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Santa Barbara Bishop Resigns, Ex-Archbishop Relieved of Duties Amid Sex Abuse Claims

Church posts thousands of pages of files online documenting claims from the 1930s to the present

The former Archbishop of Los Angeles and regional bishop of Santa Barbara have been removed from their duties following the release of clergy sex abuse files Thursday.

Archdiocese of Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez announced that his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, was removed from all administrative and public duties for his mishandling of clergy sex abuse of children, and Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry, the regional bishop for Santa Barbara, has stepped down.

Mahony was Archbishop of Los Angeles from 1985 to 2011, when he reached the mandatory retirement age and was succeeded by Gomez.

Curry was a top adviser to Mahony and reportedly worked with him to hide abusers from law enforcement in the 1980s, giving them out-of-state assignments and keeping them away from therapists who might report them to police, the Los Angeles Times reported. Curry became Bishop and Episcopal Vicar overseeing Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in 1994, appointed by Mahony.

The announcement came the same day the church posted thousands of pages of files on its website documenting the childhood sexual abuse in claims from the 1930s to the present, with personnel files of 122 priests that total more than 12,000 pages.

A 2007 settlement between the church and more than 500 victims required the church to release personnel files on every priest accused of sexual abuse, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“I find these files to be brutal and painful reading,” Gomez said in a prepared statement. “The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil. There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children. The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed.

“To every Catholic in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, I want you to know: We will continue, as we have for many years now, to immediately report every credible allegation of abuse to law enforcement authorities and to remove those credibly accused from ministry.”

Both Mahony and Curry have publicly apologized in the last two weeks.

In a statement given to the Ventura County Star, Curry apologized for his role in protecting priests accused of molesting children. At the time, Curry served as vicar of clergy and as a close adviser to Mahony.

Some records were released weeks ago as part of the settlement, before Thursday’s files became published on the church’s website.

“I wish to acknowledge and apologize for those instances when I made decisions regarding the treatment and disposition of clergy accused of sexual abuse that in retrospect appear inadequate or mistaken,” Curry said in a statement. “Like many others, I have come to a clearer understanding over the years of the causes and treatment of sexual abuse and I have fully implemented in my pastoral region the archdiocese’s policies and procedures for reporting abuse, screening those who supervise children and abuse prevention training for adults and children.”

Many of the abuse cases are decades old, but that does not make them less serious, Gomez said in a statement.

Today, each of the 287 parishes and schools has a Safeguard the Children Committee with supervising adults who must go through background checks and VIRTUS abuse prevention training, he said.

The Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles County district attorneys are all investigating to see what possible criminal charges could be filed, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley said.

Her office is investigating Curry and anyone else who was involved with Santa Barbara County.

The California District Attorneys Association encouraged the three offices to communicate with each other so they can expedite whatever possible charges there are, she added.

Dudley assigned the investigation to retired senior prosecutor Ron Zonen, who is on retainer to help with special assignments. So far, Dudley said, her office isn’t very optimistic. The potential charges look like misdemeanors — crimes like obstruction of justice and not complying with mandatory reporting — and there is a statute of limitations of three years for misdemeanors. The only time the statute of limitations can be pulled, usually, is for felonies like sexual assault or aiding and abetting sexual assaults, she said.

Zonen is working with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office to work through the thousands of pages of material. It’s going slowly, since some material goes back 40 years and authorities want to comb through everything carefully, he said.

“We’re working with them to make two determinations: whether there is potential criminal liability on anyone’s part that occurred in our county — like perjury, obstruction of justice or giving information to a police officer — and if so, whether it could be prosecuted,” he said, adding that it’s possible the material could unearth new suspects or new victims, as well.

Zonen has been handling these types of cases for at least 15 years, and was the lead prosecutor against two of the Franciscan priests at the long-closed St. Anthony’s Seminary.

According to files released with a 2006 court settlement, Santa Barbara had one of the highest per-capita concentrations of clergy pedophiles in the history of clergy abuse in the United States.

Santa Barbara County Superior Court documents go on to say that, of the estimated 76 Santa Barbara children sexually assaulted by Roman Catholic clergy since 1958, 54 of them were abused by friars assigned to the St. Anthony’s Seminary and the Santa Barbara Mission. The school was closed in 1987.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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