004 report to congregants. That report did not mention that the children were illegal immigrants from Mexico. It also said Baker told Mahony about his "relationship with two boys from 1978 to 1985."
In his deposition, Mahony could not reconcile his testimony with the 2004 report, which includes a cover letter bearing his signature.
Mahony said he did not call police, didn't ask his staff to search for the boys and didn't alert parishioners to the abuse because no victims came forward. The archdiocese has never located the two victims, said Tamberg.
Mahony said he believed Baker would not re-offend because he had confessed on his own and seemed sincere about seeking treatment.
"The challenge is trying to look at 1986 through the lenses of 2010, because we have developed over the years all kinds of policies and procedures where we're very much aware of it - of what needs to be done, how it's done, how quickly it's done," Mahony said in the deposition.
"It is impossible to talk about 1986 without understanding all that has gone on since and look back. I just can't do that," he said.
John Manly, the plaintiff's attorney who took the deposition in January, dismissed the cardinal's statements.
"This may be the one and only time he sits (for a deposition), and it paints a picture of somebody who obfuscates, dodges, lies and explains away everything," he said. "Any right-thinking person would not have engaged in the conduct Roger Mahony engaged in with Michael Baker unless they were trying to cover it up."
After six months of treatment, Baker was assigned to nine different parishes but was barred from having one-on-one contact with minors. He violated those restrictions three times, according to church personnel file summaries released by the archdiocese.
In one of those instances, a fellow priest in 1996 spotted a young boy leaving the rectory where Baker resided and became suspicious. Mahony asked the priest to interview the boy, who said no abuse had occurred, the cardinal said in his testimony.
The incident was not reported to police, and the boy - now an adult - and his mother have both said in sworn testimony that no one from the church ever spoke to them, Manly said.
The man settled a sex abuse lawsuit for $2.2 million this year, and his trial testimony helped prosecutors convict Baker on molestation charges in 2007.
The man's younger brother filed a civil lawsuit against the archdiocese this month.
In 2000, Baker was laicized after another set of brothers filed a lawsuit alleging the priest had abused them at various locations in Mexico, California and Arizona between 1984 and 1999. The archdiocese settled the lawsuit for $1.25 million, but Mahony didn't notify police of their allegations until 2003.
Mahony said he didn't feel the need to call police immediately because the men were adults and could have contacted law enforcement themselves. He also said he didn't want to jeopardize the then-confidential settlement by going to police.
"I told you, these were adults. They were angry. They were furious at Baker. They had an attorney who was furious at Baker," Mahony said. "It seemed to me if they really wanted to get him, they would have reported it in Arizona."
The archdiocese settled more than 500 cases of clergy sex abuse for a ground-breaking $660 million in 2007.
Mahony is expected to retire next year when he turns 75.