Chapter 3: Trial
Introduction by Robert Blair Kaiser: In the previous chapter, the cardinal met his judge, Ivan Díaz, the jury (five retired bishops from Latin America), his defense attorney, and his prosecutor, Juana Margarita Obregón, who tells the court (and millions around the world who are watching the trial on TV) that Mahony "has let the unwritten rules of his clerical club undermine the rule of the gospel itself. He has robbed the patrimony of Christ's poor to enrich crafty lawyers—and keep sodomizing priests out of prison." Now here's Chapter Three...
Chapter 3: Trial
"WELL, I NEVER WOULD HAVE BELIEVED THIS, FOLKS." It was ten in the evening in New York, and Bill O'Reilly was trying to backtrack on his charge that Cardinal Mahony had faked his own kidnapping. "But you will be able to see the whole show—I call it a show, not a trial—live on Fox Television News tomorrow at 11:00 AM Eastern. You can see your Cardinal Mahony go on trial for his sins. Incredible. For several years now, the media have been calling for accountability from the Church, and we've been pretty much stonewalled by a hierarchy that Governor Frank Keating once compared to the Mafia. But Cardinal Mahony's heard something like this before. Five years ago, a Los Angeles lawyer filed a lawsuit against the cardinal that alleged abuse and conspiracy and cover-up, too. It was filed under RICO, the federal racketeering law, which as you know, folks, was drafted to go after mobsters."
Hannity and Colmes followed The O'Reilly Factor on Fox, and they had to comment on the turn this story had taken.
Alan Colmes led off. "I understand, Sean, that Cardinal Mahony blasted Governor Keating for comparing the U.S. bishops to the Mafia. He said Keating's remark was 'off the wall' and Keating apologized."
"No. No," said Hannity. "Keating didn't back down. He stuck to his guns."
Colmes laughed. "He apologized to the Mafia."
"Ha! Pretty good, Alan." Hannity, like O'Reilly, considered himself a good, loyal, right-wing Catholic. But even good, loyal, right-wing Catholics had joined good, loyal, left wing Catholics in their recent reservations about the U.S. bishops.
"So, Sean, do you think Cardinal Mahony should be tried—on international television—for his sins?"
"You—and even my friend O'Reilly—may be cheering all of this," said Sean Hannity. "He may be getting the public trial now that he's avoided so successfully for all these years. But I am appalled—that Fox would make a deal with these terrorists."
Colmes objected. "I wouldn't call them terrorists, Sean."
"The Shining Path are killers, assassins."
"Well we know that, Sean. But who says Mahony's abductors are Shining Path?"
"The Vatican says so. And the Vatican has better intelligence than the CIA."
"That isn't saying much."
Hannity heaved a theatrical sigh. "The fact is," he said, "that these guys kidnapped a cardinal in his own helicopter and whisked him off to some jungle headquarters and put him up for ransom."
"Yes, Sean, but now we hear they may cancel their ransom demands."
"Yeah, because they got the forty-nine million they wanted from our own network." Hannity loathed the very idea of enriching terrorists of any kind. "Our own network!"
"Plus more millions from the BBC and Skynews in Asia. Ten million from the BBC. Ten million from Skynews."
"And didn't they get millions more from Televisa, covering all of Latin America?"
"Yep. Just an hour ago, we are told, they made a thirteen million dollar deal with Televisa."
"My question is how do they think they can get away with this? Where they gonna cash the checks?"
"Didn't you hear? Fox wired its payment to a confidential escrow account in Zurich. Shining Path or not, they're no dummies."
"I still don't get it," said Sean Hannity. "Do they think they can upload their show to a satellite and download it around the world without detection? Sooner or later, they'll be found out. And found, too."
"I understand," said Alan Colmes, "they've been able to cover their tracks with a relay system, leapfrogging from transmitter to transmitter to transmitter. That's easy, these days. And no government seems able to trace 'em, much less control 'em."
Hannity frowned. "Well, they don't know George W. Bush. He'll find a way."
"GENTLEMEN OF THE JURY, your Excellencies, may it please the court?" Juana Margarita Obregón was making her opening statement—to a virtually empty courtroom. But five aging Latin American bishops, and a sixth bishop watching the proceedings on TV, along with an estimated 590 million television viewers around the world who were paying close attention. So was Cardinal Mahony, who was now wearing a red cassock that his captors had provided. Juana Margarita Obregón told the juror-bishops about her background. That she had received a degree in scripture from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, that she'd written a feminist take on liberation theology, that she had chosen a second career in the law, and then a third in television—"to bring Good News to the poor."
