So what keeps this cardinal from flying away?
published: March 11, 2004
Cardinal Roger Mahony has been admonished by
a national lay-Catholic review board for his hardball legal tactics in
the clergy sex-abuse scandal. Without singling out Mahony, the board
also urged all pedophile-priest-concealing bishops to resign. Mahony, by
his own admission, has protected such priests, and he is in no rush to
release documents sought by prosecutors and trial attorneys.
an uprising of the masses, it’s safe to bet the entire collection plate
on Mahony staying — for now.
The Catholic Church has always resisted external pressure to punish
bishops for concealing molesters. With few exceptions over the last two
decades, bishops themselves must be accused as molesters before they’ve
considered resigning. Even then the pope has the last word. Mahony, with
his legal muscle and public relations campaigns, has stubbornly toed the
Vatican line by facing down scandal. But Los Angeles parishioners and
non-pedophile priests have accepted moral failure in their bishops for
decades. They are the ones who could pressure Mahony to open up or step
Former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta, a member of the
National Review Board assembled by Catholic bishops to study pedophilia
in the priesthood, says the church’s medieval nature, with its fiefdoms
and secrecy, shields those at the top and silences those in the pews. “I
don’t think anyone ought to imply that Mahony does not bear
responsibility for concealing priests,” Panetta says, reserving final
judgment. “There is still so much that remains hidden. But parishioners
are not expressing outrage. So you can’t really expect much to change.”
No wonder, given the entrenched legal proceedings that have kept the
public in the dark about the extent of Mahony’s action or inaction and a
mainstream media that defer to his power. (In reporting the review
board’s findings that 4,000 priests have molested 10,000 children in
five decades nationwide, the Los
Angeles Times finally
called out Mahony for his self-styled image as a reformer recently. The Times failed
to mention that it helped create this image through its own compromised
editorial dealings with Mahony, his lawyer and PR experts Sitrick and
Both the splash made by the review board and the brief arousal of the Times dissipated
quickly. A spokesman for the board suggested that by calling for bishops
to step down, the board had “whacked the ball back into the bishops’
court.” The board simply reverted to what got the church in trouble in
the first place: asking the fox to guard the henhouse. Which is really
just telling Catholics in Los Angeles that if they want Mahony gone,
they have to find the courage to say so.
Panetta and others on the review board know
this is where the task of forcing accountability belongs — despite their
efforts to call Mahony on the carpet — not to mention the earnest
attempts of law enforcers and lofty promises of trial lawyers to expose
a scandal. Theologians and canon-law experts, however, see an even
greater dilemma: the clash of secular moral values with the religious
values of the Holy Roman Empire.
By ancient Roman standards, the National Review Board’s call for the
resignation of bishops who have placed children in harm’s way is like
the Children’s Crusade. “The poor guys have no enforcement authority,”
canon lawyer Patrick Wall says of the review board. “Ultimately the
bishops decide what’s best.” And bishops generally will answer only to
the pope, says Wall, a former judge of a tribunal for the Archdiocese of
St. Paul and Minneapolis who now works on behalf of sex-abuse victims.
“We kid ourselves when we get these reports from an American
perspective,” he says. “The church is set up and run from a Roman
Wall points to more than a dozen U.S. Catholic bishops who have
resigned since 1990. Almost all stepped down because of alleged sexual
misconduct. The few who were caught covering it up did not exit easily.
Cardinal Bernard Law of the Archdiocese of Boston was getting flogged
publicly for harboring molesters when he took a secret flight to Rome to
tender his resignation in April 2002. Yet the pope rejected the offer
and sent Law back to Boston, where collections later plunged by 40
percent and 58 priests signed a petition for him to step down, which he
did in December 2002.
Last May, Bishop Thomas O’Brien of the Diocese of Phoenix cut a deal
with prosecutors who were about to charge him with obstruction of
justice for stonewalling a criminal investigation into allegations of
sexual abuse by priests. In return for criminal immunity, O’Brien agreed
to resign. However, it was not until he was charged with leaving the
scene of a fatal accident that the Vatican formally accepted his
Bishop Manuel Moreno of the Diocese of Tucson was presiding over a
financial crisis made worse by the clergy scandal when Pope John Paul II
appointed Bishop Gerald Kicanas to assist him in October 2001, reducing
Moreno, whose health was failing, to a figurehead. It was not until
Moreno’s health worsened, along with persistent upheaval, that the
Vatican accepted his resignation last year in March. In November,
Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk pleaded no contest on behalf of
his archdiocese to failing to report clergy who sexually abused minors,
saving himself the trouble of having to resign.
The review board’s urgings are not what is likely to change the
Catholic Church, experts say. At the institutional level, Rome stands in
the way. “The Vatican is at fault for not demanding the resignation of
the bishops who were involved in cover-ups,” says the Rev. Richard
McBrien, a theology professor at Notre Dame University. “No bishop,
apart from [Cardinal] Law, has resigned because of involvement in the
cover-up of sexual abuse by priests. I do not believe that any of the
bishops in question will resign.”
So where does that leave Mahony?
, a former Benedictine monk who’s now
a psychotherapist, author and expert on clergy sexual abuse, says Mahony
is in a double bind: He can give up the documents he is protecting,
which could implicate him beyond what he already has admitted; or he can
try to prevail in court and be criticized for obstructing justice.
