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A free crypt from Cardinal Mahony?

Journalists are not allowed to accept gifts from the people they write about, but I’m thinking of making an exception in the case of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony.

Mahony recently gave a tour of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels to my editor and publisher. In the mausoleum under the altar, where crypts are available for purchase, the cardinal offered my bosses a deal. He said he’d provide a final resting place, free of charge, if they promised to put me in it.

Imagine that. Me, lurking in the bowels of the Rog Mahal, into eternity.

My editor said this friendly chat took place in the vicinity of Gregory Peck’s crypt, which sounds like a pretty good neighborhood to me. Besides, with crypts near the altar going for as much as a few hundred thousand dollars, this could save my survivors a small fortune.

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It wasn’t clear whether I would get a crypt or a mere cremation niche, but my guess is the latter. Something tells me Mahony would like to have my cremains in the basement, perhaps as soon as Ash Wednesday this week. In case it escaped your notice, I’ve written a column or two about his handling of the priest molestation scandal and the district attorney’s harangues about “a pattern of obstruction.”

Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I have decided to assume His Eminence was extending an olive branch when he mentioned my demise. After all, he was inviting me to spend eternity in his home. So I called Tod Tamberg, the archdiocese’s director of media relations, to see if the cardinal wouldn’t mind personally escorting me to see my final resting place.

I also had an idea I wanted to pitch to Mahony -- an idea that might just save both our souls.

Sorry, Tamberg said. He’s out of town.

No problem. I waited awhile, then e-mailed a second request.

I was welcome to come on up and conduct my own tour, Tamberg said, asking if I’d ever been to the cathedral.

Of course I had, I told him.

“On occasion, I like to go up there and pray for the cardinal.”

Tamberg responded with a gift basket that included two bottles of wine and a tour book. Nice, but I didn’t want a consolation prize. I was holding out for Mahony.

I also informed Tamberg I had intended to return the gift basket, but some scoundrel in my office had stolen the wine. It was no surprise, really. Half the people in my business are lily-livered social misfits, and they’re the good half.

“Too bad about the mysterious demise of the wine,” Tamberg responded, “but given the daily occurrence of bad news coming from The Times, I’m not surprised that one of your colleagues may have found comfort in hitting the sauce -- even if that reduced them to stealing it from such a fine fellow as yourself.”

Did I detect a note of sarcasm?

” ... Since your focus is on the material and not the spiritual resting place, your request seems to me to be inappropriate and is declined,” he said, adding that there was no such thing as a free crypt.

That’s not just un-Christian; it’s bad PR.

I had been planning to honor Lent by going 40 days without a single swipe at the cardinal. And that would be quite a sacrifice, especially since “Deliver Us From Evil,” the documentary in which a pedophile priest criticizes Mahony for protecting the molester instead of his victims, could win an Oscar next Sunday.

But clearly, Tamberg intended to keep me in some kind of purgatory, and I’d have to find a way to hook up with his boss on my own.

Truth be told, I had an agenda. So last week I trekked up the hill and checked the plaza and the cathedral. There was no sign of Mahony. Such a shame. I think he would have liked my proposition.

Ash Wednesday is a day of penitence for sinners. It kicks off the season of Lent, which ends with the resurrection on Easter. I was going to suggest that if Mahony celebrates Mass that day, he should inspire his flock to help save the hundreds of souls who sleep on the pavement not far from St. Vibiana’s, which was abandoned when the cardinal moved into his new $189-million home.

Look, I was never a perfect student in Catholic school. But I recall a thing or two about the Christian duty of looking after the neediest amongst us. And if I’ve learned anything in the last two years, it’s that this city has a lot of need.

It’s time for Mahony to lead his army of Christian soldiers down the hill and into the service of their fellow men. I know from experience that one person can make a difference in someone’s life. I’d even volunteer, selflessly, to make some introductions.

Especially if there’s a free crypt in it for me.

It was a bit strange, I must admit, descending the stairs to the room where I’ll take the Big Sleep. But if there is an afterlife, the lighting is perfect down there, with a nice golden glow on Spanish limestone. I found Gregory Peck’s crypt and wanted to put a “reserved” sticker on the next one over.

And should I meet our maker before Mahony does, it’ll be nice to know I’ll still be able to keep an eye on him.

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steve.lopez@latimes.com


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