San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy was elevated to cardinal last weekend, a significant snub to Jose Gomez, the archbishop of Los Angeles, a much larger see than San Diego whose head typically receives a red hat. As if Gomez hadn’t been humiliated enough, McElroy chose Cardinal Roger Mahony, the disgraced former archbishop of Los Angeles, as one of the concelebrants at his first mass as cardinal. During the previous pontificate, Gomez had tried to sideline Mahony for his monstrous role in protecting molesting priests. Gomez said that Mahony would “no longer have any administrative or public duties.” But Mahony, whose chutzpah equals that of the late Rembert Weakland, ignored this directive and waited for the arrival of Pope Francis.
That McElroy thought nothing of including Mahony at his first mass as cardinal speaks to the in-your-face liberal culture at the top of the Church. McElroy has been criticized for his own lax handling of abuse cases and his stonewalling of the psychotherapist Richard Sipe, a whistleblower against the rapist Theodore McCarrick. But McElroy still doesn’t feel any need to distance himself from Mahony. McElroy knows that he will pay no price for such associations under this pontificate. If anything, such dubious associations propelled his rise in the Church.
Anticipating his rehabilitation under Pope Francis, Mahony burbled at the beginning of his pontificate, “So long, Papal ermine and fancy lace! Welcome, simple cassock, and hopefully, ordinary black shoes! St. Francis must be overjoyed! Mass with Pope Francis: moving from HIGH Church to LOW and humble Church! What a blessing that we are encountering Jesus without trappings!”
To anyone familiar with Mahony’s ostentatious and prodigal history, this tweet was inadvertently hilarious. Through his derelictions of duty as archbishop, Mahony cost the Church hundreds of millions of dollars in abuse settlements, wasted tens of millions of dollars on a hideous new cathedral, and hobnobbed with the decadent Los Angeles elite. At the behest of Xavier Becerra (now President Biden’s secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services), among other pols, Mahony once wrote a letter asking Bill Clinton to pardon the drug dealer Carlos Vignali. It came out later that Mahony had never even met Vignali and simply wrote the letter as a favor to his corrupt political cronies.
Still, Mahony remains a legend in his own mind. In July, the oh-so-humble Mahony asked priests in Los Angeles if they would like an autographed picture of himself, according to The Pillar. In the photo, he is holding a basket of loaves. “I already sent a signed an 8 x 10 copy to all the Archdiocesan priests whom I have had the privilege to ordain to the Sacred Priesthood. A few others have inquired about getting a copy, and I would be more than delighted to send signed copy to any Archdiocesan priest who requests one,” he wrote.
Mahony is known, of course, not for his simplicity but for his deviousness. Frank Keating, the former Republican governor of Oklahoma who served on a church-appointed abuse panel, likened the behavior of Mahony and other scheming bishops to “La Cosa Nostra.” After Mahony built his new cathedral, he intended to name as its associate pastor a known pedophile until bad press and prosecutors forced him to scotch the plan. Among the most flabbergasting revelations of Mahony’s misconduct during the abuse scandal is that he plotted with one of his auxiliary bishops to send molesting priests to therapists who doubled as lawyers so that they wouldn’t fall under any reporting requirement.
The mountainous evidence against Mahony led in 2007 to a $660 million settlement with victims, one of the largest settlements in Church history. That’s why Gomez moved to put Mahony out to pasture. But the bashful Gomez was no match for Mahony, especially after the election of Pope Francis. Mahony quickly leveraged his friendship with ascendant liberals under Pope Francis, such as Robert McElroy, to regain a voice in the Church. In 2021, Vatican News interviewed Mahony on the subject of pro-abortion Catholic politicians. Mahony defended them, saying, “First of all, we are a democratic republic. Our country’s path is one of separation of church and state. And so, it’s a very difficult position for politicians, Catholics, who are pressured by some in the Church to make all of the decisions based on Catholic Church doctrine.”
Out of gratitude for such fatuous statements, the media is overlooking Mahony’s scandalous rehabilitation under Pope Francis. Were Mahony even slightly conservative, the media would question his reemergence. That Mahony is enjoying a second act while Gomez disappears into the shadows reveals much about the Church’s direction. The most powerful prelates in America, from McElroy to Cardinal Blase Cupich in Chicago to Cardinal Joseph Tobin in Newark, are assisting Mahony in this con job, which exposes their “reform agenda” as rotten and hollow.
But while Mahony basks in this sham “collegiality,” he isn’t fooling the faithful. The consequences of his turpitude are still unfolding for them to see. Before Mahony joined him at the altar, McElroy had the gall to deliver a sermon on “humility.” What a farce. In the annals of Church history, this era will go down as one of astounding arrogance — an era of shameless prelates in the mold of Mahony who lived high on the faithful’s dime while bankrupting the Church.