Church personnel files have revealed that retired Cardinal Roger Mahony and other top Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles officials kept parishioners in the dark, maneuvering behind the scenes to shield molester priests. 

The confidential records filed in a lawsuit against the archdiocese disclose how the church handled abuse allegations for decades. 

The files also reveal dissent from a top Mahony aide who criticized his superiors for covering up allegations of abuse rather than protecting children.

In at least one case, a priest victimized the children of undocumented immigrants and threatened to have them deported if they told.

Notes inked by Mahony demonstrate he was disturbed about abuse and sent problem priests for treatment, but there also were lengthy delays or oversights in some cases. Mahony received psychological reports on some priests that mentioned the possibility of many other victims, for example, but there is no indication that he or other church leaders investigated further.

"This is all intolerable and unacceptable to me," Mahony wrote in 1991 on a file of the Rev. Lynn Caffoe, a priest suspected of locking boys in his room, videotaping their crotches and running up a $100 phone sex bill while with a boy. Caffoe was sent for therapy and removed from ministry, but Mahony didn't move to defrock him until 2004, a decade after the archdiocese lost track of him.

"He is a fugitive from justice," Mahony wrote to the Vatican's Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI. "A check of the Social Security index discloses no report of his demise, so presumably he is alive somewhere."

Caffoe died in 2009, six years after a newspaper reporter found him working at a homeless mission two blocks from a Salinas elementary school.

Mahony was out of town but issued a statement Monday apologizing for his mistakes and saying he had been "naive" about the lasting impacts of abuse. He has since met with 90 abuse victims privately and keeps an index card with each victim's name in his private chapel, where he prays for them daily, he said. The card also includes the name of the molesting priest "lest I forget that real priests created this appalling harm."

"It remains my daily and fervent prayer that God's grace will flood the heart and soul of each victim, and that their life journey continues forward with ever greater healing," Mahony wrote. "I am sorry."

The apology stands in contrast to letters Mahony was writing to accused priests more than two decades ago.

In 1987, he wrote to the Rev. Michael Wempe — who would ultimately admit to abusing 13 boys — while the priest was undergoing in-patient therapy at a New Mexico treatment center.

"Each of you there at Jemez Springs is very much in my prayers and I call you to mind each day during my celebration of the Eucharist," Mahony wrote to the priest, adding that he supported him in the experience.

The church's sex abuse policy was evolving and Mahony inherited some of the worst cases from his predecessor when he took over in 1985, J. Michael Hennigan, an archdiocese attorney, said in a separate series of emails. Priests were sent out of state for psychological treatment because they revealed more when their therapists were not required to report child abuse to law enforcement, as they were in California, he said.

At the time, clergy were not mandated to report sex abuse and the church let the victims' families decide whether to contact police, he added.

The files are attached to a motion seeking punitive damages in a case involving a Mexican priest sent to Los Angeles in 1987 after he was brutally beaten in his parish south of Mexico City.

When parents complained the Rev. Nicholas Aguilar Rivera molested in LA, church officials told the priest but waited two days to call police — allowing him to flee to Mexico, court papers allege. At least 26 children told police they were abused during his 10 months in Los Angeles. The now-defrocked priest is believed to be in Mexico and remains a fugitive.

The files also show Mahony corresponded with abusive priests while they underwent treatment out of state and worked to keep them out of California to avoid criminal and civil trouble.

One case involved the Msgr. Peter Garcia, a molester whom Mahony's predecessor sent for treatment in New Mexico. Mahony kept Garcia there after a lawyer warned in 1986 that the archdiocese could face "severe civil liability" if he returned and reoffended. Garcia had admitted raping an 11-year-old boy and later told a psychologist he molested 15 to 17 young boys.

"If Monsignor Garcia were to reappear here within the archdiocese, we might very well have some type of legal action filed in both the criminal and civil sectors," Mahony wrote to the director of Garcia's New Mexico treatment program.

Mahony then sent Garcia to another treatment center, but Garcia returned to LA in 1988 after being removed from ministry. He then contacted a victim's mother and asked to spend time with her younger son, according to a letter in the file.

Mahony moved to defrock him in 1989, and Garcia died a decade later.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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