Nearly two weeks ago, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez announced he had removed Cardinal Roger Mahony from all public duties amid revelations that he plotted to conceal child molestation by priests from law enforcement.
But Mahony on Monday found himself back at the center of church business, as one of 117 cardinals who will elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI.
Mahony was quick to weigh in on the papal news — posting a statement on his online blog at 8:38 a.m., two hours before the archdiocese announced that Gomez would issue his own remarks at the midday Mass at the downtown Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
In the posting, Mahony called Benedict an “extraordinary” successor to St. Peter and that he intended to participate in choosing the next pontiff.
“I look forward to traveling to Rome soon to help thank Pope Benedict XVI for his gifted service to the Church, and to participate in the Conclave to elect his successor,” Mahony wrote.
Benedict’s unexpected decision to step down created a seemingly awkward situation in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, which is reeling over newly released documents showing how church leaders handled the abuse cases. Documents show that Mahony and Bishop Thomas Curry worked to shield abusers from police. Both have since issued detailed apologies.
Gomez wrote in a letter to parishioners last month that the priest files were “brutal and painful reading. The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil. There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children.”
Gomez wrote that Mahony, his predecessor as leader of the archdiocese, “has expressed his sorrow for his failure to fully protect young people entrusted to his care. Effective immediately, I have informed Cardinal Mahony that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties.” A church spokesman later clarified that Mahony remained a priest “in good standing” and that he maintained all his powers as a cardinal.
Mahony is one of 11 U.S. cardinals who will vote for the next pope.
Father Thomas Rausch of Loyola Marymount University said Mahony has no choice in the matter: Church law requires him to vote, along with all cardinals under age 80, he said.
“It is a sacred responsibility of every cardinal of the church who is able to attend the conclave to vote,” said Tod Tamberg, archdiocese spokesman.
Still, Mahony’s role in selecting a pope drew mixed reactions among Catholics in Southern California.
Manuel Vega, a retired Oxnard police officer who as an altar boy was molested from the age of 12 to 15 by Father Fidencio Silva, said Mahony would bring shame on the Catholic Church by going to Rome to vote.
“Mahony is going without clean hands. His hands are dirty ... from covering up years of sexual abuse. How can he be part of the conclave?” Vega asked.
Other Catholics said they were pleased that Mahony would be voting. They said they hoped that he would bring a more liberal and American point of view to the conclave, which will be dominated by the conservative cardinals whom Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have appointed over the last three decades.
Jane Argento, a parishioner at Holy Family Church in South Pasadena, said she was livid at Mahony when she read about his actions after the archdiocese’s release of sex abuse documents. But she said the relatively liberal Mahony reflected her own Catholic convictions about larger roles for women in the church, among other issues. Mahony, she said, was the architect of a pastoral associate program in Los Angeles that had trained several women to run parishes, including her own.
“I’m relieved that Mahony is going,” Argento said. “Frankly, it’s one more vote for a more progressive church.”
Larry Loughlin, 77, a parishioner and social worker, said it was reasonable that Mahony vote, given church rules, and that he was not the only cardinal accused of failing to remove predatory priests from churches and schools. Others include Cardinal Justin Regali, who was accused of ignoring evidence of sex abuse, including rape, in the Philadelphia archdiocese before retiring in 2011.
“Mahony is not the only cardinal to be accused of protecting priests, it is a worldwide crisis,” Loughlin said.
Parishioners who attended Monday’s midday Mass at the downtown cathedral said they were saddened by news of Benedict’s resignation but hailed it as a chance to renew a church still suffering from the repercussions of the abuse scandals. The scandals also appeared to be on the mind of Gomez, who celebrated the Mass and called for prayer “for anyone who has been hurt by a member of the church” and for “the healing for wounds and restoration of trust.”
Some parishioners took a forgiving attitude toward the cardinal.
“We all have our faults,” said Charles Drees, who attended the Mass. “God bless Cardinal Mahony.”
Rausch said he hoped that Mahony would bring to the conclave a deeper understanding of the American church and its more collaborative working style. The Los Angeles cardinal demonstrated that leadership style in calling together all parishes in Southern California to help set archdiocesan priorities in a three-year process, completed in 2003, Rausch said.
“What I’d hope the cardinal would bring is a less top-down, more consultative style of church governance,” Rausch said. “The governance of the church in Rome under John Paul II and Benedict has not been as collegial. They exercise authority from the top.”
Father Thomas Reese of Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center said he did not believe that Mahony’s troubles in Los Angeles would diminish his influence in Rome, where his one vote would carry as much weight as any other cardinal’s. He said he hoped Mahony would make sure that discussions about the next pontiff include a full understanding of the sex abuse crisis and a greater sensitivity to Latin America and immigrant issues.
Although more than 40% of all Catholics live in Latin America, Rausch said that 63% of the cardinals who will elect the next pope are from Europe and North America. The majority of them were appointed by Benedict, he said.
In his remarks at Monday’s Mass, Gomez hailed Benedict’s decision, calling it a “beautiful” act of humility.
“This is the act of a saint, who thinks not about himself but only about the will of God and the good of God’s people,” Gomez said.