Calling for the
Natalia J. Garland
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony has officially apologized to the 508
victims who were sexually abused in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese
of Los Angeles. The victims agreed on a $660 million settlement,
following five years of negotiation. This settlement also
follows a previous settlement in which the archdiocese paid $114
million to 86 sexual abuse victims.
In his apology,
Mahony acknowledged the sexual abuse as a "terrible sin and
crime," stated that it "should not have happened and
should not ever happen again," and that he wished he could
give the victims back their childhood. His apology also included
remarks on his own struggle to cope with the situation. In fact,
his self-disclosure seems to elicit more sympathy for himself
than his apology does for the victims of the archdiocese.
Sometimes I honestly
had reached the bottom. I didn't know what to do next. It seemed
like everything I tried to do was wrong, somebody thought it was
wrong. I think spiritually....when you are totally empty, the
only way up--without your resources--is God. Spiritually, it's
been an enormous time, times of frustration but also times of
great spiritual strength, knowing that I don't have all the
answers and relying on God to show us the way forward.
Despite his attempt
to explain his inner turmoil over the situation, Mahony never
actually accepted responsibility for the sins and crimes which
were committed against any children for whom he was the spiritual
shepherd. Those children are now adults. Had they not acquired
the courage to reveal the hidden emotional scars of their
childhood, would Mahony be apologizing today or reflecting on his
own frustration? His loyalty seems to have been to the sexual
It appears that
Mahony and other clergy were involved in a huge cover-up spanning
many years. The priority was the good reputation of the
archdiocese--not the protection of children. Abusive priests
were assigned to other parishes or sent to retirement homes,
while hundreds of children suffered silently and needlessly. At
any time any clergy member could have publicly exposed the
offending fathers and brothers, could have joined with other
caring clergy and confronted the Church hierarchy, could have
called the police or contacted social services, could have warned
a child or consulted with the parents.
If a child-welfare
worker watched as 508 children were being sexually abused, that
worker would be fired. If a clinical social worker failed to act
on information that 508 children were being sexually abused, that
worker would lose her license and job. In fact, the entire
agency might lose its operating license and have to shut down.
Why is it different for priests and the Church? Why isn't Mahony
removed? Why isn't the Archdiocese of Los Angeles shut down?
Why is total accountability unthinkable?
customs were different years ago. Secret-keeping, unfortunately,
was the norm for both victims and witnesses. Perhaps Mahony
might be afforded some leeway if only his apology had been more
empathic and his self-disclosure more expressive of true agony
and repentance. This is not to cast the first stone. Judgment
belongs only to God. Even so, the situation demands an
appropriate response from within the system of the Church. An
official apology is not resolution. The loss of $660 million will
punish the archdiocese but, ironically, part of that sum will be
drawn from funds which possibly could have served social programs.
In other words, Mahony and the guilty priests are not being held
voluntarily resign from his position, and he should remove himself
from all service to the archdiocese. He should get on his knees
and beg forgiveness from all who were sexually abused under his
appointment. If he wants to remain in the religious life, then he
should seek entrance into the humblest monastery in the humblest
village in the world, and spend the remainder of his life doing
the humblest work. Let him scrub the toilets, do the brothers'
laundry, and clean out the chicken coop. If he did this in a
state of constant prayer, relying on God to show him the way
forward, then perhaps he could grasp the magnitude of harm done
back home in Los Angeles and truly repent.
(Written 07/18/07: bibliography available.)
Until we meet