“There is no noble way out for him except to give up the documents and
resign,” Sipe says. “But he thinks he can get away with it. Which shows
Rome that the American Catholic Church cannot be compromised. Then he
becomes Rome’s good boy.”
That leaves the people in the parish to pursue regime change — and,
after all, it is their church. But as the most powerful prelate in the
United States, Mahony must crush the notion that lay Catholics have any
say over how to heal an infected archdiocese, according to the Rev.
Thomas Doyle, a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force and a canon-law expert.
“It’s a monarchy,” Doyle says. “Bishops are slowly being exposed in
their duplicity, but Mahony will ride it out until there’s an indictment
or some document disclosure or some report from the grand jury.”
Fred Allison, a spokesman for the Tucson diocese, says that some
bishops may be struggling with whether to resign under fire or wait
until they have righted their diocese before quietly stepping down.
“Maybe after the problems are fixed is the time to go,” he says. Tucson
plaintiffs’ lawyer Lynne Cadigan finds this idea laughable. Of Mahony
she says, “You don’t get to be cardinal and step down just because of a
flood of civil lawsuits and allegations of a criminal conspiracy. Rome
could care less. It annoys them that a district attorney could dictate
terms to them.”
Aside from resignations, a remedy bishops supposedly are addressing
is “fraternal correction.” Experts find this lacking for an institution
that has steadfastly refused to police itself. “Bishops are loath to
tell another bishop what to do, lest someone attempt to do the same to
him,” McBrien says. “Fraternal correction simply does not work.”
“It’s a great idea, sort of like peer review in the medical
profession,” Wall says. “But the bishops have been raised in a Roman
culture that is military in nature. They take a long view of history.
Loyalty and faithfulness are rewarded. These men have been raised in the
Latin tradition since they were 14. This is all they have.”
Self-preservation compels them to sacrifice errant priests so the public
sees them doing something. “The bishops don’t do battle like the Navy
SEALs,” says Wall. “They aren’t looking to bring everyone home.”
Review-board members will not say why Cardinal Law, Cardinal Edward
Egan of New York and Bishop O’Brien of Phoenix were singled out for
concealing priests while criticism of Mahony was limited to hardball
legal tactics. Perhaps the board is applying a double standard. “There
are a lot of double standards among the bishops,” Panetta replies,
noting that Mahony preaches openness but practices legal defense first.
Then there is his PR strategy. “We encouraged bishops to get out in
front of the scandal,” review-board spokesman William Burleigh says.
“Others have done it too.”
Yet Los Angeles is the crown jewel of California’s dioceses. And
Mahony is the head of the Metropolitan See of Los Angeles, which
includes five “suffragan” dioceses from San Diego to Monterey. Mahony
would be the last to resign, experts say. Even approving of others doing
so based on pressure from lay overseers would for him be like bowing to
the hoi polloi.
Pressure from lay Catholics and priests could be another story,
depending on what happens in church on Sundays. “The best way to get rid
of a bishop is if the priests no longer support him or there’s a decline
in donations,” Wall says. And what would cause such a reaction? “If
church documents come out or an accused priest starts to talk, then the
game is on.”
Robeless in Rome: U.S. Roman Catholic bishops who have resigned
Thomas Dupre, Springfield, Mass. — retired in February after being
accused of molesting two boys in the 1970s.
Thomas Daily, Brooklyn, N.Y. — resigned in August 2003 amid
allegations he concealed pedophiles in the 1970s and 1980s in Boston.
Thomas O’Brien, Phoenix, Ariz. — resigned in June 2003 as prosecutors
were set to charge him with obstructing a criminal investigation of
abusive priests. The Vatican accepted his resignation in June.
Manuel Moreno, Tucson, Ariz. — citing health reasons, resigned in
March 2003 after apologizing for mishandling of abusive clergy.
Bernard Law, Boston — resigned in December 2002 over failure to
remove abusive priests.
James McCarthy, New York City — resigned as auxiliary bishop in June
2002 after admitting to sexual affairs with women.
J. Kendrick Williams, Lexington, Ky. — resigned in June 2002 over
accusations that he molested two minors and an 18-year-old in the 1980s.
Rembert Weakland, Milwaukee — resigned in May 2002 over an
“inappropriate relationship” with a man who claimed Weakland assaulted
Anthony O’Connell, Palm Beach, Fla. — resigned in March 2002 after
admitting to repeatedly molesting a teenage seminarian in the 1970s.
Joseph Hart, Cheyenne, Wyo. — resigned in September 2001 after being
accused of molesting boys in the 1970s.
Daniel Ryan, Springfield, Ill. — resigned in October 1999 after being
accused of having sex with teenage male prostitutes and covering up
Patrick Ziemann, Santa Rosa, Calif. — resigned in July 1999 when a
priest accused him of coercing sex acts.
Keith Symons, Palm Beach, Fla. — resigned in June 1998 after
admitting to molesting five teenage boys at three different parishes.
Robert Sanchez, Santa Fe, N.M. — resigned as archbishop in March 1993
after admitting to sexual relations with young women in the 1970s and
Eugene Marino, Atlanta — resigned in July 1990 upon admitting he had
“intimate relations” with a female parishioner.