"The Good News," she said, "is that the poor who are almost always voiceless will have their voices heard today." She explained that she'd been gathering the voices of the poor for the past three years in Los Angeles. "I was teaching television writing and production at UCLA," she said, "when the cardinal began raising funds for his cathedral. I could not help but see him in action, mostly in the pages of the LA Times. Their editors cheered when the cardinal announced he was going to build his cathedral downtown, not far from The Times. And they endorsed his ninety three million dollar fund-raising campaign among la's rich and famous.
"I was inclined to go along with the popular wisdom. Lord knows, we needed a cathedral. Every great city has one. I started to change my mind when I met the cardinal himself during a fundraising cocktail party at the Bel Air Hotel. He shook my hand. But he never looked at me. His eager eyes were scanning the room to see who else was there. I wondered at his obvious ambition.
"Then I learned the cardinal had entered into a sweetheart contract with the nation's largest death-care conglomerate. The deal helped the company corner a lucrative segment of the funeral market in the counties of Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara. Eleven Catholic cemeteries. It also put the archdiocese's imprimatur on a company that soon doubled the price of cemetery plots—a company, to boot, that made obscene profits on deceptive sales practices. (It had a habit of selling the same plot two or three times over.) In return for all this, the company made a secret donation of forty million dollars to the cardinal's cathedral fund.
"Was the cardinal doing this all for God's glory? Perhaps. But some of the nuns in Los Angeles—yes, there are a few nuns left—told me the cardinal was going ahead with the cathedral, even as the price tag mounted from ninety-three million to one hundred and ninety-three million, often at the expense of inner-city Catholic elementary schools. He was giving the black and the Hispanic kids short shrift. It was a kind of an ethnic cleansing. My nun-friends told me I ought to go talk to these kids. And their moms. Many of the kids have no dads at all.
"And so I did. I started to do that. I went out with my mini-cam and gathered testimony about the cardinal's obvious neglect. He wasn't paying attention to the needs of his little ones, and I was getting all the sad, simple stories on tape. It was a project that grew in the doing, and soon I was on the move all over town—from the beaches to the barrios—hearing what the sheep were saying about their shepherd. I got it all on half-inch videotape.
"And then one of my students said maybe the cardinal ought to review my tapes. What a great idea! Of course! And so, in one marathon twenty-hour day, my film students and I did our high-speed dubs of these stories, almost one hundred hours worth of testimony, and then I delivered copies of the tapes to the cardinal's residence the very next day. I enclosed a little handwritten note: 'To the Good Shepherd,' I said, 'from one of your flock. When you have viewed the tapes, you might want to phone me.' I gave him my address in Westwood, my phone numbers, my e-mail address.
"I never heard from him."
She glided closer to the jury. "I think I know why," she said, almost in a whisper. "This was February 2002, and the so-called priest-sex-abuse crisis had just hit LA, like it would soon hit two-thirds of all the dioceses in the U.S.A. 'The sex abuse crisis.' This was a polite, shorthand way of saying that hundreds of men and women had finally started approaching the criminal and civil court system, to get what they couldn't get from their own sacred Church: justice, redress for what their priests had been doing to their children." She paused, and took a full half-minute to lock eyes with each of the juror-bishops in turn and said, "Fucking their children."
She paused, and, for almost a full, silent minute, locked eyes with each of the jurors in turn. Finally, she said, "I know, this is not a pretty word. I have never used it before, and, after today, maybe I never will again. But we have to call things by their right names, so you can be shocked into understanding.
"Priests—the men we were taught to revere and trust as 'other Christs'—were doing little boys and teenagers, too. Their bishops knew what they were up to. And they covered it up. Even worse, if someone blew the whistle on a particular priest, the bishops paid him for his silence and transferred the erring priest to another assignment. You may ask why they did this. I think you know. They did it to avoid scandal. 'To avoid scandal.' Now what did that mean? It meant their first loyalty was not to the people, but to the institution—that is, to themselves and to the members of their clerical club.
"These, your Excellencies, are the facts."
Paul Kelly whispered in the cardinal's ear. "She's bad. And she's not even a lawyer."
