Saturday, February 2, 2013

Cardinal Mahony Responds

As I mentioned before, Gomez's action against Mahony is incredibly rare. I could only imagine that, for another bishop, it would also be extremely jarring. Accordingly, Cardinal Mahony has responded to Gomez's decision. You can find this response here.

Mahony repeats much of what has been said by himself and other bishops who were there for ground zero of the sex abuse crisis. Briefly, LA followed the general trend in 1980s of sending accused priests to facilities that stood by the position that pedophilia could be cured and they could be returned to active ministry. In the 1990s, after learning these theories could not be proven out, the archdiocese began moving towards more sever disciplinary procedures. One must necessarily question why it was the general trend to send accused priests to "rehabilitation" centers when it has been known for some time that pedophilia is not "treatable" - the only effective treatment is to keep the person with such predilections away from children. It seems to me, if Mahony is correct about this being the general trend among US bishops, the American bishops willfully opted for spurious medical science for reasons known only to them. Second, yes, it was a general trend to opt for a more sever approach to the problem in 1990s. Mahony's statement, however, would lead one to believe that there were no instances of reassigning priests in the 1990s - in other words, there is a real lack of context here.

Mahony goes on to state that the archdiocese of LA had been found to be in compliance with the Dallas charter since the charter's implementation. The purpose of mentioning this is clear: Mahony wishes to defend the last years of his tenure as archbishop. Mahony does not mention that numerous persons concerned with addressing the root causes of this crisis in the Catholic Church have mentioned that Dallas charter does not solve the problem of episcopal actions having facilitated the crisis. There is no system of discipline set up to deal with bishops who make the decision to shuffle accused priests or keep them in active ministry. Additionally, the Dallas charter is not binding - there is no force of law to compel a bishop into compliance. Finally, there are larger questions, questions of moral, theological, and spiritual formation (in the Church as whole) which need to be addressed in relation to this crisis. These particular questions may be generational. It is argued, for instance, that younger priests generally have a healthier view of sexuality thanks to John Paul II's theology of the body. Time will tell.

Mahony makes a blunt critique of Gomez by stating that for two years as archbishop, he (Gomez) did not utter one critique of how the LA diocese handled cases of sexual abuse by clergy. First, it must be asked, in what forum would Mahony have liked Gomez to raise an issue: public or private? Second, in 2010 Gomez walks into the aftermath of the sexual abuse crisis, the context of which spans not only Mahony's tenure as cardinal archbishop but in fact has cases that reach into the 1950s as well. It is now Gomez's responsibility to clean up this mess, reevaluate how the diocese has handled things and determine a future course as well as deal with financial repercussions. Mahony does not seem to respect that such decisions are not going to be talked about lightly and are not going to be undertaken until there is a somewhat firm idea of the direction in which things should head.

Mahony raises the now tired defense that he (and other bishops) simply didn't know that pedophilia or sexual abuse was a problem and that his views on the subject evolved over time. In all due respect, this seems utterly absurd. I cannot think of any decade in Mahony's lifetime during which pedophilia would not have been recognized as a moral evil if discovered by any concerned parties. I don't doubt that Mahony is contrite in retrospect, but it seems that only the magnitude of the crisis as it exploded in 2002/2003 caused him any serious reflection. Were there such statements and sentiments in the 1990s, before he came under the gun of press inquiry and massive financial law suites? Mahony also does not concretely address the information that has come out about his role in facilitating repeated instances of sexual abuse as revealed in documents either obtained by the courts or released by the diocese itself.

Gomez's action against Mahony recognizes two important aspects in the process of repentance and redemption. First, as contrite as Mahony is, his failures have a magnitude that seems far greater the any individual act that demands repentance. This is a point that Mahony seems oblivious to. Evidently, when reading through the files recently released, the magnitude of his role became unavoidable. Second, the true repentance that leads to forgiveness requires a concrete act of contrition. In this case, it is more complicated. The archdiocese of LA must make a concrete action to the victims, their families, its people and to God. While Mahony often seems to ignore the gravity of his role and claims ignorance, Gomez does not see it so simply. Gomez recognizes the legitmacy of those voices crying for some form of discipline to be levied against the cardinal for his role in the crisis. The archdiocese of LA needs repentance to seek forgiveness. It's act of contrition must come in the form of recognizing the legitimacy of those who have called for some form of accountability on the part of Cardinal Mahony and providing some example of said accountability. There are limits to what Archbishop Gomez can do. He has chosen the action that is in his power against a high ranking prelate. Mahony probably feels this action is audacious. Nevertheless, true repentance demands it.

Mahony had the chance to do the noble thing a decade ago, the action which would have demonstrated repentance and facilitated reconciliation. He could have resigned as archbishop of Los Angeles. He opted to remain in active ministry, defying any such accountability for his actions. Gomez has given his flock the second best option and Mahony will face some form of accountability. It may not be ideal. It may also not address the visceral desire of some to see Mahony defrocked and/or on trial. However, Gomez pursued the actions in his power to provide some form of accountability to his predecessor's actions and in the process provides some hope that the episcopacy is not beyond facing a reckoning for its actions.