Chapter 5: Verdict
Introduction by Robert Blair Kaiser: In Chapter Four, the cardinal sickened under the assault of all the videotaped testimony against him. His lawyer, Paul Kelly, protests to the judge, "It's like the picadors have weakened the bull enough. Isn't it time to send in the matador?" His nurse/keeper, Maria, takes pity on him when he complains to her, "I thought my people loved me. Now I know. They hate me." Maria says, "They do not hate you. They just think you can be better than you are." The cardinal says he is beginning to fall in love with her. "You only think you do," she says. "Did you ever hear of the Stockholm Syndrome? Like, Patty Hearst fell in love with her kidnappers?" Now here's Chapter Five...
Chapter 5: Verdict
THE JUROR-BISHOPS WERE SHOCKED when they saw and heard the videotaped testimony of Albert Gonzalez, a former archdiocesan official—one of four archdiocesan executives who quit their jobs in Los Angeles on the same day in April 2003. He said that Mahony's blue chip lawyer, Cyrus Cheatham, had already billed (and collected) $15 million for his services over the past five years. Much of the billed time paid for efforts to convince a judge that the cardinal could not turn over the files on several dozen priests who had been accused of tampering with young people, most of them teen-aged boys.
According to Gonzalez, Cheatham argued that Mahony had a confidential relationship with each of his priests, much like the relationship between a lawyer and his clients. The judge denied the argument, and Cheatham appealed the decision. It was denied by the California Court of Appeals, and Cheatham appealed again, to the California Supreme Court, which finally decided against Mahony. But he was still stalling. "Whatever else the appeal did," said gonzalez, "it bought the cardinal some time. And left more than five hundred lawsuits filed by abuse victims in limbo."
Each of the poor juror-bishops wondered what he might have done for his people with Cheatham's $15 million. They sat up a little straighter and craned their necks to get a look at Dr. Obregón's next witness.
On the TV screen, they saw an attractive blonde who identified herself as Justice Anne Burke of the Illinois Supreme Court, and a mother of four. Judge Burke told Juana Margarita Obregón about her appointment to the American Bishops' National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People. "I'm not sure how I got on the board," she said. "I later learned the board was designed by a New York p.r. firm to serve as window dressing for the bishops."
"People got the impression the bishops would be accountable to us. But when the bishops started balking at our questions, we realized they wouldn't stand for that."
"What was the board supposed to do?"
"Our mandate was quite vague. We thought we were appointed to oversee what the bishops were doing about the scandal, but we soon realized the bishops didn't want us to do that. They soon forced our chairman out for telling the press their actions reminded him of a criminal organization, not his Church, resisting grand jury subpoenas, suppressing the names of offending clerics, denying, obfuscating, explaining away. I took his place, and was given the title of 'interim chairman.'"
"Didn't the National Review Board issue a report?"
"Yes. Two of them on February 27, 2004. One was an audit conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, but it wasn't much of an audit. They didn't go out and dig up any facts about priest-abusers, or interview their victims. They sent out a questionnaire and let the bishops make their own reports. Their report said several thousand priests—some four percent of priests in ministry over the last half-century—committed acts of sexual abuse of minors. On the same day, our board also issued our own Report on the Crisis in the Catholic Church of the United States. It said the bishops failed to grasp the gravity of the problem of sexual abuse of minors by priests, made unwarranted presumptions in favor of accused priests, relied on secrecy to avoid scandal, put too much stock on the advice of their lawyers—who intimidated many of the victims—and failed to hold themselves accountable for the mistakes they made. We said they could have used the advice of laypeople."
"Did you make recommendations?"
"We made a number of them."
"How did the bishops follow through on those recommendations?"
"They didn't. They tied them up with parliamentary delays. In March 2004, we had a showdown of sorts at the USCCB's headquarters in Washington. The bishops all sat there in their padded leather seats, each of them with a microphone, like in the United Nations General Assembly. The bishops held us off until they could meet in plenary session late in the year. They didn't really want any more audits. And, so far, they haven't let the board do any more of them."
