Institutions

Controversy over Cardinal Mahony’s conclave vote reaches Vatican

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles stands outside St. Joseph's Church in New York following an ecumenical prayer service presided over by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. Photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The controversy over Cardinal Roger Mahony’s vote in the conclave that will elect a new pope has now reached the Vatican, with at least one cardinal musing aloud that the former archbishop of Los Angeles should consider staying home.

Roger M. Mahony, archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles Age: 76 Born: Feb. 27, 1936 in Los Angeles Education: Catholic University of America Ordained a priest: 1962 in Fresno Posts held: auxiliary bishop of Fresno (1975-1980); bishop of Stockton, Calif. (1980-1985); archbishop of Los Angeles (1985-2011); archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles (2011-present) Elevated to cardinal: 1991 by Pope John Paul II (RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz)

The controversy over Cardinal Roger Mahony’s vote in the conclave that will elect a new pope has now reached the Vatican, with at least one cardinal musing aloud that the former archbishop of Los Angeles should consider staying home. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

Mahony, who led the nation’s largest archdiocese from 1985 to 2011, has been accused of hiding sexual abuse by priests and was recently sidelined by current Archbishop Jose Gomez.

Gomez announced that Mahony would no longer have any “administrative or public duties” after a court-ordered release of 14,000 pages of internal church records showed Mahony and others actively tried to shield abusive priests from prosecution. Gomez called the records “brutal and painful reading.”

Nonetheless, the 76-year old cardinal remains a bishop “ in good standing” and retains the right to vote for the future pope until he reaches age 80. Gomez has since said he supports Mahony’s vote in the conclave.

On Monday (Feb. 18) Italy’s main weekly, the Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana, put the so-called “Mahony affair” on the home page of its website, quoting the petition by left-leaning group Catholic United calling the prelate to “stay home.”

The magazine also asked its readers to share their thoughts on whether Mahony should attend the conclave. Within hours, the magazine received hundreds of answers via its website, overwhelmingly asking the cardinal not to come to Rome.

“Cardinal Mahony should not only stay home from the conclave but retire to a life of prayer in a monastery,” read one typical comment. “It seems inconceivable to me that he doesn’t feel the moral duty to abstain from the conclave,” read another.

By Tuesday, Mahony’s case was on the front page of most of the main Italian newspapers, prompting the first reactions from within the Vatican.

In an interview with the daily La Repubblica, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, the former head of the Vatican’s Prefecture for Economic Affairs and the pope’s envoy charged with reforming the disgraced Legionaries of Christ, said that “it will be up to (Mahony’s) conscience to decide whether to take part or not.”

De Paolis stressed that there is no formal procedure to stop Mahony from attending the conclave.

“The common practice is to use persuasion. There is no more that can be done. Cardinal Mahony has the right and duty to take part,” he said. “This is a troubling situation but the rules must be followed.”

According to De Paolis, only “someone with great authority” could advise “through a private intervention” that the retired Mahony not take part.

On Tuesday, the Italian news agency ANSA quoted Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, a former No. 3 official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as saying that “if his presence creates difficulties or embarrassment, then I think it could be opportune to renounce.”

“But the decision is up to him and his conscience,” Girotti added.

La Caramella Buona, an Italian group for victims of sexual abuse, also called on Mahony not to attend the conclave.

But in a Monday tweet, Mahony signaled his resolve to come to Rome. “Count-down to the Papal Conclave has begun. Your prayers needed that we elect the best Pope for today and tomorrow’s Church,” Mahony wrote.

The tweet sparked dozens of reactions online, with Twitter users calling his decision “shameful.” “Please recuse yourself for the good of the Church,” asked @bobshineproblem.

In a Monday post on his blog, Mahony also discussed the difficulty of “never rationalizing what is happening in our lives, never protesting misunderstandings, and never getting angry because of false accusations.”

“That is so difficult for us human beings. It is certainly difficult for me on my journey,” he added.

About the author

Alessandro Speciale

Alessandro Speciale has been covering the Vatican since 2007 and wrote for Religion News Service from 2011-2013. Born in Rome, he studied literature at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy, and journalism at City University, London. He has appeared as an expert on Vatican affairs on CNN, BBC World and Al Jazeera English.

13 Comments

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  • Wow.So Mahony feels he has been both”misunderstood AND falsely accused”-Wow. What I find incredulous is the level of denial exhibited by this man.Plus,according to De Paolis,”only someone of great authority…could advise Mahony not to attend”…well,duh! That’s your cue,Benedict!! Since you’re still in charge,why don’t you simply order Mahony to stay home? I’ve asked this question before,and I’ll ask it again: What exactly does the Pope do? Are you the head of the Roman Catholic Church,or not?? You Catholics are in such chaotic disarray,it would be hilarious if it wasn’t just sadly pathetic.

  • While my Church and I moved in opposite directions (I now consider myself a secularist.), I still care about its future. As one who has never renounced the spirit of Matthew 25, I have mixed feelings about Cardinal Mahony. Of course I share the anger at him for his handling of sexual abuse. However, his commitment to the Social Gospel is not shared by Cardinal Ratzinger and most of John Paul II’s appointees as Cardinals.

    The Catholic Church, its window dressing rhetoric aside, has climbed into an unholy marriage of convenience with the Religious Right. This gave birth to President Bush, the House Republican majority, and enough Senators to block progressive initiatives in the Senate. Priests practically told their parishioners they would burn in hell for voting Democratic. The Gospel of Wealth, Joel Olsteen style, has combined with the revised Divine Right of Kings–kings being replaced with Berlusconis and D’Aubussons, Scalias,

    Do you really want one less progressive in the Conclave, flawed as he is, which would weaken the already scant opposition to the excesses of the plutocrats?

  • Isn’t it completely ironic that Bishop Gomez removes Cardinal Mahony of all administrative and public duties for protecting pedophile priests, yet Cardinal Mahony not only is allowed to vote for the new pope as “bishop in good standing,” but actual intends to do so. Bishop Gomez’ attempt to shove everything under the rug once again by “relieving” Mahony of any duties is a joke, and everyone knows it. Any vote Mahony casts for the new pope hardly lends any credibility to the moral authority of the new pope.

  • What a surprise: left to his own “conscience”, Mahoney continues to be unable to do the right thing. I notice that since his being removed from “public duties” (that he was not fit for) – he is more ubiquitous than ever. Walking out of the scandal with his big humility.

  • As a Catholic, I think secularists are committing population suicide, inspired by their worthless culture of death.

    The Church has always faced difficulties, but it makes up a larger percentage of humanity than at any other time in history and it has a better track record than any other religion and especially better than godless secularism!

  • Interesting that he supposedly has been removed from all administrative and public duties, yet is still scheduled to be confirming the children in Los Angeles this Easter season. Sounds like the Church is saying one thing to the news, but as always, doing what they want.

  • If one’s life was NOT “in disarray” one would be able to stand by and idly watch grown men abuse and rape kids? Is that right?

  • Someone raped your child, but he DID give a dollar to a homeless man once, so you’re in two minds whether you should report him to the police???

  • It’s not just “sadly pathetic”. It’s wicked and cruel and criminal. Why do so few people share my OUTRAGE that children are being abused and silenced by threats of eternal damnation? And the few incidents we DO hear about, nothing much happens to the perps: They are “retired” or “disciplined” or “relieved of duties”. They should be JAILED!

  • about 15 years ago I went on tour of LA cathedral. In the gift shop there was a special label wine for sale. If you wanted one with Roger Mahoney’s autograph, it was $10 more. That spoke volumes to me.

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