The U.S. attorney in Los Angeles has launched a federal grand jury investigation into Cardinal Roger M. Mahony in connection with his response to the alleged molestation of children by priests in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, according to two law enforcement sources familiar with the case.
The probe, in which U.S. Atty. Thomas P. O’Brien is personally involved, is aimed at determining whether Mahony, and possibly other church leaders, committed “honest services fraud” by failing to adequately deal with priests accused of sexually abusing children, said the sources, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.
One federal law enforcement source said such a prosecution could be brought under a federal statute that makes it illegal to “scheme . . . to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.”
In this case, the victims would be parishioners who relied on Mahony and other church leaders to keep their children safe from predatory priests, the source said. To convict on such a charge, prosecutors would have to prove that Mahony used the U.S. mail or some form of electronic communication in committing the alleged fraud, the source said.
As the Catholic Church’s highest-ranking official in Southern California, Mahony was dogged for years by allegations of covering up the sexual misconduct of priests. The district attorney’s office launched a grand jury investigation into the archdiocese several years ago, but no charges were filed. Two years ago, the archdiocese agreed to pay $660 million to 508 people who accused priests of sexual abuse. The payout was the largest settlement in a scandal that rocked the Roman Catholic Church nationwide.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said he had not heard about the investigation but welcomed the new scrutiny of Mahony.
“It is long, long overdue,” Clohessy said. “It is just crucial that the hierarchy face criminal charges, because almost every other conceivable means have been tried to bring reform.”
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