Honest Services Theory Used in Priest Abuse Cover-up Probe
Posted Jan 29, 2009 6:57 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss
A U.S. attorney is applying a criminal statute in a novel way as part of a grand jury investigation into the Los Angeles archdiocese and its response to pedophile priests, according to a newspaper report.
The theory is that a cover-up of priest abuse by church leaders, if proven, violates a federal statute that bars conspiracies to deprive others of honest services, the Los Angeles Times reports. The victims would be parishioners who entrusted the safety of their children to church leaders.
U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien is personally involved in the probe, two anonymous law enforcement sources told the newspaper.
Church lawyer J. Michael Hennigan confirmed that prosecutors had sought information from the diocese but said Cardinal Roger Mahony is not a target.
The theft of honest services statute is usually used to prosecute politicians and corporate executives. Loyola law professor Laurie Levenson told the Los Angeles Times that prosecutors could face difficulties defining the kind of honest services expected from church officials.
"I'd put it in the category of creative lawyering," she told the newspaper. "It doesn't mean it's bad. But it will be challenging to not only get charges on these grounds but, if they get charges, to win a conviction."