Abuse Victim Launches Historic Suit Against California, Chicago Dioceses

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by Stephen Wynne  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  October 3, 2018   

'Empowered survivor' Thomas Emens seeks to pry open diocesan secret archives

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LOS ANGELES (ChurchMilitant.com) - A clerical sex abuse victim is taking action against all 12 California dioceses and the archdiocese of Chicago, alleging a conspiracy to conceal the crimes of predator priests.

In Los Angeles on Tuesday, Thomas Emens filed suit against the 13 dioceses with the goal of forcing open their secret archives to identify all predator priests and expose cover-up by the hierarchy.

Describing himself as "an empowered survivor," Emens told reporters that from 1978–1980, he was abused by Msgr. Thomas Joseph Mohan, a "very close family friend" sent from Chicago to the archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1973.

Emens explained he is not seeking monetary damages.

"I'm not seeking any money at all," he said. "I just want the truth. The truth is far more valuable than any money could ever be. ... The truth, to me, is more important because I'm just one person. There's thousands of other victims out there."


"This lawsuit is really the only opportunity I have at this point in time to find justice, not just for myself, but to bring all the victims who are in the shadows out and to help them," Emens said.

"I believe this moment in time was given to me by God" to help other victims, he added. "Don't underestimate this moment in time — you will remember this moment in time."

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Attorney Jeff Anderson

Emens is represented by Minnesota-based attorney Jeff Anderson, who specializes in prosecuting clerical sex abuse cases.

Speaking to the press Tuesday, Anderson said he aimed to force "all the bishops in California to come clean; to come clean with the secrets that they know."

"That is, the identities of the offenders and the histories of those offenders that reflect cooperation and complicity by top officials," he continued, "including current officials, including current bishops, including all those at the top in California and the archdiocese of Chicago, from which [Msgr. Mohan] came and was moved to California in 1973."

During the press conference, he unveiled "Clerical Sexual Abuse in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles," a 126-page report compiled by his firm documenting the identities and histories of more than 300 alleged offenders. Anderson said the report describes the "pattern and practice that has and is being employed by the Catholic bishops in California — not in the past, but as we speak."

In 2007, under Cdl. Mahony, the archdiocese of Los Angeles was forced to pay out a $660 million abuse settlement — the largest of any U.S. diocese, by far.

"There is a playbook being employed," he said. "And that playbook is to move, to transfer, to hide, to conceal and keep secret not only the identities of all the offenders but their histories. And the documents that reflect their crimes over the years."

Most importantly, he noted, "the playbook includes a practice of concealing and hiding the top officials, present and past, that have been complicit in the cover-up of these crimes."

According to the report, for decades Church officials in California and elsewhere have employed "seven common practices and strategies" in their attempts to conceal the truth:

  1. They use euphemisms in archdiocesan documents to describe sexual assault in an attempt to obscure or soften the horrific reality of the act; for example, employ terms like "inappropriate contact" or "boundary issues" instead of "rape."
  2. Instead of conducting genuine investigations with properly trained personnel, they assign "fellow clergy members to ask inadequate questions" and make "credibility determinations" about the accused — the same "colleagues with whom they live and work."
  3. To lend an "appearance of integrity," they send accused priests to Church-run psychiatric "treatment centers" for "evaluation," where personnel "diagnose" whether or not a cleric is a predator based largely on his own "self-reports," regardless of whether he had engaged in sexual contact with a minor.
  4. They keep the laity in the dark, telling an accused priest's parishioners their pastor is on "sick leave" or suffering from "nervous exhaustions" or saying nothing at all.
  5. They provide accused priests with housing and living expenses, regardless of whether they're guilty of sexual assault, in spite of the fact that they "may be using these resources to facilitate more sexual assaults."
  6. In cases where a predator's crimes are discovered by the community, he is transferred to a new location, where no one knows of his predation. 
  7. Above all else, police are not to be notified. Though "sexual abuse, even short of actual penetration, is and has for all relevant times been a crime," cases are handled "in house."

Anderson noted that members of the Los Angeles hierarchy have never made any public disclosure regarding Emens' abuser, Msgr. Mohan; to this day, the priest is not on any archdiocesan offender list. 

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Cdl. Roger Mahony, archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles

He also warned that for decades, high-ranking Los Angeles Church officials — including bishops — have practiced a "geographic solution" to sexual predation by their clergy. Over the years, he said, 37 priest offenders "have been moved secretly out of the archdiocese of Los Angeles and into not just other parishes in other states, but into other countries," including Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Spain, Ireland, Britain, India, the Philippines and Guam.

