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Cardinal Roger Mahony defends his legacy on church child abuse

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Studies commissioned by the U.S. bishops found more than 4,000 U.S. priests have faced sexual abuse allegations since the early 1950s, in cases involving more than 10,000 children — mostly boys.

In one instance, a draft of a plan with Mahony's name on it calls for sending a molester priest to his native Spain for a minimum of seven years, paying him $400 a month and offering health insurance. In return, the cardinal would agree to write the Vatican and ask them to cancel his excommunication, leaving the door open for him to return as a priest someday.

"I am concerned that the archdiocese may later be seen as liable — for having continued to support this man — now that we have been put on notice that one of the young adults under his influence is suicidal," a top aide wrote in a memo about the priest to Mahony in 1995, urging him to stop paying benefits to the priest.

The cardinal added a handwritten note: "I concur — the faster, the better."

In another case, Mahony resisted turning over a list of altar boys to police who were investigating claims against a visiting Mexican priest who was later determined to have molested 26 boys during a 10-month stint in Los Angeles. "We cannot give such a list for no cause whatsoever," he wrote on a January 1988 memo.

While Gomez's decision to strip Mahony of his administrative duties and reduce his public role was unprecedented in the American Roman Catholic Church, Mahony can still act as a priest, keep his rank as cardinal and remain on a critical Vatican panel that elects the next pope.

Victims were quick to point out the contrast between Mahony's pared-down local standing and his continued position as a cardinal who travels frequently to Rome and remains in good standing there.

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