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Joseph H. Saunders
| Saunders and Walker

Catholic priest with his hands clasped together
The title for this post is taken from The Who’s 1971 song Won’t Get Fooled Again and it’s an appropriate question to ask now that the “new” boss in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has been elected president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Jose Gomez assumed the leadership role in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2011 after the nearly three decade tenure of Cardinal Roger Mahony.
While Gomez is not exactly new, his recent election as head of the country’s bishops (as well as the law change in California which allows sexual abuse survivors a three year window to bring civil lawsuits against the Catholic Church), will place a spotlight on his administration of the Catholic Church in Los Angeles.
Under Cardinal Mahony’s leadership, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was awash in scandal including the transfer and cover-up of priests who abused children. Perhaps worst of all, Mahony was directly involved in the cover-up and stonewalling when it came to the public release of church documents. Lawyers for the Archdiocese fought every attempt to release these documents to the public. When they were finally released, the damage to the Archdiocese and to Mahony himself was incalculable. While Mahony was never criminally charged and was allowed to retire at the normal age of 75, he became the face of the Church’s corruption in the sex abuse scandal.
When Jose Gomez arrived on the scene, the Archdiocese was in disarray. In 2013, Gomez barred Mahony from any public ministry in the Archdiocese.
“Effective immediately, I have informed Cardinal Mahony that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties,” Gomez said in a letter released to the public.
He cited Mahony’s alleged failures to protect young people from sexually abusive priests — documented in court filings in recent years — as grounds for the decision, in church terms, to bar the cardinal from any future public activities in the Los Angeles archdiocese.
Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles from 1985 to 2011 and a cardinal since 1991, has long been one of the dominant church figures in the United States, a leader in justice for farmworkers, immigrants and other victims of economic injustice.
Church law gives cardinals extraordinary authority even beyond their own dioceses, with Canon 357 of the Code of Canon Law saying that “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.”
It was a controversial if not courageous move on the part of the new archbishop. It is not common practice for an archbishop to publicly censure a cardinal of the Catholic Church. However, Gomez understood that he had to make some drastic changes in the Archdiocese if the church were to survive the sex abuse scandal.
Since that early period in Gomez’s tenure, the Archbishop has made changes that reflect a sober understanding of the abuse scandal. In my own experience dealing with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, things have changed. Thus far, he has done what he said he would do. As a result of the new California law allowing survivors to bring suit against the Church and the newly formed Compensation Fund, I represent many California abuse survivors who were abused as children in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. I expect many more survivors will come forward in the near future. So far, I am cautiously optimistic about the new attitude in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. So, is the new boss the same as the old boss? No, he isn’t. Perhaps it’s because Gomez didn’t rise through the ranks of the hierarchy as did Mahony or perhaps he recognizes it’s time to do the right thing and stop treating survivors as enemies of the Church. The new boss is not the same as the old boss. For that we can all be thankful.


  1. Gravatar for Paola Falier
    Paola Falier

    Cardinal Mahony is --not-- barred from public ministry. The inhibition lasted about 24 hours.

    " ... archdiocesan communications director Carolina G. Guevara said in a statement [this year] that Cardinal Mahony remains a priest in good standing, “as has been clarified by the archdiocese on several occasions and covered in news outlets.”"

    There was a story of the parents of a parish where Mahony was assigned to do confirmations protesting. One does not administer the sacrament of Confirmation while being barred from public ministry.

    1. Gravatar for Joseph H Saunders
      Joseph H Saunders

      I would like to thank Paola Falier for the comment. The comment is correct but it is exceeding rare and significant that a Cardinal would be censured at all. It is a small step in the right direction.

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