Cardinal Mahony Attacks Fellow Bishops in an Interview Published by Vatican News Service Ahead of USCCB Vote

Despite the interview’s headline, Cardinal Mahony makes no call for “dialogue” with his brother bishops.

USCCB Fall Meeting 2021
USCCB Fall Meeting 2021 (photo: CNA / EWTN)

In an unusual interview published by Vatican News ahead of the U.S. bishops’ vote this week on the document titled “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church,” Cardinal Roger Mahoney, the retired Archbishop of Los Angeles, calls the upcoming document “totally unnecessary,” because, he says, it “was intended primarily to go after and penalize Catholic legislators.”

Last June, the U.S. Bishops overwhelmingly voted 174 to 55 in favor of crafting the document. A vote on a final draft is expected to come Nov. 17.

The interview, conducted by Sister Bernadette M. Reis, an American Daughter of St. Paul with a degree in Spanish and English Literature and who has spent several years researching “various women’s issues,” is titled “Card[inal] Mahony encourages U.S. bishops to take the ‘pathway to constructive dialogue,’” yet the retired prelate levels pointed criticism at his fellow U.S. bishops, who he blames for lacking an attitude of  “constructive dialogue.” 

“If we had really had this honest dialogue among ourselves and got to understand each other’s positions and then acted as the communion of Bishops with our unity, we could have found a path forward. I believe we would have decided we do not need this document,” Cardinal Mahony says.

Cardinal Mahony predicts in the interview that “no one is going to read” the document. “It will never have any impact because, right after the holidays, we’re getting into this Eucharistic Revival, which is what we should be doing in the first place,” the 85-year-old cardinal says.

Cardinal Mahony also argues that it is not possible to demand that Catholic politicians be consistent with their proclaimed Catholic faith. “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,” Mahony argues.

In the interview, the cardinal also praises the letter that 60 pro-abortion Catholic democrats signed in June 2021 claiming the right to receive Communion despite their opposition to core Catholic teaching. The letter was led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who has supported taxpayer-funded of abortion and has been a strong supporter of the Women's Health Protection Act. That legislation, which has languished in the Senate, would remove any legal limitation to abortion in the United States.

The letter was criticized by several bishops and Catholic leaders. “We’re willing to reach out. But if protecting the life of a baby struggling to breathe, after surviving a brutal attack on his life, is a bridge too far for pro-abortion-rights politicians, then I ask again, what are we dialoguing about?” wrote Bishop Robert Barrron

Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver said that “instead of accepting their own responsibility to understand and follow Church teaching, these politicians are the ones who are ‘weaponizing the Eucharist’ by insisting that they remain in good standing despite publicly committing grave sins and continuing to receive Communion.”

But Cardinal Mahony says in the interview published by the Vatican’s official news service that he was “thrilled” with the letter. 

“I read it through two to three times, and I said, ‘This is us! This is the Church!’ They want to collaborate with us in many ways and they gave a whole list of ways we could collaborate beginning with reducing as much as possible the need for abortion and the occurrence of abortion,” Cardinal Mahony says.

“When I read it, I said, ‘This is the pathway to constructive dialogue. They want to help us in their rule to do what we want to do. And it’s amazing!’ And so, it prompted me to do an open statement to my brother bishops because no one’s ever heard of this and it’s precisely the constructive dialogue that Pope Francis [encourages.]”

Despite the interview’s headline, Cardinal Mahony makes no call for “dialogue” with his brother bishops.

He instead ends the interview by saying: “To be honest with you, I don't see anything is going to happen with this document or next week in Washington, D.C., that is going to bring about this unity.

“I think what’s going to happen is we will pass this. Hopefully, we will accept the offer of the Catholic Congress members and move forward with them after the holidays, with the new Eucharistic revival. And those elements will bring together the unity and communion that we all want,” Cardinal Mahony says.

Cardinal Mahony’s own record in dealing with issues related to the Eucharist is steeped in controversy, however. In September 1997, the then-Archbishop of Los Angeles published a pastoral letter titled “Gather Faithfully Together: A Guide for Sunday Mass, Pastoral Letter on the Liturgy.” Critics of the 31-page long document faulted its confusing language and its inability to transmit a clear message regarding the role of the people of God, the celebrant, and the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. 

The letter sparked a major back and forth of criticism and defense of Cardinal Mahony in Catholic media. The Servant of God Jesuit Father John Hardon wrote that “the central focus of the pastoral letter is on the body of Christ, indeed, but on the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. Prophetically, the late Pope Pius XII anticipated this misunderstanding of associating, to the point of identifying, the Holy Eucharist with the Mystical Body of Christ.

“Given the length of ‘Gathering Faithfully Together,’” Father Hardon observed, “it is impossible to give here a full analysis of its theological orientation. One thing, however, may be said. This pastoral letter is misleading.”

In 1988, Cardinal Mahony was hailed for his zero tolerance policy on sex abuse, and  temporarily became a hero to sex abuse victims when he directed that a dozen southern California priests be forced to leave the Church due to sexual abuse, in compliance with the Church’s promises in a 2001 settlement. 

Upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75 in 2011, Cardinal Mahony resigned and was replaced by the first Hispanic to lead the Los Angeles archdiocese, Archbishop José Gomez, now president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

But an investigation published by Los Angeles Times revealed that Cardinal Mahony and his then-vicar of clergy systematically conspired to conceal the sexual abuse of children by priests from law enforcement officials.

According to the investigation, in “memos written to Cardinal Mahony in 1986 and 1987 contained in personnel files for 14 priests and filed this month as evidence in a court case, his chief advisor on sex abuse cases proposed strategies to prevent police from investigating three priests who had admitted molesting young boys to church officials.” 

As a consequence of the ensuing scandal and protests at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in North Hollywood, where Cardinal Mahony was residing, Archbishop Gomez relieved him of his remaining duties.

“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 said in a statement on Jan. 31, 2013. “And we need to continue to support the long and painful process of healing their wounds and restoring the trust that was broken.”

Archbishop Gomez noted that “effective immediately, I have informed Cardinal Mahony" — who served the archdiocese from 1985 to 2011 — “that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties.”

"The behavior described in these files [released by the Los Angeles Times] 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,” Archbishop Gomez stated. 

“Reading these files, reflecting on the wounds that were caused, has been the saddest experience I've had since becoming your Archbishop in 2011," Archbishop Gomez wrote.

Cardinal Mahony’s role in covering up the sexual abuse of minors have caused him problems ever since. 

In 2013, a group of Los Angeles Catholics gathered thousands of signatures asking Cardinal Mahony to recuse himself from attending the conclave in Rome that elected Pope Francis. Cardinal Mahony attended the conclave. 

In February 2018, Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Mahony as his special envoy to the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the diocese of Scranton, Pa. The local uproar against his visit forced Mahony to cancel his participation.In August of the same year, Cardinal Mahony was forced to withdraw as the keynote speaker at an annual fundraising dinner in Utah after hundreds of local Catholics vowed to protest his presence.