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Police clear Los Angeles cardinal of decades-old sex abuse claim by Fresno woman

Posted: Friday, April 12, 2002

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) -- Police said no witnesses or physical evidence could be found to support a mentally ill woman's allegation that Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony molested her.

On Thursday, Fresno police dismissed Flora Mae Hickman's claim, made last month, that Mahony sexually assaulted her when she was a student at San Joaquin Memorial Catholic High School in 1969. Mahony was then a monsignor in Fresno.

Hickman, 51, of Fresno, has said she was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.

As head of the nation's largest Roman Catholic diocese, Mahony was the highest church official to be accused in the sex abuse scandal that has shaken the church.

Mahony revealed the Hickman accusation April 5, and denied it.

Through a spokesman, Mahony said he was grateful to police for their thorough investigation and he was pleased with the result.

Hickman had claimed she was knocked unconscious while fighting with students and woke to find her bottom garment removed and Mahony ''over her.''

Police interviewed teachers who worked at the Catholic school, sought any documents supporting the woman's claims and considered her credibility.

''In this case, we had no evidence,'' Johnson said Thursday. ''Of course we're going back 32 years. That makes it difficult. A victim's ability to recall can present some unique difficulties.''

Hickman insisted Thursday that the incident happened, but said she would not pursue the case.

''I told the story, what I believed,'' she said. ''I wouldn't have made it up. Maybe if I'd come out a long time ago, maybe something would have been done.''

She said she was looking for compensation to cover her psychiatric bills. She filed for bankruptcy two years ago and said her disability payments were cut.

Hickman's claims were vague. She told reporters that she had been molested by fellow students, family members and co-workers at a fast food restaurant.

She originally told her story to the pastor of St. John's Cathedral in Fresno on March 20. He reported it to police, but later said he doubted the allegation was true.

''She claimed that happened with 40 different youths watching,'' said Monsignor John Esquivel. ''There's no way that is going to happen in front of all those people.''

Mahony, 66, became the head of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1985 and was elevated to Cardinal in 1991.



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