Reality continues to outpace satire at Cardinal Roger Mahony’s cathedral in Los Angeles. The perplexing cathedral now boasts one more innovation: a chapel dedicated to honoring “victims of sexual abuse by priests,” reports the Los Angeles Times.
Mahony invited the media to his chapel opening on Sunday. But he didn’t tender an invitation to the honorees. And they weren’t touched. While Mahony “knelt silently in the chapel in front of television cameras,” reports the Times, Mary Grant of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests “fumed” outside the church building.
“A public relations stunt,” Grant said to the Times. “Clearly this continues to be about the cardinal and not the victims…I think Cardinal Mahony knew that if victims were aware of this ahead of time, they’d be here telling parishioners that real change needs to happen — and that the priests who abused them are not yet behind bars.”
Such as accused molester Carl Sutphin, the former associate pastor of the cathedral. Mahony reluctantly sacked Sutphin, whom he had brought with him from St. Vibiana’s, after Cardinal Law got popped last year. Sutphin, who lived at the cardinal’s residences long after the cardinal knew of his sexual abuse, is fighting the molestation charges in court. Making the state prove its case is part of the “healing process” in the archdiocese. Prosecutors considered Sutphin a “flight risk,” owing to Mahony’s pattern of protecting pedophile priests, and asked the court to set bail at $500,000. This episode last month resulted, reports the Ventura County Star, in the following comic exchange at Sutphin’s bail hearing. Judge James Cloninger: “Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying…You’re suggesting that the Catholic Church would help him flee?” Deputy District Attorney Douglas Ridley: “Yes, that is what I’m suggesting.” Cloninger ended up setting bail at $200,000.
The Los Angeles Times reports that nine “retired or former priests from the diocese have been charged with crimes in Los Angeles County, and prosecutors want to see the personnel files on 31 other priests or church officials who they say are suspected of abuse.” But Mahony is stonewalling them: “Mahony has argued that he can’t turn the files directly over to prosecutors because of privacy issues.”
Stonewall in private, play reformer in public. This has been Mahony’s strategy from the start. Mahony’s ludicrous chapel opening is just the latest empty, con-the-public gesture. Did Sitrick and Company, the public relations firm Mahony hired last year, conjure this one up?
Tour guides at the cathedral have their work cut out for them. “Here we have a chapel dedicated to children raped by priests Cardinal Mahony reassigned. Here we have names of children our ex-associate pastor says he can’t remember molesting.” No, that won’t make the script. Besides, the chapel may not be permanent anyway. Who knows what new scandals will necessitate new chapels?
Traditional Los Angeles Catholics anxiously await the creation of a chapel dedicated to the victims of “heresy and scandal during Cardinal Mahony’s tenure.” Homosexuals, such as Archbishop Rembert Weakland’s dumped lover, may clamor for a chapel dedicated to the victims of “disappointing sexual experiences with Catholic priests.” Catholic parents may want a chapel dedicated to “those who paid $80,000 or more to Catholic colleges only to have them destroy their children’s faith.”
Weak cheap shots? Sure. But Mahony is putting a severe strain on satirists.
There is a serious point here: Mahony should go. He is ruining the largest archdiocese in the country and dishonoring victims of abuse with patronizing dishonesty. “We need to get this resolved,” the Times quotes him as saying at the chapel opening. Does he really want it resolved? If he did, he would stop stonewalling and quit. And he would encourage everyone else who participated in the squalid coverups to quit too.
Sitrick-and-company-style stunts are not putting the scandal behind the Church but in front of it, for everyone but dupes to see.