New Times Los Angeles| April 18, 2002
"Mahony was a key player in the grossly immoral cover-up involving Oliver O'Grady, and when I see him and others stand up now and apologize on behalf of the church for these sorts of crimes I have to ask myself, "Do they think we're stupid?'"
Top: Cardinal Roger Mahony
Above: Notorious sexual predator Father Oliver O'Grady, whose rape victims included a 9-month old girl and whom Roger Mahony shuffled from parish to parish while Bishop of Stockton.
Below: The Stockton Diocese slices across the California's Central Valley to the eastern side of the Sierras.
Mouth Wide Shut
Cardinal Roger Mahony's harboring of pedo-priests didn't just start with the current Roman Catholic sex scandal. As his protection of a predator cleric in Stockton reveals, he's been at it for a long time
By Ron Russell
When the now-infamous e-mails between Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and his top lieutenants were leaked to a Los Angeles radio station earlier this month, revealing a religious leader obsessively preoccupied with spin control, John Durham was one person who wasn't surprised. "They don't call him Roger the Dodger for nothing," says the Stockton loading-dock supervisor, referring to Mahony's tireless efforts to avoid revealing the names of child-molesting priests he claims to have purged from the Los Angeles Archdiocese. First, someone inside the archdiocese told the press that he had booted six to 12 priests. Mahony next said it was "a few." Then, in the hacked e-mails, he wrote that it was eight. And in recent days, while remaining characteristically fuzzy, he has backpedaled once again, acknowledging that at least 15 sex abuse cases occured in the archdiocese during his watch.
Durham is no ordinary Mahony critic. In fact, he is among a handful of people (12 to be precise) who can say they've judged the powerful cleric's utterances regarding sex abuse among Catholic clergy up close and under oath, and found them extremely wanting. As a juror in a 1998 civil trial in which the Stockton diocese -- where Mahony was bishop before coming to Los Angeles -- was accused of harboring a priest who had molested children, Durham thought Mahony was lying then, and he thinks he's lying now. Of the cardinal's role as the star witness in the case involving former priest Oliver O'Grady, Durham insists, "I found Mahony to be utterly unbelievable."
And he is not alone.
"I didn't believe Mahony," echoes Abraham DeLeon, a lifelong Catholic, who also served on the panel. "I think it's pretty obvious that none of us [jurors] did."
Lawyers for two boys molested by O'Grady, James and Joh Howard, argued that Mahony and other diocesan officials knew that O'Grady was a child molester and that they covered it up for years, during which time the Irish-born priest abused at least 20 children. O'Grady was an equal opportunity pedophile, targeting males and females, with whom he variously engaged in oral and anal sex, masturbation, digital penetration, groping and fondling. This, while having illicit affairs with at least two of the children's mothers.
At one parish where Mahony sent him despite a psychiatrist's warning that O'Grady was sexually and emotionally troubled, the priest kept a play pen at the rectory to make unsuspecting parents more comfortable leaving their children in his care. His youngest victim -- a girl who medical tests suggest was digitally raped -- was 9 months old. After a seven-week trial, the jury of four women and eight men awarded the Howards $24 million in punitive damages (later cut in half by a judge) and another $6 million in compensatory damages. Although the church has had to fork over larger compensatory damages in other cases, the punitive judgment awarded by the Stockton jury remains the largest ever in a child-molestation case.
However, more significantly, especially in view of the current scandal engulfing the church, not to mention Mahony's well-publicized stonewalling of Los Angeles law enforcement, the verdict was a repudiation of the man who presides over the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese and has even been mentioned as a future pope. As bishop of Stockton from 1980 to 1985, Mahony shuffled O'Grady around and even promoted him in 1984 shortly after the diocese persuaded the Stockton Police Department to drop its investigation of a sexual incident with a child in which O'Grady was implicated.
But when he took the witness stand as the highest-ranking American Catholic official ever to testify in a molestation case, Mahony tried to convey the impression that he knew little about the wayward priest. He repeatedly said that he never knew or couldn't recall key episodes related to his handling of the O'Grady matter. Stockton was, and is, a small diocese. During the time Mahony was there, it employed only about 80 priests. By contrast, there are some 1,200 priests in the sprawling L.A. Archdiocese that encompasses Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
Indeed, a New Times examination of hundreds of pages of trial testimony and interviews with principals in the case raises numerous questions about the role of Mahony -- who declined to be interviewed for this article -- in the Stockton matter.
