National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Posted Thursday, May 13, 2004 at 1:35 p.m. CDT

Interview with Cardinal Roger Mahony

May 13, 2004

By John L. Allen, Jr.

NCR: How did you find the Holy Father?
Mahony: I found him amazing, just amazing. Alert, clear, talking clear sentences, give and take conversation, asking questions, bringing things up. I was not expecting that. He was just marvelous.

Did you find him better than last October?
Oh, gosh yes. I was here in March for [the Plenary Assembly of] Social Communications, but we weren't in that one-on-one setting. I found him remarkably alert, interested. He went on for some time about his visit to Los Angeles, especially with the media. We talked about the diversity of people, the growth of the archdiocese. I talked to him about the very real problem of simply not enough priests, that we have this chasm between a growing population but the number of priests is nowhere adequate to take care of that for the future. I found him very open to listen to our concerns. This was just the bishops of Los Angeles. We brought up the issue of sexual abuse and its continuing impact, and our concern with victims. He wanted to reemphasize his care and concern for the church in the United States, and particularly for victims, for healing and reconciliation.

Can I ask you to be more precise about what you said to him, and his response?
We brought up the issue and said we're still dealing with this question. We're in a different place now than we were when we started, because of the charter and norms. I said that we are implementing across the country, quite forcefully and fully, the charter and the norms in all their aspects. He said he knew this is a difficult time for us, and he wanted to reemphasize his prayers for the church in the United States, especially people who have suffered.

Meaning the victims?
Victims, their families, parishioners, the church, priests, everyone. He did mention priests, especially good priests whose reputations have been caught up in the shadow of all of this and who have found it difficult. This was in terms of praying for everyone, he mentioned especially the good priests who have not been involved in this but who have suffered from it.

These were not prepared remarks?
Oh no, he had nothing, no document of any kind whatsoever in front of him. He was very gracious. I introduced Bishop [Oscar Azarcon] Solis, our Filipino-American bishop, and he was very happy. I also mentioned to him that the three Asian-American bishops - Chinese, Vietnamese, and Filipino - are in California, which reflects where we are in terms of California being the point of entry for the Asia-Pacific in the United States. [I mentioned] our emphasis and work trying to reach out to these immigrants in the various languages and language groups.

You mentioned the sexual abuse crisis. Tuesday, NCR broke the story about correspondence between the National Review Board and the bishops. Anne Burke charged that the board was "manipulated" by the bishops. What do you make of that?
I'm not quite sure what she was referring to in that particular thing. I do know that in Los Angeles we have been working very much with Justice Burke, especially Kathleen McChesney, and particularly on that article 8, which is the article that sets in motion this continuing process of accountability. I told her that in Los Angeles, we are very much in favor of continuing this. We pushed a lot to get this on the agenda at the June meeting [of the U.S. bishops]. I'm not on the administrative committee, but I wrote a letter to Bishop [Wilton] Gregory. I said, I find it inconceivable that we're meeting for five and a half days, and there isn't one moment on the agenda to deal with the greatest crisis we've ever had in the church since 1789. I said, I just find that unacceptable. The first response was, the bishops who wanted to could come on Saturday - we start on Monday afternoon - for two hours. I said, this is Corpus Christi weekend, we're all involved in our local churches. That is not a response that is acceptable. So, I pushed, and apparently they distributed my letter to the administrative committee. The bishops then decided that all Monday afternoon and evening, and all day Tuesday and evening will be devoted to this. What is before us is the interpretation of "annual report." My understanding is very clear that "annual report" means a report on the accountability, and the implementation of the charter and the norms. In other words, not just counting numbers.

