The following comes from a May 9 story in the Los Angeles Times.
When Archbishop Jose Gomez stripped his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, of public duties for mishandling clergy sex abuse cases, a church spokesman said the retired prelate’s life would remain largely the same with one exception: confirmations.
No longer would Mahony preside at springtime rites in which teenagers receive the sacrament that marks full passage into the Catholic Church, the spokesman said.
But three months later, Mahony is back doing confirmations. Since Easter, he has officiated at eight services, including one last week in which he anointed more than 120 youths at a Wilmington parish.
His presence has caused controversy, with some parents threatening to pull their children from the liturgies and at least one parish priest asking that Mahony not attend. It has also raised questions about why Gomez’s rebuke of Mahony, an unprecedented move that won him praise from victims and their supporters around the world, had so little lasting effect.
Gomez’s January letter to the region’s more than four million Catholics seemed to rule out any conspicuous place for Mahony in the archdiocese. Noting that the cardinal had “expressed his sorrow for his failure to fully protect young people entrusted to his care, ” Gomez told the faithful, “Effective immediately, I have informed Cardinal Mahony that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties.”
Rather than recede from the spotlight, however, Mahony has become more prominent. The March papal conclave made him an important figure in a major international story, a position he touted with frequent posts on Twitter and his personal blog. Since his return from Rome, he has advocated immigration reform, his signature issue, and embarked upon what some in the church are calling a “rehabilitation tour” to tell his side of the abuse story to fellow priests. The speeches have played to mixed reviews, with some clerics saying he has a right to defend his record and others all but rolling their eyes.
Under canon law, Gomez had no authority to punish Mahony — only the pope can sanction a cardinal — but he does control administrative assignments in his archdiocese, including the confirmation schedule, and his letter signaled a desire to use that power to limit Mahony’s visibility.
“What he said [in the letter] was, ‘I’m no longer going to let him act publicly on behalf of me,'” said Nicholas Cafardi, a canon law specialist at Duquesne University. In light of the confirmations, he said, “You can certainly deduce that [Gomez] has changed his mind.”
Gomez declined to comment. A spokeswoman said it was Mahony who had canceled his confirmation schedule in January and Mahony who opted to resume it. The cardinal declined to respond to questions posed through the spokeswoman.
Approached by a reporter after the Wilmington service, Mahony indicated that he was unaware the church had ever said he would stop doing confirmations.
“That’s news to me…. I’ve been doing them every week and I’m going to be doing them every week,” he said, adding, “So go home.”
Bishop Thomas Curry, Mahony’s top aide for abuse cases in the 1980s, canceled his confirmation schedule this spring after parishioners protested. Cathryn Croall said she found it “wildly inappropriate” for Curry to officiate at her daughter’s confirmation at St. Jude the Apostle Parish in Westlake Village.
“He took the side of the pedophile,” Croall said. “To have him stand up before children and give them a sacrament just seemed absolutely absurd.”
The archdiocese did not respond to questions about whether any of Mahony’s scheduled confirmations had been canceled, but one priest said he told the church to let someone else handle the sacrament because Mahony’s presence was not “helpful to students and families.” Parents in other parishes have reached out to the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests for help replacing Mahony at confirmations, a representative of the group said.
At Sts. Peter and Paul in Wilmington, Jerry Zatarain said he and his wife had different reactions to Mahony confirming their son. “My wife didn’t feel too good about it,” said the Los Angeles public safety officer. “She said, ‘Oh no, what is he doing here?’ She wanted someone else.” But Zatarain said he felt Mahony’s mistakes were a product of the era, not the man. “During that time the church was different — it was just the culture,” he said.
Conflicting signals about Mahony’s status began almost immediately after Gomez released his letter on the archdiocese’s website.
It was posted alongside personnel files of abuser priests the church was required to make public under a 2007 settlement with victims. The elaborate presentation — charts, a question and answer section and lengthy preface — suggested a carefully considered public relations strategy by Gomez, who took over in 2011, for dealing with abuse that occurred on his predecessors’ watch.
Church observers assumed Mahony, who as a cardinal outranked Gomez, had consented to the reduced role, but what happened next suggested otherwise.
Within hours, a church’s spokesman was phoning journalists with a clarification: Mahony remained “a priest in good standing” with full rights to celebrate Mass and the sacraments.
Still, he would not preside at confirmations, the spokesman said.
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