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Cardinal Mahony's priest abuse defense sparks criticism

February 2, 2013 |  3:00 am

As Cardinal Roger M. Mahony defended his handling of the priest abuse scandal on Friday, some activists said  Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez's decision to relieve him of all public duties doesn't go far enough. Cardinal Mahony letter to Archbishop Gomez

Mahony posted the letter, addressed to Gomez, on his blog Friday afternoon. In the letter, he outlined the steps his administration had taken to address the priest abuse scandal and to create policies to prevent further such abuse.

Addressing Gomez, Mahony wrote: "When you were formally received as our archbishop on May 26, 2010, you began to become aware of all that had been done here over the years for the protection of children and youth.  You became our official archbishop on March 1, 2011, and you were personally involved with the compliance audit of 2012 — again, in which we were deemed to be in full compliance.

DOCUMENT: Read Mahony's letter

"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," Mahony added.

Mahony also reminded Gomez:  "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.

"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."

Some sexual abuse victims and their advocates complained that Mahony got little more than a slap on the hand.

“He is still enormously powerful,” said Joelle Casteix, regional director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. She also said the archdiocese should not be applauded for making its files public, since it only did so after being ordered by a judge.

Manny Vega, a retired police officer from Oxnard who was molested by a priest while a boy, said Gomez didn't go far enough.

“If he wants to gain credibility with parishioners he needs to have Mahony and Curry make their way to the doors of the DA’s office to clean the slate.”

Gomez announced the action against Mahony on Thursday and also said that Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Curry, who worked with Mahony to conceal abusers from police in the 1980s, had resigned his post as a regional bishop in Santa Barbara.

The announcements came as the church posted on its website tens of thousands of pages of previously secret personnel files for 122 priests accused of molesting children.

"I find these files to be brutal and painful reading. The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil," Gomez wrote in a letter addressed to "My brothers and sisters in Christ."

 The public censure of Mahony, whose quarter-century at the helm of America's largest archdiocese made him one of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church, was unparalleled, experts said.

"This is momentous, there is no question," said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer and Dominican priest who has testified across the nation as an expert witness in clergy sex abuse cases. "For something like this to happen to a cardinal.... The way they treat cardinals is as if they're one step below God."

In his letter Friday, Mahony said he did the best he could to handle the abuse cases.

"Nothing in my own background or education equipped me to deal with this grave problem," he wrote.  "In two years [1962—1964] spent in graduate school earning a master’s degree in social work, no textbook and no lecture ever referred to the sexual abuse of children.  While there was some information dealing with child neglect, sexual abuse was never discussed."

On his blog, Mahony said he sent the letter to Gomez on Friday. "There is nothing confidential in my letter.  I have been encouraged by others to publish it,...on my personal blog.  I hope you find it useful," he wrote.

[Updated at 3:17 p.m.: Gomez issued another statement Friday afternoon: It read: "Questions from the faithful and some members of the news media indicate that it would be helpful for me to clarify the status of Cardinal Roger Mahony and Bishop Thomas Curry. 

Cardinal Mahony, as Archbishop Emeritus, and Bishop Curry, as Auxiliary Bishop, remain bishops in good standing in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, with full rights to celebrate the Holy Sacraments of the Church and to minister to the faithful without restriction."]

Before Gomez's announcement, Mahony had weathered three grand jury investigations and numerous calls for his resignation. He stayed in office until the Vatican's mandatory retirement age of 75. No criminal charges have been filed against Mahony or anyone in the church hierarchy.


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--Richard Winton