Cardinal Mahony pressured to withdraw from L.A. Congress over handling of sex abuse crisis

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, retired archbishop of Los Angeles, is seen at the Vatican in this March 6, 2013, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In an effort to pressure Cardinal Roger Mahony to withdraw from a talk he is scheduled to give at the upcoming Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Religious Education Congress, a private Facebook group called 1000 Fed Up Catholics launched what it deemed “D-Day” on Feb. 26. The group asked 500 of its members to send registered or certified letters to the cardinal requesting he remove himself from the event—the gesture forcing the cardinal or someone assisting him to sign for each piece of correspondence. The group also asked its members to blast the archdiocesan religious education office with emails urging that he be withdrawn from the congress.

The invitation-only Facebook group objects to the cardinal’s participation at R.E.C. because of his handling of the church’s sexual abuse crisis during his leadership of the archdiocese between 1985 and 2011. The group was created by the Ruth Institute. That organization is also responsible for one of a number of online petitions pressing to have Cardinal Mahony removed from the R.E.C. program.

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To date the institute’s petition has received slightly more than 4,000 signatures, roughly one-tenth of the normal attendance at the congress (though there is no indication how many of the petitioners would also prove to be R.E.C. attendees). Members of the Fed Up Catholics group have also posted negative reviews on the Facebook pages of the R.E.C. and the archdiocese’s Office of Religious Education. The office’s review page is filled with attacks on Cardinal Mahony and demands that he withdraw.

“We respect him and his office. But right now the issue of clergy sexual abuse is so much in the news, and the issue of covering up.” Cardinal Mahony, she said, is a “symbol of this.”

A “global non-profit organization creating a mass social movement to end family breakdown” with no affiliation with the R.E.C., the Ruth Institute is not a stranger to controversial activism. The Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed the institute an extremist organization because of a pattern of incendiary comments related to the L.G.B.T. community, such as describing homosexuality as a “decision” and transgenderism as “a political act.”

Commentary from the institute has compared Christians who fail to oppose marriage equality for L.G.B.T. people to Catholic priests who were loyal to the Nazi regime in Germany. In 2017 the organization’s online donation processor dropped the institute as a client because of the promotion of “hate, violence, harassment or abuse.”

In an interview with America about the Mahony petition, founder Jennifer Roback Morse defended her organization’s positions. “I believe what Pope John Paul II says about human sexuality is correct, and certain things flow from that. I also get a lot of grief from people who don’t agree with my positions on divorce; that’s how I got into this work, my belief that traditional Christian morality protects the rights of children to both their parents.”

When it comes to Cardinal Mahony and the issue of his upcoming talk, though, Ms. Morse is deferential. “We respect him and his office,” she told America. “But right now the issue of clergy sexual abuse is so much in the news, and the issue of covering up.” Cardinal Mahony, she said, is a “symbol of this. Whether you could convict him in a court of law or not, he’s a symbol of covering up.” To this point, she noted the investigative work of The L.A. Times into these issues.

“I’ve been trying to look at this from a position of those who have been harmed,” she said. “And it occurred to me that he didn’t need to be on that platform. Out of respect for these people who have been harmed and who are vulnerable, particularly at this time, I just think it would be the decent thing to do to stay home.”

Cardinal Mahony did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this article. Asked about the campaign to remove the cardinal from the R.E.C. program, archdiocesan communications director Carolina G. Guevara said in a statement that Cardinal Mahony remains a priest in good standing, “as has been clarified by the archdiocese on several occasions and covered in news outlets.”

“Out of respect for these people who have been harmed and who are vulnerable, particularly at this time, I just think it would be the decent thing to do to stay home.”

“While nothing can take away the very real harm that has been done by those who abused children and the vulnerable and by the church’s faults in addressing allegations of misconduct,” she said, “Cardinal Mahony was one of the first to not only apologize for the mistakes of the past, but also to establish some of the most strict policies for reporting and abuse prevention in the nation that continue today. He also personally met with victims and established the Victims Assistance Office to ensure that they would receive the support to help them through the healing process.”

