I've written many times about the scandal of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy (see the list of articles in the sidebar). I can't tell you how many nights I've lain awake, wondering whether the scandals have finally all been addressed, hoping against hope that perhaps, this time, at long last, the Church has finally got her act together and done the right thing.
Fat chance. Every time I get my hopes up, things go from bad to worse. They've just done so again.
As readers are probably aware, the current Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez, has relieved his (retired) predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, of all public duties over his mishandling of the child sexual abuse scandal in preceding decades. Another bishop, Thomas Curry, who had worked with Mahony to cover up the scandal, has also resigned. The Los Angeles Times reported:
Gomez's decision capped a two-week period in which the publication of 25-year-old files fueled a new round of condemnation of the L.A. archdiocese. The files of 14 clerics accused of abuse became public in a court case last Monday. They laid out in Mahony and Curry's own words how the church hierarchy had plotted to keep law enforcement from learning that children had been molested at the hands of priests.
To stave off investigations, Mahony and Curry gave priests they knew had abused children out-of-state assignments and kept them from seeing therapists who might alert authorities.
Mahony and Curry both issued apologies, with the cardinal saying he had not realized the extent of harm done to children until he met with victims during civil litigation. "I am sorry," he said.
Victims called for new criminal investigations and the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said it was reviewing the newly released files.
At the same time, a five-year battle over the release of confidential church records on abuser priests was drawing to a close. Under the church's 2007 settlement with more than 500 victims, the archdiocese was required to hand over the personnel files of every cleric accused of abuse.
The church waged unsuccessful battles to keep much of the material secret and later to ensure that the names of Mahony, Curry and other church employees were blacked out.
On Wednesday, church lawyers abruptly announced they planned to provide victims' lawyers with unredacted files that included the names of everyone in supervisory roles. On Thursday afternoon, a judge signed a final order requiring the archdiocese to hand over the files within three weeks.
An hour later, a spokesman for the church released Gomez's statement and the files were posted on the archdiocese website.
McKiernan of bishopaccountability.org noted that Mahony will keep the title of "archbishop emeritus" and suggested his removal from public life was primarily an effort to blunt the wave of criticism likely to follow the file release.
"They are trying to gain control of what is truly a devastating time for them," he said.
The files released Thursday contained additional evidence of attempts by Curry and Mahony to stymie police investigations.
In a 1988 memo about Father Nicolas Aguilar-Rivera, a Mexican priest accused of molesting more than 20 boys during a nine-month stay in Los Angeles, Curry expressed a desire to keep a list of parish altar boys from investigators.
"The whole issue of our records is a very sensitive one, and I am reluctant to give any list to the police," Curry wrote.
At the bottom of the memo, Mahony replied: "We cannot give such a list for no cause whatsoever."
There's more at the link.
It seems Cardinal Mahony still . . . even after all these years and after the exposure of everything he tried to cover up . . . he still doesn't get it. In response to his suspension, he published on his blog a letter to Archbishop Gomez. The Los Angeles Times again:
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony responded Friday to Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez's decision to relieve him of all public duties over his mishandling of clergy sex abuse of children, saying he did all he could to protect children.
. . .
Addressing Gomez, Mahony wrote: "When you were formally received as our archbishop on May 26, 2010, you began to become aware of all that had been done here over the years for the protection of children and youth.
. . .
"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," Mahony added.
Mahony also reminded Gomez: "I have stated time and time again that I made mistakes, especially in the mid-1980s. I apologized for those mistakes, and committed myself to make certain that the archdiocese was safe for everyone.
"Unfortunately, I cannot return now to the 1980s and reverse actions and decisions made then. But when I retired as the active archbishop, I handed over to you an archdiocese that was second to none in protecting children and youth."
Again, more at the link.
I would call Cardinal Mahony a liar, but he genuinely doesn't believe he's lying. He's convinced himself that what he says in his letter is true, from his perspective. The fact that the rest of us, looking at what really happened, think that his pants are on fire, is a matter of no concern to him.
This is what happens when an 'organization man' convinces himself that his primary duty is to the organization he serves: to defend, protect and shelter it from all harm, even if that means exposing others to harm in its stead. He saw no wrong in sheltering abusive priests by moving them around between parishes, even warning them in time to flee to other countries where they could continue to victimize defenseless children, because by doing so he was 'protecting the Church' and 'upholding the secrecy of the confessional' and all that sort of thing.
Truly, the mind boggles. I literally can't conceive that a man could be so blind as the Cardinal . . . but he's not alone. Others of his ilk - in particular Cardinal Law in Boston - behaved in the same way, and have exhibited the same lack of understanding of the consequences of their actions. As Peggy Noonan wrote of them in April 2010:
I called on the pope, John Paul II, to begin to show the seriousness of the church's efforts to admit, heal and repair by taking the miter from Cardinal Law's head and the ring from his finger and retiring him: "Send a message to those in the church who need to hear it, that covering up, going along, and paying off victims is over. That careerism is over, and Christianity is back."
The piece didn't go over well in the American church, or the Vatican. One interesting response came from Cardinal Law himself, whom I ran into a year later in Rome. "We don't need friends of the church turning on the church at such a difficult time," he said. "We need loyalty when the church is going through a tough time."
. . .
John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter once called Cardinal Law "the poster boy" of the American scandal. He has also became the poster boy for the church's problems in handling the scandal. And that has to do with its old-boy network, with the continued dominance of those who grew up in the old way.