A Catholic psychiatrist who evaluated O'Grady testified at the trial that it was common knowledge at the diocese in 1984 that O'Grady was a pedophile. A letter of apology from O'Grady to the parents of a young girl he molested in 1976 was included in his personnel file, to which Mahony had access. So was a 1980 letter from the Howard boys' father, who, although estranged from his wife, nonetheless wrote the diocese to complain that O'Grady was spending too much time with his children.
Yet Mahony claimed no knowledge of the 1976 letter. He said he never bothered to examine the priest's personnel file and had no idea about what might have been in it. He acknowledged having been told by a subordinate about the 1980 letter, but said he didn't recall any issue related to children, and assumed that O'Grady's troubles were limited to his "excessive" visits to a married woman. Amazingly, during four hours of sometimes hostile questioning, the cardinal conveyed the impression that it was his underlings at the chancery office -- certainly not him -- who advanced O'Grady's career.
If it all sounds similar to accusations against Cardinal Bernard Law and the scandal that has riven the Boston Archdiocese since it was revealed that a pedophiliac priest under his watch molested up to 130 children while being shuffled from parish to parish for years, news media in Los Angeles and nationally didn't care much about the O'Grady case. The Boston scandal -- in which at least 80 priests by now have been accused of pedophilia -- set off a wave of recent media coverage focusing on sex-abuse cases across the country, many of which (we know now) had been brewing for up to two decades or longer. Yet the Stockton case -- which would have brought the problem of pedophilic priests in the Roman Catholic Church to light much sooner, and spared countless victims -- was barely covered in the press.
"We were just flabbergasted that there was so little attention paid to the story," says Nancy Sloan, 37, who was abused by O'Grady as a girl and who testified at the Stockton trial. "I can remember calling up reporters and trying to get them to cover it and getting nothing but a ho-hum response. Now, since Boston, it's funny. I've got reporters from those same newspapers who refused to write much of anything about Mahony calling up begging me for interviews."
The result -- to the amazement of child-protection advocates and those victimized by Catholic clergy -- was that Mahony managed to skip away from the trial with minimal damage to his carefully cultivated image. Except perhaps in California's Central Valley.
After the trial got under way, lawyers for the plaintiffs were told that the only way to guarantee Mahony's testimony would be to provide him a private jet -- which was done. At the conclusion of his day on the witness stand, the cardinal flew home and immediately entered USC's Norris Cancer Center to undergo a prostate operation. There, for the next two weeks -- during which time the jury returned its blockbuster verdict -- Mahony remained conveniently unavailable for questioning.
"I call him the Teflon Cardinal," says Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul, Minnesota, attorney who represented the Howards and has handled more than 300 sex-abuse cases against members of the clergy, including scores of priests. "Nothing has stuck to him yet."
Even now, as he continues to bob and weave regarding the unfolding scandal in L.A., Mahony displays the kind of behavior that rendered him unbelievable in the Stockton case. Besides stonewalling authorities, he has hunkered down in his residence overlooking the soon-to-open $193 million Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, refusing to speak to any but a carefully chosen few reporters. His public pronouncements have been textbook examples of spin doctoring, either coming after leaks (as in the purloined e-mails that wound up in the hands of KFI radio) or as an attempt to put the best face on an unflattering story by offering scraps of information once reporters have gotten wind of something.
For instance, last week Mahony apologized publicly for having reassigned a priest who had been removed from his parish in 1988 for molesting two boys to chaplain duty at Cedars Sinai Medical Center -- without ever telling officials at the hospital that he had sent them a pedophile. Mahony said that if he had it to do over he would have drummend Father Michael Wempe out of the priesthood.
But the episode involving Wempe (whose known track record as a child molester doesn't hold a candle to O'Grady's) raises more questions about Mahony's actions than it answers. It was only a month ago, amid the fallout from the current sex scandal, that Mahony finally saw fit to dump Wempe, forcing him into retirement. And as recently as two years ago, the cardinal thought well enough of the pedo-priest to be the star guest at a luncheon in his honor.
Almost from the time Mahony, 65, arrived in Los Angeles on Labor Day of 1985 after becoming archbishop here (Pope John Paul II elevated him to cardinal in 1991), he has been a larger-than-life figure. From humble origins as the son of a Hollywood electrician who later opened a poultry business, Mahony has surrounded himself with powerful and politically influential friends. (Former L.A. mayor Richard Riordan once gave him a $400,000 helicopter, which the cardinal flew around his archdiocese for several years before he was persuaded to give it up.) He has long cultivated a reputation as hardworking, organized and with a politician's facility for recalling the names of people, places and events.
