Mahony Calls Sex Abuse Scandal His "Cross"

By Gillian Flaccus
Associated Press Writer, carried in Herald Tribune
Downloaded March 1, 2004


Cardinal Roger Mahony called on parishioners Sunday to accept their personal crosses, noting he has accepted the sex abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church as his burden.

During Mass on the first Sunday in Lent at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels, Mahony called the allegations of sex abuse against some clergy "a horrible chapter in the life of the church" and said he often wished God had sent him a different challenge.

"In my own life, the last couple of years have been very difficult because of the sexual conduct problems of some clergy," he said. "Very often I (say) 'Anything but that, Lord. Change this cross to something easier to bear, change this cross for me.'"

Mahony, 68, made no reference to a report released Friday that found the Los Angeles archdiocese had 656 sexual abuse claims and 244 clerics accused of abuse - the highest numbers in both categories in California.

The cardinal did not mention a related report that called Los Angeles a "troubled diocese" and singled Mahony out for resisting subpoenas seeking priest personnel files.

The reports were both released by the National Review Board, a panel of Catholic lay people charged by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with investigating the abuse crisis.

Mahony was one of only four bishops - there are 195 bishops who run dioceses in the United States - criticized by name in the report. The others were former Boston Cardinal Bernard F. Law, Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York and Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien of Phoenix.

Mahony has argued that priest personnel files are private and protected as sacred confidences between a bishop and his priests. Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley wants to examine the files to see if they contain evidence that points to other victims.

Mahony has turned 2,000 pages of records over to a judge to decide whether any should be released. The judge has yet to make a ruling on that.

"Today I call upon Cardinal Mahony to heed the admonitions of the National Review Board and immediately instruct his lawyers to make available all sought evidence," Cooley said Friday in a statement.

Mary Grant of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said the cardinal's comments Sunday show he doesn't accept responsibility for abuse that occurred under his watch.

"It's sad that once again Cardinal Mahony is shifting his cross to the acts of priests who molested children and not accepting his responsibility for covering up those heinous crimes," Grant said.

Many parishioners said they appreciated Mahony's mention of the sex abuse problems and disagreed with criticism of his handling of priest personnel files.

"The church is very private, so I can understand the essence of protecting the religion," said JoAnne Moreno, 54, of San Bernardino. "I think Mahony stepped up to the plate."

Moreno said she drives 100 miles each Sunday to hear Mahony speak. She said the cardinal connects with parishioners through his down-to-earth demeanor.

Marco Elias, 29, of Los Angeles said he admired Mahony because the cardinal has done so much for immigrants and the Spanish-speaking community.

"He helps a lot of immigrants. He helps the community a lot. He gives 100 percent," Elias said.

Other parishioners said they appreciated Mahony's "straightforward and honest" comments on the scandal, but did feel the archdiocese should disclose the personnel files in question.

"When we were growing up, we were taught that the church at all times had to be protected at all costs," said Sal Difede, 59, who was visiting from Highland Mills, N.Y. "You had to protect the church and maybe it was that idea that caused (Mahony) to cover it up for the greater good."

Outside the cathedral, a lone protester held a sign that read "Phony Mahony."

"His actions don't match his rhetoric," said 76-year-old Donald Kohles, a lifelong Catholic who said Mahony has been dishonest in his handling of sexual abuse claims. "I want to purify our church. I love our church."


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