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(Reuters) - Two Catholic Church officials in California plotted to conceal child molestation by priests from law enforcement as late as 1987, the Los Angeles Times reported on Monday, citing newly released internal Church records.
The records show that Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony, who is now retired, and his top adviser on child sex abuse cases, Monsignor Thomas Curry, worked with other Church officials in 1987 to send priests accused of abuse out of state to avoid prosecution, the newspaper said.
Mahony and Curry also tried to keep pedophile priests from confessing to therapists who would be obligated to report the crimes, the newspaper said, citing the records, which were released on Los Angeles Times' website.
Curry even suggested in 1987 they send a pedophile priest to "a lawyer who is also a psychiatrist" to put the priest's "reports under the protection of privilege," the Times reported.
In another 1987 case, Curry cautioned Mahony against returning a child abuser to the Los Angeles parishes where he molested children.
"There are numerous - maybe twenty - adolescents and young adults that (the priest) was involved with in a first degree felony manner," Curry wrote of one accused molester. "The possibility of one of these seeing him is simply too great."
In a statement posted on the newspaper's website, Mahony offered an apology to all the young victims.
Mahony also said that after 1987, as he and other Church officials began to comprehend how damaging sexual abuse was to the child victims, the diocese began to take more aggressive steps to investigate the accused priests and prevent further molestations.
The sex abuse scandal has rocked the Catholic Church in the United States, costing it billions of dollars in settlements and driving prominent dioceses into bankruptcy.
The scandal erupted in the United States in 1992 with a series of sex abuse cases uncovered in the Archdiocese of Boston that helped encourage other victims of abuse to come forward.
Los Angeles is the largest Roman Catholic diocese in the United States, with over 4 million Catholics.
The records of 14 priests were made public as part of a civil lawsuit this month and posted on the Times' website.
Next month, a judge overseeing a civil sex abuse lawsuit against the Los Angeles archdiocese will decide whether the two Church officials will face new depositions about the alleged plot.
In the weeks ahead, the personnel files of 75 more Los Angeles priests will be released as part of a 2007 civil settlement with 500 victims, the newspaper said.
J. Michael Hennigan, an attorney for the archdiocese, was not immediately available for comment.
However, Hennigan told the Los Angeles Times that in the late 1980s the Church's policy was to let the families of the victims decide whether or not to contact the police. He said the newly released records, which the archdiocese fought for years to keep secret, are "part of the past."
"We are embarrassed and at times ashamed by parts of the past," Hennigan said. "But we are proud of our progress, which is continuing."
(Reporting By Chris Francescani in New York; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Christopher Wilson)