"How many of the bishops wanted you to continue?"
"Very few. I can count them on one hand. Cardinal Mahony made great sanctimonious statements, but in the end, he voted with all the others (privately of course) to quash a second audit. He continued to tell the public that all priest-predators had been put away, but it turned out that a convicted priest-pedophile was a guest in his own rectory all along.
"These guys are tricky, masters at obfuscation who get tied up in their own wordy evasions. And when they cannot evade, they attack. Henry J. Mansell, the archbishop of Hartford, ripped the board members for 'expanding their competence, responsibilities, activities and studies in a dynamic of autonomy.'"
"What is 'a dynamic of autonomy?'" asked Juana Margarita Obregón.
"I don't know. I guess 'a dynamic of autonomy' is more powerful than simple autonomy. You'd have to ask the archbishop. But it was clear that many bishops didn't like us because we threatened their authority. Archbishop Charles Chaput objected to 'the tone' of one of our letters. 'Your language,' he said, 'is designed to offend. . . . Whatever its goals, your letter diminishes the credibility of the NRB and invites resistance.' Bishop Ignatius Dreedle of Buffalo Tooth, Nebraska, made personal attacks on members of the board. Whenever the bishops spoke, they continued to refer to 'the Church' without ever mentioning their own people or acknowledging that these victims are the Church and that they themselves are their servants rather than their masters."
"What have the bishops learned through all this?"
"Nothing that I can see. They continue to relate to the people by being pompously official rather than simply human."
"And your 143-page report?"
"At this point, it looks like a dead letter to me. The bishops haven't implemented our recommendations. And the bishops continue to insist the board had no right to investigate them."
JUANA MARGARITA OBREGON punched up her last tape. It was an interview with a pretty young Filipina named Gloria Verdugo, who told her story haltingly, and, for that very reason, it came across as true. A Southern California priest from the Philippines named Ramón had found her begging and homeless in Pershing Square. He rescued her, set her up in her own apartment off Pico Boulevard, and introduced her to three of his priest-friends, all from the Philippines, whom Mahony had imported to help him deal with his priest-shortage in Los Angeles. She said to Juana Margarita Obregón's video cam, "They took turns with me. In me. Four of them, every day until—" She paused.
"Until what, Gloria?"
"Until I got pregnant. When they learned I had told a social worker about my condition, they slapped me around. When they found I had gone to the police, they went into a panic. Ramón phoned the cardinal's office. Two days later, they were all jetting back to the Philippines on the same flight. When I asked one of them why they were leaving, he said Cardinal Mahony ordered them back to the Philippines—'to avoid arrest.' He paid for their jet fare. Paid me, too, for my silence."
"How do you know it was Cardinal Mahony who paid you?"
"I figured that out for myself. Next day, a lawyer came—a middle-aged woman who told me she worked for the archdiocese. She had me sign a paper, gave me ten thousand dollars in hundred-dollar bills, helped me pack up my things and drove me to a Catholic home for unwed mothers, with the understanding—I had to sign a paper that I would tell no one who the father was." "Who was the father?"
"I don't know which one. That is how I could promise never to tell who the father was. One of them."
One of the jurors rose and cried, "For shame!" The others nodded in agreement, but urged him to sit down.
Mahony covered his face with his hands.
Juana Margarita Obregón pretended not to notice. She turned to the judge. "That's all we want to put in evidence, your Honor. The prosecution rests."
Iván Díaz asked Kelly if his client would take the stand.
Kelly whispered for almost a minute into the cardinal's ear. Finally, Mahony nodded. "Your Honor," said Kelly, "my client and I need five minutes here."
Juana Margarita Obregón told the judge, "If it will be of any help to Mr. Kelly, I have twenty questions." She waved a sheet of paper. "Twenty questions that I intend to ask the cardinal."
Kelly rose to receive the sheet of paper, then shuffled back to Mahony at the defendant's table. He handed over the sheet and whispered to him. "you want to answer these questions?"
Mahony studied the questions, and said nothing.
