Leading U.S. Cardinal Punished for Role in Abuse Scandal
By Cathy Lynn Grossman
February 1, 2013
|In this 2007 file photo, Cardinal Roger Mahony speaks during an annual multi-ethnic migration Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. / Reed Saxon, AP|
One of the most powerful Catholic leaders in the USA, Cardinal Roger Mahony, the retired archbishop of Los Angeles, has been relieved of his public roles for covering up for sexually abusive priests - a role the current archbishop called "evil."
Just hours after a court-ordered massive release of priest personnel files revealed the extent of Mahony's role in covering up for known sexual predators, Archbishop JosAŠ GA?mez announced Thursday night that he has relieved Mahony of his remaining duties.
A former top aide to Mahony also stepped down from his current post.
This is the first time since the massive abuse scandal exploded in 2002 hen there were direct repercussions for top church officials. In December 2002, Cardinal Bernard Law resigned his post as archbishop of Boston when protesters and priests called for him to step aside.
"I find these files to be brutal and painful reading," GA?mez said in a statement, referring to the newly released files made public by the church Thursday night just hours after a judge's order. "The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil. There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children."
GA?mez announced that he has "informed Cardinal Mahony that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties."
"GA?mez also said Thomas Curry, former vicar of the clergy under Mahony who was the cardinal's point person in dealing with priests accused of molestation, has stepped down from his current job as auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese's Santa Barbara region.
Political scientist and Jesuit priest Thomas Reese opn Friday called it "unprecedented for an archbishop to limit the ministry of his predecessor and publicly take him to task like this. It shows that finally the abuse crisis not only has consequences for the abusing priests but also for the clerics who failed to deal with them properly."
But it remained unclear early Friday exactly what it means to limit Mahony's duties. He has not been removed from ministry -- the Church's now required policy for abusers.
An archdiocese spokesman, Tod Tamberg, told the Los Angeles Times that 'beyond canceling his confirmation schedule', Mahony could continue to offer Mass at his North Hollywood parish, and remain a "priest in good standing."
He can even vote to elect the next pope if Pope Benedict XVI were to die in the next three years. Mahony will turn 77 on Feb. 27 and cardinals are no longer eligible to vote at age 80.
And the leading victims group was not satisfied. David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said in a statement Thursday night, "Hand-slapping Cardinal Roger Mahony is a nearly meaningless gesture.
"When he had real power, and abused it horribly, he should have been demoted or disciplined by the church hierarchy, in Rome and in the US. But not a single Catholic cleric anywhere had the courage to even denounce him. Shame on them."
The resignation of Bishop Thomas Curry, said Clohessy, is " a small, belated step in the right direction, though it's obviously only being done because the horrific extent of his complicity is about to become publicly known. He should have been fired long ago."
Both Mahony and Curry issued public apologies earlier this month.
Thursday's actions came within hours after the public release of some 30,000 pages from the confidential files of priests accused of child molestation. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias ordered the diocese to turn over without blacking out the names of top church officials who were responsible for handling priests accused of abuse.
Terence McKiernan, president of the online site, BishopAccountability.org which tracks church documents in the abuse crisis, complained Thursday night in a statement that GA?mez only acted when the documents became public and that the pope should remove Mahony not only from his top ranking as a cardinal, a "prince of the church" but also from the priesthood itself.
"GA?mez has had these documents for months and known about Mahony's wrongdoing long before now. And yet Mahony has continued to be an honored prelate and prince of the church. The difference is that now the people have access to evidence of Mahony's misdeeds. Sadly, we see the church acting ethically in these matters only when its actions become known," McKiernan said.
"Mahony's misdeeds deserve a much more substantial punishment than the tweaking of his administrative status by someone junior to him in the church's hierarchical society. Pope Benedict XVI should remove Mahony from the College of Cardinals."
Mahony led the archdiocese for 25 years until he retired in 2011. Were it not for his role in covering up for abuse, his legacy would
Bishop Robert W. Finn of Missouri, who was convicted last September of failing to report a priest suspected of abuse to authorities, has remained in office and unpunished by the church despite his unprecedented guilty plea.
Church observers say Gomez must have had clearance from Rome to rebuke Mahony, says David Gibson of Religion News Service.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Friday that "the Vatican is aware of the Los Angeles diocese's latest decisions but this matter is in the hands of the local archbishop."
Mahony has lectured widely on immigration issues and the future of the church since retiring in March 2011. Mahony remains eligible to vote for a new pope until he turns 80, in three years. Lombardi noted that the suspension does not affect the "other duties assigned by the pope to Cardinal Mahony in the Curia."
Jerry Filteau of the National Catholic Reporter also noted that the church's Code of Canon Law gives cardinals a privileged position and even says that they are "exempt from the power of governance of the bishop of the diocese in which they are residing."
Mahony, who was archbishop from 1985 to 2011 and a cardinal since 1991, championed social justice and immigrant rights and built a massive new cathedral in the heart of Los Angeles.
But when he retired, story after story detailed the decade he spent fighting abuse victims and their lawyers to hide L.A. church officials role in protecting and promoting known abusers and shuffling them from one parish to another.
By the time of Mahony's retirement, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles had paid $660 million in settlements to 500 victims.
Contributing: Associated Press: Alessandro Speciale and David Gibson, Religion News Service