Cardinal Mahony doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. And neither does the Vatican.
Cardinal Roger Mahony expressed "amazement" at calls that he withdraw from the upcoming papal conclave because of his record on clergy sex abuse and said the Vatican, acting through its ambassador to the United States, had instructed him to take part in the election of the next pope.
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"Without my even having to inquire, the nuncio in Washington phoned me a week or so ago and said, 'I have had word from the highest folks in the Vatican: You are to come to Rome and you are to participate in the conclave,' " the cardinal said.
Mahony has been mystified since his successor Archbishop Jose Gomez benched him a month ago. He doesn't think anything in the recently released files is so damning.
Mahony said he was "amazed" at the controversy over the Los Angeles files, claiming that the salient information about sex abuse in them could be found in a 22-page report available on the archdiocese's website since 2004.
"There are some new things in the files that came out, but as far as I know I don't find anything in there disqualifying," he said.
One wonders, then, why Cardinal Mahony moved heaven and earth and retained an army of lawyers to keep those files from being released.
The settlement process was long, tedious and so byzantine that no one could possibly describe it with any accuracy. All the while, the lawyers retained by the cardinal were doing their utmost to prolong anything resembling a just solution. When the bishops' cheerleaders throughout the country accuse the victims' lawyers of being greedy, they should take another look at the dozens of attorneys who made up Mahony's brigade, all of whom were high-priced and none of whom worked pro bono for even an hour. Whenever the cardinal appeared for a deposition or meeting involving the cases, at least six and often 10 lawyers accompanied him. Who paid the legal fees? The "people of God" of the Los Angeles archdiocese. Who else? [emphasis mine]
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As part of the 2007 settlement, the archdiocese agreed to disclose the files of the perpetrators. The ink was not dry on the settlement before the cardinal launched what would become a seemingly endless series of legal objections and procedural delays that at one point went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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Shortly thereafter it was discovered that the archdiocese had released only around 12,000 pages and that many of those had the names of church officials blacked out, contrary to the judge's order. The public response was swift. The cardinal's lead counsel, Michael Hennigan, said he had no idea why the documents were missing, and promised more would be forth coming. More spin and roadblock right up to the wire!
Mahony and his many, expensive lawyers spent ten years putting 508 sex abuse survivors through a Kafkaesque nightmare that dragged on for years even after they had settled with them for $660 million in 2007 -- all to prevent what was in those files from ever seeing the light of day. But now that their stomach-turning contents are available for scrutiny, he suddenly thinks it's all just much ado.
Despite his past apologies to the victims of sex abuse that he enabled, he wonders why anyone would have expected anything different?
"People say, 'well, why didn't you call the police?' In those days no one reported these things to the police, usually at the request of families," he said. "What I did in those years was consistent with what everybody did, in the Boy Scouts, in public schools, private schools, across the country."
It was not, however, consistent with the law -- a fact of which he was well aware having conspired with his associate Bishop Thomas Curry to move priests out of state to prevent their prosecution. They deliberately kept abusive priests out of the state, in part, so that their victims and their families wouldn't recognize them and report them. One wonders what common practice he was complying with when they war-gamed ideas to avoid sending pedophiles to therapists who might comply with reporting laws, even going so far as to discuss finding a therapist who was also a lawyer so that they could attach privilege. Mahony knows full well the lengths to which he went to protect abusive priests are graphically described in those files that he now says don't contain anything "disqualifying."
One wonders why Cardinal Mahony would invoke the Boy Scouts, of all organizations, which is currently under court order to turn over their own super secret "perversion files." I guess breaking the law is cool if other "morally straight," hypocritical, homophobic institutions do it.
From the moment Mahony lost the long-fought battle to protect his paper trail from scrutiny, we have heard nothing from him but self-justification and self-pity. As he tells it now, he's a martyr. Why, he's just like Jesus.
Given all of the storms that have surrounded me and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles recently, God's grace finally helped me to understand: I am not being called to serve Jesus in humility. Rather, I am being called to something deeper--to be humiliated, disgraced, and rebuffed by many.
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In the past several days, I have experienced many examples of being humiliated. In recent days, I have been confronted in various places by very unhappy people. I could understand the depth of their anger and outrage--at me, at the Church, at about injustices that swirl around us.
Thanks to God's special grace, I simply stood there, asking God to bless and forgive them.
"Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."
His phrasing is telling. He was not unjust. Injustices just "swirl around us."
Note to Cardinal Mahony: People are not angry with you because life is unfair. They are angry with you because you actively and consciously conspired to protect sexually abusive priests from prosecution and they went on to destroy countless lives.
But Cardinal Mahony is constantly amazed at the idea that he should have to face any sort of consequence for that. He was reprimanded by Archbishop Gomez and he wrote a public rebuttal. Thousands of people signed petitions asking him to bow out of the conclave. He remained defiant.
Even in the Vatican, there are rumblings about his participation. Not everyone seems so comfortable.
A senior Vatican official called Cardinal Roger Mahony's participation in the selection of the next pope "troubling," but said there was no formal procedure to stop the retired Los Angeles archbishop from attending the conclave next month.
The remarks by Cardinal Velasio De Paolis added to a growing murmur about the propriety of Mahony's decision to attend the conclave.
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But Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, who worked at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said Tuesday that “if his presence creates difficulties or embarrassment, then I think it could be opportune to renounce.”
Still, he said, “the decision is up to him and his conscience.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement. But, in fairness, the Vatican can't act too superior. As Cardinal Mahony learned the hard way, when he did try to the right thing, he got little cooperation from Vatican officials. That is yet another revelation in the trove of documents finally unsealed last month.
In 1993, faced with a horribly prolific abuser, he pleaded with the Vatican to have him quickly defrocked.
In less than eight years, Father Kevin Barmasse had, as one church official put it in newly released files, "left a wake of devastation that is hard to comprehend." Mahony yanked Barmasse out of his parish and wanted to make sure he couldn't return. But Barmasse appealed to the one body that could overrule Mahony: the Vatican.
"The case has been there for many, many months," Mahony wrote to one Vatican office tasked with handling priest misconduct. "The lengthy delay has created serious problems for my own credibility as a Diocesan Bishop."
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Although local leaders had the authority to take troubled clerics out of parishes, only the pope could remove them from the priesthood entirely. And when Mahony turned to the Vatican, the papers show, he ran into a bureaucracy steeped in ritual, mired in delays and reluctant to come to terms with the burgeoning problem.
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Mahony dealt with multiple offices on abuse cases, including the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that defends church teaching and punishes those who commit delicta graviora — grave offenses. Joseph Ratzinger led the office for more than two decades before becoming Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.
Note that the pressing concern is his "own credibility." I don't know. Maybe that was just an attempt at strategy in an institution far more concerned with appearances than the reality of children's lives torn apart by abuse. But I have to wonder if he became so proactive in this instance because the abuser was known well enough to affect his "credibility," while other cases were more easily buried. Many of the priests he moved out of the state should have been defrocked. In another early '90s case, he removed Rev. Lynn Caffoe from ministry but didn't even attempt to have him defrocked until 2004, after losing track of him for years.
But as the documents they tried to hide for so long clearly show, there's plenty of blame to go around. And Cardinal Mahony is not alone in being stymied by the Vatican's impenetrable bureaucracy, glacial progress, and mixed messaging, when it came to just what bishops should do with abusive priests.
So Cardinal Mahony will go into the conclave to select the next pope. He goes in under a cloud. But in a way that bodes ill for the selection process of the next pope, he'll be in very good company.