According to several priests in the archdiocese who agreed to speak about Mahony on condition of anonymity, he always has been intimately involved with even the most trivial affairs in his gargantuan realm. He's legendary for keeping a tight rein on his troops, including sending out midnight missives known as "snot-grams" to his subordinates to keep them in line. "The term control-freak comes to mind," confides one priest.
In essence, he doesn't strike anyone as the type who could be clueless about a potential scandal brewing in his midst. "If you really want to know who Roger Mahony is, all you need to do is look closely into the Stockton fiasco," says Father Thomas Doyle, a U.S. Air Force chaplain who is coauthor of a pioneering 1985 report on priestly sexual abuse that was distributed to every bishop in the United States. Doyle testified as an expert witness for the Howards. "Mahony was a key player in the grossly immoral cover-up involving Oliver O'Grady, and when I see him and others stand up now and apologize on behalf of the church for these sorts of crimes I have to ask myself, "Do they think we're stupid?'"
Oliver O'Grady's exploits would have stood out in the smarmy world of priestly child molesters even if such a prominent figure as Mahony weren't linked to his tragic legacy."I've never seen a longer and more clearly documented pattern of cover-up by a diocese," says David Clohessy, who heads SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Although no one could have known it, O'Grady was carrying heavy emotional baggage when he arrived at the Stockton diocese as a newly ordained 25-year-old priest in 1971. He confided to one of his victims that he had been sexually abused by two priests in his native Ireland during a rough-and-tumble childhood in which his father died when he was six and his mother struggled to make ends meet while raising seven children. "Everyone liked Oliver," recalls former priest Cornelius DeGroot. "But he kept people at a distance. You could never really get to know him." O'Grady served as associate pastor to DeGroot in the Central Valley town of Lodi in the 1970s.
For diocesan officials, alarm bells went off in 1976, four years before Mahony arrived in Stockton as the new bishop. While helping oversee a church youth camp in the Sierra foothills the previous summer, O'Grady had struck up a friendship with a Fairfield, California, couple who were parents of a young girl. They were thrilled when O'Grady invited their daughter, 11-year-old Nancy Sloan, to visit him in Lodi for what amounted to a four-day weekend. "My parents considered it an honor that a priest would take such personal interest in me," recalls Sloan, now a registered nurse.
During her visit with O'Grady, she says, he groped between her legs while they were in a swimming pool, forcibly kissed her on the lips in a church after performing a wedding ceremony, fondled her at the state capitol during a day-trip to Sacramento and forced himself on her as she lay sleeping in a downstairs bedroom of the Lodi rectory. Horrified and confused, she revealed the abuse to her parents upon returning home, including O'Grady's threats against her if she told anyone.
Upon receiving a phone call from the parents, DeGroot confronted O'Grady, who confessed. DeGroot says he then called Bishop Merlin Guilfoyle to tell him what had happened, and drove O'Grady to the chancery office in Stockton to "turn him over" to Guilfoyle. However, to his surprise, Guilfoyle took no action against the errant priest other than to suggest that he seek counseling from a local psychiatrist at the diocese's expense. "It was shocking really," recalls DeGroot, 72, who eventually left the priesthood to practice law in Stockton. "It should have been curtains for [O'Grady] as a priest right there. It wasn't just an allegation. He was an admitted child molester."
But O'Grady got even luckier.
The staunchly Catholic Sloans did not press criminal charges, and neither did they sue. Instead, they chose to let the diocese pay for therapy for their daughter. The now-deceased Guilfoyle, who was then nearing retirement, swept the budding scandal under the rug. Neither he nor anyone else from the diocese contacted authorities. "My impression," says DeGroot, "was that he decided to leave O'Grady for his successor [Mahony] to deal with."
The one thing the bishop did do was ship O'Grady to another parish. But before O'Grady left Lodi, DeGroot persuaded him to write a letter of apology to Sloan's parents for molesting their daughter. The typewritten two-page letter, dated August 23, 1976 (a copy of which was placed in O'Grady's secret file at the chancery office), played a role many years later in convincing the civil jury that the diocese had covered up the matter during the Mahony era and beyond.
Nancy Sloan wasn't the first person O'Grady molested.
He was regularly abusing a young girl in the Lodi parish while a guest in that family's home. The girl's parents had been clueless, with the mother even putting out pajamas for the priest during his occasional overnight stays. Of the suspected 20 victims that prosecutors and plaintiffs attorneys say exist, only nine came forward -- most of them long after it was too late to file criminal charges or civil suits because statutes of limitation had expired.
