Chapter 4: Testimony
Introduction by Robert Blair Kaiser: In Chapter Three, Mahony's prosecutor, Juana Margarita Obregón, presented the jury with one videotaped interview after another with victims of pedophile priests in Los Angeles and their families who never got any comfort from the cardinal. Rather, his prosecutor charged, he had fallen back on a "if only had we known" defense. She tells the court, "This was just another type of denial, a rationalization." Now here's Chapter Four...
Chapter 4: Testimony
HIGH UP ON THE THIRD FLOOR of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace, those meeting in the cardinal secretary of state's office wanted to know more about this Tomàs Doyle. "You say he is a Dominican priest?" said Cardinal Re.
Cardinal Stafford, a very well informed American, said, "Yes, and he also went on active duty as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force after the bishops ignored his report."
"The bishops did nothing about that report?"
Cardinal Stafford said, "Some of them read it, and made it operative. When one pastor told his bishop in St. Cloud, Minnesota, that he had a young assistant who was abusing little boys, the bishop said, 'Call the police. The priest should be in jail.' They had no more problems in St. Cloud. Where bishops ignored the report, they had problems. Tons of problems in places like Boston and Los Angeles."
Cardinal Re turned to Cardinal Bertone. "This Tomàs Doyle. He once worked for us?"
"Correct," said Bertone.
"In effect, he was working for your predecessor, Cardinal Sodano?"
"Yes. In the Vatican Embassy in Washington."
"Why did he leave?"
"He was fired."
"Why was he fired?"
"We judged that Doyle's report could only bring shame on the Church. To distance ourselves from the report, we had to distance ourselves from Doyle, too. In Italy, as you know, we do not talk about these matters."
"We didn't talk much about them in the United States either," said Stafford. "Until recently."
"The secretariat should not have let Doyle go," said Re.
"Right!" said Stafford. "As Lyndon Johnson used to say, 'Better to have the polecat inside the tent pissing out, than have the polecat outside the tent pissing in.'"
Re said, "What is polecat?"
Stafford scissored his nose. Marzetta. "Skunk."
Re chortled. Then his face darkened, and he said, "This Leen-doan John-soan was a wise man. Doyle was working for us, and we fired him. We are not wise men, your Eminence. We are fools."
Stafford muttered to himself, If Re only knew the whole story. One of the Vatican's company men had Doyle terminated as an Air Force chaplain, too, and put pressure on the Dominicans to bar him from living in any Dominican residence. Doyle went on to testify in civil lawsuits all over the United States—to the benefit of the abuse victims, and to the loss of many an American bishop. Fools indeed.
IN THE COURTROOM, Juana Margarita Obregón clicked the remote for her video machine and fast-forwarded to another segment of her tape. "This testimony," she said, "comes from a highly respected theologian at the University of Notre Dame. His name is Richard McBrien."
On the video, the jurors saw the image of a large, jowly priest with a five o'clock shadow who said, "The bishops have done little or nothing to address this problem. The proof of that is in the scope and intensity of the current crisis. If they had done something significant, we would not be in the mess we're in today."
Eugene Cullen Kennedy, a famed priest-psychologist from Chicago, told Juana Margarita Obregón's video cam why the bishops hadn't done anything significant. He had spoken to her during the huge Congressman Foley scandal that threatened Republicans facing re-election in the fall of 2006. Kennedy told her, "It is never 'women and children first' when a Titanic like the Church or Congress grazes an iceberg. Hierarchs wear their life jackets as if they were grafted on and never move far from a lifeboat. Their instincts are to preserve themselves and their power and the structure that is the source of that power.
"The bishops want to be pastors just as the members of Congress want to be public servants. They override these good intentions with the acquired hierarchical sense that their destiny is to govern and save from harm a vast establishment. They do not want to see young people endangered but they honestly feel they protect the latter's interests best by protecting their own interests first. Congress helps us understand how the bishops reacted—not out of bad will but out of their nature as men who attained their status by giving themselves to a system whose property, power and privilege they feel they must preserve."
Kelly turned to Mahony. "Is that the way it is? Is that the way it really is?"
Much as he hated to admit it, Mahony nodded. Kennedy had it right.
NEXT, THE JURORS SAW THE FACE of a handsome, middle-aged man identified by letters across the bottom of the screen as David Clohessy. "This man," said Juana Margarita Obregón, "is the national director of SNAP, the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests. This clip follows an impromptu meeting between Cardinal Mahony, two other bishops and a group of eight sex-abuse victims during a recess at a meeting in 2002 of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Here is David Clohessy's account of that meeting. I am asking the questions, off camera."
