01/23/2013 03:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

LA Church: Sexual Abuse Files Reviewed By County Prosecutors

Los Angeles County prosecutors said Tuesday they will review newly released documents showing that retired Archbishop Roger Mahony and another church leader maneuvered to shield priests accused of child molestation from law enforcement.

The flood of confidential records offers the first public glimpse into the Los Angeles Archdiocese's handling of abuse allegations in 1986 and '87, and how Mahony and then-Monsignor Thomas Curry tried to prevent police and parishioners from learning that children -- mostly young boys -- were being molested by priests.

The details renewed anger among victims of clerical abuse, and calls for Mahony and Curry to be held accountable. A spokeswoman for District Attorney Jackie Lacey said the office "will review and evaluate all documents as they become available to us."

The archdiocese is slated to release the files of about 75 additional priests in the next few weeks under a settlement reached in 2007 with more than 500 victims, who also received a record payout of $660 million.

The church had fought to withhold the names of officials involved in the sex-abuse scandal, but a judge ruled earlier this month that the names of Mahony, Curry and other supervisors should not be redacted.

Legal experts, however, said it's unlikely that Mahony or others could be prosecuted because there's a 10-year statute of limitations for obstruction of justice and three years for conspiracy, and the documents were written in the mid-1980s.

"It's a long shot, but I'm sure it's something that Jackie Lacey -- with her interest in the welfare of children -- will look at closely," said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at UCLA and Loyola law schools.

"This further taints Mahony's legacy," Levenson said. "He was supposed to be upholding the highest moral standards, but history books will show the truth.

"It's unclear, however, whether the files will ever lead to criminal prosecution."

In 2007, when the settlement was announced and officials thought the release of personnel files was imminent, then-District Attorney Steve Cooley vowed to pursue criminal charges against anyone implicated by their contents.

"(The) massive civil settlement highlights the institutional moral failure of the archdiocese to supervise predatory priests who operated for years under its jurisdiction," he said at the time.

"If these documents reveal evidence of criminal activity on behalf of individual priests or anyone else, we will pursue them."

During a news conference called Tuesday outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, several members of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests dismissed Mahony's efforts at atonement.

"If he knew what was going on, he was alongside them, with these pedophiles," said Frank Zimora, who said his son was molested while attending St. Paul of the Cross School in La Mirada.

Jim Robertson, 66, who said he was molested as a teen by two instructors at Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, brandished a pair of metal handcuffs.

"We can put these people in jail if we want to -- if the law works for the people."

The archdiocese responded with a statement noting changes in how the church handles complaints of suspected sex abuse.

"No institution has learned more from mistakes made decades ago in dealing with priests who have abused young people than the Archdiocese of Los Angeles," the archdiocese statement said. "We have apologized for the sad and shameful actions of some priests, as well as for our inadequate responses in assisting victims and in dealing with perpetrators."

The documents released Monday are part of a lawsuit filed by an unidentified man who claims he was abused by the Rev. Nicholas Aguilar Rivera, who was assigned to Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church when he first arrived in L.A. from Mexico in 1987.

After Aguilar Rivera was accused of molesting several young boys, Mahony and Curry transferred him to St. Agnes Catholic Church, where similar allegations were made. Curry told the priest about the complaints and encouraged him to return to Mexico, two days before school officials contacted police.

According to documents, Aguilar Rivera continued to work as a priest in Mexico, and continued molesting young boys, until he was defrocked in 2009.

The personnel files of 13 other priests were attached to the plaintiff's demand for punitive damages to show a cover-up pattern, said attorney Anthony De Marco, who represents the 35-year-old man.

Curry, who is now the bishop of the Santa Barbara Pastoral Region, did not return a phone call for comment.

However, he issued an apology on Tuesday "for those instances when I made decisions regarding the treatment and disposition of clergy accused of sexual abuse that in retrospect appear inadequate or mistaken.

"Most especially," he wrote, "I wish to express my sympathy to all the victims of sexual abuse by clergy."

Mahony had issued a statement Monday, saying he's taken responsibility for failing to protect children and apologizing to those abused by clergy.

He also said that after 1987, as he and other church officials began to comprehend how damaging sexual abuse was to the child victims, the archdiocese changed its policy to better screen priests and others who come into contact with children.

Staff Writer Dakota Smith contributed to this report.