Except for Sloan, all the known victims, from the mid-'70s to the early '90s, attended parish churches to which O'Grady was assigned. They included three boys and a girl from among Roland and Ann Howard's nine children. The Howards were living in the town of Turlock when O'Grady landed there as associate priest after he was transferred from Lodi. By the late '70s, he had begun to molest James and Joh Howard, while both were preschoolers. He did so, off and on, for 10 years.
At the same time, court records show, he had also begun an affair with the boys' mother that continued after the Howards moved away to Merced. In October of 1980 -- six months after Mahony arrived as the new bishop -- Roland Howard wrote his letter to the chancery office. In it, he complained, although the couple had split up, about O'Grady's continued visits to his wife and about the priest's spending too much time around his children. He groused that O'Grady had showed up on his day off dressed in "street clothes" and had taken his two-year-old son away alone for the day. That letter also went into O'Grady's secret file.
The letter prompted Mahony to summon O'Grady to meet with him. At the conclusion of their talk, the bishop ordered the priest to stay away from Merced. O'Grady didn't. In fact, his accusers say he continued to molest the Howard children while carrying on his priestly duties. Whether or not it was to keep a better eye on him, Mahony transferred O'Grady into Stockton in 1982. It was there in 1984 that problems with him erupted anew.
Just what prompted what follows isn't certain, but Mahony's vicar general, Monsignor James Cain, approached a local Catholic psychiatric social worker in October of that year about providing counseling for O'Grady. It was an unusual request for a couple of reasons. Not only was the counselor, William Guttieri, a parishioner in O'Grady's Stockton church, but the two socialized. Nevertheless, during one of their sessions, O'Grady alluded to having engaged in recent pedophiliac activity with a boy, who turned out to be James Howard. As he was obligated to do under state law, Guttieri reported what he had been told to Stockton police and to San Joaquin County Child Protective Services. He also informed Tom Shephard, the diocese's lawyer.
What happened next was extraordinary.
Stockton police detective Jerald Cranston went to Merced to interview Ann Howard, who acknowledged that some of her children had spent nights with O'Grady at the rectory 50 miles away in Stockton and that O'Grady was an occasional overnight guest in her home. The detective had less luck talking to the alleged victim, her son James, who was nine at the time. The boy didn't volunteer that he had been molested and the detective didn't press him. When Cranston got back to Stockton, he received a call from Shephard, the diocese's lawyer. According to police records, Shephard told him that diocese officials -- he didn't say who -- had interviewed O'Grady and felt the alleged episode involving the boy was an isolated incident. According to the police officer, the diocesan lawyer assured him that O'Grady would get counseling through the church and that he would be transferred to a new assignment where he would be working with adults away from any children.
Shephard was essentially making a pitch to Stockton police to leave O'Grady's future in the hands of Bishop Mahony -- who, by then, enjoyed an almost legendary reputation among the farm belt diocese's many Latino parishioners for his early support of United Farm Workers president Cesar Chavez during the labor organizer's struggle against wealthy San Juaquin Valley grape producers. (Ironically, Mahony's image as a friend of poor working people later took a beating when he snuffed out efforts by mostly Latino workers at the L.A. Archdiocese's cemeteries to organize a union in the early 1990s.) After the call from Shephard in late November, the police investigation fizzled.
Mahony did order a fresh psychological evaluation of O'Grady. But amazingly, he then shipped the priest to a parish in the remote Sierra foothills community of San Andreas two weeks before Christmas of 1984, without even waiting for the psychiatrist's report. When the report arrived nearly three weeks after O'Grady was in the new assignment, it couldn't have been what Mahony wanted to hear. O'Grady had admitted to the psychiatrist, John Morris, that he had molested children, although he didn't say how many or for how long.
Although Morris didn't include those particular facts in the written report he sent to Mahony (and, at the 1998 civil trial, didn't seem to recall exactly what he told Mahony during one or more conversations with him years earlier), the written document spelled out clearly Morris' conclusion that O'Grady exhibited serious sexual and social immaturity. In a rather revealing suggestion -- considering that the secular psychiatrist was informing a Roman Catholic bishop about one of his priests -- Morris also urged that O'Grady be given "spiritual" help.
