A man protesting the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s handling of the clergy sexual abuse scandal was arrested Sunday after he handcuffed himself to the chair used by Cardinal Roger Mahony during 10 a.m. Mass.
The incident happened while Mahony was standing a few feet away at the altar and had just delivered a homily to 2,500 congregants about how the archdiocese is dealing with the controversy.
The protester, James C. Robertson, 58, of Mount Washington, was part of a group of about 200 victims and their supporters who had demonstrated outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels by tying crime scene tape around themselves and the church’s perimeter.
The protesters -- from the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP -- staged the demonstration to commemorate clergy sex abuse victims who have committed suicide and to demand the archdiocese release all the names of clergy who molested children over the years. Leaders of the group said they neither authorized nor had prior knowledge of Robertson’s actions.
The archdiocese has released the names of 211 of the 244 priests identified as accused abusers. Mahony has declined to name the remaining 33 priests because they have requested protection under privacy laws.
During his homily Sunday, Mahony talked about the archdiocese’s efforts to train church staff and clergy about abuse prevention and about other safeguards they have implemented.
“This will continue forever, and it’s wonderful to put these efforts in place,” Mahony told the congregation.
Robertson, who was sitting in a pew near the altar, got up and handcuffed himself to the back of Mahony’s chair, also known as the Bishop’s Chair or the Cathedra.
The Mass continued without interruption as security guards surrounded Robertson, who stood expressionless while churchgoers received communion.
As congregants filed out after Mass, a few shook Robertson’s hand and chatted with him. Several others snapped photographs of him with their cellphones or cameras. One man said to Robertson, “Don’t you dare scratch that throne.”
After congregants left, about a dozen police officers arrested Robertson at the request of church officials.
Archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg said church authorities sought Robertson’s arrest because “we owe it to the people who come to the cathedral and to the Mass.
“Right away the concern is the safety of Cardinal Mahony and all the people in the cathedral. Does he have the potential to do something else?” Tamberg said, adding that the archdiocese will assess the need for greater security.
Robertson, who was unarmed, was charged with a misdemeanor, disturbing the peace at a religious service. He was released without bail hours after being booked, said Los Angeles Police officer Grace Brady.
In a telephone interview after his release, Robertson said he had been planning the incident for three weeks and bought the handcuffs at a garage sale. He said that during Mass, he became angry with Mahony’s comments.
“That homily got me all fired up,” Robertson said. “My point was to inform parishioners everywhere. To hear victims’ stories rather than the cardinal and his spin.”
Robertson said he was sexually abused by two Catholic priests at his Glendale high school during the 1960s. He claims the resulting emotional trauma has prevented him from having relationships or a stable career. He said he makes his living by selling art at swap meets.