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This past weekend marked the conclusion of the annual Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, held in and sponsored by the archdiocese of Los Angeles. This event is likely the largest single Catholic event held annually in the United States.
And this year, despite well-organized and substantial protests from concerned lay Catholics and clergy abuse victims, disgraced Cdl. Roger Mahony was invited to give a public presentation on the immigration issue.
If you'd like a textbook example of how clericalism really works, look no further than Abp. José H. Gomez of Los Angeles and the fact that his disgraced predecessor Mahony remains "in good standing" in the archdiocese.
The details of Mahony's episcopal malfeasance and failure to protect the vulnerable in his archdiocese from clergy sexual abuse — and his role in covering up such abuse — are widely and publicly available. So is the account of how Abp. Gomez initially forbade Mahony from any public duties in the archdiocese, only to completely reverse course on this decision.
Clericalism sounds a lot like what I heard directly from a Los Angeles archdiocese spokesperson when I asked for an on-the-record response regarding why Mahony remained a "priest in good standing" just a few weeks ago.
I received this response: "Cardinal Mahony remains a priest in good standing with full rights to celebrate the Holy Sacraments and minister to the faithful without restriction. The Los Angeles Times covered the clarification in the following article on February 15, 2013."
Compare the above 2019 quote from an archdiocesan spokesperson with this next statement from an archdiocesan spokesman, given six years earlier to The New York Times as published Jan. 31, 2013: "Cardinal Mahony and Bishop Curry are still able to celebrate Mass and other religious duties. But Cardinal Mahony, a vocal advocate of immigrant rights, will no longer speak publicly, as he has done frequently since his retirement in 2011, a spokesman for the archdiocese said."
This is what clericalism looks like. This past weekend, Cdl. Mahony indeed spoke publicly, on immigration, at an event sponsored by the archdiocese of Los Angeles and with the full knowledge and consent of Abp. Gomez.
What really happened here? It's simple. Mahony decided he wasn't going to let the archbishop of Los Angeles do that to him.
Literally one day after that New York Times article appeared, the Los Angeles Daily News published a piece titled "Cardinal Mahony fires back at Gomez, defends handling of child sex-abuse cases." In this article, a prescient quote appears from an unlikely source:
"Archbishop Gomez is simply doing this symbolic gesture in the hope that it will placate people," said Joelle Casteix, the western regional director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, during an afternoon news conference outside Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral downtown. "But nothing will placate victims of crimes when we know that Cardinal Mahony personally oversaw the transfer, oversaw the facilitation, oversaw the enabling of abusers to continue to abuse children in Los Angeles for decades."
Then one more salient detail emerges. Mahony had been slated to speak at the 2013 LA Religious Education Congress, but it was reported that he would "no longer appear at its podium." Mahony had spoken on immigration in 2012, apparently, but this writer can find no record of him speaking in 2013.
The article linked readers to Mahony's personal blog, since that was where the cardinal rose vehemently to his own defense within 24 hours of Gomez's public admonishment and announcement that Mahony would no longer have "public duties."
The prince of the Church acted swiftly. He publicly posted a letter to Gomez in which he stated how ill-equipped he was to deal with the abuse crisis, but had admitted mistakes and couldn't turn back the clock again to the 1980s to fix anything. Instead, he chastised Gomez for not raising any concerns about the archdiocese's past handling of abuse in the years prior to that week's court-ordered release of 12,000 personnel files that revealed that Mahony had shielded 14 abusive priests from legal jeopardy.
This massive and immediate pushback by Mahony was completely in character and echoed exactly what Mahony did against the late Mother Angelica of EWTN in 1997, when she publicly stated that her obedience to Mahony would be "zero" if she were in his archdiocese due to what she saw as his deeply ambiguous presenting of the truths about the Eucharist. Mahony used all his power and influence against Mother Angelica. With Gomez, it appears he acted similarly.
By the time Mahony had posted his letter chastising Gomez for restricting his role in the archdiocese (posted on Mahony's blog on Feb. 1, 2013, incidentally the exact same date on the actual letter to Gomez himself), yet another remarkable thing happened that day.
Archbishop Gomez, on Feb. 1, 2013, released this statement, which Mahony also published, apparently that same day, with his letter to Gomez:
STATEMENT OF ARCHBISHOP JOSE H. GOMEZ REGARDING PRIESTLY STATUS OF CARDINAL ROGER MAHONY AND BISHOP THOMAS CURRY
Questions from the faithful and some members of the news media indicate that it would be helpful for me to clarify the status of Cardinal Roger Mahony and Bishop Thomas Curry.
Cardinal Mahony, as Archbishop Emeritus, and Bishop Curry, as Auxiliary Bishop, remain bishops in good standing in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, with full rights to celebrate the Holy Sacraments of the Church and to minister to the faithful without restriction.
Gomez literally restricted Mahony's "public duties" for less than one day.
Because of Mahony's direct and public opposition, Gomez's "clarification" eliminated the restrictions he imposed the day before.
Not only is this clericalism, but it's clericalism on several levels. Gomez used his authority to deflect the heat from the 2013 document release by pointing out where the blame really was — with Mahony.
Mahony used his authority to immediately neutralize his successor's action, and Gomez used his authority to retract his original restrictions on Mahony and make it appear instead that there was "confusion" on the subject that required "clarification" — a clarification that made the restriction on "public duties" vanish altogether.
Both of these prelates opted to put their agendas as bishops ahead of the common good of the faithful and ahead of real respect for abuse victims in particular. Thus, Gomez gave a public platform this past weekend to a disgraced prince of the Church who should be spending his remaining days in private reparation and penance for his massive failure to shepherd his flock.
This is what clericalism looks like. And it doesn't look good.