But O'Grady had already lucked out again by that time, and Mahony wasn't about to do anything to change that. Interestingly, O'Grady, always before an associate pastor, had been promoted by Mahony when he was transferred to San Andreas. So instead of landing in jail or getting defrocked, O'Grady -- despite the psychiatrist's shocking evaluation -- would continue handling the administrative duties of an ailing elderly priest in a parish brimming with children. The year after the pedo-priest's promotion, Mahony was himself promoted and transferred. He became archbishop and headed to L.A., presumably putting O'Grady behind him.
It was while at San Andreas that Oliver O'Grady came into his prime as a sexual predator. The crimes committed against James and Joh Howard that eventually got him sent to prison occurred after he was transferred there. It was also after the transfer that he allegedly committed offenses against two of the boys' siblings. He was never prosecuted as a result of those allegations since authorities didn't become aware of them until statutes of limitation had expired.
While he continued a long-distance relationship with Ann Howard in Merced, O'Grady also zeroed in on a young married woman -- and her children -- in his new parish. The woman, now 46, who has never been identified publicly in connection with O'Grady, agreed to tell her story to New Times on condition that she be identified only as Jane Doe. She and her husband agreed to an undisclosed settlement with the Stockton diocese in 1995 stemming from O'Grady's molesting two of their children, including a daughter who was only nine months old when the abuse began.
Doe and her husband were among the unsuspecting parishioners on hand to welcome O'Grady to San Andreas. Slender -- barely five feet five inches tall and sporting a comb-over to conceal a thinning hairline -- O'Grady scarcely fit the description of a lady's man. But those who knew him say he was the quintessential nurturer. "He had this quality of seeming to always be absolutely listening to you, of hearing everything, being emotionally supportive, feeding you the things you needed to hear," recalls Doe. He became "like a member of the family," a confidante to both her and her husband.
The couple didn't consider it unusual that the priest gave their grade-school-age son gifts and showered him with attention. After their daughter was born, he volunteered to baby-sit. For her part, Doe had turned to O'Grady for pastoral help as she struggled with episodic depression and her husband's excessive drinking. Gradually, she says, she became emotionally involved with him. "Looking back on it, I was pathetically ill at the time. I actually thought I loved this man." Their first sexual encounter occurred during a counseling session at the rectory in 1992. It was the start of a year-long affair that ended abruptly -- with what she describes as the most horrifying phone call of her life.
The call, from one of Ann Howard's grown daughters, came the Monday after Father's Day in June of 1993. "She told me who she was, that she and three of her brothers had been molested by Oliver O'Grady as children, and that she feared he may have now moved on to my children," recalls Doe.
O'Grady's brazenness had triggered the warning. A short time earlier, the priest had flown to San Diego to attend a wedding of a Howard relative. At the reception, one of the Howard sons, whom the priest had molested, noticed O'Grady paying undue attention to one of his little brothers and exploded in anger, creating a scene.
The San Diego episode left O'Grady visibly shaken, but by the time he greeted Doe, who picked him up at the Oakland airport upon his return, there was no hint that anything was wrong. However, the incident had pushed four of the Howard children to a horrible mutual realization -- they had each been victimized by O'Grady without the others ever knowing.
Doe recalls feeling suicidal while listening to the Howard daughter's voice on the phone. But by the time the conversation ended, she says, "I was very calm, and I believed her." She called her husband and told him to come home immediately to stay with the kids. Then she called her sister-in-law to accompany her on the 45-minute drive to the town of Hughson, near Modesto, where O'Grady had been transferred recently. She was so shocked and angry that she was determined to confront him.
In the church parking lot she was greeted by Ann Howard, who had driven up from Merced with her daughter and the daughter's boyfriend so that Doe would not have to face the priest alone. The daughter and her friend were already inside the rectory talking to O'Grady. By the time Doe and Howard entered, fisticuffs had broken out between the cleric and the boyfriend. O'Grady grabbed a phone to dial 911. "If you do, I'm going to tell the whole world what you did!" Doe recalls Howard's daughter shouting. O'Grady put down the phone, but it was too late. The emergency center already had determined the number from which the call had been placed.
Within minutes, sheriff's deputies arrived.
The deputies took a disturbance report without making an arrest. But it was the beginning of the end for O'Grady. Doe and her husband, as part of a preliminary criminal investigation, pushed to have their daughter, who by then was barely two years old, examined by doctors at UC Davis to determine the extent to which she may have been molested. The results revealed vaginal scarring consistent with digital penetration. Since the little girl had not begun to talk when the abuse occurred, the local district attorney's office shied away from pursuing charges.
