LOS ANGELES — Archbishop José Gomez’s decision to relieve Cardinal Roger Mahony and Bishop Thomas Curry of their duties in the L.A. Archdiocese is being welcomed as “the best possible thing he could have done.”
“The archbishop has, in one stroke, opened up the doors and let in the sunlight,” historian and author Charles Coulombe told Catholic News Agency Feb. 1. “It is an enormously difficult task he has taken on. ... It would have been the case, no matter what he did.”
“However, he handled it brilliantly, wisely, pastorally, truthfully, honestly, openly,” he reflected. “Very, very different than what we’re used to here in Los Angeles.”
“I can’t overemphasize how grateful I am that the Holy Father gave us this man.”
On Jan. 31, Archbishop Gomez announced that, with the release of personnel files of priests accused decades ago of sexual abuse, his predecessor, the retired Cardinal Mahony, and his one-time vicar for clergy, Bishop Curry, would no longer have official duties in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
The files showed that, in the late 1980s, Cardinal Mahony and Bishop Curry corresponded often about dealing with priests who had sexually abused minors. The Los Angeles Times said the memos show a campaign to hide sex-abuse cases from police.
“I find these files to be brutal and painful reading. ... We need to acknowledge that terrible failure today. We need to pray for everyone who has ever been hurt by members of the Church,” Archbishop Gomez announced.
“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.”
The decision has been welcomed throughout the Church in America. On the archbishop’s Facebook page, 278 had liked the statement on Feb. 1, and virtually all of the comments were supportive of Archbishop Gomez.
Coulombe continued, saying, “It signals above everything else that the Church in Los Angeles has entered a new and, if I may so, a much-better age.”
Cardinal Mahony served as the head of the Los Angeles Archdiocese for 26 years, and, as such, he has had a profound effect on the local Church.
“Suffice it to say, it’s been a very long, difficult time here. What the archbishop has done, I think, is draw that period to its end,” Coulombe said.
Archbishop Gomez has both brought in “very fine people” from out of state to help in the archdiocese, Coulombe said, and retained some of the “best of the people who were here before.”
“For his Grace to succeed, on the one hand at re-Catholicizing the archdiocese and, on the other, of pursuing the archdiocese’s rightful work — evangelization in this part of the world — he’s going to need the help of everyone. And, fortunately, he really seems to know that.”
Coulombe praised the archbishop’s Oct. 2 pastoral letter “Witness to the New World of Faith” in which he gave a mission for the diocese focused on evangelization and the salvation of souls.
“In every way seemingly, he’s the opposite of his predecessor, and that’s what we need,” Coulombe said.
Cardinal Mahony’s removal will leave his situation largely unchanged, the archdiocese’s media relations director, Tod Tamberg, said, according to the Los Angeles Times. The biggest effect for Cardinal Mahony is that he will no longer administer confirmation in the archdiocese.
He remains in good standing and a cardinal, Tamberg said. No cardinal has resigned from the College of Cardinals since Father Louis Billot did so in 1927.
The larger change in the day-to-day functioning of the diocese comes with Bishop Curry’s removal. He has been an auxiliary bishop of the diocese since 1994 and was responsible for Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. As Bishop Curry is now 70, he is stepping down five years before bishops’ mandatory retirement age.
Cardinal Mahony’s Response
Last week, both Cardinal Mahony and Bishop Curry offered apologies for their failures in adequately protecting youth.
On Feb. 1, Cardinal Mahony posted on his personal blog a letter he wrote to Archbishop Gomez explaining his history of dealing with clergy sexual abuse.
“Nothing in my own background or education equipped me to deal with this grave problem,” he wrote.
He reproached his archbishop for not expressing displeasure with his policies before now.
“Not once over these past years did you ever raise any questions about our policies, practices or procedures in dealing with the problem of clergy sexual misconduct involving minors.”
The Los Angeles Archdiocese has been found in compliance with every audit of child-protection measures, which have been conducted since 2004.
Coulombe said Archbishop Gomez’ removal of the two prelates from their archdiocesan duties may “free him up in making appointments.”
Coulombe concluded his reflections on Archbishop Gomez’ statement by quoting Gerald Ford at his presidential inauguration,after Richard Nixon’s resignation following the Watergate scandal: “Our long national nightmare is over.”