What is your overall impression of the service rendered by the National Review Board?
I haven't had that much direct contact with the board. I have a lot more with Kathleen McChesney and Bill Gavin. That's where most of my efforts have been. But I found their report a little disappointing. What we were originally told is that the Review Board was going to wait to receive the John Jay study first, take a month or two to analyze that, review it, then that data and those insights would shape their response. I thought it was very unfortunate that they decided to release it the same day as the John Jay study, having not seen the John Jay study. I thought that was very unhelpful to all of us, and I thought their report reflects the lack of that context. I wish they had stayed according to their plan, but they didn't. Their report was greatly diminished in its importance and meaning because of that. But that aside, I've already offered a date, the week of Sept. 27, for the next audit. We wish to move forward.

You support moving forward as planned?
Absolutely. I also had discussions with Kathleen and Bill, they were out to see me a couple of weeks ago. I pointed out to them that article 8, in its third point, indicates a movement away from a national centralization of this to regional and provincial oversight. I gave an example. In our province, we have finance review teams, made up of finance council lay members from all six dioceses, and every other year a team goes to assess us. We found that extremely helpful. I said that given our oversight boards, and all the lay people we have involved in this, we could easily do the same thing locally, developing review teams who would go around every year simply to share best practices and to see whether there could be improvements. I'm totally in favor of it, and will speak to this in June. We've got to move ahead. The idea that we're going to put this off and not have any more evaluations is inappropriate.

Some bishops appear to have concerns about the good faith with which the National Review Board is operating. Do you share those concerns?
As I said, I thought the report was far less than it could have been and should have been. But the charter doesn't ask the board to do the reports and reviews, it asks Kathleen McChesney's office, which is an office of the conference. The board is not in charge of doing that. I found Kathleen and her staff to be wonderful to work with.

But do you feel the National Review Board is playing a positive role?
I think the board needs more direct dialogue with bishops. I think that would be very helpful. We had a visit from Bob Bennett, plus Penetta, Bland, a couple other people. But that's been a year ago March. We had a wonderful discussion, but nothing of that relationship ever appears in their discussion.

So there's a communications problem?
I think the board needs to have regular meetings for the next two or three years, maybe at a regional level.

But you want to keep the board?
Yes, oh yes. I think the board can be very helpful in continuing to track this issue and this problem, in terms of the life of the church, and whether or not we are thinking broadly enough. One of the dangers is that we focus so much on clergy sexual abuse that we're not looking at the bigger picture. We've got far more potential problems, in our Catholic schools, in our youth ministry programs, in homes, in all kinds of other places. That's why we're taking a very proactive step with 'Safeguard the Children' programs. We're training huge numbers of people. But it's not only this. It's the Internet, and its dangers for children. There are horrific dangers. The board can help us. I wrote to Justice Burke afterwards and said, it's too bad that a lot of the language didn't capture what was in our reports to John Jay. A lot of it had to do with what we have learned, and what the church in the future can do.

So yes, I do see a role for the board, but I see it in closer dialogue with the bishops. It's not either/or, it's not us and them. It's ourselves as church moving ahead. I understand the first year or two, their desire to be, and to be seen as, independent. We bishops got ourselves and the church into this problem, so I can understand that, and I have no problem with that whatsoever. None.

Some do.
That's right, but we voted it in. I have had to remind some of my brothers that we are the ones who asked for this.

All of this is a work in progress. It's very helpful to move forward, and we're all learning. There's nothing the church can do that's failsafe. You can't inaugurate something that's not going to have hiccups and pros and cons. We've got to be open to the Spirit, and I think the Spirit is leading us in the right direction. I'm very pleased, actually.

The public impression nevertheless is likely to be that the bishops are saying, maybe we needed the board to get us through the rough patch, but now we don't need it anymore.
That could be true. I think another way of looking at it is, some bishops never liked this in the first place. In Dallas, they voted for this reluctantly, and never did like this involvement of any review board or a national office or anything else. They felt, we got a report out of them, we got John Jay, now let's get rid of the whole thing. I personally think that's a very short-sighted approach. I think that together the church has learned a lot, and as we know from our own oversight board, the involvement of our wonderful lay leaders has been a real grace. In my opinion, in talking to bishops, while there has been some grumbling, it's primarily over their report. If their report had been more professionally researched, we wouldn't be talking about this now. But in my opinion, we will in June approve a continuation of what we committed ourselves to in article eight.