Dr. Obregón clicked her video controller and the jurors saw Clohessy, and heard him say, "In private, the cardinal was all business with us, even a bit confrontational. But as soon as the session ended and members of the news media poured into the room to surround the cardinal, I saw a different Cardinal Mahony under the glare of TV lights. Standing three feet from the cardinal, I listened as he told the assembled broadcast and print reporters how moved he was by what he had just heard from us. It felt phony. It was as if he'd switched on an entirely different set of emotions for the cameras. It didn't sound sincere. Then and there this awful feeling crept over me that we were being used."
Doctor Obregón asked him whether Cardinal Mahony had taken leadership on this issue at an emergency meeting of the U.S. bishops in Dallas.
"Big role," said Clohessy. "Mahony made a big deal about pushing his bishops into a new policy, something he called zero tolerance. That meant that one misstep in this area by any priest and he was out of there."
"This was his idea?"
"He told everyone this was his idea. It wasn't his idea. It was forced on him by the terms of a settlement with Ryan DiMaria, a young man from Orange County who'd been molested in 1991 by Michael Harris, the priest- principal of Santa Margarita High School in Orange County."
"Tell me more about DiMaria?"
"By then, DiMaria was twenty-four years old, and a recent law school graduate. He was not so much interested in a cash settlement. What he wanted more than anything was to make a difference, so that other kids might not have to suffer what Michael Harris did to him. Among his demands were a zero tolerance policy, a toll-free victim hotline and the distribution of materials about sex abuse to parishes and schools. DiMaria won a change in the way the archdiocese keeps its internal records. DiMaria even won a commitment that the archdiocese would conduct exit interviews for graduates from its seminary in Camarillo that would quiz them on promiscuous same-sex sex in the seminary."
That caused a stir among the juror-bishops, who whispered furiously among themselves. One of them called out to Mahony in Spanish, "Sodomites in the seminary! For shame!" Everyone in the courtroom shuddered, but Kelly raised no objection, and Iván Díaz pretended he hadn't heard.
So did Dr. Obregón. She put the videotape machine on pause and said, "The next witness you will see and hear, Excellencies, is Ron Russell, the writer for the New Times in la who has become something of an expert on Cardinal Mahony."
From his director's chair behind the juror's box, Kelly raised an objection. "Testimony from a reporter! This has to be hearsay, your Honor."
Iván Díaz said to Kelly and to Dr. Obregón, "Would you please approach the bench." When they paused, he said, "Well, there is no what they call 'bench.' Just come up here."
Díaz whispered to Dr. Obregón, "Is Mr. Kelly correct? Is this reporter, this Mr. Russell, simply passing on second-hand information?"
"No, your Honor. Ron Russell, the writer, will show the jury some documentary evidence of the cardinal's early public relations campaign to hoodwink his Catholic constituency. It began with a pastoral letter in the Tidings, the archdiocese's official newspaper. In it, the cardinal pledged to do all that is humanly possible to prevent sexual abuse in the la Archdiocese."
"Do you have a copy of that pastoral letter. Dr. Obregón?"
"Well, then, why don't you just introduce that letter in evidence? you don't need Ron Russell to read it out loud."
"Your Honor? We're on television, worldwide television. Somebody has to read it."
"Well, then, you had better read it. lawyer Kelly is right. We cannot allow hearsay testimony in this courtroom. After all, as you've pointed out, we are on worldwide TV, and we cannot let a worldwide TV audience get the impression that we are stacking this deck against the cardinal. We cannot fight injustice with injustice."
"But your Honor," she protested.
"Just you read it," said Iván Díaz.
Juana Margarita Obregón blushed, went back to her counsel table, and riffled through a file box. When she found the copy of the Tidings she was looking for, she said,"Here is the pastoral letter. I will read the most important part of it. 'Let me state very clearly,' it says. 'The Archdiocese of Los Angeles will not knowingly assign or retain a priest, deacon, religious or lay person to serve in its parishes, schools, pastoral ministries or any other assignment when such an individual is determined to have previously engaged in the sexual abuse of a minor.' And those are the cardinal's words."
"And what do they prove?" asked Díaz.
"On their face, only this, that the cardinal had cobbled together a tough assault on the malefactors. The implicit message was that other Catholic bishops might appear flat-footed in the face of the worst scandal to rock the Church in centuries, but that Roger Mahony was the man with a plan. But the plan wasn't his. It had been forced on him by DiMaria. Mahony's actions amounted to little more than a public-relations campaign designed by Sitrick and Company."
