NO MEMBER of the Roman Catholic hierarchy fought longer and more energetically than Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles to conceal the scandal involving the rape and intimidation of children by rogue priests. For years, the cardinal withheld seamy church records from parents, victims and the public, brandishing endless litigation and fatuous claims of confidentiality.

The breadth of Mahony’s cover-up became shockingly clear last week with the release in court of archdiocese records that give details of how he and a top aide concocted cynical strategies to keep police authorities in the dark and habitual offenders beyond the reach of criminal prosecution. It was the cardinal’s obligation under the primacy of secular law to notify authorities immediately of any priest’s criminal behaviour.

Instead, he invoked a nonexistent church privilege to hide miscreant clergy and shield the church and his own reputation. Mahony has repeatedly apologised in recent years and insisted that the archdiocese was mending its ways. A lawyer for the archdiocese insisted that the scandal and the cardinal’s cover-up were "part of the past". Not really. While statutes of limitations on possible criminal charges may have run out, Mahony and his former aide could be deposed in civil suits.

New York, January 28