The cardinal sneered, "She just plays one on TV."
Juana Margarita Obregón told a story about Mahony's tenure as bishop of Stockton, California, in the 1970s, when he covered up for a priest named Oliver O'grady, a confessed molester of two brothers and at least twenty other children, an equal opportunity sex maniac who targeted boy children and girl children, while having illicit affairs with at least two of the children's mothers. "It took years," she said, "for that kind of story—and hundreds of other similar stories all around the country—to emerge. Most Catholics just did not want to believe them. Most editors did not want to believe them. They only did so when the New York Times finally started to run with them. There is a saying in the United States—that if an event has not been reported in the Times, it has not happened. Well, your Excellencies, during a forty-five day period in March and April of 2002, the story started to happen. The good, gray New York Times had a Page One piece on the crisis every one of those forty-five days but one. The Boston Globe put a half dozen reporters on the trail of Cardinal Law, who, it turned out, had been protecting more than two hundred priests in the Boston area. The New Times in Los Angeles did an eight-part series on the sins of Cardinal Mahony.
"At first, it looked like the archbishop of Los Angeles had understood the situation in a way that the archbishop of Boston did not. He protested his innocence and vowed that his Church would pursue a policy of total transparency. When all the U.S. bishops met in Dallas in May of 2002, Cardinal Mahony stepped out in front of his fellow bishops and pushed through a get-tough policy on priest-pedophiles. Zero tolerance, he called it. As it turned out, he did not really mean that. He was just grandstanding. In fact, as we will prove before this court, the cardinal has spent more than fifteen million dollars in legal fees, paying LA's highest priced lawyers to keep his priests and himself out of court, and to help him fight off the efforts of the district attorney in Los Angeles to get information on the malefactors. I wonder if the cardinal ever had time, then, to review the taped testimony I had gathered from the little people of LA?" She looked over to the cardinal, as if to confirm her surmise.
His lawyer turned to him, too, and Mahony shook his head and whispered, "Tapes? I never saw any tapes."
"Now," said Juana Margarita Obregón, "he will have a chance to see them."
She stopped and moved closer to the bishops on the jury. "I am going to ask the judge to give us a ten minute recess here. We will have a long morning."
INSIDE A THIRD-FLOOR OFFICE in theVatican's Apostolic Palace, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the pope's secretary of state—in effect, the sovereign's prime minister—exhaled a mighty breath. He and his staff and three other Curial cardinals were watching this mock trial and they didn't like what they were seeing.
"Television!" said Cardinal Bertone. In his mouth, the word was an expletive.
Cardinal Gianbattista Re used another favorite cuss word in the Vatican: "Americans!"
Cardinal Francis Stafford used other expletives. "Liberals! Reformers!"
"Was His Holiness watching this?" asked Bertone.
Stafford said, "We think so, Eminence. Father Lombardi told me the pope insisted earlier today that someone from the communications office come up to the papal apartment to adjust the reception on his giant TV."
FRANCIS OLIVER GRANDEUR, the cardinal-archbishop of Philadelphia, was watching the trial, too. As a practical man, he didn't waste his time whining. At the recess, he picked up the phone and dialed Cardinal Mahony's chancellor in Los Angeles, the man who had been off skiing on the Fish Creek Trail on the morning of the cardinal's abduction.
"Hawk? Fog here." As a graduate student at the North American College in Rome, Jeremiah Hawkslaw had worked on the 1983 revision of canon law with Grandeur. They were close enough (no one knew how close) to use each other's nicknames, stuck on them by their classmates at the NAC, still sticking in their maturity. "Hawk" was obvious. "Fog" evolved from Grandeur's initials. "I assume, Hawk, that you've been watching the show? Uh huh. Uh huh. Well, look here. They've given us some leads. Did you hear this Obregón woman say she'd sent a copy of her tapes to the cardinal? Along with her address and phone number and e-mail address?"
When Monsignor Jeremiah Hawkslaw said he had never seen—or even heard of—the tapes, Grandeur said, "Well they've got to be around somewhere. See if you can find them. And especially her note. When you do, get back to me. With those coordinates, the FBI can put a trace on her. I'll bet they can find her address in an hour."
