LOS ANGELES — Retired Cardinal Roger Mahony and other top officials of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles maneuvered behind the scenes to shield priests who molested children, provide damage control for the church, and keep parishioners in the dark, according to church personnel files.
The confidential records filed in a lawsuit against the archdiocese disclose how the church handled abuse allegations for decades and also reveal dissent from a top Mahony aide who criticized his superiors for covering up allegations of abuse rather than protecting children.
Notes written by Mahony demonstrate he was disturbed about abuse and sent problem priests for treatment, but there also were lengthy delays or oversights in some cases. Mahony received reports on some priests that mentioned the possibility of other victims, for example, but there is no indication that he or other church leaders investigated further.
‘‘This is all intolerable and unacceptable to me,’’ Mahony wrote in 1991 on a file of the Rev. Lynn Caffoe, a priest suspected of locking boys in his room, videotaping their crotches, and running up a $100 phone sex bill while with a boy.
Caffoe was sent for therapy and removed from ministry, but Mahony did not move to defrock him until 2004, a decade after the archdiocese lost track of him.
‘‘He is a fugitive from justice,’’ Mahony wrote to the Vatican’s Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. ‘‘A check of the Social Security index discloses no report of his demise, so presumably he is alive somewhere.’’
Caffoe died in 2009, six years after a newspaper reporter found him working at a homeless mission two blocks from an elementary school.
Mahony issued a statement Monday apologizing for his mistakes and saying he had been ‘‘naive’’ about the lasting impacts of abuse.
He has since met with 90 abuse victims privately and keeps an index card with each victim’s name in his private chapel, where he prays for them daily, he said.
The apology stands in contrast to letters Mahony was writing to accused priests more than two decades ago.
The church’s sex abuse policy was evolving and Mahony inherited some of the worst cases from his predecessor when he took over in 1985, said J. Michael Hennigan, an archdiocese attorney.