As for their son, who then had just turned 14, Doe and her husband embarked on the difficult task of drawing the boy out about what O'Grady had done to him. "He was extremely traumatized and became extremely withdrawn," Doe recalls. After finally breaking down and telling his parents what had happened, he became so distraught that he attempted to kill himself.
Meanwhile, James and Joh Howard (whose abuses, like those of the Doe children, hadn't happened so long ago that O'Grady couldn't be prosecuted because of statutes of limitation) decided the time had come to go to the authorities. O'Grady was arrested in early August of 1993, based on charges brought by the brothers. Still, it was little consolation to Jane Doe, who wanted to know the truth about what the priest had done to her children, especially to her daughter, who couldn't speak for herself.
When he refused to talk to her when she visited him in jail shortly after his arrest, she sent a pastoral counselor, the Reverend Deborah Warwick Fabino, an Episcopal priest, to see him. To Fabino's surprise, O'Grady confessed to molesting the Doe children and several others. "His attorneys were advising him to plead not guilty" to molesting the Howards, Fabino tells New Times, "but when I said I needed to let the police know [about his confessions] they apparently changed their minds." Charged with 21 counts of lewd and lascivious conduct involving the two Howard boys, O'Grady admitted guilt to four of the counts as part of a plea bargain. He was sent to Mule Creek State Prison in nearby Ione to begin serving seven years behind bars.
Doe says she feels fortunate -- though she was shattered spiritually and her son, now 22, has been rendered "emotionally unstable" by the abuse, despite years of therapy. The week she confronted O'Grady her husband quit drinking. "He told me that I'd stuck with him for years, and that it was his turn to stick with me. It's a nightmare we've lived through, but we're still there for each other." Citing a confidentiality agreement, she declines to say how much the Stockton diocese paid to settle their civil complaint, but she is convinced that it was far less than what a jury would have awarded had they not chosen to forego a trial to spare their children further trauma.
She says Mahony has been the biggest impediment in her healing process.
In 1994, after O'Grady went to prison, Doe, using Fabino as an intermediary, sought an audience with the cardinal as a way of seeking closure. "I just wanted to understand from him how he could have allowed this man to have continued as a priest and how he could have sent him [to San Andreas] knowing what I'm convinced he knew," says Doe. Fabino says she wrote a letter to the cardinal appealing to him as a pastor, asking him to see Doe, but that Mahony refused. "I got a cursory letter back from one of his representatives saying it wasn't possible," Fabino says. "That was it."
Had Nancy Sloan followed through with a promise she made to herself, the Doe family and others might have escaped a lot of pain. Sloan had turned 21 in 1986 and with support from a therapist felt compelled to confront O'Grady for what he had done to her as a child 10 years earlier. Mahony had moved to L.A., and the Most Reverend Donald Montrose had taken over as bishop in Stockton by then. Sloan wrote to the chancery office seeking information about O'Grady, and was immediately put off by the response. Diocesan officials didn't tell her much of anything. Persisting, she drove to Stockton in May 1986 and sat down with several of them, including Monsignor Cain, who was still the vicar general. The interchange became testy, she says, especially after one of the priests tried to explain away the church's handling of her abuse by saying that there might have been a different response if she had been a boy.
Sloan says she was assured by diocesan officials that O'Grady had voluntarily submitted to counseling; that there had never been another incident with him involving a child after her 1976 experience; that he had been assigned to duties that kept him away from children and that he was a highly respected priest doing wonderful things.
Of course, it was all lies.
She told Cain and the others that she wanted to confront O'Grady as part of her healing process, but they didn't think it was a good idea. Neither did her parents. So she backed off. But not for long. On a winter Sunday in March of 1987, she drove an hour-and-a-half from her home to Saint Andrew's Parish Church in San Andreas, knowing that O'Grady would preside at mass that morning.
Since she doubted he would recognize her, she had a plan. She would confront him before the entire parish. She would pretend to partake of communion, and just before he extended the Eucharist, she would blurt out what she had come for. If she couldn't get her nerve up, there was a backup plan. She would go into the confessional and tell him that she had been abused by a priest and wait for his response before revealing herself to him.
"I think more than anything I wanted to hear him offer some mitigating circumstance, or say he was sorry, or that he felt self-loathing, just something, anything. But mostly I wanted to see the look on his face when I told him about how he robbed me of my childhood." Driving past the town cemetery on the way to the church she fantasized that he might be dead, even though she knew better. She had printed copies of the apology letter DeGroot had compelled him to write a decade earlier and intended to put one on every car in the parking lot.
