Cardinal Roger Mahony, the Roman Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of LA, seems to agree with at least part of what I said yesterday about the actions of current LA Archbishop José H. Gomez. He certainly confirmed part of what I laid out in his open letter responding to Archbishop Gomez’s letter, posted on Mahony’s personal blog.

Peterr:

So if he’s not incompetent [i.e., Gomez took steps to get up to speed on the cases upon coming to LA], then the “brutal and painful reading” of these files didn’t happen this week. It didn’t happen last week, or last month. Gomez probably read these files almost two years ago, or at least started to, and it’s only now — when the courts forced their release — that Gomez finally publicly spoke out on this with such strength and imposed what sanctions he could on Cardinal Mahony.

Mahony:

When you [Gomez] were formally received as our Archbishop on May 26, 2010, you began to become aware of all that had been done here over the years for the protection of children and youth.  You became our official Archbishop on March 1, 2011 and you were personally involved with the Compliance Audit of 2012—again, in which we were deemed to be in full compliance.

Not once over these past years did you ever raise any questions about our policies, practices, or procedures in dealing with the problem of clergy sexual misconduct involving minors.

[Note: the May 2010 date is when Gomez became the co-adjutor archbishop of LA, and the designated successor to Mahony. Over the next 10 months, Mahony still ran the archdiocese, as Gomez was getting up to speed and preparing to take over when Mahony officially retired in 2011.]

Nice to have my firm hunch confirmed by one of the witnesses to those days.

Now where Mahony and I part ways, of course, is whether Gomez should have acted at all.

Mahony’s letter carefully conflates two separate issues. He expresses remorse for engaging in what was then the standard procedure of removing priests suspected of abuse from ministry and referring them for treatment. He lamented that these treatments were not effective, and goes on to lay out all the steps they took to improve matters during the 90s and 2000s. Yes, says Mahony, we made mistakes in trying treatments that didn’t work, but we’ve learned from our mistakes.

What he does not address, however, are the steps he and his assistants took to keep these abusers out of sight from prosecutors and out of sight from parishioners. Concealing criminal behavior is different from attempting treatments that did not work. Funny, but Mahony doesn’t mention his acts to hide these crimes from view.

When a priest abuses a child, secrecy is a major part of the abuse. Sometimes it is done seductively, as the priest tells the child, “this is our special relationship, and part of what makes it special is that it has to be our secret. No one else has a relationship like this with me, but if you tell anyone, it will end.” Sometimes it is done abusively: “Don’t even think about telling anyone about this. I’m a respected priest, and someone who is this close to God, and you are just a child. They’ll believe me, and you’ll ruin your own reputation.”

Either way, the demands for silence prolong the abuse for the child who was abused. The abuse becomes not just What Happened on That Day, but an ongoing thing. Each day that silence weighs on the child. Each day, that silence prevents them from seeking and receiving help. Even if that priest never sexually approaches that child again, that silence eats away at the child every day, and the abuse continues.

When a bishop suspects or conclusively learns about the abuse, and then decides to “handle things” with complete secrecy, it only reinforces the abuse. Taking steps to provide counseling that in hindsight proved ineffective are one thing, but taking steps to keep crimes out of sight from the police and protecting the criminals who committed those crimes is something else. When a bishop takes steps to hide abusers from the police, the bishop becomes a collaborator in the evil done by the abuser.

Funny, but with all the bright shiny objects in Mahony’s letter, I must have missed the part where he explained that part of his behavior. As the LA Times notes at the top of their webpage dedicated to their coverage of this scandal,

More than five years after a civil settlement by the Los Angeles Archdiocese with more than 500 victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, a judge ordered the church to make confidential personnel files public. In the files, memos written by Archbishop Roger M. Mahony and Msgr. Thomas J. Curry, then the archdiocese’s chief advisor on sex abuse cases, offered the strongest evidence yet of a concerted effort by officials to shield abusers from police.

Reading Mahony’s letter today only reinforces my suspicions that Gomez’s actions against Mahony were not driven by any sense of outrage, but rather are aimed at deflecting criticism of the archdiocese onto his predecessor. But insofar as Gomez kept silence until the courts forced disclosure — as Mahony says that Gomez has done — Gomez is as complicit as Mahony, and the actions to restrict Mahony’s public ministry are more window dressing for the public and less the product of disgust at Mahony’s conduct.

Mahony’s most damning sentence about Gomez deserves repeating: “Not once over these past years did you ever raise any questions about our policies, practices, or procedures in dealing with the problem of clergy sexual misconduct involving minors.

I look forward to hearing Archbishop Gomez’s response.

(Meanwhile, the Vatican which is so quick to go after those who even raise questions about the role of women in the church, abortion, contraception, and other hot button issues, is strangely silent with regard to Mahony. As the staff of the fiercely independent National Catholic Reporter editorialized about the Vatican’s priorities,

Irreparably damage the church by hiding criminal activity against our children, and no one will disturb you. You might even get promoted.

Ask questions that are on the minds of Catholics around the world? That’ll get you marginalized, even banished.

Sadly, for the sake of children in particular and the church and society in general, this is most certainly true.)

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photo of Cardinal Mahony h/t to Shay Sowden and used under Creative Commons.