LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Cardinal Roger M. Mahony will “no longer have any administrative or public duties” as retired archbishop of Los Angeles because of past failures to protect children from clergy sex abuse, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez announced Jan. 31.
The archbishop’s statement came the same day the archdiocese released 12,000 pages of personnel files of clergy who were the subject of a 2007 global abuse settlement. The material has been posted on the website clergyfiles.la-archdiocese.org, along with supporting information that includes the names of members of the hierarchy involved in the handling of abuse allegations.
Archbishop Gomez also accepted Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Curry’s request to be relieved of his responsibility as the regional bishop of Santa Barbara.
Cardinal Mahony, 76, headed the archdiocese from 1985 until his March 2011 retirement. Bishop Curry, 70, was the archdiocese’s vicar of clergy and chief adviser on sexual abuse cases in the mid-1980s.
“These files document abuses that happened decades ago,” Archbishop Gomez said Jan. 31. “But that does not make them less serious. I find these files to be brutal and painful reading. The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil.
“There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children. The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed. We need to acknowledge that terrible failure today,” he said.
Some of files show in the 1980s that some archdiocesan officials worked to conceal child molestation by priests from law enforcement authorities. Memos exchanged in 1986 and 1987 by the cardinal and the bishop detail proposals to keep police from investigating three priests who had admitted to church officials that they molested young boys.
“Sad and shameful as the past history of sexual abuse is,” an archdiocesan statement said, “the Archdiocese of Los Angeles can point to more than a decade of modern child protection efforts that are among the most effective in the nation at preventing abuse and dealing with allegations of abuse.”
Archbishop Gomez in his statement noted that Cardinal Mahony “has expressed his sorrow for his failure to fully protect young people entrusted to his care” and Bishop Curry “has also publicly apologized for his decisions while serving as vicar for clergy.”
“Effective immediately,” he continued, “I have informed Cardinal Mahony that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties” and accepted Bishop Curry’s request “to be relieved of his responsibility as the regional bishop of Santa Barbara.”
Jesuit Father Tom Reese, director of the Religion and Public Policy program at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center and author of several books about the power structure of the church, told Catholic News Service that Archbishop Gomez’s steps were extraordinary.
“This is the first time that an archbishop has publicly recognized the failings of his predecessor in handling the abuse crisis and punished him by limiting his ministry,” he said.
Archdiocesan spokesman Tod Tamberg told CNS that since his retirement, Cardinal Mahony has had no administrative duties. He will be “reducing his public profile, which included numerous invitations to give lectures on immigration reform, on the church in the 21st century, etc.”
Tamberg said the cardinal also voluntarily cleared his calendar of appointments to confer confirmation this year.
“He remains a priest in good standing and a cardinal of the church,” said Tamberg. “He can celebrate the sacraments with no restrictions.”
Archbishop Gomez’s statement said that “reading these files, reflecting on the wounds that were caused, has been the saddest experience I’ve had since becoming your archbishop in 2011.”
“To every victim of child sexual abuse by a member of our church: I want to help you in your healing. I am profoundly sorry for these sins against you,” he said. “To every Catholic in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, I want you to know: We will continue, as we have for many years now, to immediately report every credible allegation of abuse to law enforcement authorities and to remove those credibly accused from ministry.
“We will continue to work, every day, to make sure that our children are safe and loved and cared for in our parishes, schools and in every ministry in the archdiocese,” he said.
The 2007 settlement for $600 million covered more than 500 people who made claims about being sexually abused by priests and other church personnel. Some of the priests who had claims against them sued to keep their names from being released, saying it violated their privacy rights.
A Superior Court judge ruled in early January that the names of personnel identified in the files could be made public, overturning an earlier decision by a retired federal judge who was acting as a mediator in a settlement between the archdiocese and victims who said they had been abused.
Church officials in Los Angeles had fought for years to keep the files private.
The documents show that Bishop Curry suggested to Cardinal Mahony that they prevent the priests from seeing therapists who might alert authorities and that the priests be given out-of-state assignments to avoid criminal investigators.
Cardinal Mahony declined a request for an interview with CNS. But he posted on his blog — https://cardinalrogermahonyblogsla.blogspot.com — a letter he wrote to Archbishop Gomez, which outlines his efforts in dealing clergy sexual abuse.
“Nothing in my own background or education equipped me to deal with this grave problem,” he wrote. “In two years (1962-1964) spent in graduate school earning a master’s degree in social work, no textbook and no lecture ever referred to the sexual abuse of children. While there was some information dealing with child neglect, sexual abuse was never discussed.”
He outlined steps taken by the archdiocese including beginning in 1986 to develop policies and procedures for dealing with it, and seeking advice from other bishops.
Cardinal Mahony said he followed what was standard procedure around the country, including removing suspected abusers from ministry and referring them for treatment.
“We were never told that, in fact, following these procedures was not effective, and that perpetrators were incapable of being treated in such a way that they could safely pursue priestly ministry,” he wrote.
Over the next two decades, policies became more stringent and the Los Angeles Archdiocese was one of the first to create, in 1994, a Sexual Abuse Advisory Board, he said. By the time Archbishop Gomez was named to succeed him, the cardinal wrote, the archdiocese had a zero-tolerance policy and was found to be in full compliance with the U.S. bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
“Not once over these past years did you ever raise any questions about our policies, practices, or procedures in dealing with the problem of clergy sexual misconduct involving minors,” Cardinal Mahony told Archbishop Gomez.
“I have stated time and time again that I made mistakes, especially in the mid-1980s,” he concluded. “I apologized for those mistakes, and committed myself to make certain that the archdiocese was safe for everyone … When I retired as the active archbishop, I handed over to you an archdiocese that was second to none in protecting children and youth.”
In a Jan 21 public letter, Cardinal Mahony said that he prays for victims of abuse by priests daily as he celebrates Mass in his private chapel.
“It remains my daily and fervent prayer that God’s grace will flood the heart and soul of each victim, and that their life journey continues forward with ever greater healing,” he said in a statement, explaining that on his altar he keeps cards with the names of each of the 90 victims he met with from 2006 to 2008.
“As I thumb through those cards I often pause as I am reminded of each personal story and the anguish that accompanies that life story,” the cardinal said. “I am sorry.”
Tamberg said Cardinal Mahony will continue to say Mass in the parish where he lives.
The retired archbishop was named a cardinal in 1991. As a member of the College of Cardinals who is under the age of 80, he is eligible to vote in a conclave.