But none of it went as intended.
He was already at the sacristy when she entered the church, and she took a seat near the back. When the service was over, she waited until a contingent of parishioners gathered around their priest near the front of the church had thinned out before approaching. But just as she got close, a woman with a little girl stepped in front of her. "Give father a hug," the woman exhorted. "It was more than I could take," recalls Sloan, who says she sat in a pew and wept. O'Grady, she says, walked past her without saying a word.
By the time she composed herself and left the church, there were no cars in the parking lot on which to place O'Grady's letter. But she had another chance. He had headed off to the nearby community of Mokelumne Hill, eight miles up the road, to preside at a second mass that morning. Sloan followed.
Again, she sat through the service. This time, in a scene that she says was reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie, the parishioners lined up outside on the front steps of the tiny church to greet the priest after the service. Biding her time, she waited until the last person left before drawing close.
"Nancy, isn't it?" she recalls him saying, as if she were an old chum.
He quickly became agitated and asked her to leave. "He wanted to pretend it never happened," she says of his abuse of her, "and he let me know in no uncertain terms that he wanted me to disappear. He even threatened to sue me when I told him I was thinking of distributing his apology."
Disappointed yet pleased that she had had the courage to face her abuser, Sloan got in her car and drove away. Except for O'Grady, not a soul in San Andreas -- least of all Jane Doe -- knew why she had come.
Considering O'Grady's many alleged victims, the priest's arrest, guilty plea and prison sentence related to just the four felony counts regarding the Howard brothers must have seemed a momentary blessing in disguise for the diocese and Mahony. Avoiding a nasty criminal trial, not to mention civil litigation, meant less publicity. The diocese quickly instituted settlement talks with Doe and her husband, who in truth were never keen on a rigorous court proceeding.
That left the Howards, and they were a different story.
Their local attorney, Laurence Drivon of Stockton, teamed up with Anderson, the Minnesota lawyer, who had already gained a tough-as-nails reputation in prosecuting dozens of civil cases across the country involving priestly sexual abuse. In James and Joh Howard the lawyers had clients who were not only willing to endure the emotional strain of going to court, but who stood to help inflict heavy financial damage on the diocese once a jury heard about how Mahony and the others had embraced a sexual predator. Drivon and Anderson would have a field day making the three bishops of Stockton -- especially the, by then, exalted Mahony -- appear derelict in letting O'Grady run amuck among the unsuspecting faithful.
It's no exaggeration to say Mahony came off horribly on the witness stand, and it wasn't because the air-conditioning in a storage area converted into a courtroom was no match for Stockton's muggy June heat. "I did not know of [O'Grady's] admission to these matters at the time of these appointments," Mahony told the rapt courtroom. But what the bishop-turned-cardinal acknowledged about his priest struck Durham, the juror, as unconscionable -- especially in view of Mahony's approach of merely shuffling the pedophile from parish to parish.
For instance, when asked about Roland Howard's 1980 letter, Mahony said he hadn't seen it, but that Cain, the vicar general, had told him about it and that he had no understanding at the time that the letter alluded to any concern Howard may have had about O'Grady's being around his children. "Apparently there was a concern that [O'Grady] was still having some kind of visitation or relationship with this woman in Merced, and that's the basis of the -- that's where I learned about it," Mahony testified, referring to the letter.
He told the court that Cain informed him that the avowedly celibate priest had been carrying on a relationship with Ann Howard, that she and her husband were having marital problems and that O'Grady's involvement with her "may have been excessive." (Ann Howard did not respond to interview requests for this article. A long-time acquaintance says "she and her children want to put the O'Grady saga behind them.")
Mahony's explanation of the events surrounding O'Grady's 1984 admission of having engaged in sexual conduct with James Howard and the diocese's role in talking the police out of pursuing the matter was particularly troublesome, Durham recalls.
He refers to Mahony's contending that he didn't know about previous allegations of misconduct by O'Grady involving children -- which was disputed by at least one other witness who testified that O'Grady's reputation as a child molester was well-known among diocesan priests. "That's the sort of thing that, once it gets out, it spreads," DeGroot, who pulled the plug on O'Grady in 1976, tells New Times. For that matter, O'Grady's written admission of his misconduct with Nancy Sloan was on file in the chancery office. "To me it's inconceivable that [Mahony] didn't know," DeGroot says.