This sentiment is therefore a minority view?

Some bishops have said that as they move through the dicasteries, they're picking up concern with the American norms, and specifically the 'zero tolerance' provision. Have you heard this?
That's not come up yet in any of our visits.

The recognitio for the norms expires in March 2005. Do you anticipate asking for a renewal?

Do you anticipate any changes in the norms?
I would hope not. Maybe a little bit of fine-tuning procedurally, but we need more experience with this. Any signal that the bishops are less demanding of enforcing 100 percent safety for children and young people would be a real, real setback. I don't see how we can say that after two years, well, that job's accomplished and now we can move on.

What about the hypothetical case of a one-time offender from 30 years ago who's been clean since? Are there such cases?
At one time I thought there were. We had three cases in our own archdiocese in which we found out the hard way that the situation wasn't resolved. We had every indication that it was, and then we come to find out that unbeknown to us there were other offenses. We're not at a point in time to be taking chances with children and young people in the church. The Holy Father himself in that document from April 2002 said, 'There is no room in the priesthood for a priest or religious who has abused a child.' He didn't say once 30 years ago, he didn't say three or more times, he said there is no room in the priesthood or religious life for someone who has abused a child. I think he's right. This is so horrific, there simply isn't any room. Canon law itself says for one case of guilt, a priest can be dismissed from the clerical state. One.

Speaking of canon law, what is happening with the cases you have sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith? Have you heard anything back?

Did you talk about that here?
Yes. They brought it up first. They apologized, because they're swamped. We have to refer every case to them to find out if we are going to start the canonical process or if they're going to do it. We just need a 'yes' or 'no,' and we can't get one. They apologized this morning because we keep writing back. In the last few weeks they've sent us a letter saying, we just want to confirm that these are the cases you have here. The United States bishops are releasing two canonists, but they're not coming until the fall. I wish they'd come tomorrow.

But the Holy See doesn't want this whole thing handled by Americans.
But that [the delay] is not just for the priests who are involved, and just creates more anxiety.

What did they tell you about timing?
They did not give a definitive answer. They said help is on the way, but that's months off. I would add that the people we met [in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] were very gracious. They couldn't have been more helpful. They really wanted to listen, and they kept stressing to us that we can take steps now to make sure there's no danger. You can take administrative steps now, don't wait for us to get back to you.

But that's not the only problem. There also may be cases in which you'd like to reinstate someone because there's a certainty of innocence. You can't do that administratively.

So that's not an entirely satisfactory answer, is it?
No, and we told them that. They apologized. What would have been a better approach, and we suggested this two or three times, is why can't Scicluna and company train eight canonists who are in the United States, regionally somewhere, who can be delegated to deal with those issues in the name of the Holy See? It would make a lot of sense. [He was referring to Msgr. Charles Scicluna, the chief official in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith dealing with the canonical dimensions of the sex abuse crisis.]

Part of the answer is that influential people here don't want to put the Americans exclusively in charge of this, because they think there's a lynch mob mentality in the United States that the Holy See should resist.
But you know, the principle of subsidiarity is not a bad idea.

Back to the canonical dimension: there are no judicial trials underway in Los Angeles, and have been none?
We're waiting for permission. Until you have a formal judgment canonically, you can't reinstate the guys. You have to get an answer to the letters.

How many cases do you have here?
Four or five.

Do you have more coming?
Yes. One of the questions that came up was, do you want every single case? We've got a ton of cases against priests who are dead, who've been dead for years. What are we going to do? There's nothing to do canonically, because you have no one to represent. Do you want all those things sent over here?

What did they say?
Probably not. Even the District Attorney has said to us, for God's sake stop sending over cases of dead priests. We can't do anything with them. It's really important to get some quicker response, to get us direction so we can move.

