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Former L.A. Diocese spokesman, Father Gregory Coiro, on the sex abuse scandals.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

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HH: I do want to clean up some business from yesterday. Father Gregory Coiro called in, and I’ve known Greg for, boy, probably fifteen years since my days as a nightly news analyst, broadcast analyst for KCET, the PBS affiliate in L.A., oh, fifteen years ago. And Father Coiro was the spokesperson then for the L.A. Diocese, and he’d come over, and always would be quite forthcoming with us. And he was listening yesterday to some commentary about Roger Cardinal Mahoney, and just felt like he needed to get some stuff off his chest, and I didn’t have enough time. So we’re going back to that. Father Gregory Coiro, welcome back, it’s good to talk with you.

GC: Good to talk with you, Hugh.

HH: Now what are you doing these days, by the way?

GC: I’m a chaplain at St. Francis High School in La Canada-Flintridge.

HH: Is that a Franciscan high school, obviously?

GC: It is, Capuchin Franciscan, all boys high school. We have about 650, 660 students.

HH: Now you know, I was taught by Franciscans. I never figured that out. Are you third order regular?

GC: No, we’re Capuchin Franciscans, which is part of the first order.

HH: Okay, well, it’s good to know that. Now Father Gregory, what did you hear yesterday about Roger Cardinal Mahoney that you objected to?

GC: Well, what really kind of stuck in my craw was the way the guest mentioned that there were some bishops who were accused and still in place. And then, without skipping a beat, he said Cardinal Roger Mahoney was still in place without making a distinction that there were no accusations against Cardinal Mahoney that were found credible. There were some accusations made, but the police investigated them and said that they were not credible, in, I think, one or two accusations that were made against him. And the other thing about the whole scandal that annoys me is the fact that is has never really been reported accurately. It’s constantly called a pedophile scandal, when in reality there were only maybe 2% of all the priests who were accused, and of that, only 2% were true cases of pedophilia.

HH: It was mostly adolescent boys, wasn’t it?

GC: Yeah, it was really, and people don’t want to say this, because, and I understand why, it was really a homosexual problem, which is not to say that all homosexuals are inclined to be attracted to teenage boys. But 80% of the cases were between adult men and teenage boys who had adult bodies, but they were not old enough to give consent. It’s in so way to say that it makes it better, but I just like to see greater accuracy in the reporting.

HH: Now I want to be very accurate myself. I’ve always blasted Cardinal Mahoney because of the cover up, not because…I reject the idea that he himself was ever, how he was credibly accused of molesting anybody, no matter what their age. That never got out of first base, I agree with you completely, and I hope we didn’t give that impression to anyone. But I do believe the Diocese of Los Angeles was actually, I wanted the whole Diocese prosecuted for the failure to release the documents in the course of that, Father Coiro. What’s the response to that fury, that it seemed to me that they built fifteen years of stone walls to these victims?

GC: Well, let me say first of all, I left my position at the Archdiocese in the year 2000, and all of this broke 2001-2002. So I was not in any of the deliberations or anything that had to do with how to deal with the coverage of the molestation cases.

HH: And I think it’s too bad you weren’t, because you were always very candid and forthcoming. I think it’s just too bad you had moved on at that point, but go on.

GC: But my understanding is that what the Cardinal was trying to do was to protect the privacy rights of the priests under California law, with regard to personnel files. But even beyond that, I think he was making a very important point with regard to the practice of the Catholic religion, and that is the relationship between the bishop and his priests is not the same as the relationship between an employer and employees. There is a paternal relationship that exists with the bishop at the father, and the priests are the sons, and there needs to be confidential communications between the two. And so when he was asked to release files that he felt should be protected, he challenged that in courts, and ultimately lost it at the Supreme Court. But the fact of the matter is that he wasn’t really trying to cover up. At least I never perceived it that way. I think what he was trying to do was to protect an important principle with regard to the way the Catholic Church functions.

HH: But if it’s in the interest of the Church…let me see if we agree on this…the perception is that there was a deep and abiding cover up. It’s widely shared. Is that true about the perception and how widely shared it is?

