Saturday, February 2, 2013

Cardinal Mahony Suspended from Public Ministry

It would be impossible to ignore what has suddenly become the major news story in Catholic quarters Stateside. Namely, the suspension of Cardinal Mahony from any official public or administrative function in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles by his successor Archbishop Gomez. This move is in direct response to the Cardinal's role in the sex abuse crisis that has swept the Catholic Church in the United States and been felt in Europe (most notably in Ireland). You can find the details and the original statement by archbishop Gomez here.

Predictably, the news of Gomez's action has generated a lot of buzz. In my estimation, only the following can be said with any certainty:

1) Gomez's action against Mahony is incredibly rare - a bishop does not usually impose any measure against another bishop, let alone against a cardinal archbishop. The Vatican, if it hasn't already, will review Gomez's decision. In the world of "deep" ecclesiastical politics, there will likely be some reverberations, though what those are will be largely unknown outside of the Vatican.

2) People alleging a conspiracy for political gain on the part of Gomez (mostly on the NCR comments page) are histrionic at best, delusional at first. The theory goes that because this decision took so long since Gomez was appointed to LA, this must be a calculated political move on his part. To these same focus I pose a very simple question: how long did it take for the Vatican to finally defrock and excommunicate a certain Maryknoll priest who happens to be a darling of left leaning Catholics? That decision was years in the making, so to the investigation of US nuns. This decision follows the preferred Vatican pace for committing to most any disciplinary procedure. The Vatican doesn't rush such things, whether on account of principle or bureaucratic largess. The time it took for Gomez to come to this decision is the norm, really. There are additional conspiracy theories alleging that Gomez took this action after having read some damning files that the LA diocese has subsequently hidden or destroyed. Without having any concrete proof of what particular files those would be, such allegations (again, mainly coming from NCR's readership) ignore the fact that Gomez has indeed read every file being released by the diocese. It is fair to presume that he has read everything regarding this matter since taking over episcopal duties of the diocese. What this breadth of knowledge means will have to be teased out over time, I presume.

3) It is certain that Gomez does not want Mahony representing the archdiocese of Los Angeles in any manner from here on in. It is uncertain if we can lump Gomez in with Cardinal Schonburn of Vienna or Archbishop Martin of Dublin as members of the hierarchy who want to take a more aggressive approach to the child sex abuse crisis, one which would involve penalizing bishops for their roles in the crisis. Certainly, thought, where Cardinal Schonburn openly accused another cardinal of blocking the prosecution of Marciel Marcel of the Legionaries of Christ, this is the first time a bishop has taken concrete action against another bishop in relation to the scandal.

4) Once again, this story is a sober reminder that the Catholic Church has not gone over the hurdle of a decade ago. The memory is still present and painful. Where Gomez's action falls in the process of healing and rebuilding is anyone's guess.