Matthew Felling: You try to keep a cool remove from most stories as a journalist, but in a story like this … is that even possible?
Sandra Hughes: What hit me the hardest in reporting this story is the raw emotion you see in the victims in these sexual abuse cases. These are now grown men and women, many are married and have families. It doesn't take them but just a few minutes if not a few seconds to start talking about their stories – something that happened to them 10, 20 years ago. And their emotions are still so raw, they're right there.
Matthew Felling: Do you do anything different to convey that to the viewers?
Sandra Hughes : No, you just let them talk for themselves. As a reporter, it's sometimes difficult to listen to these stories and not get emotional when you hear these sorts of things. But you have to sit back and let them tell their stories. One of the victims I spoke to, Steve Sanchez, his trial was supposed to start next Monday. I told him, 'This must be so difficult for you to talk about, especially on national TV.' And he said 'The more I talk about it, the better I feel. It's a release for me.'
Matthew Felling: It's a legal story, a religious story and an emotional story. Is it more one than any of the others?
Sandra Hughes: I spoke with a victim yesterday, Lee Bashforth. I asked him how he was dealing with his pain. How he was dealing with the emotion of all of this. He said with the help of his wife, with the help of his family. He said he could no longer turn to his faith for support, because they had taken this from him – 'they' meaning the archdiocese of Los Angeles, the priests who abused him. He said "I no longer have a faith" because they prioritized taking care of the church and the image of the church and the archdiocese over taking care of a 7-year old boy. I thought that was terribly sad.
Matthew Felling: All the headlines on this story had to do with the millions of dollars paid out. But do you get a sense that the money fixes anything on any level?
Sandra Hughes: Most of the victims say it's not about the money. It never was about the money. It's about making the church take responsibility, stand up and take responsibility for what they've done. Most them say what they'll do with the money is get treatment and get therapy that they need.
Matthew Felling: It sounds like they don't think they got an apology, though. In your segment, there was a victim quoted who said "Cardinal Mahoney's not sorry. He's just sorry he got caught."
Sandra Hughes: In court, Cardinal Mahoney did not speak. He sat silently, facing forward. He never turned around to look at the victims. For a moment, the church's lawyer turned around and started addressing the victims, making a statement about regretting the timing of the settlement. But once he was shouted down [by a former victim] he turned around and continued his statement to the judge. Cardinal Mahoney never looked at the victims in the courtroom. He did give an apology on Sunday, but most of the victims that I spoke to said it rang hollow.
Matthew Felling: When you're dealing with religious people and not political figures or corporate titans, do you ease up at all?
Sandra Hughes: I don't think that's the case at all, not in this story. In this story, we're dealing with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church which, in many ways, is like a corporation. Cardinal Mahoney is the head, the leader. I don't think you can pull any punches when you're talking about hundreds of people's lives, who have been forever altered and forever changed. You hear about people who committed suicide and people who have become alcoholics and drug addicts to try to deal with their pain. I think that hearing those stories keeps you from pulling your punches.
Matthew Felling: Are there any other issues that didn't make it on-air?
Sandra Hughes: I was talking with the head of SNAP [Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests] about the court cases pending against the church for the past five years. He informed me that he was worried the church has had all that time to sanitize their personnel files. In Boston, there was so much outrage that they went in early on and we able to seize those files. His fear is that is that while we may learn a lot from those files, that a lot has been sanitized – there's been so many years. And we may not learn as much as was learned in the Boston case.