Sunday, December 22, 2002

After Law:

Who's next?

Among the prelates under rising financial and legal pressure is Los Angeles' Cardinal Roger Mahony, who faces an onslaught of civil lawsuits in 2003 because the California legislature has lifted the statute of limitations for one year.Having spent nearly $200 million on a new cathedral, Mahony's archdiocese now faces budget cuts. A grand jury has subpoenaed its records on 17 priests, and Mahony has been personally implicated in the case of the Rev. Michael Baker, who says he admitted to the archbishop in 1986 that he had molested several boys. Baker was sent for psychological treatment and then transferred to nine different parishes before leaving the priesthood two years ago.Cardinal Edward Egan of New York also is under intense scrutiny for his past handling of abuse allegations. When he was bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., for example, Egan allegedly gave an accused priest $17,000 to settle bank debts and hire an attorney, the Hartford Courant has reported.Prelates in smaller dioceses who are under pressure to step down include Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien of Phoenix. He faces a grand jury investigation by a prosecutor who has suggested that the bishop's resignation might help to avert criminal charges against church leaders.And in the diocese of Toledo, two priests have called for Bishop James R. Hoffman to step down, particularly in light of eight lawsuits accusing the Rev. Dennis Gray of molesting numerous boys before leaving the priesthood in 1987. Although victims say they told church officials about the abuse before 1987, Gray left the priesthood with a clean record and went on to work in the Toledo public schools until this year.One of the priests urging Hoffman to retire, the Rev. Patrick Rohen, said he is "breaking the code of silence.""I will tell you, I fear retaliation," Rohen said. "But somebody's got to speak out on this. The whole problem is the world of secrecy and shame. In order to get beyond this denial, in places where cover-ups and incompetence have been demonstrated, those bishops should retire."

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