Are the American church officials who created the mushrooming moral mess the best ones to clean it up? Of course not. But this is the lame premise of next week's meeting in Rome between derelict American cardinals like Bernard Law and Roger Mahony and Pope John Paul II.
Los Angeles Cardinal Mahony is eager to ingratiate himself with the Vatican before next week's meeting. Toward that end, he has been posing in recent days as an out-front "reformer" in the wake of the abuse crisis.
Who has Mahony used to facilitate this charade? Naturally, he turned to his friend at the Los Angeles Times, religion reporter Larry Stammer. Recall that Mahony wrote in recent e-mails that Larry Stammer "stands ready to help if we have a story we want to get out…Larry is going to do a story on our Seminaries soon -- that will be helpful." And Mahony wrote of an earlier interview with "Larry" that the reporter "said that a lot of good has been done with the press and media by doing the interview."
This week's interview with "Larry" revolved around Mahony's plans to "add size and scope" to his hastily-formed "abuse panel." Pandering to current sentiments, Mahony expressed his ever-deepening appreciation for the laity: "What has become obvious to me is that too much of this has been functioning within the close clerical circles. We're much better served when we involve … laypeople."
The cardinal also said that he wants a victim of sexual molestation to sit on the abuse panel. Stammer (and co-author of the article Beth Shuster) found a colleague of Mahony's -- Bishop William S. Skystad, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops -- to praise Mahony's proposal as "far-reaching." "I'm very impressed," Skylstad said.
Perhaps Mahony can use Nancy Sloan as the representative on this impressive panel for sex abuse victims. Sloan was abused by a molesting priest that Mahony later reassigned to a parish in Stockton, California, where Mahony served as bishop in the early 1980s.
"I'm absolutely convinced Mahony knew all about the priest," Sloan told Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez. "And if Mahony says he didn't know anything about [Fr.] O'Grady, my question is, how could you possibly do your job as bishop and not read any of the files on your employees?"
"I have so much guilt for not doing more," she told Lopez, saying that she wished she had alerted more people to O'Grady's predatorial pattern. "I don't know how Mahony can live with himself when I can barely live with myself."
Mahony claims total ignorance of the fact that the police investigated O'Grady a month before Mahony transferred him to the Stockton parish. Cluelessness is Mahony's frequent defense these days.
In a recent admission worthy of an Evelyn Waugh satire, Mahony said he transferred Fr. Wempe, a priest-molester in Los Angeles, to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center without realizing it had a pediatric unit. Children at a major hospital in Los Angeles? What a revelation!
Mahony's enlightenment continues apace. He says now that he made a "mistake" in not sharing information about the priest's molesting past with the hospital staff.
And what about keeping a molester on the archdiocesan payroll and in ministry for 14 years after the abuse? Oh yeah, that was a mistake too, says Mahony to the Los Angeles Times: ""Fourteen years [later] is so different…If that had been today, he would have been out of the priesthood."
The lofty principle at work in Mahony's mind is this: When the press isn't paying attention, reassign molesters; when the press is paying attention, bounce them.
Mahony, in fact, went to a luncheon in honor of the priest-molester a "couple of years ago," he acknowledged to the Los Angeles Times. But the molester won't get to enjoy the retirement party scheduled for him this month. Mahony's now got "zero tolerance" for molesting priests, you understand.
Maybe the Holy Father can ask Mahony to explain to him why the Church should continue to entrust one of the largest dioceses in the world to such a slow learner.
Mahony says he is off to Rome to "dialogue" with the Vatican. It is too bad Mahony hasn't been summoned to Rome so that the Pope can retrieve his red hat.
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