A Clay-Footed Cardinal

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Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, the man chosen by the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops to head their National Review Board, is a devout Catholic, a man who was certain to be sympathetic even as he investigated the church’s responses to allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests. All the more surprising, then, for Keating to excoriate bishops, including Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, for resisting disclosure.

Speaking candidly with Times staff writer Larry B. Stammer, Keating complained that some members of the hierarchy “act like La Cosa Nostra and hide and suppress” vital information. Of Mahony specifically, Keating added, “I think there are a number of bishops -- and I put Cardinal Mahony in this category -- who listen too much to his lawyer and not enough to his heart.”

To determine the extent of the sexual abuse crisis, the review board commissioned a survey of the extent of pedophilia and other abuses in all 195 American dioceses. As of Wednesday, only 134 dioceses had responded. Some of the others, including the dioceses of California, alleged flaws in the design of the study. Mahony, like some other church officials, had said he feared the survey information might become public.


Mahony’s earlier vows of cooperation and transparency seemed forgotten. As late as May 2002, he declared, “We want every single thing to be out, open and dealt with, period.”

Mahony’s response to Keating, through a spokesperson, dripped with condescension. The former governor and federal prosecutor was “sincere and well meaning” but “not an authority on California law or the concerns of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” the spokesperson said. Mahony himself said Thursday that Keating was “off the wall” and that he, Mahony, didn’t believe that Keating could “continue to have the support of the bishops.” L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, in contrast, came strongly to Keating’s defense.

A Gallup poll found that Americans’ trust and confidence in churches, more specifically in the people who ran organized religion, declined from 68% in 1975 to 45% in 2002. Mahony, by slamming doors on his own church’s investigators just as he did on L.A. County prosecutors seeking the records of suspected abusers, can only add to that erosion.

Mahony has sought and achieved influence on public issues including immigrant rights and social justice for the poor. His stonewalling on his own priests’ accused misdeeds diminishes his ability to stir society’s conscience on other matters.