Tuesday, May 21, 2002
Archdiocese, Mahony, Priest Hit With RICO Lawsuit
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Archdiocese has engaged in a pattern and practice of covering up for priests who molest children, with Cardinal Roger Mahony knowingly acting as the “kingpin” of the operation, four men charged yesterday in a racketeering complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
The plaintiffs, claim to have been molested by Father Michael Baker while they were children in his parish. The men are suing under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, state child abuse statutes, state penal laws dealing with obstruction of justice and harboring fugitives, and common law theories of battery, fraud, and negligence.
They are identified as John Does in the complaint, which asserts that their names have been provided to the Archdiocese under separate cover. But one of the four, Matthew Severson, identified himself at a press conference held yesterday to announce the filing of the suit.
Severson said he was abused by Baker for more than a decade while he served at an altar boy at St. Paul of the Cross in La Mirada and at St. Hilary Catholic Church in Pico Rivera, beginning in 1976 when he was nine.
Severson said he did not come forward when the abuse was occurring because he was too embarrassed. “I literally felt like I had no voice,” Severson said.
An attorney for the plaintiffs, Jeffrey R. Anderson, of the Minnesota law firm Reinhardt & Anderson, accused Mahony and his predecessors of “running a criminal campaign” that aimed to “avoid scandal at all costs” by protecting priests, like Baker, who molest children.
“The deceit and the deception has to stop,” he said.
Baker, 54, is one of several former Los Angeles area priests being investigated by police amid allegations of sexual misconduct with children.
Baker has molested at least two children, boys and girls at each of the 11 parishes he has been assigned to over the last 20 years, Anderson said.
“It’s Father Michael Baker who belongs in prison....It’s Cardinal Roger Mahony who belongs in prison,” Anderson said.
There is more than enough evidence to show that Mahony concealed crimes, aided and abetted the concealment of crimes, and obstructed the judicial process, Anderson said.
The complaint alleges Baker met with Mahony in 1996 and confessed that he had molested two children in his parish. According to the complaint, Mahony did not launch an investigation into the confession, but helped to conceal it just as he had the criminal sexual conduct of other priests, the plaintiffs claim.
The cardinal issued a statement blasted the accusations, calling them “baseless and irresponsible.” He said he would “let the legal system address the technical issues surrounding these claims” and declared himself “confident that they will be resolved appropriately.”
Baker, Mahony and the Archdiocese are named in the suit.
The RICO Act was originally used to root out mob activities, but courts have applied its treble-damage civil liability provisions to a variety of harmful activities which have been carried out in a systematic manner.
Anderson said he does not see any problem with pursuing the Archdiocese, a non-profit organization, under RICO or under state law.
“[Non-profits] don’t enjoy any special immunity in California as I understand it,” Anderson said.
The lawsuit is the latest file across the country in connection with the church’s ongoing sexual abuse scandal.
Seven Los Angeles Archdiocese priests have been forced out this year after Mahony proclaimed a “zero-tolerance” policy for clerics accused of sexual abuse. The policy was part of a $5.2-million lawsuit settlement last year involving the Orange and Los Angeles dioceses.
Two men who claim they were sexually abused as children by Baker for years agreed last year to a $1.3 million settlement with the archdiocese. Part of the settlement agreement was that the victims not discuss the case publicly, Anderson said.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company