LOS ANGELES – Retired Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony defended his tattered legacy Friday in a sharply worded letter to his successor, one day after Archbishop Jose Gomez stripped him of his administrative duties and bowed to a court order to release thousands of pages of confidential files on sexually abusive priests.
In a letter posted on his personal blog, Mahony challenged Gomez for publicly shaming him and said he developed policies to safeguard children after taking over in 1985, despite being unequipped to deal with the molester priests he inherited.
Mahony had apologized two weeks ago after another release of similar files showed he and other top aides worked behind the scenes to protect the church from the growing scandal, keep offending clerics out of state and prevent public disclosure of sex crimes committed by priests.
Gomez was well aware when he took over in 2011 of the steps Mahony had taken to develop better clergy sex-abuse policies and never questioned his leadership until Thursday, Mahony wrote.
Unfortunately, I cannot return now to the 1980s and reverse actions and decisions made then. But when I retired as the active archbishop, I handed over to you an archdiocese that was second to none in protecting children and youth, Mahony wrote.
The letter was remarkable because it revealed infighting between two highly placed church leaders when members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy rarely break ranks publicly, said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer who worked for the Vatican’s Washington, D.C., embassy.
It is so rare, because they stick together like glue, he said. The fact that Gomez said what he said, this had to have been cleared by the Vatican, they had to have discussed this with the Vatican. Mahony took the fall.
The fallout will get worse as parishioners themselves begin to read the thousands of pages of documents that are now posted on the archdiocese website.
The files were to be released as part of a record-breaking $660 million settlement with more than 500 victims of sex abuse, but lawyers for the archdiocese and individual priests waged a five-year battle to keep them sealed.
On Thursday, a judge ordered them released without significant redactions after attorneys for The Associated Press and Los Angeles Times intervened.