Even more jaw-dropping was the cardinal's Orwellian rationale for not probing the 1984 O'Grady confession to Guttieri, the psychiatric counselor, about O'Grady's abuse of James Howard before assigning the pedophile to the San Andreas post.
Mahony testified that he never once bothered to speak to Guttieri about O'Grady. The mere notion of a bishop -- and especially a hands-on manager like Mahony -- not deigning to consult with someone to whom one of his priests had confessed pedophilia smacked of incredulity. Not only that, but the counselor had already testified that he had informed the diocese's attorney about O'Grady's revelation even before notifying the police and child welfare authorities.
Mahony said the police had investigated the matter, dismissed it and there was therefore "no need to pursue it." Never mind that Cranston, the Stockton police investigator, refuted that assessment in court. According to the officer, it was the diocese, through Shephard, its lawyer, who approached him seeking to sweep the matter under the rug. Cranston said Shephard assured him that there were no previous allegations of misconduct with children involving O'Grady and that the diocese would reassign him to duties that didn't place him in contact with children. (In his testimony, Shephard denied telling that to the officer.)
For someone who dismissed what O'Grady had confessed to his counselor as not worth pursuing, Mahony wasted no time in calling Morris, the psychiatrist, to have O'Grady evaluated in November, even as the police were trying to collect the facts about what O'Grady had done to the boy.
But it was Mahony's attempts to shift responsibility for O'Grady's being shuffled around that provide perhaps the most revealing insight into the cardinal's mindset concerning child-molesting priests. "If you had known that he had, in fact, admitted to touching a child in 1976, would you have committed to him the full care of souls at [San Andreas]?" attorney Drivon asked. "No," said Mahony, who quickly jumped to defending his response to O'Grady's 1984 problem: "We relied on the judgment of professionals."
Drivon: "Cardinal, if you had known that he had admitted to a touching of a nine-year-old boy to Mr. Guttieri in 1984 and conduct of [a] similar nature, would you have committed to him the full care of souls at the church in [San Andreas]?"
Mahony: "It's a bit speculative. In any case and all cases we -- if there's a suspicion or problem -- refer to competent professionals to assist in making the recommendations. And if the competent professionals do not raise any flag or cautions or concerns, then we act according to their judgment."
Drivon: "Are you saying, Cardinal, that if Father O'Grady had admitted to you that he had molested a child and you referred him to a professional that said he could be placed [in a parish], you would have placed him?"
Mahony: "Again that's hypothetical. If Father O'Grady had had a conversation with me that raised suspicions with me, I would have most likely put any permanent assignment on hold until we got it clarified one way or the other."
A moment later, Anderson, the Howards' cocounsel, bore into the sensitive point one more time: "Cardinal, are you suggesting that you would have considered placing him in that parish [at San Andreas] if a professional would have recommended it notwithstanding a molestation by Father O'Grady?"
Mahony replied, "No. I said we would have withheld [an appointment] depending on what the situation was. We would have either taken him out of there possibly for further evaluation. We would not have proceeded without taking adequate steps to make sure there were no problems."
As the trial made clear, no such steps were taken. And before it was over, lawyers for the plaintiffs made certain the point wasn't missed.
O'Grady, looking haggard and dressed in prison garb, took the witness stand to be glared at one last time by accusers who had waited years to hear words of contrition. He didn't bestow any.
Neither did he have anything to say upon being released from prison early last year over the objections of numerous of his alleged victims. Having forced him to serve a required seven years behind bars, state officials declined to evoke a law that allows convicted child molesters to have their sentences extended when their release is deemed a threat to society.
O'Grady walked out of jail into the arms of agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. They promptly escorted him to the airport in San Francisco, where he was placed on a flight bound for his native Ireland.
"I guess the thinking was why let American taxpayers pay for his upkeep, when they could just turn him loose to molest Irish kids," says Sloan, who opposed the release.
O'Grady wasn't on trial in Stockton, but in a real sense, Mahony was.
"In order to bring in that verdict, the jury had to believe the cardinal was not telling the truth," says Anderson, the attorney. "If they had believed the cardinal, there would not have been punitive damages under the law."
After the verdict, when some of the lawyers were standing around talking to jurors, Anderson says he asked a 50-year-old woman juror and lifelong Catholic how she felt seeing Mahony walk into the courtroom. "I just prayed that you wouldn't be too hard on him because my mother and dad always taught me that a cardinal is like a saint," she told him.
"And so I said, "Well, how did you feel afterward?' She just broke down sobbing, and said, "He lied.'"