Is Cardinal Mahony barred from public ministry? (UPDATED)

Following the release of decades-old memos detailing Archdiocese of Los Angeles officials' efforts to conceal sexual-abuse cases, the new archbishop of L.A., Jose Gomez, has relieved Cardinal Roger Mahony of public duties and relieved auxiliary bishop Thomas Curry of his episcopal duties(.pdf). The archbishop's statement comes with the release of twelve thousand pages of diocesan personnel files related to the scandal. Gomez writes:

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 Ive 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.

Most reporting on this letter has characterized Gomez's decision as a suspension: Mahony is "barred from ministry," Jerry Filtau writes. Michael Sean Winters hails Gomez as morally courageous: "If you want to see what leadership looks like, re-read Archbishop Gomezs bold, succinct, unaffected, rigorous letter." Yet, according to diocesan spokesman Tod Tamberg, Mahony's daily routine will remain largely unchanged.

Mahony retired in March 2011. As Tamberg told me, since that time Mahony "has had no administrative duties." Tamberg explained that in response to Gomez's letter, the cardinal "is reducing his public profile," which included many speaking engagements, and that the cardinal "has cleared his calendar of confirmation appointments this year." Yet Mahony "remains a priest in good standing, and a cardinal of the church," Tamberg said. "He can celebrate the sacraments with no restrictions." (UPDATE 1: The Archdiocese of Los Angeles just released a statement clarifying that both Mahony and Curry remain bishops in good standing, "with full rights to celebrate the Holy Sacraments of the Church and to minister to the faithful without restriction." It's not clear why Mahony has canceled his confirmation appointments.)

So apparently the effect of this "suspension" will be limited to canceled speaking engagements and no more confirmations. Cardinal Mahony will have public duties, but they will be limited to celebrating the sacraments.

This is not to say Gomez's decision is insignificant. Indeed, as David Gibson has noted, it seems unprecedented. He links to Jerry Filtau's story citing Canon 357: "in those matters which pertain to their own person, cardinals living outside of Rome and outside their own diocese are exempt from the power of governance of the bishop of the diocese in which they are residing." David also points out that, given Mahony's status as a cardinal, Gomez must have had approval from Rome. Perhaps that status prevented Gomez from issuing an actual suspension. Whatever the case, Cardinal Roger Mahony may have been publicly fraternally corrected, but it's inaccurate to claim he's been barred from public ministry.

UPDATE 2: Cardinal Mahony has released his response to Archbishop Gomez, in which he defends himself by listing steps he took to address the sexual-abuse scandal, and calls out Gomez because "not once over these past years [since Gomez became archbishop of Los Angeles] did you ever raise any questions about our policies, practices, or procedures in dealing with the problem of clergy sexual misconduct involving minors." The cardinal is not wrong to point out that Gomez had plenty of time to review the files he now finds so scandalizing. But Mahony seems not to grasp what troubles people most about his role in the scandal. It's not that he just didn't do enough to protect minors from abuser-priests. It's that he worked to conceal abusers from civil authorities.

Grant Gallicho joined Commonweal as an intern and was an associate editor for the magazine until 2015. 

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