JUANA MARGARITA OBREGON fiddled with some knobs on a video playback machine, and invited the judge and the cardinal and his lawyer to take a stand behind the jury so they, too, could see the videotaped testimony. As they were making their move from the defendant's table, Mahony could see the red light blink on one of the large video cameras that was aimed at him, and he thought, How convenient! While viewers around the world are watching these witnesses and hearing their stories on tape, they can also get a look at my live reactions—and close-ups of the jurors' faces, too, as they take in the testimony. This kind of television will entertain a good many viewers—at my expense.
Juana presented her first witness, a slim woman named Amelia Rodríguez from Boyle Heights in East LA who cleaned homes for a living in the Hollywood Hills. Para los otros was conducting the trial in English, but, for strategic reasons, Juana Margarita Obregón had decided to give the Spanish-speaking jurors their first taste of testimony in Spanish. Let them hear the sincerity of Señora Rodríguez in their own language. Let them listen to the choked words and the pathos.
She said she was a single mother with twelve-year-old twins serving as altar boys at St. Martin's Parish on Atlantic Boulevard when they were taken under the tutelage of the new assistant pastor, Father Stephen Wellsprings. She said, "He took them places. To Dodger games and Disneyland and McDonald's. And I was happy, because the boys never knew their father, and I thought it was good for them to have a man in their lives. When the priest asked if he could take Miguel to his cabin at Big Bear during Thanksgiving weekend in 1986, I said, 'Yes, if you take Antonio, too.' He promised he would take Antonio during Christmas vacation, so I said, 'Yes, fine.' I shouldn't have done that, never should have let them go separately. But this man was a priest! I never suspected a thing.
"Ten years later, when the boys were twenty-two, they confessed that Father Wellsprings had used them sexually—and separately—for several years running. Miguel never told Antonio. And Antonio never told Miguel. They never told anyone, until last year, when all the stories started coming out in the Times about Father Wellsprings. He had been seducing boys for years. The worst thing was that, years before, some parents in his first parish, Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, had complained about Father Wellsprings and Cardinal Mahony had persuaded them to keep quiet—for the good of the Church. And then he moved Father Wellsprings from Beverly Hills to one parish after another—but always to parishes in the barrio, never back to the West Side."
Here, the woman's voice thickened. She said, "Father Wellsprings made the boys into jotos. Last year, Antonio died of AIDS. Then his brother Miguel committed suicide." Here, Juana had used her zoom lens to capture an extreme close up of Señora Rodríguez. She wept, then dug into her purse and produced the last pictures she had taken of her twins. "They were beautiful boys," she said, holding up the photos and looking bleakly into Juana's lens. "So blond, so fair. Now they are in hell, suffering the fires of the damned. And Padre Wellsprings"—she spat out the word Padre—"Padre Wellsprings is still a priest."
Kelly turned to see the cardinal's reaction. The cardinal was starting to hyperventilate.
CNN HADN'T BOUGHT THE FEED from Para los otros, but that network could make fair use of excerpts from the morning's proceedings, and did. For twelve hours, in fact every hour on the hour, CNN repeated the last running minute of Señora Rodríguez's testimony, tears and all, along with this exchange between CNN's London news desk and John Allen in St. Peter's Square.
"Perhaps you can tell us, John," said Suzy Walker, "what this grieving mother meant when she said this priest, this Father Wellsprings, is still a priest. How can this be?"
"Well, Suzy, she's right. The Vatican—and here I mean the pope himself—is being very careful. The pope loves the priesthood—and his priests. And he won't let anyone sully them—or trash the priesthood. According to Section 1470 of Canon law, priests who are accused of serious crimes have a right to a trial—in secret of course. That can often mean a delay of as many as ten years."
"You mean they go on being priests?"
"Technically, yes," said Allen. "But often enough, they are sent off to some remote monastery on a mountaintop."
"But just as often," said Allen, "these priests simply fade away. They get tired of the hassle."
"Okay, John. But one more thing. This mother says she knows her boys are in hell. Is that what the Church teaches?"
"Suzy," said Allen, "the Church doesn't say that. The Church says there's a hell, but it has never officially declared that anybody's in hell. Not even Hitler."
"But a lot of simple Catholics still take comfort believing in hell?"
"Well, Suzy, I wouldn't say comfort."
INSIDE THE CAVERNOUS CONTROL ROOM of the National Security Agency in Maryland, three technicians yanked off their headsets, rose to their feet with a cry of victory, and hustled over to their chief. "Our satellite found 'em, Charlie. We know where they are. Bogotá!"
