Actions against Cardinal Mahony debated at L.A. church
Built in the 18th century, Our Lady Queen of Angels Church on Olvera Street is a historic landmark that Cardinal Roger Mahony would frequently visit for various events including the popular blessing of the animals.
But on Thursday, the mood at the Spanish Colonial chapel was decidedly more somber as parishioners quietly discussed Archbishop Jose Gomez’s dramatic decision to strip Mahony of any public and administrative church duties in the wake of the priest abuse scandal.
There were only a few people at the church Thursday evening. But when Mahony’s name was mentioned, other came to join the discussion.
“They seem to be taking drastic measures,” said Ralph Ochoa, a food volunteer. “They have to for the church to survive. A lot of people were hurt, they feel they were betrayed. It hurt parishioners and everyone too.”
Gomez acted after the release of church records showing that Mahony and another church leader tried to hide child abuse by priests from police.
Richard Estrada, a church volunteer from Los Angeles, said he remained skeptical that Mahony participated in the cover-up, adding that if he did, he was trying to protect the church.
“But it hurts everybody,” said Jose Lopez, a minister who said he become religious after multiple stints in prison. “Forget about embarrassment, it’s hurting the kids.”
“The whole thing is just a shame,” Estrada replied.
Ochoa started to interrupt, then paused. The group went quiet. He then took a small breath and spoke.
“I really think Mahony is a disgrace,” he said. “I really do. No matter what we say or do, no one knows. He’ll get his judgment.”
“If it’s true,” Estrada jumped in.
“We have to believe it’s true,” Ochoa said. “To keep our faith in the church.”
In a letter sent Thursday, Gomez outlined actions taken regarding both Mahony and Santa Barbara Bishop Thomas Curry.
"Effective immediately, I have informed Cardinal Mahony that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties. Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry has also publicly apologized for his decisions while serving as Vicar for Clergy. I have accepted his request to be relieved of his responsibility as the Regional Bishop of Santa Barbara,” Gomez wrote.
[Updated at 9:44 p.m.: An archdiocese spokesman, Tod Tamberg, said that beyond cancelling his confirmation schedule, Mahony's day-to-day life as a retired priest would be largely unchanged. He resides at a North Hollywood parish, and Tamberg said he would remain a “priest in good standing” and continue to celebrate Mass there.]
Gomez also announced the church has released a trove of confidential church files detailing how the Los Angeles archdiocese dealt with priests accused of molestation.
Gomez wrote in a letter to parishioners that the files would be disturbing to read.
"I find these files to be brutal and painful reading. The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil. There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children. The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed," he wrote. "We need to acknowledge that terrible failure today."
Gomez's statement came a week after the release of internal Catholic church records. The records showed 15 years before the clergy sex abuse scandal came to light, Mahony and Curry discussed ways to conceal the molestation of children from law enforcement. Those records represent just a fraction of the files the church released Thursday. The Times is now reviewing those files.
The records released last week offer the strongest evidence yet of a concerted effort by officials in the nation's largest Catholic diocese to shield abusers from police. The newly released records, which the archdiocese fought for years to keep secret, reveal in church leaders' own words a desire to keep authorities from discovering that children were being molested.
The records contain memos written in 1986 and 1987 by Mahony and Curry, then the archdiocese's chief advisor on sex abuse cases. In the confidential letters, Curry proposed strategies to prevent police from investigating three priests who had admitted to church officials that they had abused young boys.
Curry suggested to Mahony that they prevent the priests from seeing therapists who might alert authorities and that they give the priests out-of-state assignments to avoid criminal investigators. Mahony, who retired in 2011, has apologized repeatedly for errors in handling abuse allegations.
-- Joseph Serna on Olvera Street
Photo: Cardinal Roger Mahoney turns to look to the back of the courtroom as victims of priest abuse were asked to stand in July 2007. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times