Wednesday, December 19, 2018

After Transatlantic Tug of War, Another Bishop Falls

Precisely six months into the US church’s latest full-on storm of abuse revelations, the scandals have claimed a fourth American prelate – this time, in the nation’s largest diocese.

At Roman Noon this Wednesday, the Pope accepted the resignation of Auxiliary Bishop Alexander Salazar of Los Angeles, who turned 69 last month.

An immigrant from Costa Rica who settled with his family in Southern California in his boyhood, Salazar was named a deputy in the 5 million-member outpost in 2004 by now-Saint John Paul II.

Initially assigned to the archdiocese's San Pedro Region (each of LA's five subdivisions being home to roughly a million Catholics), in the late 2000s Salazar was quietly transferred to an office at the archdiocese's Wilshire Boulevard headquarters – a shift which today's move helps to explain in hindsight.

While, per custom, the Vatican made no reference to the rationale behind the early departure in its formal announcement, a statement from the LA Chancery released this morning says the following:
The announcement comes after Archbishop José H. Gomez requested a full review of all allegations of sexual misconduct involving minors to bring up to date the 2004 Report to the People of God lists of accused priests. In a letter issued today to the faithful of the Archdiocese, Archbishop Gomez stated that he requested and received permission from the Congregation for Bishops at the Holy See to have the Archdiocese’s independent Clergy Misconduct Oversight Board review a past allegation against Bishop Salazar of misconduct in the 1990s before he was ordained a bishop.

The Archdiocese was first informed in 2005 through a third party of an allegation reported directly to law enforcement in 2002 by a young adult alleging misconduct in the 1990s when Bishop Salazar was a priest and the alleged victim was a minor. Law enforcement had investigated the allegation and recommended that the District Attorney seek prosecution. The District Attorney did not file charges in the case.

Cardinal Roger Mahony, who was Archbishop when the Archdiocese was informed of the allegation, requested an immediate review of the case with law enforcement officials. Since the matter involved a bishop of the Catholic Church, according to the requirements of Canon Law, he also reported the allegation to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Holy See. The Congregation investigated and permitted Bishop Salazar to remain in ministry subject to certain precautionary conditions, which he has respected. Bishop Salazar has consistently denied the allegation. The Archdiocese has not received any other allegations involving Bishop Salazar.

Applying the standards used when reviewing allegations of sexual misconduct concerning priests and deacons, the Clergy Misconduct Oversight Board’s review of the matter found the allegation to be credible and recommended to Archbishop Gomez that Bishop Salazar should not have faculties to minister. Archbishop Gomez accepted the recommendation and submitted it to the Holy See.
Given the revelation that CDF allowed Salazar to remain in conditional ministry from 2005, here it bears noting how, in the same year, the reins of the "Holy Office" were taken up by then-Archbishop William Levada – an LA native and onetime auxiliary there.

Now 82 and retired from the Curia's #3 post since 2012, Levada recently packed up his Roman apartment to return full-time to California, where he splits his time between a condo in his hometown of Long Beach and a residence at Menlo Park in the archdiocese of San Francisco, which he led for a decade until becoming the highest-ranking American in Vatican history.

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If the process just undertaken sounds fairly standard, to be clear, the path to this morning was anything but.

According to Whispers ops apprised of the case, Salazar's resignation was first set to be accepted last Tuesday, 11 December. However, two factors complicated that timeframe and led to the week's delay: first, as opposed to a simple resignation, Gomez was driven to handle the allegation "the right way" and – as broken here late Sunday – wrangled the Holy See's permission for the LA review board to judge the claim last week. As the Vatican must delegate the faculty to investigate the case of a bishop, that same process has been carried out twice this year by the archdiocese of New York's lay panel – the first-ever instances in which a diocesan review board has been given the ability to weigh allegations against a prelate. (In practice, though, it's ostensibly become the rule that review boards may only consider allegations against bishops which took place when they were priests; in other words, the handling of any misconduct alleged following their appointment as bishops remains reserved to the Holy See.)

Yet what's more, in the days leading up to the initially-planned announcement, Salazar himself reportedly flew to the Nunciature in Washington with the intent of taking back the resignation he already submitted, and which Francis had already accepted.

As the three US prelates previously removed since the crisis’ June eruption were either near or past the retirement age of 75, this round’s first move of its kind on a relatively younger bishop is notable. That Salazar’s appointment took place in the immediate wake of 2002 – that is, in a time when scrutiny of potential bishops was understood to be considerably intensified – represents the most substantive hit to date to the integrity of the appointment process, above all as it stood in the final stage of John Paul’s 27-year pontificate. (Of course, that same period has come under fire in the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, given the ex-cardinal’s promotion to Washington in late 2000.)

On a broader sweep, Salazar becomes the third onetime LA auxiliary to be felled by scandal over the last two decades: in 1999, Bishop Patrick Ziemann was forced from the helm of Northern California's Santa Rosa diocese following accusations of sexual harassment by a priest there, as well as financial improprieties, while Bishop Gabino Zavala, named an Angeleno deputy in 1994 at age 43, resigned in early 2013 as he confessed to having fathered two children.

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Tomorrow marks six months since the crisis' second major eruption in the US began with the removal of then-Cardinal McCarrick from ministry following New York's finding that a 1970s allegation of abuse against the long-retired prelate was credible. A month later, after a second man's report that McCarrick abused him as a boy, he became the first cleric in a century to resign his place in the College of Cardinals. With the former archbishop of Washington already consigned to a life of prayer and penance at a monastery in Kansas, a full Roman tribunal on the allegations remains in process.

Over the long slog since, the Vatican forced the retirement of Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston within days his 75th birthday in September upon claims of harassment of and misconduct with adults, and the New York auxiliary John Jenik, 74, agreed to "step aside" after Gotham's review board deemed as credible an allegation from the 1980s involving a minor.

In the latter cases, what's become a sprawling investigation into Bransfield continues in West Virginia's statewide church, while the Holy See remains to make a final determination on Jenik's suspension; set to reach the retirement age early in the New Year, the auxiliary has maintained his innocence.

Developing – more to come.

SVILUPPO (10.45am ET): This piece will be updated as anything more comes from LA Chancery or other key entities – for now, from a house source, an important and quite striking piece of the puzzle....