Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, for more than 25 years the savvy shepherd of the Roman Catholic Church in Los Angeles, retired nearly two years ago to a renovated yellow house behind his childhood parish, pledging to stay in the spotlight by continuing to fight for the rights of immigrants.
But the cardinal now finds himself in a most unwelcome spotlight, one that he sought for years to avoid. Internal church personnel files released this week as part of a civil court case reveal that he and his top adviser knowingly shielded priests accused of child sexual abuse from law enforcement. In one letter, the cardinal ordered a clergyman to stay in New Mexico, where he had been sent for treatment, to avoid the possibility of being reported to the police in California.
Lawyers for the Los Angeles Archdiocese fought for years to prevent the release of the files, but a demand for transparency was a primary goal of the more than 500 victims of clergy abuse who signed a record settlement for $660 million with the archdiocese in July 2007. When a judge ordered the files to be made public despite the church’s objections, the archdiocese fought to be allowed to redact names and identifying details. But it recently lost that battle and now awaits an imminent cascade of 30,000 more documents that could further tarnish Cardinal Mahony’s legacy.
“He played a very prominent role as social and spiritual leader,” said William Deverell, the director of the Huntington-University of Southern California Institute on California and the West. “He’s a native, knows greater Los Angeles exceedingly well and presided over an already globally changed city, leading it into the next phase. He earned a great deal of ecumenical trust and leadership, which is now goi...