Los Angeles - Victims of child sex abuse by Catholic clerics voiced anger on Tuesday after newly-released records showed church leaders discussing how to cover up priests' alleged crimes in California in the 1980s.
Prosecutors said they wanted to study the previously confidential records, including memos by then Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony - although experts said the statute of limitations would likely prevent any legal action.
Excerpts from the documents were published on Monday by the Los Angeles Times, including exchanges between Mahony - now a retired cardinal - and a top aide talking about how to conceal paedophile priests from law enforcement.
The records include secret memos between Mahony and Monsignor Thomas Curry, his top aide on sex abuse cases, about how to prevent police from probing three priests who had admitted to the church that they had abused young boys.
Specifically, Curry suggested stopping suspected priests from seeing therapists who might alert authorities about alleged abuse, or keeping them outside of California to avoid police investigations, the Times reported.
One such was Monsignor Peter Garcia, who admitted abusing children in mostly Spanish-speaking parishes for decades. He was sent to a New Mexico treatment centre, and Mahony ordered that he stay outside California.
Manager of predator priests
"I believe that if Monsignor Garcia were to reappear here within the archdiocese, we might very well have some type of legal action filed in both the criminal and civil sectors," Mahony wrote in July 1986.
"There are numerous - maybe twenty - adolescents or young adults that Peter was involved with in a first degree felony manner," Curry wrote in May 1987.
Reacting on Tuesday, Joelle Casteix of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or Snap, said: "We were shocked and disgusted to see these documents."
Mahony - who has faced numerous accusations about his handling of sex abuse cases, and apologised repeatedly - "personally managed the careers of predator priests", she said outside LA's Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
"He and other high-ranking [LA clergy] including now-Bishop Curry worked diligently to ensure that men who hurt children, who abused children and who destroyed communities were never going to see a day behind bars."
A spokesperson for the LA District Attorney's office said prosecutors "will review and evaluate all documents as they become available to us", in remarks reported by the Times.
But former DA Steve Cooley, who led a five-year probe into Catholic sex abuse, said a three-year statute of limitations meant that there was little prospect of successful prosecutions.
"It would be great to prosecute them," said Cooley, who stepped down last year. "But you cannot ethically prosecute someone... when the statute has run."
Earlier this month, a judge ordered Catholic leaders in Los Angeles to identify senior church officials accused of sexually abusing children, in a move welcomed by campaigners for victims.
The LA archdiocese, the biggest in the United States, said that "much of the information in question has already been made public" in a 2004 "Report to the People of God" and subsequent documents.
But Snap welcomed the order.
"For decades, the Los Angeles Catholic hierarchy has successfully kept under wraps thousands of pages of incriminating documents. Because of the courage and tenacity of hundreds of victims, that will soon end," it said.
"And children will be safer as a result."