During the Roman Catholic Church’s decades-long sex abuse crisis, then-Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony went to great lengths to keep law enforcement uninvolved. Instead of handing priests accused of abuse over to police, he would send them to therapists he knew could keep a secret or to faraway rehab programs. Under his watch, the church discouraged abuse victims from talking to authorities.
That’s according to The Times’ two-part series Sunday and Monday on the 23,000 pages of documents ordered released by the courts that detail Mahony’s efforts to keep accusations of abuse in the Los Angeles Archdiocese from erupting into a public scandal. The stories portray Mahony, who retired as archbishop in 2011, as a politically active prelate whose behind-the-scenes maneuvering to cover up the abuse stands in stark contrast to the image of social consciousness he projected in public.
We’ve received more than two dozen letters on the series so far, and only two have defended Mahony. Some of the letters are from Catholics disgusted by their leaders’ conduct; a handful come from readers who say they’ve been abused themselves.
The reaction to Times articles on abuse in the church hasn’t always been this one-sided. As the scandal unfolded through the years, a good portion of the letters we received accused The Times of being too harsh on Mahony or of harboring an anti-Catholic bias. They said the cardinal possessed many redeeming qualities or did more than most bishops to rid his parish of sex abuse.
Lately, however, readers increasingly seem to see the scandal as singularly defining Mahony’s legacy. Here is a selection of their letters on The Times’ latest articles.
Dan Milchovich of Covina checks Mahony’s ego:
“So Mahony is now being divinely called to ‘something deeper,’ a public display of personal humiliation rather than serving his faith in humility. Only someone as ego-driven as him would assume that the wreckage done to the lives of others, in which he was the critical enabler, was divinely orchestrated as a personal blueprint for his own redemption.
“The humiliation and pain endured by others were simply props in his own grand plan as devised by his creator. So it was all about him from the beginning.”
Michael Ryan of Los Angeles reflects on his own memories of abuse:
“Whether the memory of my clergy molestation is too rusty or simply too embarrassing to acknowledge to friends and family, I had chosen, as I’m certain many have, to remain mute about the incident.
“However, thanks to the media and especially The Times, I do feel relief to see Mahony and others complicit in the scandal receive their lumps. This reminds me of a teaching learned in the great Catholic tradition regarding punishment: In the end, the devil too must pay his bill.”
Mary Dispenza of Bellevue, Wash., a victim of abuse, says the church is in big trouble:
“As a victim of child abuse at age 7 by Father George Neville Rucker in 1947, I am aware of the cover-up and betrayal caused by Mahony.
“Many of us may be guilty bystanders, dismissing, protecting, turning a deaf ear and blind eye to the most devastating tragedy and era of the Catholic Church: priest sexual abuse of children and cover-ups. Even our present Pope Francis, hailed for his love of the poor and preaching the gospel, has said very little to the victims of priest abuse.
“In my opinion, as long as Mahony remains a ‘priest in good standing,’ and Pope Francis and the community avoid addressing the issue of priest abuse, the church remains in serious trouble.”
Virginia Uribe of Pasadena indicts Mahony with a Bible verse:
“After reading the two-part series on Mahony, I could not help but reflect on a proverb I heard long ago from the good nuns: ‘Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.’ (Proverbs 16:18).”
Cay Sehnert of South Pasadena says Mahony still doesn’t get it:
“It seems that to the tragically flawed Roger Mahony, nothing has ever been not about him. Even at this late and mournful stage of the destructive debacle for which he is responsible, his hubris knows no bounds.
“As Mahony himself observed, he could have escaped to the contemplative isolation of his cabin in the Sierras. He should do just that and commune -- perhaps for the first time -- with the concept of Christian humility.
“Those who have suffered from Mahony’s ego-driven moral dysfunction are legion, and he still doesn’t get that it isn’t about him.”