Cardinal Roger Mahony defends legacy on church abuse in blog
2/2/13 By Gillian Flaccus
On his blog on Friday, retired Cardinal Roger Mahony said he was ill-equipped to deal with sexually abusive clergy when he took over the archdiocese in 1985 and quickly sought to develop policies and consult with leaders in other dioceses.
LOS ANGELES — The public rebuke of retired Cardinal Roger Mahony for failing to take swift action against abusive priests adds tarnish to a career already overshadowed by the church sex abuse scandal but does little to change his role in the larger church.
Mahony can still act as a priest, keep his rank as cardinal and remain on a critical Vatican panel that elects the next pope.
While Archbishop Jose Gomez’s decision to strip Mahony of his administrative and public duties was unprecedented in the American Roman Catholic Church, it was another attempt by the church to accept responsibility for the abuse scandal that has engulfed it.
Victims were quick to point out that Mahony’s new, paired-down local standing was in stark contrast to his continued position among the prelates at the Vatican.
The decision “is little more than window dressing. Cardinal Mahony is still a very powerful prelate,” Joelle Casteix, the Western regional director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said at a Friday news conference outside the Los Angeles cathedral. “He’s a very powerful man in Rome and still a very powerful man in Los Angeles.”
The Vatican declined to comment Friday when asked if the Holy See would follow Gomez’s lead and take action against Mahony.
Tod Tamberg, the archdiocese spokesman, said Mahony was in Rome several weeks ago for meetings unrelated to Thursday’s announcement. He said he did not know if Pope Benedict XVI was aware of Gomez’s announcement.
The cardinal and Gomez both declined interview requests from The Associated Press.
In a letter to Gomez posted on Mahony’s blog Friday, the cardinal said he was ill-equipped to deal with sexually abusive clergy when he took over the archdiocese in 1985 and quickly sought to develop policies and consult with church leaders in other dioceses. He reminded Gomez that he was well aware when he took over in 2011 of the steps Mahony had taken to safeguard children.
“Not once over these past years did you ever raise any questions about our policies, practices, or procedures in dealing with the problem of clergy sexual misconduct involving minors. I have stated time and time again that I made mistakes, especially in the mid-1980s,” he wrote.
“Unfortunately, I cannot return now to the 1980s and reverse actions and decisions made then. But when I retired as the active Archbishop, I handed over to you an archdiocese that was second to none in protecting children and youth.”
Gomez’s public criticism is almost unheard-of in the highly structured church institution and would have been cleared by the Vatican in advance, said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer who worked for the Vatican’s Washington, D.C., embassy.
“He’s an archbishop — he cannot order a cardinal around,” said Doyle, who co-authored a 1985 report warning of a coming clergy sex abuse scandal. “The Catholic church is a monarchy. If you’re one of the princes of the realm and you’re a duke, you don’t dump on a prince without the king’s permission or you’re no longer a duke. That’s what the deal is.”
Gomez went as far as he could within this authority, but only the Pope has the power to sanction a cardinal or laicize him, he said.
Gomez made the announcement Thursday as the church was forced by a court order to turn over thousands of pages of confidential priest personnel files after a bruising, five-year legal fight. The archbishop also accepted a resignation request from one of Mahony’s top aides, now-Bishop Thomas Curry.
The move came two weeks after other long-secret priest personnel records showed Mahony and Curry, in particular, worked behind the scenes to protect the church from the engulfing scandal.
Mahony is a member of three Vatican departments, including the Holy See’s all-important economic affairs office, and he remains a member of the College of Cardinals. At 76, he is still eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.
The Vatican’s former sex crimes prosecutor, Bishop Charles Scicluna, has said Canon Law provides for sanctioning bishops who show “malicious or fraudulent negligence” in their work, but has acknowledged that such laws have never been applied in the case of bishops who covered up sex abuse cases.
In the past, lower-ranking members of the church hierarchy who have spoken out about their superior’s handling of the clergy abuse crisis have been rebuked by the Holy See.
In 2010, for example, Viennese Cardinal Cristoph Schoenborn criticized the former Vatican No. 2, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, in an interview for his handling of a notorious sex abuse case. Schoenborn didn’t use Sodano’s name in his critique, but was nonetheless forced to come to Rome to explain himself to the pope and Sodano.
The Vatican publicly rebuked Schoenborn, saying that only the pope has authority to deal with accusations against a cardinal.
The Vatican’s silence after Thursday’s announcement indicates they were aware of it, said Patrick Wall, a former Benedictine monk and priest and vocal church critic who consults on clergy abuse cases.
“Gomez was as brilliant as a sniper the way he orchestrated this because he did not overstep his authority against the Pope and yet at the same time it appears that some type of penalty is being imposed,” said Wall. “He cannot force Mahony to resign. It’s brilliant and this has never happened in the U.S.”
