L.A. Panel of Priests Endorses Mahony
By William Lobdell, Times Staff Writer
March 27, 2004
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, recently criticized by a national Catholic
panel for his legal tactics in sexual abuse cases, received a vote
of confidence this week from the Los Angeles Council of Priests,
an elected body representing the Roman Catholic archdiocese's 850
In a resolution passed unanimously earlier this week, the council
praised Mahony for consistently showing "great concern for
the protection of children" and for fighting to preserve secrecy
on personnel files of priests suspected of child sexual abuse.
"Cardinal Mahony has shown a consistent desire to protect
children, while at the same time has been solicitous that no priest's
reputation be ruined by irresponsible or utterly unsubstantiated
allegations," according to the resolution that was sent to
each cleric in the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
The clergy's show of support is an important victory for Mahony,
who has been chastised nationally by a wide range of critics for
his handling of molestation cases.
When 58 Boston-area priests signed a letter calling for Cardinal
Bernard Law's resignation in December 2002, the prelate stepped
down three days later.
Father Timothy E. Nichols, head of the Los Angeles council whose
20 members are elected by archdiocesan clerics, said the resolution
was initiated by priests concerned with the increasing criticism
of the cardinal. Mahony, who is formally the council's president,
did not ask for the vote and was not present during the discussion,
"We felt it was time to take a position to stand with him
and behind him," said Nichols, pastor of St. John Vianney Catholic
Church in Hacienda Heights.
A spokesman for Mahony said the cardinal had no comment.
The archdiocese is facing lawsuits by about 500 people who said
they were molested by 225 Los Angeles priests. The Los Angeles County
district attorney's office is conducting a criminal investigation
that it says is being hampered by Mahony's lack of cooperation.
The vote of confidence angered victims' advocates and others who
said it was the latest evidence of the deep-seated culture of secrecy
and coverups within the Catholic Church.
"Boy, that's depressing," said David Clohessy, executive
director of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests. "But
I guess it shouldn't be surprising. In a medieval culture, you swear
loyalty to the king. It reflects a real culture of timidity."
Richard Sipe, a former priest and an expert on sexual abuse within
the Catholic Church, said the vote was significant because "it
implicates all of them on the priests' council in whatever Mahony's
Mahony, the head of the largest diocese in the United States, has
come under increasing fire since an independent Catholic review
board sharply criticized him last month. The board denounced the
legal tactics Mahony has used to preserve the secrecy of thousands
of pages of internal documents related to the sexual abuse of minors.
Scholars and legal experts say Mahony has invented the "formation
privilege," a legal argument that would require that sensitive
communications between a bishop and his priests including
documents relating to molestation by clerics be kept confidential.
There is no such privilege in canon, or church, law.
Church officials concede that the files sought by prosecutors and
attorneys for alleged victims include evidence that Mahony and other
church leaders improperly handled some cases involving abusive priests.
Mahony has admitted having kept priests in the ministry whose records
included credible allegations of sexual abuse. Three of those whom
the cardinal kept on the job allegedly committed additional acts
of sexual abuse or had "boundary violations" with 10 children,
according to a report issued by the archdiocese last month. By February
2002, those priests had been retired or removed from ministry.
Through a spokesman, Mahony has declined to say whether the release
of documents would reveal further errors he made in dealing with
sexual abuse by priests. Critics of the prelate believe that if
the documents were made public, Mahony's leadership would be hobbled,
much like Cardinal Law's was in Boston.
In civil and criminal cases, the archdiocese has kept internal
documents related to sexual abuse incidents secret for a year and
a half while waiting for a court ruling on whether they can be released.
In the interim, church officials have handed the requested documents
to the judge reviewing the privilege arguments.
The files could include items such as notes by the cardinal or
church investigators on their conversations with victims, witnesses
and accused priests; psychological evaluations of alleged abusers
ordered by the church; letters about priests' conduct; and assessments
Judges in Massachusetts, Arizona, Iowa and Kentucky have ordered
dioceses to release similar documents after finding that the dioceses
could not seek immunity under the 1st Amendment. Others dioceses,
such as those on Long Island, N.Y., and in Manchester, N.H., have
voluntarily turned over boxes of priests' personnel files to local
Nichols, head of the priests' council, said it is critical to protect
the sanctity of communications between a bishop and his priests,
a relationship similar to a father and son.
"The bishop is a confidant," Nichols said. "He is
someone you can share a struggle or difficulty with and not have
it exposed to everyone else."
The priests' resolution also questioned the conclusions by the
U.S. bishops' National Review Board, which called Los Angeles a
troubled diocese in which Mahony had "allowed numerous predator
priests to remain in ministry."
"We disagree with the attitude that equates 'transparency
and cooperation' with the assumption that the actions of government
authorities may not be questioned," the resolution said. "The
board reached these conclusions in secret without providing Cardinal
Mahony and the archdiocese an opportunity for a fair hearing and