Ms. Guevara also pointed out that this year’s R.E.C. will include workshops addressing issues surrounding abuse. “It is the hope that this will be an opportunity to foster healing and empowering our communities to prevent abuse in our local church.”

Cardinal Mahony has apologized for poor judgment in responding to allegations of sexual abuse by clerics under his watch, though his critics remain dissatisfied with his various efforts to explain his decisions regarding priest abusers. He has also regularly appeared at the Religious Education Congress, both before and since he was temporarily removed from public ministry by Los Angeles Archbishop José Gómez in 2013. “The cardinal has been a speaker at Congress for more than two decades as a leader on the issue of immigration, which is the topic of his 2019 presentation,” Ms. Guevara said.

But the point that Ms. Morse and others are making is that the church has dramatically changed in the last year. After the revelations about decades of abuse that emerged from a Pennsylvania grand jury report and the offenses committed by former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, clericalism, cover-up and ecclesial privilege have become public scandal to such a degree they threaten the credibility and future of the church.

And having a Catholic religious leader identified with cover-up and failure in his duty to care for young people speaking at the largest Catholic religious education event in the world? “The optics are bad,” said Ms. Morse.

Asked in a follow-up email interview if the presence of Cardinal Mahony or anyone else so closely associated with the abuse crisis might be problematic for the Religious Education Congress at this time, Ms. Guevara said: “The fact is that Cardinal Mahony was far ahead in establishing zero tolerance and other policies for the safeguarding of children. With the continued vigilance of volunteers and staff here in Los Angeles, we have seen that the system he put in place is working.

“Cardinal Mahony is speaking on the issue of immigration as a leading figure for reform and a voice for our immigrant community,” Ms. Guevara said. “Many in our community look forward to hearing and learning from him about the church’s position on immigration.” She added, however, that the archdiocese “understands the concerns that have been raised and are in the process of reaching out to those who have expressed their concerns.”

More than once in the last year Cardinal Mahony has stepped back from other engagements over similar concerns. Ms. Morse argues the same is appropriate here. “I think these people [victims of abuse] deserve more consideration than they’re being given.”

Others express similar concerns. “I have not sat on his [Cardinal Mahony’s] shoulder; I don’t know what he’s done and hasn’t done,” said Laure Krupp, a regular attendee at the Religious Education Congress who has worked in communications strategy for Catholic organizations in the Midwest and Oregon. “He’s always struck me as a decent guy. But I think sometimes when you’re a leader, you have to say, ‘I’m a point of contention here. If I remove myself, then people can get on and heal. And then maybe there’s a place for me in the future.’ If I were in his chair, that’s what I would do.”

But for her part Ms. Krupp said she has no time for pressure campaigns or Facebook blasts. “It’s really easy for me to sit in my little apartment and criticize and condemn. But it’s very hard to figure out how we can find our way out of this storm,” she said.

“That’s what I’m looking for. What’s that moment in the conversation; what’s that point where we can grip hands and say, ‘Yes, we believe this’ and build from there? It’s got to be there,” she said. “I know it’s there.

“We’re never going to get out of this harmful rhetoric if we don’t start rebuilding together.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J. Calpezzo
2 months 2 weeks ago

There is nothing to respect in Mahony. He used his political influence to manipulate the system until the statute of limitations ran out for his offenses. The DA's office had him. Ask Asst. DA Ferrera. In many ways Mahony is worse than the perpetrators themselves. He enabled them and knowingly kept them in ministry while they continued their child abuse. Then there was the Indian priest who assaulted nuns and others that he sent back to India before he could be prosecuted in L.A. The Sandeman case. The Pontiff's words will fall on deaf ears as long as Mahony wears the red hat.

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

If it wasn't for a SOL Mahony would probably be in jail, given evidence of his covering up of sex abuse. How does the church not fire this guy? It is shameful that he's still a cardinal and priest.

J. Calpezzo
2 months 2 weeks ago

Amen, Sister!

