By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
I suppose you’d have to say better late than never – but not much better. So much “not much better,” that some are questioning it’s veraciousness. In an unprecedented move, Roman Catholic officials in Los Angeles have relieved their retired cardinal of public and administrative duties after the court-ordered release of 12,000 pages of documents pertaining to child sexual abuse at the hands of L.A. area priests. Cardinal Roger Mahony presided over the flock since the mid-1980s in the largely Hispanic and deeply religious world of southern California Catholics. The documents reveal a steady stream of complaints of sexual abuse by priests under Mahony’s charge as well as cries for help. They response from the good cardinal was silence. 192 priests were eventually named in the ensuing litigation and the abuse spanned decades.
One particularly heinous complaint revealed by the church was the case of a seventeen-year-old boy continually abused by a parish priest in 1983. The boy was taken to a religious retreat where he was fondled and forced into sex by the priest. The abuse continued in a church rectory, a hotel, and in a mobile home near Tijuana, Mexico, that someone loaned the priest according to the victim. No disciplinary inquiry was ever held and the matter was simply swept under a convenient rug. Another file only held newspaper clippings of an infamous pedophile admitted to Holy Orders and who ran the Oxnard, California altar boy program. In that case, a chilling handwritten note detailed the outcome of this fox’s control of the henhouse: ” “Ventura DA (district attorney) *3/27/03 — Charged w/ felony 25 counts of child molestation of 8 youths in late 70′s-early 80′s.”
In a third case, Mahony refused to turn over a list of altar boys to police who were investigating claims that a visiting Mexican priest had molested 26 boys during a 10-month stint in Los Angeles. In a scene right out of All the President’s Men, Mahony wrote “We cannot give such a list for no cause whatsoever.” If a police criminal investigation into the sexual abuse of children under your care isn’t “cause,” one has to wonder could be to Roger Mahony?
Current Archbishop Jose H. Gomez apparently had seen enough and on Friday asked his predecessor to stand down from public appearances and administrative functions in the diocese. That did not sit well with the 77-year-old prelate who responded to the Gomez rebuke on his own website:
“”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,” Mahony wrote to Gomez. “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.”
(If you care to read it, the entire letter is here on Mahony’s website, Cardinal Roger Mahony blogs L.A..)
See, it’s your fault Gomez for not challenging my policies! Mahony did graciously accept a small part of the blame in that round-about way of public men that takes the cutting edge off the truth. “I have stated time and time again that I made mistakes, especially in the mid-1980s. I apologized for those mistakes, and committed myself to make certain that the Archdiocese was safe for everyone,” he wrote. Mistakes? Mistakes are forgetting to carry the 1 in a math problem. Willful indifference better suits the case here. Plus, the retired Prince of the Church doesn’t sound too contrite, as I was taught by the good sisters, every good penitent must be.
David Clohessy, who directs the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), welcomed the newly-pressed courage of Gomez and other Catholic leaders to at least confront the abusers and their protectors as a start, but called the suspension a mere “slap on the wrists.” Clohessy, himself a victim of years of priest sexual abuse as a young child, observed that “… to say to a retired employee that we’re going to give you fewer roles, it’s a symbolic gesture and a pretty hollow one at that.” And it should be noted that Mahony hasn’t had any administrative duties since retiring, so taking away what he never had seems ersatz punishment, indeed.
Such a battle between churchmen is so unprecedented that it may have the fingerprints of Rome all over it. “It is so rare because they stick together like glue,” said canon lawyer, Rev. Thomas Doyle. “The fact that Gomez said what he said, this had to have been cleared by the Vatican, they had to have discussed this with the Vatican. Mahony took the fall.” And Joelle Casteix, the Western regional director of SNAP, wondered at a Friday news conference whether Mahony was shedding crocodile tears over Gomez’ actions. The decision “is little more than window dressing. Cardinal Mahony is still a very powerful prelate. He’s a very powerful man in Rome and still a very powerful man in Los Angeles.”
The files were to be released as part of a record-breaking $660 million settlement with more than 500 victims of sex abuse, but lawyers for the archdiocese and individual priests waged a five-year battle to keep them sealed until Thursday. A day after the court’s order requiring release by Feb. 22, Gomez took the unusual step of censuring Mahony and accepting the resignation of now Bishop Timothy Curry who was Mahony’s top aide. Mahony can continue to celebrate the sacraments and can vote in conclave in a papal election until age 80. He remains a priest in good standing.
Manual Vega, one of the victims of the Oxnard abuse, wonders why Congress has turned a deaf ear to the plight of victims all over the nation. “We’ve had congressional hearings for doping,” Vega told reporters. “But where’s our congressional hearing? This has not only impacted L.A. but it’s impacted the entire United States and throughout the world.”
I wonder, too. Do you?
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
Update: 2/3/2013 8:38 p.m.: The National Catholic Reporter published this editorial yesterday that bears repeating. Here’s an excerpt if you can’t read all it here:
It doesn’t take a master’s or a doctorate to understand that the first obligation of adults is to protect the children. When the first instinct became protection of the clergy and the institution, our leaders became disfigured at some deep and essential level. The Catholic community is still waiting for them to deal honestly with that reality, with what happens to them when their robes turn to purple.
Meanwhile, there are no heroes in any of this. Gomez may have broken with normal behaviors, but as many have already pointed out, he had access to the documents for two years and said nothing. And it is reasonable to expect that if Mahony and the lawyers had succeeded in keeping the documents sealed, nothing would have been said. The “evil” would have remained festering on some chancery shelf.
If Archbishop Gomez really wants to do a service to the people of God in Los Angeles, he will reveal how much of the archdiocese’s treasury was spent during the last decade on trying to hide that truth. By its own admission the Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., diocese spent $1.39 million in a failed 18-month attempt to defend Bishop Robert Finn from charges of failing to report a child pornographer, and the Milwaukee archdiocese has spent $9 million in a two-year-long, far-from-settled bankruptcy case precipitated by sex abuse law suits. The amount of money the Los Angeles archdiocese has spent hiding these documents must be mind-boggling. That is evil, as well.
There are no heroes among the many other chancery officials and public relations advisors and lawyers who knew, some for many years, what crimes and sins had been committed against children.
There are no heroes in the Vatican structures, on up to the pope, among those who years ago could have demanded a review of the documents, come to the same conclusions as Gomez and removed Mahony long ago. It would have saved the church of Los Angeles years of suspense and enormous amounts of money. We say we believe that the truth will set us free. In too many dioceses today, the truth remains hidden and the church remains in chains fashioned by its bishops.