Cardinal Mahony Wrecks the REC

“I’m afraid my obedience in that diocese would be absolutely zero. And I hope everybody else’s in that diocese is zero.”   ∼ Mother Angelica on EWTN (Nov. 12, 1997)

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Just over two decades ago, EWTN’s foundress, Mother Angelica, was put back on her heels by the full force of Cardinal Roger Mahony’s wrath after Mother uttered the words above about Mahony and the Los Angeles Archdiocese. She had grave concerns about Mahony’s diminishing of the Real Presence in some of his writings.

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Mahony fired back with everything he had, using his full authority as bishop and cardinal to threaten EWTN and to force Mother Angelica into a public apology (sort of). In a November 14, 1997, letter, Mahony said: “For you to call into question my own belief in the Real Presence is without precedence. To compound the matter, your call for my people to offer zero obedience to their Shepherd is unheard of and shocking.”

Twenty-one years later, it is the hubris of the “Shepherd” in question that seems unheard of and shocking. While Mother Angelica has gone to her eternal reward, Mahony lingers in this vale of tears, having been thoroughly disgraced by the revelation of his cover-up and general mishandling of the clergy sex abuse in his archdiocese as far back as the 1980s—he was archbishop there from 1985 to 2011. For a clear accounting of his failed leadership, see Austin Ruse’s important piece published in Crisis.

Mahony’s successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez, back in 2013 declared: “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.”

However, who is the highest-ranking member of the clergy to be given a platform to speak from at the upcoming Los Angeles Religious Education Congress (REC) to be held from March 21 to 24 and sponsored by the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s Office of Religious Education? Not Gomez, their current archbishop, but the man he said would no longer have public duties: Mahony.

For anyone unfamiliar with this annual event, it ranks among the largest gatherings of Catholics in the country. Its organizers apparently adhere to the “here-comes-everybody” version of Catholicism, for among its multiple dozens of presenters are some stellar speakers, but right alongside are heterodox dissenters who grossly misrepresent the Catholic faith. It’s as though the organizers deliberately try to prepare a decent and even sumptuous meal, but along the way add a dash of E. Coli over here or a sprinkle of Listeria over there to make everything tastier.

Thus, a disgraced cardinal of our Church, who, over decades, helped compromise and harm the well-being of children in one of the largest archdioceses in the country, will speak on “Connecting Junior High and High School Students with the Volatile Immigration Issues.”

Got that? Mahony’s talk (which is to be recorded) is a youth-focused presentation—the very demographic group he previously expressed “sorrow” for having so woefully failed to keep safe.

It seems odd that the organizers of this annual event could find no one else better suited to address this topic than Mahony.  In my experience, as someone who in the past participated in vetting conference speakers at the Curial level of my archdiocese, only an administrator who was either unconscious or having a psychotic break would ever think choosing a disgraced and ‘retired’ prince of the Church to present such a talk would be a smart move.

But the organizers in this case are also the “sanitizers” of Mahony’s legacy, if his posted speaker bio is any indication:

Cardinal Roger Mahony led the Los Angeles Archdiocese from 1985 until his retirement in 2011. Born in Hollywood, he was the first native “Angeleno” to be elevated to the position of Cardinal. Cardinal Mahony oversaw the design and building of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, which was dedicated in 2002, and now serves the total archdiocese of over 5 million Catholics. Since his retirement, Cardinal Mahony has devoted himself to the cause of comprehensive immigration reform on behalf of our immigrant brothers and sisters as well as refugees and displaced persons around the world.

The “optics” alone should be enough to have the LA Religious Education Congress unceremoniously delete Mahony from this multi-day event. Just do it. Don’t platform the abuse-enabling prelate who grandiosely used to call himself your “Shepherd.”

If the administrators won’t sideline Mahony, given their (eclectic?) vetting of speakers every year, then it should fall directly to the current Archbishop of Los Angeles to do so. The man who once stated that Mahony would not be given any more “public duties” in the archdiocese could ensure that this particular public duty does not happen. So why hasn’t Gomez done so?

Ironically, at the root of Mahony’s disgraced reputation is the word Pope Francis favors to describe the rot currently at the heart of the hierarchy—clericalism. There is an abuse of power massively on display not only in Mahony’s deliberate and reprehensible mishandling of the abuse crisis in his archdiocese over decades, but also fully manifest in his 1997 treatment of Mother Angelica noted above. He did everything he could using his episcopal power and influence to virtually destroy Mother and her apostolate, but he failed; providentially, she resisted and prevailed. Even in failure, Mahony remains a Class A clericalist.

Could it be that his successor is a clericalist, too, by allowing the rehabilitation of a discredited member of the hierarchy? Or, alternatively, is Gomez giving Mahoney a pass because he is speaking on a topic close to the archbishop’s heart? Or, perhaps most likely, is he conceding to the entrenched forces in the archdiocesan bureaucracy placed there by Mahony over decades whom Gomez has been unable to dislodge from their positions of power?

Regardless of the reason for the archbishop’s about-face on his pledge to keep Mahony out of the spotlight, none can possibly justify what Gomez has approved. If he won’t do the right thing and cancel the talk, one other prince of the Church could make things right—Cardinal Mahony himself.

Mahony should not have a platform to speak from at the Congress, but I believe he could rightly attend it. I believe he should be publicly and obviously invited to attend a different workshop being offered this year. I believe that the Catholic media and secular press should be sent to this workshop to document it with photos and stories.

Give Cardinal Mahony a front row seat to this workshop at this year’s Los Angeles Religious Education Congress:

Sex Abuse in the Church: Binding and Healing the Wounds

Presented by a Dr. Greer G. Gordon, a frequent speaker at the LA REC, this talk is described like this:

Rape, molestation, seduction, sexual exploitation and sexual harassment have all become exposed in the Church. The perpetrators and their silent accomplices who hid or overlooked such acts are slowly being identified. Sadly, not all are known. The whole of the Church must learn how to recognize, report, protect and guard against this evil—and must participate in healing the brokenhearted and wounded in our midst. This session will address the sexual exploitation crisis in the Church. An analysis of what has happened will be presented, while offering concrete suggestions as to how the whole of the Church should proceed in correcting this problem.

I honestly believe “Angelenos” residing in the city named after the Heavenly Hosts—and all Catholics nationwide—would applaud his presence at the LA Religious Congress if we all knew he was in the front row, and taking notes, at this offering.

Let us invoke the spirited and faithful memory of Mother Angelica and even be bold enough to pray that she will intercede for us, storming heaven and earth so this failed prince of the Church is not given an opportunity to utter a public syllable at the upcoming Los Angeles Religious Education Congress. Please pray—and then please do your part to help by adding your name to the petition to remove Mahony from the conference, found here.

Editor’s note: Above, Cardinal Roger Mahony (left) stands next to Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio, Texas, who was appointed his successor to lead the Los Angeles archdiocese beginning on April 6, 2010. (Photo credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Image)


  • Jim Russell

    Jim Russell lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He writes on a variety of topics related to the Catholic faith, including natural law, liturgy, theology of the body, and sexuality. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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