Mahony Offers Apology for His, Church’s Failings


Cardinal Roger M. Mahony issued an extraordinary public apology Tuesday for the failings of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and of himself.

Divorced and remarried Catholics, organized labor, victims of sexual abuse by the clergy, women and homosexuals were among the specific groups Mahony listed as he declared that confession and repentance must precede forgiveness.

Mahony’s statement came just days before Pope John Paul II is scheduled to apologize Sunday for errors of the church worldwide, a key part of the church’s observance of 2000 as a year of jubilee. It also came a day before today’s observance of Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian penitential season of Lent.


“Christians and the followers of other religions that profess belief in the one God are invited to ask themselves how far they have lived and acted outside the faith they profess,” Mahony said.

The cardinal’s apologies involved some of the most contentious controversies to engulf the archdiocese over the years, apparently including his own bitter opposition in 1988 to Catholic cemetery workers’ joining a union and the church’s failure in 1964 at a time when Mahony was a new priest to speak out against repeal of a state fair housing act.

While not mentioning the cemetery workers by name, Mahony said he regretted “if our attitude and efforts failed to value working people and their legitimate right to seek self-organization.”

The archdiocese has taken concrete steps to improve labor relations, Mahony said. He promised to continue such efforts, among them mediating disputes and ongoing dialogues with labor “to improve helping our families to achieve greater economic strength.”

As he and the worldwide church have done in the past, Mahony again apologized to Jews, whose faith he said had often been “made the object of insult, jokes and generalizations.”

He said the church needs to apologize to Muslims and other groups subjected to “unfair characterization, often based on ignorance and prejudice.”


Islam is often depicted by the media as a “barbaric, primitive, restrictive” faith, Mahony said. “We know the Islamic faith teaches love, respect, family values and a deep responsibility for improving the common good for all peoples,” Mahony said. He added that the church needs to continue efforts at “understanding and acceptance among all peoples here in our local church.”

In asking for forgiveness on behalf of the nation’s largest Roman Catholic archdiocese, the cardinal promised concrete steps to make amends.

“There is no saving value in simply naming a group of issues unless we have some real firm purpose of amendment in terms of a real program that seeks to redress the wrong,” Mahony said.

The cardinal said that he was personally guilty of making intemperate remarks to priests and that his “pride and lack of charity” had led to a lack of patience and understanding that had hurt others in the 4.5-million-member archdiocese.

In years past, Mahony has gained a reputation for firing off angry letters--dubbed “midnight missiles” by others--in moments of pique. On Tuesday, he promised continued efforts “to be more humble, generous, kind, considerate and supportive to all within the archdiocese.”

He also specifically asked the pardon of Catholic homosexuals and lesbians for those times when the church seemed to be unsupportive and homophobic. The archdiocese established a ministry to gay men and lesbians in 1986. Mahony made no mention, however, of joining other California Catholic bishops in spending more than $300,000 to win passage of Proposition 22, the anti-gay-marriage initiative on Tuesday’s ballot.


Mahony offered a blanket apology to anyone in the archdiocese who has felt like an outsider because of his or her culture, language, ethnic background or immigration status.

Divorced and remarried Catholics--presumedly those who remarried outside the church and cannot receive the sacraments--came in for special mention. Mahony said the church had once been insensitive to their needs and failed to reach out to them. That is not the case today, he said, although Catholics who have been remarried still are not permitted the sacraments unless their new marriage is recognized by the church.

Mahony called clergy sexual abuse “one of the more tragic scourges afflicting the church in the latter part of the past century.” He apologized to “individuals, families and parish communities who have suffered” and said that firm policies and procedures now are in place to deal with misconduct.

The cardinal also mentioned a tumultuous dispute 30 years ago between his two predecessors, Cardinals James Francis McIntyre and Timothy Manning, and the Immaculate Heart Sisters. The controversy resulted in the sisters’ disbanding as a religious order under church authority and forming an independent lay community. Mahony called the events an unfortunate dispute and apologized to those “who felt hurt and rejection by the church during those years.”