THOMAS E BRANDLIN, MNA
2 months 2 weeks ago

While I think His Eminence should withdraw for a number of reasons other than his handling of the sex abuse situation while he was Archbishop of Los Angeles from September 4, 1985 through 28 February 2011, I think the article and comments point-up one of the toxic issues coming out of this scandal. The issue I am writing about is the vitriol we, members of the Church and the Body of Christ, spew on one another. It is one thing to ask him to withdraw, another to be mean-spirited and impolite in language and action. While we all condemn his actions and inactions, he is a child of God, loved by God forever, and our brother in Christ. For these three reasons we are commanded by Jesus Christ to be respectful, "This I command you, love one another," and, :Judge not lest you be judged." This Sunday's gospel about the plank in my own eye, etc. is very appropos.
And what is this nonsense about 500 letters that have to be signed for by someone. You know the Cardinal will not be signing them. Some poor secretary or volunteer in the parish where he lives will be burdened with this task. I admire Dr. Roback-Morse, but really, how does being antagonistic, the rear-end of a horse, etc. help to accomplish anyone's goals.

J. Calpezzo
2 months 2 weeks ago

Turning a blind eye to the atrocities of priests and bishops has been and continues to be the sin of the church. Child rape. Think about it . Mahony belongs in prison.

Mark M
2 months 2 weeks ago

And everyone BUT the Catholic clergy (Jesuits foremost) clearly sees this.
Which is why the RCC in the US will eventually be reduced to the prophesied remnant.

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

We should be respectful to bad guys? Matthew 23:13-39.

THOMAS E BRANDLIN, MNA
2 months 2 weeks ago

Ms. Watson, Matthew 23:39 means that if the scribes and Pharisees repent, they will see Jesus. Yes, we must be respectful to bad guys. Disrespect that is evinced by vitriol. And, again, the point of my comment is that we should hold people to account. However, we are commanded to do so in a loving, albeit tough love, way. While I think the Pope should be removed or resign, many of the bishops have to be removed from office (a canon lawyer recently pointed out to me that laicizing a successor of the apostles is highly questionable), and the former district attorney in L.A. County should have to answer for why he did not prosecute Cardinal Mahony when he had enough evidence to make an overly-compelling case, nastiness and pettiness do not get us very far because they put us on the same level as the episcopal miscreants.

Denise Delurgio
2 months 2 weeks ago

Mahony rode into Los Angeles as a Cesar Chavez supporter, scoffing at the laity that built countless parish schools and churches with the direction of Cardinals McIntyre and Manning. One of his first public acts was to get a donor to fund a helicopter so that he could fly over the faithful to get where he was going. Next,the edict to remove the altar railings from all of the churches, no matter the art and architecture destroyed. Then there were the countless letters to be read from the pulpit, and new choreography at Mass demanding sitting, standing, and the back of the congregation receiving Communion first. He played the Los Angeles politicians like a violin, and would have destroyed St. Vibiana's Cathedral if it weren't for an alert local who saw the wrecking ball knocking down the bell tower on a Saturday. A judge was contacted, and stopped the work immediately. Mahony claimed that earthquake damage had led to his condemnation of the building. Not true. He wanted to build a monument to himself, a huge barn of a cathedral that we call the Taj Mohony. $300,000,000. of our money was spent for his own aggrandizement. They actually sold bottles of wine with his autograph in the gift shop. His cover-ups, and hiding documents from the authorities to protect himself and the perverts he sheltered are the worst of his crimes, but the many other ways that he diminished Catholic life in Los Angeles should not be ignored.

J. Calpezzo
2 months 2 weeks ago

Well written. We must not forget history. He should be in jail. And the pastor/minions he paid off with loans for new churches and other perks should themselves be defrocked.

david_roccosalva@yahoo.com
2 months 2 weeks ago

“Out of respect for these people who have been harmed and who are vulnerable, particularly at this time, I just think it would be the decent thing to do to stay home.” The decent thing would be for him to be imprisoned.

John McCauley
2 months 2 weeks ago

Amazing how Mahoney says sorry for “poor judgement” — how many have been hurt through payouts, teshuffling priests, and “denying, denying, denying”. His constant seeking of a public platform, and his clinging to the power of his office and title are the giveaway. Why hasn’t he been removed from public platforms, there are many ways he can contribute and atone without speeches and presentations. Yet here he is, seeking the spotlight, in grand attire — here’s a thought why not ask all your priests whether you should step back and recede from the public spotlight? Very similar to Weurl — he should be removed — everytime he shows up again and he returns us to the sad, non responsiveness and covering up behaviours of our Church teopening wounds, anger and a disbelief that our clerical leadership is out of touch, incapable and cowardly.

