Standing beneath the wooden panels of a church in the San Gabriel Valley, Cardinal Roger Mahony delivered a message that has over decades become a refrain.

“Immigrants are our brothers and sisters,” he said, celebrating Mass in Spanish on a recent Sunday. The government may demonize them, but “they aren’t our enemies.”

He told parishioners of their responsibility to fight for reform. The pews erupted with applause.

A politically sophisticated clergyman whom Pope John Paul II nicknamed “Hollywood,” Mahony was raised among California’s immigrant farm workers. Named archbishop of Los Angeles in 1985, he became a powerful voice supporting those who were in the country illegally at a time when California was a pioneer in anti-immigrant measures.

Then came the fall, when he was relieved of public duties over his mishandling of clergy sex abuse of children. Once a shining star of the American church, his reputation suffered as a result of the devastating scandal, which led to the largest settlement by any archdiocese: $660 million.

“It became very difficult to look at him, to listen to him, without thinking this is a guy who messed up on dealing with abuse in the archdiocese,” said Father Thomas J. Reese, a senior analyst at Religion News Service. “It clouded his reputation.”

The cardinal who once filled Dodger Stadium gave way to a successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez, with a more subdued style but a growing voice.

“Cardinal Mahony was very outspoken, and the public policy debate was something that he would jump into with great vigor and ease. It was something he totally enjoyed,” Reese said. “Gomez, on the other hand, is your classic pastor.… He’s a warm person, he’s personable, he wants to be with his people.”

While Gomez has stepped into the spotlight, Mahony has continued to work on the cause he adopted in his youth — sometimes through a personal blog.

“I was so happy because I no longer had administration, personnel problems, budgets and all that stuff,” Mahony said of turning his official duties over to Gomez. “I was free to do just ministry things. One of my biggest focuses, then, was to continue working with our immigrants.”

Mahony’s lifelong passion for the topic stems from his encounters with migrant workers in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley during his years in the diocese of Fresno and Stockton, and days spent in his family’s poultry processing plant. As a boy, he would sit down with the immigrant employees who worked on the property behind theirs and share ears of corn roasted over a makeshift fire pit.

He attends monthly meetings as a member of Gomez’s immigration task force and celebrates Mass in Spanish in churches throughout the archdiocese almost every weekend, filling in for other priests. Often, his sermons touch on the experience of the immigrant.

“I told the the archbishop, I said, look I’ve got more time. I can go to parish meetings. You are brand new here. You’ve got so many things on your plate that you can’t do a lot of local level stuff that I can do,” Mahony, 82, recalled.

Sitting in a conference room at St. Charles Borromeo, Mahony explained how he told Gomez that he would “stay below the radar.” He said he promised the archbishop that he wouldn’t attend public events that would draw a lot of media and that he wouldn’t make public statements.

Full story at The LA Times.