The judge asked, "What is Sitrick and Company?"
"The Enron Corporation's former public-relations firm. Sitrick advised the cardinal to appoint a lay board. He already had a secret board of lay advisors. Now he was going public with a new panel, called the Clergy Misconduct Oversight Board. He said it represented 'another chapter in the efforts of the archdiocese . . . to make certain all churches are safe for children and young people.' But the trouble was this board had no power. The cardinal said he could not surrender that authority 'because only bishops are empowered under canon law to make personnel decisions about priests.'"
The judge said, "That's quite right. That's what canon law says."
Over in the jury box, the bishops whispered to one another. The voice of Recife rose over the others. He was quoting Jesus' words. "Is the Sabbath made for man, or man for the Sabbath?"
THROUGH MOST OF THE MORNING'S TESTIMONY, Mahony's face was a blank. But his stomach began to rumble so loudly that María became alarmed. Twice during the testimonies, she brought him water and a Prozac. When they broke for lunch and siesta time, Mahony told Kelly he didn't want anything to eat. He just wanted to lie down. "I can understand," said Kelly. "I can smell your breath. you smell like a cesspool."
Mahony rose, shaking his head, abashed at Kelly's comparison. María escorted him off, not to the cell he had slept in for the two previous nights, but to a grander room, a room with a flush toilet and running water. That was María's idea. She told el presidente that treating the cardinal like a criminal had tamed him. "He won't try to flee."
"Is there something I can bring you?" María said as he hobbled toward his bed.
He shook his head. "you're the only one who dares be nice to me," he said. "I am a worm and no man." It was a quote from Isaiah, often used in the context of the Crucifixion story.
She went to the bathroom, wet a small towel, folded it, and brought it back to him. "Here, put this on your brow." He put his head back and let her do it. "I will see if I can bring you some chicken soup."
He nodded, eyes closed, his breath coming in short sobs.
DURING THE AFTERNOON'S TESTIMONY, scheduled to run from three to six, a parade of witnesses recounted Mahony's imperious ways. "I chaired one of his lay committees," said a retired Catholic lawyer named Skip Riley. Juana Margarita Obregón had pulled out his taped testimony and put it before the jurors because it bore directly on the last discussion of the morning. "We weren't allowed our own judgments," said Riley. "We did what he told us to do. We were just figureheads. He made us understand his hands were tied—by canon law."
Retired Irish priests from Los Angeles were the most outspoken. One of them, Monsignor Sean Breen, said Mahony preened himself on public attention. "We weren't a wee bit surprised," said the monsignor, "to see him open the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. He looooved the limelight."
Mahony uttered a low groan. Kelly looked at his watch and declared, "your Honor, we want to say, 'Uncle!'"
Iván Díaz said he didn't understand.
"We give up. This shouldn't go on. This is cruel and unusual punishment.
This is—it's un-American." Kelly stammered for a moment, realizing that argument wouldn't carry any weight here, and tried to think of something more telling. He chose a bullfight metaphor. "It's like the picadors have weakened the bull enough. Isn't it time to send in the matador?"
Díaz consulted his prosecutor. Juana Margarita Obregón said, "Cardinal Mahony has spent millions in legal fees to keep this kind of testimony out of civil court. Now we can present it to the court of world opinion. We have seventy more hours of tape."
"Oh my God!" moaned Mahony.
Díaz looked distressed. "I am tending to agree with Mr. Kelly. The bull is reeling right now. And so, I am going to make a ruling, Dr. Obregón. I want you to pick out three more testimonies to help you complete your case. you said you were going to show how the cardinal has forgotten the sacred duties of his episcopal office, how the cardinal—" Díaz consulted his notes—"has let the unwritten rules of his clerical club undermine the rule of the gospel itself, and how he has robbed the patrimony of Christ's poor to enrich his lawyers. I am particularly interested in knowing to what extent he has enriched his lawyers—rather than help the victims of his cover-ups."
She nodded. "We will try to do that, your Honor."
"Can you get it all completed tomorrow morning? Then we'll let Mr. Kelly and the cardinal decide whether he wants to take the stand in his own defense."
THE U.S. MARINES—fifty men in a half-dozen helicopters—zeroed in on a jungle clearing ten kilometers northwest of Bogotá. They had a simple mission: to break up the mock trial of the cardinal-archbishop of Los Angeles, rescue the cardinal, and bring him back to la. Military intelligence told them to expect little opposition from what, they were assured, was a tiny group of wannabe revolutionaries inspired by something called "liberation theology." This news helped their commanding officer, Colonel Robert McCurdy, a 1992 graduate of Notre Dame, conclude that Mahony's captors were Godly people who eschewed violence of any kind. "Our intelligence," he told his battalion, "says this will be a piece of cake."
