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UPDATE: LAPD reviews Los Angeles priest abuse files for possible criminal charges

Joelle Casteix is joined by members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
Joelle Casteix is joined by members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
Ashley Myers-Turner/KPCC

UPDATE 1:51 p.m.: 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.

RELATED: The priest sex abuse scandal: A guide to news, documents, resources and issues

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.

Also on Tuesday, a support group for clergy abuse victims called for the Los Angeles Unified School District to thoroughly investigate how the district hired a former priest who allegedly had a sexual relationship with a minor.

Joseph Pina, who was never convicted of a crime, was hired in 2002 as a community outreach coordinator for the district's school construction campaign, said Tom Waldman, the district's spokesman. The archdiocese told the Los Angeles Times that it warned the district about Pina, but the LAUSD can't find any indication of that in its files, Waldman said Tuesday.

"We're looking into how this happened, but so far we haven't found the document that the archdiocese indicated it sent to us," he said. "Whether or not we called them as a reference, I don't know."

The former priest worked with adults only, was never alone with children and had no complaints during his time there, Waldman said.

PREVIOUSLY: Los Angeles police are reviewing recently released clergy abuse files to see if there's evidence of criminal activity by members of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, including the failure to report child abuse to authorities.

Cmdr. Andrew Smith said Tuesday the LAPD is focusing on the cases of about a dozen previously investigated priests and is auditing them to make sure nothing was missed.

The department is looking at the files of all 122 priests for evidence contained in the previously sealed documents.

Many of the cases happened decades ago.

The priests' confidential personnel files were released Thursday by court order after the archdiocese fought for years to keep them sealed.

They show retired Cardinal Roger Mahony and top aides shielded molester priests to protect the church.