Police will review abusive priests' personnel files to see if the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles committed any crimes, including failure to report child abuse, authorities said Tuesday.
Investigators will focus on the cases of about a dozen previously investigated priests and audit past probes to make sure nothing was missed, said Los Angeles police Cmdr. Andrew Smith. The department will also look at the files for all 122 priests made public Thursday by court order after priests fought for five years to keep them sealed.
Thousands of pages of confidential files kept by the archdiocese on priests accused of molesting children show how retired Cardinal Roger Mahony and other top archdiocese officials protected the church by shielding priests and not reporting child sex abuse to authorities.
"Now what's being alleged is a failure to report, those kinds of things, so there's a new emphasis — it's not just the person that's accused of the behavior," said Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese, who heads the detective bureau. "We're taking a fresh look on cases we've already handled to make sure we don't have reporting issues that got past."
Michael Hennigan, an archdiocese attorney, declined to comment Tuesday.
Mahony, who retired in 2011 as head of the nation's largest diocese, was publicly rebuked Thursday by his successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez.
The same day, Bishop Thomas Curry, a top Mahony aide who made critical decisions on abusive priests, requested to resign from his post as an auxiliary bishop in charge of the archdiocese's Santa Barbara region.
Both Mahony and Curry have publicly apologized for their dealings with pedophile priests.
The archdiocese agreed to release the files 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 Associated Press and Los Angeles Times fought successfully to have the names of Mahony and top church officials made public.
The archdiocese is considering launching a $200 million fundraising campaign in the midst of the fallout, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday. A recent financial report indicates the archdiocese has a deficit of nearly $80 million.
It's unlikely police will unearth anything within the statute of limitations, said Rebecca Lonergan, a former federal prosecutor and a professor at the University of Southern California's Gould School of Law.
The statute of limitations on most crimes that would apply to the priest cases is three years under state law and five years under federal law.
Prosecutors could try to prove an ongoing conspiracy among members of the church hierarchy to cover up for abusive priests, but under federal law even that would require proof of criminal activity over a long period of time with one specific crime within the past five years.
Clergy were not mandated child abuse reporters until 1997, and by then, the archdiocese had implemented significant changes in how it dealt with reports of pedophile priests.
"Most of the documents that have been revealed are bad and show concealment, but they're really old," Lonergan said. "There's none that show this is going on within the past few years, in the late 2000s."
Prosecutors have previously investigated the archdiocese for its handling of sex abuse cases, but no criminal charges were ever filed against the hierarchy.
Also on Tuesday, a support group for clergy abuse victims called for the Los Angeles Unified School District to thoroughly investigate how the district hired a former priest who allegedly had a sexual relationship with a minor.
Joseph Pina, who was never convicted of a crime, was hired in 2002 as a community outreach coordinator for the district's school construction campaign, said Tom Waldman, the district's spokesman. The archdiocese told the Los Angeles Times it warned the district about Pina, but the LAUSD can't find any indication of that in its files, Waldman said Tuesday.
"Whether or not we called them as a reference, I don't know," he said.
The former priest worked with adults only, was never alone with children and wasn't the subject of any complaints during his time there, Waldman said.
Flaccus reported from Orange County.