FOR THE REST OF THE MORNING, Juana Margarita Obregón presented the jury with one videotaped interview after another. The juror-bishops, despite their age, more than managed to pay attention. When Paul Kelly and the cardinal grew tired standing behind them, they were given high-rise directors' chairs to perch upon.
Kelly was riveted by the taped testimony of a priest named Thomas Doyle who had once worked in the Vatican's Washington embassy. He told Juana Margarita Obregón's video cam that he had helped write a report to the U.S. bishops in the early eighties, warning them they could face financial liabilities of a billion dollars within ten years if they didn't enact sweeping reforms. Doyle was a virile, square-jawed Dominican wearing a U.S. Air Force chaplain's uniform. He said, "We told the bishops they had to put priests accused of sexual misconduct on the shelf, report them to law enforcement, never reassign them to new parishes. But the bishops didn't listen. One bishop I know sent off one guy to serve in seven different parishes--even after he knew what the man was doing.
"Mahony did send some of his men off for treatment. He sent them to the Paraclete Fathers in Jemez Springs, New Mexico. The priests who were sent there called it Camp Ped. But the Paracletes didn't have a clue. They gave their patients furloughs, sometimes for weeks at a stretch, to fill in as parish priests around the West, and then they turned them loose, so they could get assignments elsewhere, where they molested other kids."
In his director's chair, the cardinal coughed and crumpled and studied the back of his hand.
On tape, Doyle said, "Cardinal Mahony ignored our report, and went right on doing what he'd been doing for the past seventeen years. He's been part of the problem, not part of the solution. He helped set up an ad hoc advisory committee on sexual abuse, but it was just public relations, a joke, a fluff move."
Kelly whispered in the cardinal's ear. "We'll get a chance to rebut all this."
The cardinal gave Kelly a bleary-eyed stare. "Yeah? I doubt it. I doubt that very much."
"You know," said Kelly, "You may be right." He heaved his huge bulk off the director's chair and turned to the judge. "Your Honor, I'd like to cross-examine Father Doyle."
"Father Doyle is not here."
"Exactly. He and all of these so-called witnesses are shadows on a television screen. How can I cross-examine any of them?"
"Obviously, you cannot."
"Then you must allow me some leeway here."
"To make an argument to the jury. I know. It isn't time yet for an argument from the defense. But I need to make it now, while these charges are still fresh in the minds of the jury."
The judge recognized Dr. Obregón.
"Let us hear it," she said. "let us hear Mr. Kelly's argument now. We could all use some enlightenment here."
"All right," said Díaz. "go ahead, Mr. Kelly."
Kelly stammered in surprise, but continued. "It is unfair, utterly unfair, to judge the cardinal's handling of pedophile priests twenty years ago. He— indeed, most of the bishops—were relying on the best advice of mental-health experts at the time. Now, everyone is taking the matrix of today's knowledge and placing that matrix on what happened fifteen, twenty, thirty years ago."
Díaz listened, then turned to Juana Margarita Obregón.
She said she was dumbstruck over this argument. "Just when did the cardinal learn that it is illegal to have sex with a minor?" she asked. "This had-we-only-known defense is just another type of denial, a rationalization. I have some testimony on this very issue. If I may, your Honor?"
He nodded. "All right."
"Wait a minute," objected Kelly.
"You opened the door," said Díaz. "You cannot object if Dr. Obregón wants to walk through that door."
Kelly threw up his hands. "Jesus!"
"That, I take it," said the judge, "is a prayer?"
Kelly mumbled, "Yes, your Honor, a prayer."
By now, Juana Margarita Obregón had her rebuttal-tape ready. It was an interview she had had with Gary Schoener, a clinical psychologist from Minnesota who had consulted in hundreds of sex-abuse cases involving priests. "Even after it was well-known that a lot of these priests had problems that were beyond fixing," he was saying on tape, "the bishops just kept sending these priests to New Mexico and Maryland and Connecticut for treatment rather than getting rid of them. It gave them a moral out."
Looking for a present for a friend who might not be reading "CARDINAL MAHONY" on Catholica? Why not consider purchasing a copy of Cardinal Mahony as a present...
Other books by Robert Blair Kaiser:
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2009Robert Blair Kaiser