Earlier this month, in what appears to be an unprecedented move, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez effectively fired his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, stripping the cardinal of his remaining administrative duties within the archdiocese in the wake of damning reports of the cardinal’s lack of action in response to the sexual abuse crisis under his watch.
The move sparked a fairly disappointed, if not angry, response from Cardinal Mahony on his blog, as the Huffington Post reports:
In a letter posted on his personal blog, Mahony challenged Gomez for publicly shaming him and said he developed policies to safeguard children after taking over in 1985, despite being unequipped to deal with the molester priests he inherited.
Mahony had apologized two weeks ago after another release of similar files showed he and other top aides worked behind the scenes to protect the church from the growing scandal, keep offending clerics out of state and prevent public disclosure of sex crimes committed by priests.
Gomez was well aware when he took over in 2011 of the steps Mahony had taken to develop better clergy sex abuse policies and never questioned his leadership until Thursday, Mahony 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,” Mahony wrote.
By the time you read this, depending on where you are and what time you read it, Cardinal Mahony may have been questioned by lawyers about his role in the cover-up of sexual abuse. He is giving evidence behind closed doors on Friday (US time).
Archbishop Gomez’s decision is remarkable for a number of reasons, not least the fact it’s not believed to have happened before. As a veteran Church commentator says in the Huffington Post article linked to above, bishops rarely have public spats of this kind. But this is no ordinary circumstance, and there seems to be little room to argue that Cardinal Mahony failed in his duties — as many other bishops around the world have. Very few bishops have been held to account in quite this way, though, which again sets it apart from other situations.
But the timing has thrust Cardinal Mahony into another firestorm — should he be allowed to vote in the conclave that will elect Pope Benedict’s successor? Plenty of people think not, and it’s hard to argue that if a retired cardinal archbishop isn’t even allowed to perform duties in his own archdiocese that he should be allowed to carry out his ecclesial duties at the Vatican.
Here’s how the ABC in the US is reporting the controversy over the conclave:
Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony has made it clear he plans to attend the upcoming conclave to elect a new pope. A lot of people don’t like that one bit.
“It sends the wrong message,” said Ken Smolka, one of hundreds of people who were sexually abused by priests in America’s largest archdiocese. ”If Mahony helps choose the new pope, what it says is, ‘Nothing has changed.’”
Just as [Boston] Cardinal [Bernard] Law’s participation in the 2005 conclave became a focal point for anger over the abuse scandal, Cardinal Mahony is taking the heat this time around.
This week, a fellow prince of the church even chimed in, suggesting, in the most diplomatic way possible, that Mahony think twice before coming to Rome.
Speaking to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Cardinal Velasio de Paolis called it “disturbing” that Cardinal Mahony should participate in the election the new pope.
“But,” he noted, “the rules have to be respected.”
Those rules make it clear that it is the right and duty of every cardinal under age 80 to attend the conclave.
De Paolis said: “He [Mahony] could be advised not to attend only by a private intervention by someone of great authority.”
“You can use persuasion; you can’t do any more,” he said.
I think “disturbing” is a good word. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.