"The scope of this is global," Anderson warned. "Their use of the geographical solution — the transfer of offenders ... moving them across the states ... and across the country and across the globe is a real peril."

During the press conference, Anderson asked victims' advocate Patrick Wall, who coined the term "geographic solution," to speak about the practice.

Wall, a former Benedictine priest and monk, explained he developed the term when trying to illustrate "the playbook" to Los Angeles prosecutors in the early 2000s:

How does this really work? How can somebody from LA disappear to Spain? Or how can someone who's from Bogota [Columbia] end up in Los Angeles with prior notice [of abuse]? How can these things happen? How can a priest who's already had problems in Mexico then come to LA? How can someone who's had a problem already in the United Kingdom come to LA, and then get shipped back, and then get convicted back in the UK because they don't have a statute of limitations, criminally? It's the geographic solution. 

Wall pointed to a document (contained in "Clerical Sexual Abuse in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles") pertaining to Msgr. Peter Garcia, a known predator who in the mid-1980s was sent to Foundation House, an archdiocese of Santa Fe "treatment center" (dubbed "Camp Ped" by critics) run by the Servants of the Paraclete.

Reck pointed out that two Los Angeles prelates have been personally accused of assaulting minors.

In a July 22, 1986 letter to the director of Foundation House, Los Angeles Cdl. Roger Mahony recommended Garcia remain in New Mexico, warning of potential "legal action filed in both the criminal and civil sectors" if he returned to Los Angeles.

"The cardinal is telling Garcia not to come back to LA because there will be civil and criminal action if he comes back," Wall observed. He also noted that three high-ranking Los Angeles Church officials were copied on Mahony's memo:

  • Los Angeles Auxiliary Bp. Juan A. Arzube, who in 2003 was accused of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old boy from 1975–1976. In 2007, the archdiocese settled a civil suit against Arzube and added him to its list of clergy accused of sexual misconduct involving minors.
  • Santa Fe Abp. Robert F. Sanchez, who resigned in the face of blistering criticism over sex abuse cover-up and affairs with numerous women. 
  • Monsignor Thomas Curry, who, as Los Angeles vicar for clergy, oversaw the archdiocese's secret archives.

In 2007, under Cdl. Mahony, the archdiocese of Los Angeles was forced to pay out a $660 million abuse settlement — the largest of any U.S. diocese, by far.

Associate attorney Mike Reck told reporters at Tuesday's news conference that Los Angeles Church officials have tried to block efforts to uncover clerical predation because "the abuses occurred at the highest levels — not just the cover-ups by those like Cdl. Mahony and the like, but actual abusers at the upper echelon of diocesan offices."

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Juan A. Arzube, former auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles

Reck pointed out that two Los Angeles prelates have been personally accused of assaulting minors. In addition to Arzube, Auxiliary Bp. G. Patrick Ziemann was identified as a serial sexual predator. In spite of allegations he attacked multiple victims between 1967–1986, Ziemann went on to become bishop of the diocese of Santa Rosa. In 1999, he resigned amid sexual and financial scandals, accused of abusing boys and blackmailing a fellow priest into a sexual relationship. Reportedly, he was stripped of his priestly faculties before his death in 2009; like Arzube, he included on the Los Angeles archdiocese's list of credibly accused clerics.

Reck stressed that of the more than 300 names documented in the firm's report, the whereabouts of almost half — 150 alleged predators — are currently unknown. 

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G. Patrick Ziemann, former Los Angeles auxiliary bishop

"Those offenders may be dead. They may be alive. They may be here in Los Angeles. They may be elsewhere in the state. They may be part of the geographic solution and distributed throughout the world. We don't know," he said.

"That information is available and contained in Church files held under lock and key by Church officials," Reck added. "It could and should be disclosed for the public necessity. ... We hope Church officials will finally do the right thing, step up to the plate and disclose what they knew when they knew it about these offenders."

In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, the California Catholic Conference of Bishops did not directly address Emens' lawsuit, but instead pointed to the "positive steps taken by California dioceses over the past 15 years to protect children and young people from abuse."

Emens' legal action comes a month after a petition was launched to remove Cdl. Mahony's red hat, withdraw him from active ministry and criminally charge him with covering for 34 alleged predator priests. Petition author John Paul Norris told Church Militant last month that Mahony "controls the gay mafia" in the Los Angeles archdiocese "and he needs to go."

 

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