Thursday, January 31, 2013

"There Is No Excuse" – In LA, Gomez Goes DEFCON 1

Indeed, it is a stunner.

Ten days after an initial release from 30,000 pages of clergy sex-abuse files in the archdiocese of Los Angeles sparked widespread scorn and calls for the prosecution of now-retired Cardinal Roger Mahony and his then-vicar for clergy, now Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry, amid assertions that the duo orchestrated a cover-up, in a letter to the 5 million-member church released tonight, Archbishop José Gomez announced that the embattled auxiliary would be relieved of his pastoral oversight of two of the LA church's three counties, while the iconic Mahony – the longest-reigning American cardinal named after Vatican II, whose quarter-century tenure saw his hometown church become the largest diocese in the nation's history – will, according to his successor, "no longer have any administrative or public duties."

"The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil," Gomez said. "There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children. The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed.

"We need to acknowledge that terrible failure today. We need to pray for everyone who has ever been hurt by members of the Church. And we need to continue to support the long and painful process of healing their wounds and restoring the trust that was broken."

Emerging after years of legal wrangling, the release of the files was a condition of the $660 million settlement the LA church reached with more than 500 survivors in 2007, days before the first civil trial against the archdiocese was slated to begin. By far, the amount remains the largest sum given by an American diocese to victims of sexual abuse, comprising more than a quarter of the over $2 billion that Stateside dioceses and religious orders have paid out since the crisis' coast-to-coast eruption in 2002. 

The massive California settlements – beyond LA, a $197 million deal that plunged the San Diego diocese into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and a $100 million payout in Orange – resulted from a suspension of the civil statute of limitations on abuse cases passed by the legislature of the country's largest state as the 2002 revelations roiled the national landscape. Criminal statutes of limitation are widely thought to render any indictments against senior LA officials as unlikely; a federal grand jury that probed the archdiocese's handling of abuse cases several years ago is believed to have wrapped up without any evidence able to elicit charges.

In tandem with Gomez's announcements on Mahony and Curry, the archdiocese released the entirety of the files on an in-house website. Within the last 24 hours, church lawyers laid aside a last attempt to have the names of officials redacted from the documents.

Successfully scripting his own exit from office after a tenure both triumphant and turbulent on a variety of fronts, Mahony requested a coadjutor from Pope Benedict in October 2008 and received his answer 18 months later in Gomez, whose appointment signaled a vindication of the cardinal's plea for a Hispanic successor given the LA church's Latino supermajority, comprising some 70 percent of its membership. 

Nine months after welcoming his successor-in-waiting, Mahony formally retired a day after reaching the retirement age of 75 at the end of February, 2011. 

Having delved even further into his most cherished cause – immigration, with a particular emphasis on the plight of the undocumented – since stepping down, whether today's announcement will signal the end of the cardinal's presence in the blogosphere and his recently-launched Twitter feed remained unclear as of press time.

As the numbers stand, the Angeleno church is larger than its two runners-up – New York and Chicago – combined. In recent times, the archdiocese has baptized as many as 100,000 infants a year.

While a sitting archbishop may make any request he wishes on the extent of his cardinal-predecessor's role and public presence, Gomez's announcement on Mahony technically has no force. By the provisions of canon law, the universal faculties granted every member of the College, or any limitation of them in specific instances, rest solely within the competence of the Holy See. Ergo, barring an explicit papal move restricting his de iure perks, Mahony retains his seat in a Conclave to elect the next Pope until his 80th birthday in 2016, and all the other prerogatives that come with the "red hat" for life.

Likewise, Curry's departure as regional bishop for Santa Barbara has no legal impact on his standing in active ministry – only the 70 year-old prelate's resignation submitted to Rome, and its acceptance by the Pope, can officially end his tenure as an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles. 

Gomez being Gomez, however, it is distinctly unlikely that either of tonight's moves were taken lacking some sort of consultation with the Vatican, whether directly or by means of the Nunciature in Washington. Given that sense, their public release would thus signal an implicit Roman green-light.

