Cardinal Roger Mahony Takes Stand in Clergy Abuse Trial

March 17, 2009 5:23:07 PM PDT
The head of the nation's largest Catholic diocese took the stand Tuesday in a clergy sex abuse lawsuit in Fresno. Cardinal Roger Mahony once served in the Diocese of Fresno. Two men are suing, claiming they were abused over a 14 year period decades ago and that the diocese did nothing to stop it.Tuesday's testimony marked only second time Mahony has testified in a civil case involving clergy abuse. Plaintiffs George and Howard Santillan claim they were abused by a Wasco priest between 1959 and 1973, while Mahony was an administrator in the Diocese of Fresno. Mahoney served in the diocese from 1962 to 1980, beginning as a priest at St. John's Cathedral. He was eventually appointed to bishop. That's around the same time two boys claim to have been abused by their priest, Anthony Herdegen, hundreds of times at a Wasco church.

On the witness stand, Cardinal Mahony said such allegations would have been investigated and noted in confidential priest files, but said quote, "I don't recall any case or allegations of sexual abuse while I was here."

But attorneys for the Santillans and David Clohessy, an advocate for those abused by clergy, say the Diocese of Fresno should have known. "It's just hard to believe that anyone will believe that not a single employee knew or should have known," said Clohessy.

The Santillans are now middle aged men. Though jurors haven't heard from them directly yet, they did hear an audio recording presented by a Kern County detective. In a phone conversation lasting longer than 40 minutes and taped in 2003, George Santillan confronts his alleged abuser, Hardegen. Hardegen repeatedly apologizes, saying, "Whatever I did to you, George, I apologize."

He also acknowledged taking and burning a nude photo of Santillan but only specifically addresses the abuse when prompted. Herdegen is heard repeating Santillan's words saying, "I'm sorry I performed [this sexual act on you] and ask for your forgiveness."

The Santillans didn't tell anyone about the abuse until 1980's and court documents say at that point their mother confronted the priest's housekeeper, who the boys said let them in and out of the rectory. The Santillans' mother says the woman broke down in tears. Today, Cardinal Mahony said if a housekeeper did know of any inappropriate behavior, she should have said something, but maintained he was never told about any accusations.

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