GC: Oh, I’m sure that that perception is widely held, that bishops covered up, Cardinal Mahoney covered up, Cardinal Law covered up, and so forth. I don’t happen to subscribe to that particular perception. In fact, I would say instances of cover up would be the exception rather than the rule.

HH: But if it is true, and I’m glad we agree on this, that there is that perception and it is widespread, oughtn’t the Cardinal, for the benefit of the Church, to retire?

GC: You know, I don’t think anything would be served by that. I mean, he, when you’re appointed to a post such as an Archbishop of Los Angeles, it’s something that you’re supposed to occupy until you turn 75 years old, or transfer to another position. And you know, for example, we can make a contrast between Cardinal Law and Cardinal Mahoney. The documents that came out in Boston showed that Cardinal Law had moved priests from place to place, even though there had been accusations against those priests, where with Cardinal Mahoney, he has been very forthright about the cases where he had known that priests had a problem, and had them go through treatment, had been assured that the treatment was successful, and put them back into ministry, and then they repeated, they offended again. And he said that these are the cases that really troubled him the most. But in Los Angeles, you didn’t see a systematic pattern of priests who were offending being reassigned…

HH: Well, I have to rely upon the Los Angeles Times for a different view there. Has the Times been fair to the Cardinal?

GC: I think overall, the Times has been unfair.

HH: Why?

GC: Well, for one, I think because of the fact that they never reported accurately in terms of what the nature of the cases were. And certainly, now this wouldn’t be addressing the issue of reporting, but certainly in terms of opinion, I don’t think Steve Lopez has been particularly fair to the Cardinal.

HH: How about Bill Lobdell?

GC: I’m sorry?

HH: How about William Lobdell? He’s a friend of mine.

GC: You know what? I can’t say one way or the other with regard to his reporting, because nothing comes to mind specifically. But you know, I think overall, the tendency has been, for example, anytime anything comes out with…where some advances were made with regard to investigating or removing people from the ministry and so forth, they immediately go to the people from SNAP…

HH: Hold on while we take a break. We’ll be right back with you on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

- – – –

HH: Father, when we went to break, you said that one of the problems the Times had in its coverage of the Los Angeles Diocese, Cardinal Mahoney, is that they immediately went to the people at SNAP. Is there something wrong with talking to the victims’ organization?

GC: I don’t think there’s something wrong with talking to the victims’ organization, but I think the organization itself needs to be questioned, and find out, you know, who funds this organization, and who’s behind it. To my knowledge, to a great extent, they’re funded by the lawyers who are suing the Church.

HH: Would that be wrong?

GC: Well, I think it’s not necessarily wrong, but I think it’s important to know these things, so what exactly is the agenda. At a certain point, I think the agenda of SNAP has been shifted from looking out for the concerns of victims, I mean, after all, settlements have been reached and so forth. All that is over with. And I think to a great extent, the remarks that come from SNAP are just designed to continue to keep this issue alive, to criticize the Catholic Church.

HH: Well, I’m not a victim, and I don’t represent them. I did teach one of the victims once, a fellow by the name of Ryan, who I think is active in SNAP. He’s certainly active in litigation. I think his response would be they consider Cardinal Mahoney to be a major part of the problem, and they’re not going to stop until he and responsible bishops are driven from positions of authority and influence in the Church. And now whether you agree with that or disagree with that, isn’t that a fair thing about which advocacy might be organized?

GC: Well, you know, you kind of hit the nail on the head. I don’t agree with it, and therefore, I’m going to be in the opposition to the positions that they take. And certainly, you know, it’s a free country. If you want to have an organization that isn’t willing to move on, that’s perfectly within your purview. But I think in terms of what the responsible press would do, would be to look into the organization and say okay, now the Church has made advances, you know, I believe according to the Catholic League in the past year, out of 40,000 priests, there were five accusations made. So obviously, great progress has been made. But is SNAP ever willing to acknowledge that? They never do.

HH: Father Gregory Coiro, I appreciate your calling back and giving us a chance to follow up on this, and your candor as was always the case in my television years is also much appreciated.

GC: Well, thank you, Hugh, and listen, anytime you want, give me a call. Feel free.

HH: We will follow up on that offer. No offer is ever made to a journalist that is not taken up on. Thank you much, Father.

End of interview.

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