Roger Mahony is a significant and controversial figure in Los Angeles. On the one hand, he was an extraordinary advocate for the cause of immigrants. On the other, he also protected pedophiles who abused the trust the church placed in them, destroying the lives of children and adults.
The punishment meted out by the archbishop of Los Angeles, José Gómez, excluding the former archbishop of Los Angeles from all church activities, will ostracize him. This is a courageous, clever political decision that sends the message that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles understands the pain of the victims and is committed to fighting child abuse in its ranks. It is also a way to close this shameful chapter.
However, neither the institutional punishment of Mahony nor Gómez’s words are enough to calm down the scandal of giant proportions caused by the aberrant behavior of clergy members who abused children and their superiors who protected them.
Pedophiles committed crimes, and Mahony protected them from his position, with the institutional complicity of the church. What happened in Los Angeles was not an exceptional case.
Therefore, given the seriousness of the matter, the fact that it took the church so long to take action is unacceptable. A case in point is that Mahony’s punishment is happening at the same time as additional compromising documents are becoming public, as if the purpose were damage control. This should have happened back in 2007, when the archdiocese reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with the victims.
We believe that the Catholic Church is taking responsibility for very serious offenses and is working to rebuild the trust it lost because of the actions of its members, its leaders and the institution itself. What happened Thursday is a step in that direction.
However, the Mahony case is sad and outrageous. It inspires mixed feelings, reflecting the surprise and disappointment felt by those who have admired the efforts of an advocate for social justice and a standard-bearer who brought the cause of undocumented immigrants to many forums. But he was also a moral authority who covered up the worst immoral acts: child abuse. This is the complex and contradictory legacy of Father Mahony.