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Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
US archbishop faces fresh abuse claims
Pope Paul John II
The Pope denounced guilty priests as "evil" abusers
A new lawsuit has been filed against the head of the largest Roman Catholic diocese in the United States by four men who say a priest sexually molested them when they were boys.

Cardinal Roger Mahony
Cardinal Mahony apologised for his inaction

The men accused the Archbishop of Los Angeles, Roger Mahony, of conspiring to commit fraud and obstruct justice by covering the activities of the priest, Father Michael Baker.

They also said the Los Angeles Archdiocese and the church acted as a "criminal enterprise" in covering up the abuse.

It is the latest blow to the Roman Catholic Church, which has already been engulfed by scandal over sexual abuse of children by its priests.

Cardinal Mahony has, himself, been accused of sexual misconduct with a teenage schoolgirl. He strongly denies the allegations.

"Great pain"

The new case was brought under American federal racketeering laws, designed to counter organised crime, in the US District Court in Los Angeles.

Father Michael Baker, 54, is alleged to have raped "numerous children" since the 1970s.

The charges also say the priest had confessed his abuse to Cardinal Mahoney in 1986, who made no effort to investigate or inform the authorities, and transferred the priest to another parish.


The...claims brought today are baseless and irresponsible

Cardinal Roger Mahony
"Not only did defendant Mahony's conduct result in fraud, it also resulted in the subsequent abuse of minors," the lawsuit claims.

"At least three boys were sexually abused after Mahony concealed [Baker's] acts in 1986."

The lawsuit seeks damages for racketeering, personal injury, negligence and fraud, saying that the victims have suffered "great pain of mind and body".

According to the suit, Cardinal Mahony and the Los Angeles Archdiocese paid two of the victims $1.3 million in settlement that required them to remain silent about the abuse.

'Groundless' claims

Cardinal Mahoney, who last week admitted keeping secret for 14 years a case of child abuse by Father Michael Baker, dismissed the new allegations as groundless.

"The...claims brought today are baseless and irresponsible. I will let the legal system address the technical issues surrounding these claims," Cardinal Mahony said in a statement.

"I am confident they will be resolved appropriately."


Not only did defendant Mahony's conduct result in fraud, it also resulted in the subsequent abuse of minors

The lawsuit claims
He also said the lawsuit would not distract him from his mission of keeping his focus on "victims of child molestation".

"The physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of our young people must remain our highest priority."

In March, the cardinal was accused of sexual misconduct with a teenage schoolgirl, relating to an incident more than 30 years ago.

He has rejected the allegations and asked for investigations by both police and the church.

The cardinal is believed to be the most senior sitting American church official to be accused of sexual misconduct, in a series of scandals over the past few months.

He has fired a number of local priests and instituted a zero tolerance policy on priestly abuse.

Under pressure from the public, he also informed police of the Baker case along with those involving other priests.

In a letter to more than 1,000 members of his archdiocese, the cardinal admitted he had erred in the case.

Dimensions

The US Church has been hit hard by sex abuse scandal, which is considered the worst in the history of American Catholicism

More than 400 complaints have been lodged against priests in the Boston diocese alone.

And accusations of child molestation have been made in at least 16 other US dioceses including Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

Last month, Pope John Paul II made a strong condemnation of sexual abuse by priests at an unprecedented talks with 12 US cardinals in the Vatican.

The pontiff said there was no place in the Roman Catholic Church for priests who sexually abused children.

The Church has been rocked by recent abuse revelations

Boston cardinal quits

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04 May 02 | Americas
04 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
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