Special Report

The Cardinal’s Superdome

Or call it Mahony's monster, which yesterday held its grand opening.

By 9.3.02

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Missing from the endless line of church officials at Cardinal Roger Mahony's cathedral grand opening on Monday was one of its first associate pastors, Fr. Carl Sutphin. An accused molester, Sutphin held the title of associate pastor at the new "Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels" until Mahony cut him loose in the wake of the Boston church scandals.

Mahony knew of Sutphin's checkered clerical career for at least a decade. That troubled Mahony so much he gave him lodging at the new cathedral's apartments and appointed him associate pastor of the church. (Before that, Sutphin resided at the cardinal's previous apartments.)

Sitrick and Co., the cardinal's public relations firm which has counted Enron as one of his clients, wasn't yet on the scene. So Mahony can surely be forgiven that novel ecclesiastical appointment.

Last Friday, Mahony's troubles seemed far behind him as he practiced his homily for the grand opening with the aid of a TelePrompTer, reports the Los Angeles Times. Sitrick and Co. apparently thinks of everything.

It is too bad Sitrick and Co. can't also offer Mahony tutelage in the Catholic faith. Were Mahony's predecessors alive to see the grand opening of the cathedral, they would have wondered what new Protestant sect had arrived in La-La land.

The cathedral looks like a superdome for syncretism. Partially seen from Highway 101, the cathedral presents no obvious evidence of Catholicism. Drivers will assume it is a modern art museum, or perhaps an assembly hall for amorphous religious gatherings.

San Francisco has an equally confusing cathedral. It looks like a modern appliance. But at least people find it accessible. Not so with Mahony's new cathedral. "It is hard to get to," says Architect Frank Gehry.

But Mahony hopes to correct this little problem by asking taxpayers to build a new highway ramp. That should cost around $25 million.

The cathedral does, however, offer validation at its paid parking garage for mass goers. For others, parking will cost $2.50 for the first 25 minutes.

Mahony has to pay off his $200-million architectural experiment somehow. It turns out the archdiocese is in financial trouble. A hiring freeze is in place, and some church employees now worry about lay-offs. Mahony largely chalks up the archdiocese's woes to an anemic stock market. But his curious expenditures and doling out of hush money and cash settlements to sex abuse victims explain it as well.

Ever resourceful, Mahony has been generating cash by selling off crypts and burial sites at the new cathedral to the Richard Riordans and Rupert Murdochs of Los Angeles.

Why was this cathedral even necessary? ask many Catholics on both the right and the left. Mahony gave as one of his main reasons that the old cathedral wasn't safe. It had to go, he said, and assigned a wrecking crew to tear it town. But secular preservationists stopped him.

Mahony's real reason for establishing a new cathedral is that he is practicing a new religion. Whatever it is, it is not Catholicism. Eli Broad, a non-Catholic developer and Democratic Party godfather who helped finance the cathedral , calls it "architecture for the ages." Many Catholics, when they look up at the tapestries on the walls depicting people in sneakers and birkenstocks, will wonder if it can last even a generation as a Catholic building.

Not far from the fakery of Hollywood, appropriately enough, the cathedral represents faux Catholicism -- the very phony Catholicism that made it possible for the cardinal of the largest archdiocese in the country to make a molester one of its first associate pastors.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.