All that said, in effect Curry becomes the second LA auxiliary in a row to leave office under a cloud, following Bishop Gabino Zavala, whose resignation at age 60 came by surprise in January 2012 after his admission that he fathered two children.

Having lived in a small home on the plant of his boyhood parish since his retirement, should his banishment hold, Mahony would not be the first cardinal to be cast out of the limelight amid revelations of abuse-related conduct. 

Following allegations that he molested young men in the Benedictine abbey where he lived before becoming archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Hans Hermann Gröer was effectively holed up at another of his community's far-flung houses upon his 1995 resignation, remaining there until his death in 2003. 

Closer to home, meanwhile, tonight's news comes a year exactly since Philadelphia's Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua died suddenly at 88 after years of shattered seclusion in an apartment on the campus of St Charles Borromeo Seminary, Overbrook. 

The Brooklyn-born prelate's death came a day after he had been ruled competent to testify in an unprecedented criminal trial, at which several of his aides would subsequently portray the cardinal as the key figure in a sprawling cover-up that led to two grand-jury investigations and the English-speaking world's first conviction of a church official for his handling of allegations of abuse. 

Sentenced to three to six years in prison on a charge of endangering the welfare of a child, Msgr William Lynn's appeal of his conviction remains pending. Meanwhile, a priest and lay teacher indicted for abuse and related charges by the 2011 grand jury were found guilty on nine of a combined ten charges by a city jury on Wednesday. A third criminal trial stemming from the Philadelphia panel's findings is slated to begin in March.

In a statement released through the archdiocese and on his blog in the wake of the initial release of documents – dating to 1986-87 – Mahony said that he "remained naïve about the full and lasting impact these horrible acts would have on the lives of those who were abused by men who were supposed to be their spiritual guides" until he "began visiting personally with victims.

"It remains my daily and fervent prayer that God’s grace will flood the heart and soul of each victim, and that their life-journey continues forward with ever greater healing," the cardinal said.

"I am sorry."

*   *   *
Here below, Gomez's full letter on the release of the documents and his personnel decisions, as published on the archdiocesan site:

My brothers and sisters in Christ, 

This week we are releasing the files of priests who sexually abused children while they were serving in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. 

These files document abuses that happened decades ago. But that does not make them less serious. 

I find these files to be brutal and painful reading. The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil. There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children. The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed. 
We need to acknowledge that terrible failure today. We need to pray for everyone who has ever been hurt by members of the Church. And we need to continue to support the long and painful process of healing their wounds and restoring the trust that was broken. 
I cannot undo the failings of the past that we find in these pages. Reading these files, reflecting on the wounds that were caused, has been the saddest experience I’ve had since becoming your Archbishop in 2011. 
My predecessor, retired Cardinal Roger Mahony, has expressed his sorrow for his failure to fully protect young people entrusted to his care. Effective immediately, I have informed Cardinal Mahony that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties. Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry has also publicly apologized for his decisions while serving as Vicar for Clergy. I have accepted his request to be relieved of his responsibility as the Regional Bishop of Santa Barbara. 
To every victim of child sexual abuse by a member of our Church: I want to help you in your healing. I am profoundly sorry for these sins against you. 
To every Catholic in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, I want you to know: We will continue, as we have for many years now, to immediately report every credible allegation of abuse to law enforcement authorities and to remove those credibly accused from ministry. We will continue to work, every day, to make sure that our children are safe and loved and cared for in our parishes, schools and in every ministry in the Archdiocese. 
In the weeks ahead, I will address all of these matters in greater detail. Today is a time for prayer and reflection and deep compassion for the victims of child sexual abuse. 
I entrust all of us and our children and families to the tender care and protection of our Blessed Mother Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of the Angels.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend José H. Gomez
Archbishop of Los Angeles
SVILUPPO: On Friday morning, Mahony defended his record on abuse in a public response to Gomez.