Political Animal


February 04, 2013 5:44 PM Breaking Through Clerical Solidarity in L.A.

By Ed Kilgore

The gesture will probably strike many non-Catholics and quite a few Catholics as too little and too late. But still, given the past behavior of the Catholic hierarchy over the global disclosures of clerical child abuse, the letter from Archbishop Jose Gomez read aloud at churches throughout the Archdiocese of Los Angeles yesterday was something of a breakthrough, as was the release (ordered by a court, to be sure) last week by the Archdiocese of personnel files relating to 122 priests accused of molesting children. Among other things, the files richly document the efforts of higher-ups, most notably Gomez’ predecessor Cardinal Roger Mahoney, in hiding the truth.

As Joanna Brooks of Religion Dispatches reports, Gomez’s letter is blunt:

“There is no excuse,” wrote Gomez, for the Archdiocese’s efforts to cover-up the sexual abuse of children: “The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed.”
Gomez also declared Cardinal Roger Mahony, his predecessor as the Archbishop of Los Angeles, “released” from his “administrative or public duties.”

An editorial in the National Catholic Reporter spelled it out:

[Gomez] broke with the unspoken but nearly ironclad rule of the culture of Catholic hierarchy that bishops do not publicly criticize other bishops. That courtesy extended even to the most egregious examples of ecclesial malfeasance — the deliberate and persistent hiding of criminal activities by priests. No one to this point had uttered a word against a predecessor, not in New York or Connecticut, not in Philadelphia or Milwaukee, not in Seattle or Santa Fe. There were “mistakes made,” they would say, and offer vacuous apologies. For whatever reasons yet unknown, Gomez broke the code.
Second, the language Gomez used was blunt and unqualified. The behavior he found in the files, he said, was “evil.” The acts themselves and the handling of these matters, as the files revealed, showed more than mistakes made, they showed a “terrible failure….”

But the NCR isn’t congratulating much of anyone, even Gomez, who had the documents in question for two years before acting. But that’s nothing compared to the systemic failure to act throughout the Church:

There are no heroes in the Vatican structures, on up to the pope, among those who years ago could have demanded a review of the documents, come to the same conclusions as Gomez and removed Mahony long ago. It would have saved the church of Los Angeles years of suspense and enormous amounts of money. We say we believe the truth will set us free. In too many dioceses today, the truth remains hidden and the church remains in chains fashioned by its bishops.

That would definitely include Mahoney, who has already responded to Gomez’ letter with a self-exculpating effort to spin the whole controversy.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Bort on February 04, 2013 5:51 PM:

    12 years of Catholic School vet here. Watch the documentary called Deliver us from Evil if you want to see what they were up to in California. Some scenes are absolutely heartbreaking. Others are rage inducing...


  • c u n d gulag on February 04, 2013 6:10 PM:

    "Yeah, we're really, really sorry that we fecked ya Muddahs, ya Faddahs, ya Sistahs, ya Bruddahs, ya Aunts, ya Uncles, ya Grandma-mas, ya Grandpa-pas, ya Sons, ya Daughtahs, ya dem-dere Cuzzunz, ya Niecahs, ya Nephyahs, ya neighbahs, ya cats, ya dogs, ya, wadda-dem-dere-call-em-boyds, yeah, dem para-feckin'-keets, ya hamstah's, 'n ya snakes, 'n everyone 'n everything else we could feckin' find to feck.

    We're really, really sorry.

  • revchicoucc on February 04, 2013 8:21 PM:

    Archbishop Gomez broke the "ironclad rule" because someone had to and he knew, after seeing those files, it had to be him. He leads the nation's largest Archdiocese so it matters what he says and does. I do not criticize him for waiting for two years -- it was not the only thing the Archbishop had to do -- and the extent of the evil must have taken some time to absorb.

    Suspending Mahoney, arguably more senior in the hierarchy than he is, establishes that he, Gomez, is the Archbishop now. He is the one with authority over priests in his Archdiocese. So by acting against his predecessor he is sending a clear message to all the priests under his authority: if I'll suspend Mahoney for malfeasance, just imagine what might happen to you.

    I figure B16 will transfer him to the newly-created Diocese of Northwestern Nevada by the end of the year.

  • Kathy on February 04, 2013 10:07 PM:

    I am not excusing Mahoney in anyway and I am glad that he has been removed from his duties. That being said, there is a reason why he was singled out while the Archbishops in Philly and other cities were not. Mahoney was for the most part not vocal against women and gays therefore he was not part of the old boys network. While I am glad he was removed, I think the hierarchy sees him as a bone to throw and get people off their backs, this is not a sign of real housecleaning to come.

  • Gene O'Grady on February 04, 2013 10:39 PM:

    Kathy, Mahoney was a seminary classmate of Levada, the former archbishop of San Francisco (where he did a better job than we expected) who succeeded Pope Benedict as head of the CDF, and George Niederauer, former archbishop of Salt Lake (where he was excellent) and Levada's successor in San Francisco, where he seems to have underperformed, possibly for health reasons. He is definitely part of an old boys network. It is true, however, that largely due to his religious education congress (about which I have heard good things) he was hated by reactionary lay Catholics. That's very different from being outside the hierarchy, although it's getting to be less different.

  • hornblower on February 04, 2013 11:08 PM:

    I saw the Church from the inside for many years. My favorite story was about the priest who wouldn't let his girlfriend use contraception because it was against church teaching.
    They will never change until the hierarchy die out. The bubble they live in separates them from regular life issues. Since they never ask for advise from people outside there is no hope for change anytime soon. In NY their response to the abuse scandal was to send the lay people to seminars.
    The priesthood is as full of gossip as any other group, maybe even more so. They all new this was going on for years.