"Well?" said Kelly.
Mahony shook his head, thinking, How can I?
"How about this one?" Kelly said in a low voice. "Did you or did you not tell the Oliver O'Grady jury back in Stockton that you believed some of Father O'grady's victims 'liked it?' What would you say to that?"
"If I denied I said that," offered Mahony, "the jurors would know I was lying. If I admitted saying it, they'd see me as some kind of monster."
"Uh huh. Okay. Here's another question. 'In December of 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported the archdiocese owned more than four billion dollars in real property. yet in your public financial statement for thesame year, you claim four hundred ninety-four million in total assets. Can you explain this obvious discrepancy?'"
Mahony shook his head. "No."
"Just for my own information," said Kelly, "tell me who was lying? You or the Los Angeles Times?"
Mahony didn't reply.
"Well, if that's the best you can do with these questions," said Kelly, "I am going to tell you—insist—you not take the stand. As your counsel, I have a duty to do that."
Mahony gave a shrugging, silent assent.
Kelly waved to Díaz, and the judge called the court back in session.
"Your honor," said Kelly. "We see no point in having the cardinal take the stand. He will accept the judgment of this court, and, of course, the judgment of his fellow bishops."
"All right then," said Díaz. "Enough."
DURING A SHORT RECESS, the juror-bishops repaired to the courtyard and took time out to consult by satellite telephone with Bishop Samuel Ruiz, the retired bishop of Chiapas, who had been watching the proceedings— somewhere—on television. When they returned to the courtroom, Judge Díaz asked them if they had reached a verdict.
"We have, your Honor," said the jury foreman, Francisco Azevedo, retired auxiliary bishop of Recife.
"And what is that verdict?"
"We find the defendant, Roger Michael Cardinal Mahony, guilty on all accounts, as charged."
"Then," said Díaz, "we will move right on to the sentencing."
Mahony whispered, "That's a relief."
Díaz regarded Mahony for a full, unsmiling minute, then told everyone in the court—and more than 590 million television viewers, "We sentence Cardinal Mahony to become a Christian."
"What?" cried the cardinal. "Sentenced to be a Christian! I have been a Christian all my life."
"Few have noticed," said Dom Francisco, the jury foreman from Recife, addressing Mahony directly from the jury box in English. One of the TV cameras zoomed in on him. "You have been something of a crook. Something of a great pretender. You lied during your depositions. You hid priests behind the statute of limitations. You bought the silence of their victims. You listened to lawyers and let them put legalism ahead of the Gospel. You manipulated the media. You made a great show of listening to your people, but you only heard the high and mighty who were in a position to reward you. Try to think of yourself as a servant of the little people, not their lord and master. You will find many ways of doing that. You might consider selling your helicopter and your fleet of cars. When you go anywhere, you might take the bus, like those women who clean the homes of the rich people in Hollywood."
THE JUDGE SAID, "THIS CASE IS ClOSED." The trial was over. The bishops rose and pushed back their chairs. Mahony was whipped. He did not rise. His shoulders drooped and his face showed nothing of the feelings that churned inside him.
Kelly took the opportunity to speak some frank words to his client. "Excuse me, your Eminence," he said, glancing over his shoulder at the juror-bishops as Díaz was thanking them and shaking their hands. "But I think the jury foreman got it right. Try listening to all your people. Don't tell them what you think they need. Find out what they think they need. And give it to them. And see what you can do about abrogating canon law. It's, it's un-American."
Then hell broke loose. Bombs fell all around the compound, and soldiers appeared out of nowhere, throwing grenades and firing automatic weapons. Mahony saw Díaz and Kelly wilt with bullets to the head and surprise in their eyes. He saw the bodies of the juror-bishops and the television people soften and crumple like rows of tall candles in a hot sun.
He did not see Juana Margarita Obregón. Just as he leaped to knock María to the floor and try to shield her body with his, he heard a commanding voice say, "Don't hit the cardinal!"
Then, for him, everything went black.
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©2009Robert Blair Kaiser