Published February 21, 2013
VATICAN CITY – Conclaves, meetings to elect the next Pope, always bring out the worst in cardinals' dirty laundry, with past sins and transgressions aired anew in the slow news days preceding the vote.
In the time between the Pope's resignation and the beginning of the conclave, media plays a pivotal role in the depiction of cardinals and sometimes in the spreading of rumors that could derail a potential candidate's chances to be Pope.
This time is no different —popular pressure is mounting in the U.S. and Italy to keep California Cardinal Roger Mahony away from the conclave to elect the next pope because of his role shielding sexually abusive priests, a movement targeting one of the most prominent of a handful of compromised cardinals scheduled to vote next month.
Mahony's sins are fresh and come on the tails of a recent round of sex abuse scandals in the U.S. and Europe.
Separately on Wednesday, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan was deposed about clergy abuse in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, which he led from 2002 until 2009. The Milwaukee archdiocese has sought bankruptcy protection from nearly 500 abuse claims. The attorney for the Milwaukee archdiocese said Dolan was mainly questioned about his decision to publicly name clergy known to have molested children.
The Milwaukee Archdiocese faces allegations from nearly 500 people. Archbishop Jerome Listecki, the current Milwaukee church leader, sought bankruptcy protection in 2011, saying the process was needed to compensate victims fairly while ensuring the archdiocese could still function. Milwaukee is the eighth diocese in the U.S. to seek bankruptcy protection since the abuse scandal erupted in 2002 in Boston.
Amid the outcry, Mahony has made clear he is coming, and no one can force him to recuse himself. So far 5,600 people have signed a petition sponsored by the U.S. group Catholics United, asking him to do so.
"It's the right thing to do," Andrea León-Grossman, a Los Angeles member of Catholics United, said in a statement on the group's website. "In the interests of the children who were raped in his diocese, he needs to keep out of the public eye. He has already been stripped of his ministry. If he's truly sorry for what has happened, he would show some humility and opt to stay home."
But Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, one of the Vatican's top canon lawyers, told The Associated Press that barring any canonical impediments, Mahony has a right and duty to vote in the conclave. At best, he said, someone could persuade him not to come, but De Paolis insisted he wasn't suggesting that someone should.
Last month, a court in Los Angeles ordered the release of thousands of pages of confidential personnel files of more than 120 priests accused of sex abuse. The files show that Mahony and other top archdiocese officials maneuvered behind the scenes to shield accused priests and protect the church from a growing scandal while keeping parishioners in the dark.
Mahony was stripped of his public and administrative duties last month by his successor at the largest Catholic diocese in the United States. But the dressing-down by Archbishop Jose Gomez only affected Mahony's work in the archdiocese, not his role as a cardinal. Gomez has since urged prayers for Mahony as he enters the conclave.
Mahony has responded directly and indirectly to the outcry on his blog, writing about the many "humiliations" Jesus endured.
"Given all of the storms that have surrounded me and the archdiocese of Los Angeles recently, God's grace finally helped me to understand: I am not being called to serve Jesus in humility. Rather, I am being called to something deeper — to be humiliated, disgraced, and rebuffed by many," Mahony wrote.
He said in recent days he had been confronted by many angry people. "I could understand the depth of their anger and outrage — at me, at the Church, at about injustices that swirl around us," he wrote. "Thanks to God's special grace, I simply stood there, asking God to bless and forgive them."
Mahony is scheduled to be questioned under oath on Saturday as part of a clergy abuse lawsuit about how he handled a visiting Mexican priest who police believe molested 26 children in the Los Angeles archdiocese during a nine-month stay in 1987. The Rev. Nicolas Aguilar Rivera fled to Mexico in 1988 after parents complained. He has since been defrocked but remains a fugitive, with warrants for his arrest in both the U.S. and Mexico.
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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