In December 2002, Cardinal Law left Boston just hours before state troopers arrived with subpoenas seeking his grand jury testimony in what the state's attorney general, Thomas Reilly, called a massive coverup of child abuse. The cardinal made his way to Rome, where he resigned, and where he stayed with Archbishop James Harvey, a close friend and, as head of the pontifical household, the most powerful American in the Vatican. Within a year Archbishop Harvey, too, was implicated in the scandal: The Dallas Morning News reported the Vatican had promoted a priest through its diplomatic corps even though it had received persistent, high-level warnings that he had sexually abused a young girl. The warnings had gone to Archbishop Harvey.
Cardinal Law received one of the best sinecures in Rome, as head of the Basilica of Saint Maria Maggiore and a member of the Vatican office tasked with appointing new bishops and correcting misconduct.
These stories are common in the church. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, a former Vatican secretary of state and now dean of the College of Cardinals, was a primary protector of the now disgraced Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ, described by a heroic uncoverer of the scandals, Jason Berry, in the National Catholic Reporter, as "a morphine addict who sexually abused at least twenty . . . seminarians."
I know this from having seen it: Many—not all, but many—of the men who staff the highest levels of the Vatican have been part of the very scandal they are now charged with repairing. They are defensive and they are angry, and they will not turn the church around on their own.
In a way, the Vatican lives outside time and space. The verities it speaks of and stands for are timeless and transcendent. For those who work there, bishops and cardinals, it can become its own reality. And when those inside fight for what they think is the life of the institution, they feel fully justified in fighting any way they please. They can do this because, as they rationalize it, they are not fighting only for themselves—it's not selfish, their fight—but to protect the greatest institution in the history of the world.
But in the past few decades, they not only fought persons—"If you were loyal you'd be silent"—they fought information.
What they don't fully understand right now—what they can't fully wrap their heads around—is that the information won.
I said in the same month and year:
I also had to ask whether God wasn't deliberately using the news media to accomplish something He'd been trying to get His bishops to do for years – decades! - without success. Since they'd so signally failed in their responsibilities, it seemed to me that the Lord appeared to be using the news media instead – conspicuously less than holy though it might be in many ways – to clean up His Church. Needless to say, my hypothesis wasn't greeted with unbridled enthusiasm.
Peggy Noonan again:
... hundreds of priests and bishops thought they could do anything, any amount of damage to the church, and it would be fine. "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." That is Mathew 16:18, of course, Christ's great promise to his church. Catholics in the pews have been repeating it a lot lately as they—we—absorb the latest round of scandal stories. "The old church will survive." But we see more clearly than church leaders the damage the scandals have done.
It is damage that will last at least a generation. It is an actual catastrophe, a rolling catastrophe that became public first in the United States, now in Europe. It has lowered the standing, reputation and authority of the church. This will have implications down the road.
In both the U.S. and Europe, the scandal was dug up and made famous by the press. This has aroused resentment among church leaders, who this week accused journalists of spreading "gossip," of going into "attack mode" and showing "bias."
But this is not true, or to the degree it is true, it is irrelevant. All sorts of people have all sorts of motives, but the fact is that the press—the journalistic establishment in the U.S. and Europe—has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on this issue. Let me repeat that: The press has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on the scandals because it exposed the story and made the church face it. The press forced the church to admit, confront and attempt to redress what had happened. The press forced them to confess. The press forced the church to change the old regime and begin to come to terms with the abusers. The church shouldn't be saying j'accuse but thank you.
Without this pressure—without the famous 2002 Boston Globe Spotlight series with its monumental detailing of the sex abuse scandals in just one state, Massachusetts—the church would most likely have continued to do what it has done for half a century, which is look away, hush up, pay off and transfer.
She gets it. Millions of Catholics in the pews get it. As the Los Angeles Times reported on Friday:
At the Our Lady Queen of Angels Church on Olvera Street Thursday night, there was debate about Gomez's decision.
. . .
"But it hurts everybody," said Jose Lopez, a minister who said he become religious after multiple stints in prison. "Forget about embarrassment, it's hurting the kids."
"The whole thing is just a shame," Estrada replied.
Ralph Ochoa, a food volunteer, started to interrupt, then paused. The group went quiet. He then took a small breath and spoke.
"I really think Mahony is a disgrace," he said. "I really do. No matter what we say or do, no one knows. He'll get his judgment."
I fear God's judgment. I've committed many sins in my life, and I hope and pray that God will forgive them, and that His mercy will outweigh His justice - otherwise I'm doomed. My only hope is His mercy.
And that's the scariest part of this whole crisis. Cardinal Mahony and others like him truly don't appear to believe they have anything for which to apologize, about which to feel sorry . . . over which to fear God's justice.
In the light of Matthew 18:6, that's scary as hell!
It's that attitude, so dominant throughout the Catholic hierarchy, which led me to the indescribably sorrowful, bitter, painful decision that I could no longer stand up in front of my congregation and advise them to trust their bishops, or reassure them that the bishops knew what they were doing, or promise them that the bishops would lead us, the Church, out of this darkness and into the light. I believed - I still believe - that collectively, the bishops were and are fighting tooth and nail against openly acknowledging the true extent of that darkness, and that few of them had or have any interest whatsoever in exposing all the evil works done in that darkness to the light of day. To this day, I don't believe that's changed. I believe the latest developments over Cardinal Mahony and Bishop Curry merely reflect that reality . . . and that's terrifying.
May Almighty God have mercy on us all.