Before Cardinal Roger Mahony boards a plane for Rome to help elect the next pope, he will be questioned under oath about his handling of clergy sex abuse cases.
A judge cleared the way Friday for a Feb. 23 deposition of the former archbishop by a lawyer for a man who alleges that a visiting Mexican priest molested him three decades ago at his Montecito Heights parish.
In a closed-door meeting, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Emilie H. Elias said Mahony could be questioned for four hours about the priest, Father Nicholas Aguilar Rivera, and 25 other clergymen accused of abuse during the same time period, according to lawyers at the meeting.
Mahony has been deposed repeatedly since the late 1990s about his dealings with accused abusers, but the upcoming deposition will be the first since the release of 12,000 pages of internal church records about the abuse.
The alleged victim's lawyer, Anthony De Marco, said he has 138 pages of archdiocese memos and records about Aguilar Rivera that were not available when Mahony was last deposed.
"It's a vastly different examination when you have their contemporaneous notes," he said.
The files released show Aguilar Rivera returned to Mexico in 1988 shortly after a top Mahony aide, Thomas J. Curry, warned him that a police investigation was likely and he was in "a good deal of danger." Authorities believe Aguilar Rivera molested at least 26 children during a nine-month stay in the archdiocese. He remains a fugitive in Mexico.
Mahony's successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez, publicly rebuked the cardinal two weeks ago for mishandling sex abuse cases decades before.
In a post on his personal blog Thursday evening, Mahony wrote that he felt God was calling him "to be humiliated" and said he had been "been confronted in various places by very unhappy people" about the scandal.
"I could understand the depth of their anger and outrage — at me, at the Church, at … injustices that swirl around us," he wrote. "Thanks to God's special grace, I simply stood there, asking God to bless and forgive them."
In the letter Friday to "brother priests," Gomez struck a conciliatory note, encouraging prayers for Mahony as he journeys to Rome and reiterating that the cardinal remains "in good standing" in the church.
"I am confident that Cardinal Mahony's accomplishments and experience in the areas of immigration, social justice, sacred liturgy, and the role of the laity in the Church will serve the College of Cardinals well as it works to discern the will of the Holy Spirit in these deliberations that will lead to the election of our new Pope," Gomez wrote.