Cynthia Yoshitomi
2 months 2 weeks ago

I speak as the Co-chair of the Los Angeles Archdiocese Task Force on Women. Initiated by the National Roman Catholic Bishops in 1981. Cardinal Manning appointed us (19 women and 2 priests). We knew we would not be taken seriously by all the powers that be at the time so we developed a powerful process in all the languages spoken in the archdiocese at the time that empowered all the women of the diocese to speak their truth and to kindly and without judgement listen carefully to the other women in their parish group. One of the First Acts of Cardinal Mahoney was to disband the group. We had high hopes of this immigrant priest but the majority of us saw through his ambition and his fears. We sent our well documented report of well over 1000 Los Angele women to the Bishop
Imesh and his committee of Bishops. Bishop Imesh was later removed from his position for Sexual Abuse of a minor. The fact was that the conservatives in the Church did not want this honest report to come out. Bishop Levada
(retired now) played an important role in getting our process out to other dioceses throughout the country.
Many of us women are still alive and willing to speak our truth regarding
Our experience. I still have the rough draft that came out of Bishop Imenish’s office
This article points out how complex and overly complicated the Church as institution has made truth-telling impossible and how it continues to do so. Such evils have no easy cure but the Truth must be told and the Justice must be Just. The conservatives have wanted Mahoney out for years but not for the real reasons they are exposing here. Please remember that Opus Dei is alive and well in Los Angeles and California. And with Catholic Jounalists / Acivists who claim righteousness. I thank The writer of this article for being one of the first to expose how Evil still persists in the Church. Getting rid of Mahoney and the others may make some feel good but in no way will it help us get closer to the healing we need✝️

Denise Delurgio
2 months 2 weeks ago

Cynthia, thank you for your information on the L A Archdiocese Task Force on Women. I was not aware of this group. Timothy Manning was a shepherd of his people. What a brilliant idea to have women speak to each other in the many languages of our diocese. Mahony's purpose seemed be to destroy these pockets of faithful devotion in order to focus power on himself. If he shows up at Congress I hope that a large group of protesters greets him. I thought that Archbishop Gomez took him out of circulation.

Mark M
2 months 2 weeks ago

With all the great, effective and truely Catholic speakers in the US, the REC picks Mahoney. The current LA bishop, Gomez, has no problem with this.
As stated in earlier posts, absent a SOL this poor excuse of a human would be in jail. But no. Gomez has resurrected him and allowed him to preach his poison once again.
Thanks of nothing, Archdiocese of Los Angeles. You are a corrupt, dying institution....and you know it.

Frannie Banannie
2 months 2 weeks ago

We need people from all political stripes involved in this. #ThirstingforJustice #MahonyOutLAREC please ask your friends to show love for victims of abuse, sign the petition!
https://citizengo.org/en-us/fm/168278-ask-cardinal-mahony-withdraw-participating-religious-education-congress?fbclid=IwAR1TgSbca2kYxz-dmrjH1_amW6XncENXBsgphXbnjspFXtM70fCBIOh0xaA

Sha'Pearl Jones
2 months 2 weeks ago

Even if he had done none of those things and even if he hadn't been the arrogant, smug guy that he is, he still would be responsible for that monstrosity of a cathedral. Truly one of the ugliest and least Catholic looking "churches" I have ever seen. On that basis alone, he should be disinvited.

Sha'Pearl Jones
2 months 2 weeks ago

Even if he had done none of those things and even if he hadn't been the arrogant, smug guy that he is, he still would be responsible for that monstrosity of a cathedral. Truly one of the ugliest and least Catholic looking "churches" I have ever seen. On that basis alone, he should be disinvited.

Clayton E
2 months 2 weeks ago

I think some people may have forgotten the wounds the Cardinal inflicted on the Church. Such things do not heal easily.

https://doxaweb.wordpress.com/2005/07/01/children-of-an-addict/

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