Mahony will reduce his public appearances, including numerous guest lectures nationwide on immigration reform, and no longer perform confirmations, Tamberg said. However, he remains a priest in good standing and will continue to live in a North Hollywood parish and can celebrate the sacraments with no restrictions, he said.
Several of the documents in the newly released files echo recurring themes that emerged over the past decade in dioceses nationwide, where church leaders moved problem priests between parishes and didn’t call the police.
Studies commissioned by the U.S. bishops found more than 4,000 U.S. priests have faced sexual abuse allegations since the early 1950s, in cases involving more than 10,000 children — mostly boys.
In one instance, a draft of a plan with Mahony’s name on it calls for sending a molester priest to his native Spain for a minimum of seven years, paying him $400 a month and offering health insurance. In return, the cardinal would agree to write the Vatican and ask them to cancel his excommunication, leaving the door open for him to return as a priest someday.
It was unclear whether the proposed agreement was enacted.
“I am concerned that the Archdiocese may later be seen as liable — for having continued to support this man — now that we have been put on notice that one of the young adults under his influence is suicidal,” a top aide wrote in a memo about the priest to Mahony in 1995, urging him to stop paying benefits to the priest.
The cardinal added a handwritten note: “I concur — the faster, the better.”
In another case, Mahony resisted turning over a list of altar boys to police who were investigating claims against a visiting Mexican priest who was later determined to have molested 26 boys during a 10-month stint in Los Angeles. “We cannot give such a list for no cause whatsoever,” he wrote on a January 1988 memo.
Mahony, who retired in 2011 after more than a quarter-century at the helm of the archdiocese, has publicly apologized for mistakes he made in dealing with priests who molested children.
Associated Press writer Shaya Tayefe Mohajer contributed to this report.
After rebuke by archbishop, Cardinal Mahony takes higher profile
Stripped of public duties by Archbishop Jose Gomez over mishandling of clergy sex abuse cases, Mahony has begun what some call a rehabilitation tour.
Cardinal in Los Angeles Is Removed From Duties
By Jennifer Medina and Laurie Goodstein
Published January 31. 2013
LOS ANGELES — Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, who retired less than two years ago as the leader of the nation’s largest Roman Catholic archdiocese, was removed from all public duties by his successor, Archbishop José H. Gomez, as the church complied with a court order to release thousands of pages of internal documents that show how the cardinal shielded priests who sexually abused children.
The documents, released as part of a record $660 million settlement in 2007 with the victims of abuse, are the strongest evidence so far that top officials for years purposely tried to conceal abuse from law enforcement officials. The files, which go from the 1940s to the present, are the latest in a series of revelations that suggest that the church continued to maneuver against law enforcement even after the extent of the abuse crisis emerged.
Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry, who was the vicar for clergy and one of the cardinal’s top deputies and his adviser on sexual abuse, also stepped down as the regional bishop for Santa Barbara, Calif.
The church had fought for years to keep the documents secret, and until this week it argued that the names of top church officials should be kept private. In letters written in the 1980s, then-Father Curry gave suggestions for how to stop the police from investigating priests who admitted that they had abused children, like stopping the priests from seeing therapists who would be required to alert law enforcement about the abuse.
Both Cardinal Mahony and Bishop Curry have publicly apologized in the past, but have said that they were naïve at the time about the effectiveness of treatment for abusers and the impact on victims.
In a letter on Thursday, Archbishop Gomez wrote that the files are “brutal and painful reading.”
“The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil,” he said. “There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children. The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers, and they failed. We need to acknowledge that terrible failure today.”
Cardinal Mahony and Bishop Curry are still able to celebrate Mass and other religious duties. But Cardinal Mahony, a vocal advocate of immigrant rights, will no longer speak publicly, as he has done frequently since his retirement in 2011, a spokesman for the archdiocese said.
Archbishop Gomez’s move to discipline his predecessor and to accept the resignation of Bishop Curry, was unexpected and unusual. It has not been the custom of bishops to use disciplinary measures against one another — or even to issue any public criticism.
Instead, as part of the sweeping package of policies for dealing with sexual abuse that American bishops passed at the height of the abuse scandal in 2002, the bishops agreed that they would employ what they call “fraternal correction” with one another when the situation requires. Only the pope can decide to remove a bishop from the leadership of his diocese. And only the pope can defrock a priest or a bishop.
Advocates for abuse victims had called for Bishop Curry’s removal last week, and had mixed reactions on Thursday to the actions taken by Archbishop Gomez. David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called Bishop Curry’s resignation “a small step in the right direction.”
But Mr. Clohessy said that the sanctions against Cardinal Mahony amounted to little more than “hand-slapping,” and are “a nearly meaningless gesture.”