The oxymoron called military intelligence was flawed. McCurdy and his men had been directed to a marijuana farm that also happened to be the headquarters of Colombia's deadliest drug cartel. Its well-armed private army met McCurdy's approach with withering rocket fire, forcing him back to his base on the U.S. carrier Enterprise. He radioed his superiors at Camp Lejeune, "Better recheck your coordinates. We lost two choppers. We're lucky we got four choppers back to the carrier at all."
THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE picked up the phone and told the President of the United States about the latest military fuckup. "Well," said the leader of the free world, "we gotta use more force. Go in there, Bobby, and kill 'em! Kill 'em all."
"We sent our men to the wrong place. It might help if we found the right place."
"That too," said the president.
WHEN MARIA BROUGHT THE CARDINAL his evening meal on a tray, she was pleased to find him sitting up in bed, writing on his laptop. "Supper time!" she cried.
He shook his head. "I cannot eat."
"You have to eat."
"It's cold in here."
It was true. At this altitude, in mid-November, the nights were getting cooler. "That is why you have to eat something. Please. Come and eat. Here is some chicken stew, with rice. And I brought you a glass of red wine."
The cardinal grunted. A glass of wine sounded good. He hit the Save key on his laptop computer. He had been composing a list under the rubric THINGS TO DO—if he ever got out of here. He set the Macintosh aside, eased off the bed, and made his way to the table where María had set up supper for him. She helped him adjust the blanket he had wrapped around his shoulders like a cape, then sat down with him. "You're being good to me," he said. "I do not deserve it."
"You've heard what my people say about me. I thought they loved me. Now I know." He looked up at her. "They hate me."
"They do not hate you. They have been disappointed. you could be better than you are."
He scowled. How many times had he said that to his younger priests? Nobody ever told him he could be better than he was. From his earliest days in the seminary, he was a star. As a young priest, working with the farm workers of César Chávez in Delano, he was a star. As a young bishop, testifying before a legislative committee in Sacramento, he was a star. He was always a star. He thought about that as he swallowed a spoonful of stew. "María, when I became a bishop, they said it was possible I would never hear the truth again."
She laughed. "And when you became a cardinal, it was certain."
"On that score, it is not good to be a cardinal."
"On that score," she said, "is it good to be a pope?"
He looked at her with curiosity. She seemed wise beyond her years. He'd known John Paul II for more than 20 years, and, out of fear, he had never told the pope the whole truth about anything.
María pressed on. "I am wondering," she said, "how hard it must be for a pope if no one ever tells him things he doesn't want to hear."
He reflected on that. "Maybe his aides knew it was easier for him to rule as he did, with never a doubt about anything, if he didn't know what was really happening. In any event, he was not the kind of man who listened. I wondered sometimes if he understood his own Church."
"Understand your own Church?"
Her fearless question startled him. He gave it some thought. "More today," he said finally, "than I did yesterday."
"Are you the kind of man who understands yourself?"
That question called for even deeper thought. "I have been very busy serving the Church."
"Which Church? The institutional Church or the people of God Church?"
"I never thought there was any difference. I loved the Church, I loved the liturgy, I loved theology."
She paused for some moments, then asked. "Have you ever loved a woman?"
"Loved a woman? No." Then he heard himself blurting out words that he had not planned. "But I am beginning to love you." He touched her hand.
She pulled it away. "You only think you do," she whispered. She tried to take the edge off her rejection by smiling. "Did you ever hear of the Stockholm Syndrome? Like, Patty Hearst fell in love with her kidnappers?"
That startled him. He shook his head, finished off his wine, and set down his glass. His eyes filled with tears. He was certainly doing a lot of crying this week.
She rose, took his hand, helped him remove his red cassock, sat him on his bed, and unlaced his shoes. When he swiveled into bed and his head hit the pillow, she circled to the other side of the bed, climbed next to him, her front to his back, and held him in the dark, save for the flickering candle some ten feet away.
"Has any woman ever held you like this?" she asked.
He'd never been this close to a woman. This woman smelled like a peach. "No," he said. "Why are you holding me?"
"Because I am a woman. If a woman knows how to comfort a man, she should do it."
That startled him, too, and he lay there in silence, pondering her words. "If a woman knows how to comfort a man, she should do it." Curious. Why should she do this for him? He began to sob, again, but then, warmed by her touch, he fell into a deep but troubled sleep. In her arms.
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