Archbishop of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony on Tuesday testified at a civil trial concerning a clergy sexual abuse case in the Diocese of Fresno. He told jurors he did not recall any allegations of sexual abuse during his time as an official there, and that if someone was aware of it occurring it should have been reported immediately.
Cardinal Mahony was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Fresno in 1962 and became its auxiliary bishop in 1975.
Two brothers, George and Howard Santillan, allege that they were molested by a parish priest in the town of Wasco between 1959 and 1973. They also allege in the lawsuit that the diocese failed to protect the children from abuse and failed to address it, the Los Angeles Times reports.
George Santillan is now a 59-year-old retiree living in Arizona. He watched the three-hour deposition from the audience.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers subpoenaed the cardinal, believing his deposition offers evidence that the diocese may have been informed of the alleged molestation by a housekeeper. According to court documents, the housekeeper let the boys into the accused priest’s rectory bedroom and knew they were alone with him.
"I don't recall any case while I was here of allegations of sexual abuse of a child," Cardinal Mahony testified. "I don't know how it would be handled, because I don't recall it."
He said there were no “procedures” or “handbooks” to describe church employees’ duties to report abuse. According to the Los Angeles Times, the cardinal said he would have expected the housekeeper to come forward.
"She should tell somebody," he testified. "If anyone has knowledge that a child was in danger, any human being has to do something about it."
The cardinal said that during his time in the Diocese of Fresno, sexual abuse of children was not discussed as an issue among church officials or even society at large.
“Any kind of problem like this was looked at as a spiritual failure." "It was dealt with as a spiritual problem," Cardinal Mahony said, explaining the cultural attitudes of the time.
Jeff Anderson, a plaintiff’s attorney, asked the cardinal what hypothetical situations could be considered grounds to suspect child sexual abuse by priests. The Los Angeles Times reports that he “balked” at the line of inquiry and said the attorney should focus on the actual case before the court.
Anderson asked the cardinal if he had ever had boys visit him in his private quarters. The cardinal answered that he had not, except for possibly his nephews.
"It just wouldn't be appropriate. I avoided it at all costs,” the cardinal said.
Anthony De Marco, another plaintiff’s attorney, asked him about the propriety of a priest massaging a child. The cardinal said it was inappropriate but may not have raised concerns at the time.
“In those days, that was not in somebody's forethought that it was a sexual thing," he said.
On Monday the cardinal’s attorney had asked the presiding judge to allow the cardinal to enter the courthouse through a separate entrance, citing security reasons. The request was denied.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Cardinal Mahoney was accompanied by two attorneys and a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Fresno County sheriff’s deputies escorted the group to and from the courtroom while camera and photo crews surrounded them.