Jan 10, 2006

Will Levada evade-a trial?

The Number Two man in the entire Catholic Church flies all the way from Rome to San Francisco and, dressed in civvies, enters an office building by a side door to avoid protesters. Though he himself is in charge of dealing with priests accused of sex crimes against minors, he must now answer lawyers' questions, under oath, about his own alleged role in covering up such crimes when he was Archbishop of Portland--which, facing $155 million in sex-crimes damage claims, later became the first U.S. diocese to declare bankruptcy. As he walks into the office building, he's handed a subpoena to testify in another sex-crimes case.

What's wrong with this picture?

"Everything" would be an understatement. Though Portland has already shelled out $53 million to settle 130 sex-abuse claims, Archbishop Levada's former Archdiocese has 150 more cases to deal with. And lawyers want the prelate to tell the whole truth about his own actions.

For instance, in 1994, he returned accused molester Fr. Joseph Baccellieri to the active ministry. In April, 2004, he testified under oath that he removed Fr. Baccellieri in 1992 when he heard an allegation of sex abuse against him, dating to the 1970s. But, reports Ron Russell in the January 4 SF Weekly, "Levada wasn't telling all that he knew."

According to the paper, in 1993 Levada was aware of other accusations that the priest had victimized three males, and had okayed secret payoffs to each of them when they threatened to sue the Archdiocese. One victim said the priest "had sodomized him for several years." Since 2004, four more males have alleged in lawsuits that the priest committed sex crimes against them in the 1970s, when they were teens.

David Slader, who represents three of plaintiffs, says it's "unconscionable" that Levada didn't report the priest to the police. (The Archdiocese says Oregon law didn't require Levada to, because by then the alleged victims were adults.)

"All the evidence we've been able to find demonstrates that Archbishop Levada's sole concern was to maintain a veil of secrecy and to continue the false impression that Father Baccellieri was a trustworthy and dutiful priest," Slader complains.

Thread by thread, Levada's veil is unraveling. What will the world learn? Next to the brief January 9 New York Times story about Levada's deposition was a sex video ad with the headline, "Sex. It's Never Too Late to Learn Something New."


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