Four men who say they were abused by a California priest decades ago filed suit Monday against Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, the nation's largest archdiocese, under a federal law originally aimed at busting organized crime. Mahony, who called for "zero tolerance" for predatory priests before last week's Vatican summit on the sex abuse scandal, is named under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute (RICO) more often used to uncover illegal conspiracies among mobsters, drug cartels or Wall Street connivers.
The cardinal's office did not reply to a request for comment.
Jeffrey Anderson, a St. Paul attorney who has filed 500 sex abuses cases across the country since 1983, also included 194 archdiocesan bishops nationwide as unnamed co-conspirators.
The suit, filed in federal court and delivered to Mahony's cathedral, alleges he concealed crimes by failing to remove predatory priests and by lying to parishioners.
"I made Mahony the centerpiece of this suit because he is a mastermind of deceiving parents, deceiving parishioners, deceiving police and deceiving prosecutors," Anderson says.
Andy Cicchillo, 46, of Tempe, Ariz., said Monday that he and his twin brother were molested by a priest between 1964 and 1975 when they were children at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Maywood, Calif. In 1991, after learning that the priest was a chaplain in a hospital serving children, Cicchillo wrote to Mahony asking that the priest be defrocked.
Cicchillo said the archdiocese promised "he would never wear a (priest's) collar again. But last year, someone from the old parish showed my brother a photo of (the priest) giving tours of the cathedral."
"I have had Mahony on the radar for a long time," says Anderson, who successfully sued Mahony for protecting a pedophile priest while Mahony was bishop of Stockton, Calif., before moving to Los Angeles in 1985. In that case, a $30 million verdict against the diocese included $24 million in punitive damages on behalf of two victims.
Three weeks ago, Anderson also filed a RICO suit against the former bishop of Palm Beach, Anthony O'Connell, who resigned in March after acknowledging he had sex with a seminary student years ago.
David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, says victims are disappointed with the focus on "bad apple" priests, "while the public and the parishioners know it's not about the apples, it's about the barrel - the folks in charge."