The documents raise the possibility of renewed criminal scrutiny for Mahony and others in the archdiocese hierarchy. Mahony retired in 2011.
Prosecutors in Philadelphia last year secured the conviction of a monsignor who was secretary for clergy after a change in state law gave prosecutors more time to file charges and seek evidence. In Missouri, a judge found a bishop guilty last year of failing to report child abuse to the state, making him the highest-ranking U.S. Roman Catholic official to be convicted of a crime relating to the child sexual abuse scandal.
In Los Angeles, the archdiocese and an attorney representing about 30 individual accused priests has fought for years in court to keep the priests' confidential files sealed, citing the clerics' privacy rights. The church was forced under subpoena to turn over some records to the district attorney during an investigation that began in 2002.
In a 2010 memo, a lead prosecutor in that probe said the documents he had showed "the possibility of criminal culpability" by members of the archdiocese leadership, but a criminal conspiracy case was "more and more remote" because of the passage of time.
Deputy District Attorney William Hodgman said investigators had insufficient evidence to fill in a timeline stretching over 20 years hampered by the statute of limitations. He did not return a call or email seeking comment Tuesday.
The U.S. Attorney's Office convened a grand jury in 2009 to hear evidence, but it yielded no indictments. It was unclear Tuesday if that grand jury was still sitting and a spokesman declined to comment.
Associated Press writer MaryClaire Dale in Philadelphia contributed to this report.