Cardinal's Story Lacks Substance

Pasadena Star-News [Los Angeles CA]
Downloaded May 21, 2004

WHILE we must commend the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for making public the reasons a popular priest was abruptly yanked from the pulpit at St. Louise de Marillac Catholic Church in Covina, we agree with parishioners. It seems more smoke screen than substance.

Recall that the Rev. Chris Cunningham, now serving as an associate pastor in Ventura, spoke out against Cardinal Roger Mahony's handling of the sexual abuse scandal that continues to rock the U.S. Roman Catholic Church and the Los Angeles archdiocese in particular. Some 244 priests and others within church positions have been accused, as outlined by an overdue report by Mahony delivered in February.

Well, no one said the Catholic Church was a democracy, but recall that in the matter of Cunningham, we warned that the church and this archdiocese needed to be heedful of its credibility.

We warned rumor would rule the situation at the Covina church that saw some 8,000 letters protesting Cunningham's removal delivered to the cardinal.

Mahony finally addressed angry church members this week by letter, saying Cunningham was removed in March because he was "emotionally unstable,' among a litany of reasons.

Well, if that means he's overemotional about sexual molestation within the priesthood, we'd say he's right.

In the eyes of those who had come to admire and rely on "Father Chris' for spiritual guidance, the punishment doesn't fit the "crime' and still appears little more than retribution, although the archdiocese denies such charges.

We asked Mahony to give the faithful at St. Louise de Marillac answers. Now we're asking for him to back away from his final statement on the matter delivered yesterday in this newspaper.

Instead we ask him to address parishioners directly. At one point Cunningham said he was offered the possibility of regaining his lost good graces by strengthening his people skills. According to parishioners, the father wasn't lacking in any area of shepherding.

But then, they and we, don't know what went on behind the scenes. The letter noted that Father Cunningham was "harsh in exercising authority.' Can Mahony extend to them the hope that their beloved pastor would return to them in due time after proper counseling and penance?

If not, the message conveyed seems meant to silence not only parishioners who question the church but those officiants who, like Cunningham, are deeply disturbed by what many see as the Catholic Church's complicity in protecting pedophile priests. One, now deceased, allegedly molested dozens of boys over a 20-year period at St. Louise de Marillac. There are victims still out there and deep wounds that cannot be salved with a curt, dismissive response.