Sex abuse handling by Roger Mahony ruins L.A. cardinal’s legacy

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Roger Mahoney

The removal of Cardinal Roger Mahony from all the public duties because of shielding priests who sexually abused children has not only cast a shadow over the Los Angeles archdiocese but ruined whatever legacy the disgraced Cardinal might have hoped for. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

The removal of Cardinal Roger Mahony from all the public duties because of shielding priests who sexually abused children has not only cast a shadow over the Los Angeles archdiocese but ruined whatever legacy the disgraced Cardinal might have hoped for.

Mahony, who retired two years ago but maintained a dignified and active profile in the church, was sacked Thursday by his successor in what is described as an unprecedented event in the American Catholic Church.

“The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil,” said Roger Mahony’s successor, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, of the thousands of pages of just-released internal documents that show how the cardinal protected pedophile priests while doing little for the victims.

“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.”

Many of the victims were Latino children

Many of those sex abuse victims were Latino children whose families once stood up for Mahony who was then hailed for championing immigrants rights in Southern California.

Mahony mishandled cases involving two pedophile priests who abused undocumented children who were part of the very group the former head of America’s largest Roman Catholic archdiocese often said was most in need of protection, according to newly released documents the church tried to keep private.

While doing nothing for the victims, Roger Mahony worked to get the abusive priests therapy, new jobs in the church while keeping them safe from criminal prosecution and out of prison, documents show.

“Reading all this stuff, it breaks my heart,” immigrant rights activist Antonia Hernandez, who worked with Mahony since the late 1970s told the Los Angeles Times. “Here are these people he spent his whole life protecting from abuse and when he could do something about it, he didn’t.”

Mahony, who spoke perfect Spanish and was known as Rogelio among Latinos in the heavily Hispanic Los Angeles archdiocese, was thought by many to have built a lasting legacy on his long campaign on behalf of immigrant rights.

“The Catholic Church is your home and I am your pastor,” Mahony told more than 50,000 faithful, most of them Latino and many of them undocumented, at a special Mass held at Dodger Stadium in the mid-1980s.

In 2007, the archdiocese agreed to pay $660 million to settle lawsuits with more than 500 men and women who alleged they had been victimized by priests.

Mahony retired in 2011 and was succeeded by Archbishop Gomez.

Legacy ruined

The new reevaluation of Mahony’s legacy comes as the archdiocese last week released new documents on the priest abuse under court order.

Although Mahony has declined interview requests to discuss his role in the handling of the abuse cases, he has apologized for not having done more in dealing with the issue.

Mahony, who was named head of the archdiocese by Pope John Paul II in 1985, has said he keeps the names of abuse victims he has met personally on index cards and prays for them daily.

“What is particularly appalling to me is that while so many of us in the Church were working to secure legal rights for undocumented people, some clearly were undoing those rights through their sexual exploitation of the children of these families,” Mahony said in a statement issued by the archdiocese.

In defense of the cardinal, archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg said it was Mahony who helped implement a formal sex-abuse policy in 1987, leading to major changes in how the church handles abuse allegations as well as how it screens priests, employees and volunteers.

“It really was the crisis that crystallized what the church had to do and what (Mahony) had to do, and he did it,” Tamberg told the Los Angeles Daily News.

“I think that’s the biggest shame we feel as a church and as individuals.”

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