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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Detectives will review recently released clergy abuse files from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles to see if there's evidence of criminal activity by church authorities, including failure to report child abuse to law enforcement, Police Department officials said Tuesday.
Police will focus on the cases of about a dozen previously investigated priests and are auditing those past probes to make sure nothing was missed, said Cmdr. Andrew Smith. The department will also look at the files for all 122 priests that were made public Thursday by court order after the archdiocese fought for five years to keep them sealed, he said.
Thousands of pages of secret confidential files kept by the archdiocese on priests accused of molesting children show recently retired Cardinal Roger Mahony and other top archdiocese officials shielded priests to protect the church, thwarted police investigations and repeatedly did not report child sex abuse to the authorities.
The files of another 14 priests were published by the Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press last month and revealed a similar cover-up.
"Now what's being alleged is a failure to report, those kinds of things, so there's a new emphasis — it's not just the person that's accused of the behavior, but if it's also if it was not properly reported," said Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese, who heads the detective bureau.
"We're taking a fresh look on cases we've already handled to make sure we don't have reporting issues that got past," he said.
Michael Hennigan, an archdiocese attorney, declined to comment Tuesday.
Mahony, who retired in 2011 as head of the nation's largest diocese, was stripped of his administrative duties on Friday by his successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez.
The same day, Bishop Thomas Curry, a top Mahony aide who made critical decisions on abusive priests, requested to resign from his post as an auxiliary bishop in charge of the archdiocese's Santa Barbara region. Curry was vicar for clergy in the mid-1980s, a position created to handle priestly discipline and other personnel issues.
Both Mahony and Curry have publicly apologized for their handling of pedophile priests.
The LAPD is right to review the files for new information, but it's unlikely anything they find will fall within the statute of limitations in state or federal court, said Rebecca Lonergan, a former federal prosecutor and a professor at the University of Southern California's Gould School of Law.
The statute of limitations on most crimes that would apply to the priest cases is three years under state law and five years under federal law, she said.
Prosecutors could try to prove an ongoing conspiracy among members of the church hierarchy to cover up for abusive priests, but under federal law even that would require proof of criminal activity over a long period of time with one specific criminal act occurring within the past five years, she said.
Clergy were not mandated child abuse reporters until 1997 and by then the archdiocese had implemented significant changes in how it dealt with reports of pedophile priests.
"You have to show that at least two parties were in this together the entire time and that's going to be really hard," Lonergan said. "Most of the documents that have been revealed are bad and show concealment, but they're really old. There's none that show this is going on within the past few years, in the late 2000s."
Prosecutors have previously investigated the archdiocese for its handling of sex abuse cases, but no criminal charges were ever filed against members of the hierarchy.
Smith, the LAPD commander, said his detectives will still do their due diligence.
"I don't expect giant revelations of prosecutions to come out of this, but who knows," he said.
Flaccus reported from Orange County.