While many have praised Mahony's recent stance on clergy sexual abuse--at the Dallas meeting, he called for zero tolerance and more lay participation--victims' groups and the press have sharply criticized him for his handling of abuse cases as bishop of Stockton, Calif., as well as in his current position as head of the Los Angeles archdiocese.
Most notably, he is accused of shuffling child molester Fr. Michael Baker between parishes for a decade after the priest admitted his abuses to Mahony. Baker admitted the abuse in 1986, a year after Mahony took over the L.A. diocese. Father Baker is accused by victims, including a 34-year-old West Hollywood man, of molesting boys, some as young as 5, from 1976 to 1999. Baker has said the cardinal sent him to a treatment center in New Mexico without inquiring about the identity of his victims.
When two brothers living in Arizona prepared to sue the archdiocese in 2000, claiming Baker had molested them from 1984 to 1999, Mahony allegedly signed off on a secret $1.3 million settlement. Baker's lawyer, Don Steier, said his client paid for most of it. He said he was unable to reveal the source of the money.
In another case, victim Andy Cicchillo said he wrote to Mahony in 1991 about abuse committed in the 1960s by the Rev. Carl Sutphin. Mr. Cicchillo said that Vicar Timothy Dyer, who said he was speaking for Mahony, promised the priest would be retired, not allowed to wear his collar, and not allowed near a child. In 2001, he learned that Sutphin was still an active priest, assigned to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
The parents of unnamed brothers also allegedly abused by Sutphin say they first notified the archdiocese in 1994.
Another lawsuit alleges that Mahony was part of a conspiracy by the archdiocese involving the Rev. Francisco Tamayo, who admitted in 1991 that he had seduced a 16-year-old parishioner in 1978.
Cardinal Mahony has denied any knowledge of the case, saying he never read the priest's personnel files.
But when Mahony took over the archdiocese, Father Tamayo wrote directly to him. The cardinal's staff responded, offering the priest more money to stay in the Phillippines--where the church was paying him to stay--because lawsuits would "only open old wounds and further hurt anyone concerned, including the archdiocese."
Mahony has admitted he erred in transferring Father Michael Wempe, who is accused of molesting children, to a medical center about 14 years ago without telling hospital officials about accusations against him.
Wempe, 62, worked as a chaplain at the medical center from 1988 until last March, when Mahony forced him to retire.
Plaintiffs also charge that Mahony was instrumental in concealing information from law enforcement officials and that the L.A. archdiocese treated victims as potential litigants rather than wounded souls.
In March 2002, the cardinal said in a pastoral letter to his diocese that "The Archdiocese of Los Angeles will not knowingly assign or retain a priest ...to serve in its parishes, schools, pastoral ministries, or any other assignment when such an individual is determined to have previously engaged in the sexual abuse of a minor."
He also also confirmed that the personnel files of all priests, except deceased ones, had been reviewed in an effort to clean out what he termed a "cancer" in the church.
Mahony, sometimes referred to as the "Teflon cardinal," has escaped calls for his resignation and has promised a tough new stance on abuse. At mass in June 2002, he read a letter apologizing to church members for the scandal. "I ask for your forgiveness for not understanding earlier the extent of the problem, and for not taking swifter action to remove from the ministry anyone who had abused a minor in the past," the letter said. "The crisis has caused me many sleepless nights filled with concern for the victims, as well as sadness and anger toward those priests who have preyed upon the most vulnerable among us—our children."