Some people would like to believe the sex abuse crisis is over. What's your view on where we are and where we need to go?
I think we're on the right course. I think the actions we are taking are leading the church forward. I think the church has discovered a problem, and is dealing with it, but it has also discovered a broader ministry. As many commentators and even John Jay points out, no organization in the United States has ever done this kind of in-depth look at itself and has tried to change the entire organization across the country. No one has done that before. As they said in the report, they have no comparable data. No one has kept track of the public schools, or anybody else. I think that has been very helpful. What we are getting in our victims' assistance office, our 800 number, is not people who have been abused by priests, but people who have suffered sexual abuse in families or somewhere else. We're beginning to see a much larger ministry here for the general community. Not just Catholics, but others are calling us too. They're not looking for lawyers or suing their grandfathers, but counseling and healing. It seems to me this gives us a new opportunity to not only heal within the church, but to be a healing agent to many people who have suffered through this abuse. There are a lot of other things tied to it as well. A lot of victims, for example, have become addicted to alcohol and drugs. It seems to me that the church's healing ministry is going to be enhanced through this in much broader strokes. That's good, it's all positive.

What about the argument that this crisis is never going to be resolved until there's accountability for bishops?
A lot of people forgot that there's an appendix to the charter. It gives us a roadmap, because it's about dealing with brother bishops. One of the difficulties that I've had, and that others have had, is trying to distinguish between bishops who were following best practices known then, and those culpable for egregious misconduct. It's true, there must be some bishops who knowingly took someone who abused a minor and put them back into a parish and didn't tell anybody, and when they abused more minors, maybe moved them somewhere else. There's no question there are some cases like that. I don't know where they are, I don't know what those situations are.

What should happen to those bishops?
I think our review boards are the best source. I think the review boards and maybe the bishops on a provincial level need to take a look at those situations. But from my own acquaintance with a few of these situations, there's practically nothing in the files that helps us one way or the other. In Boston, there was a lot of stuff in the files moving people, congratulating them, urging them forward. That is not found generally. I know a couple of these cases, and there isn't anything in the files. There's no communications, no memos. It's hard to determine where lies culpability.

But let's assume a clear case of culpability. Should that bishop resign?
I don't think so, necessarily. I think you have to look at the whole context. I think there has to be some kind of process to evaluate that, and to put it on a scale from zero to 10. Some decisions have to be made on when it happened, what was known, what was best practices, what he did or didn't do. That's the only way to proceed.

Where are you at in Los Angeles?
This is an area where we could have had better dialogue with the board, before getting nailed in the report. California has very strict privacy laws. Article one, section one, of the constitution has the word 'privacy' in it, which the U.S. Constitution doesn't have. There's a whole series of categories of folks, and privacy rights are very clearly spelled out husband and wife, doctors and patients, attorneys and clients, therapists and patients, etc., including clergy and the people they talk to. It's a long list of categories. Under California law, especially with personnel files, one cannot give over to anyone else any information in a personnel file deemed to fall under any of those categories without written permission of the person or a court order. The courts have been extremely reluctant to do so. The District Attorney's office subpoenaed 30 files. By the way, the archdiocese doesn't own the file, the priest owns the file under California law. Each one of those priests protested the release of the information. They all have attorneys, and they said we don't want our confidential information released. This is a right of privacy that everybody else has in California. If we're going to follow California law for everybody, we ought to follow it for priests too. I'm quite adamant about that. As it turns out, of the 30 files subpoenaed, 20 are irrelevant because of the Stogner Supreme Court decision that overturned the statute of limitations extension in the criminal realm. The other 10, the District Attorney's office has already reviewed [some material]. When we say we won't give them the files, that does not mean we won't give them factual information that's in the files names, addresses, dates, all that. In fact, we don't have the files. The court has had them for almost two years. The courts are going to have a ruling sometime this month or early next month on this issue. I think the judge is going to find that most of them are totally irrelevant, because either the statute of limitations is in effect, or there's nothing in the file that leads to any criminal indictment.

You're saying they already have everything they need to know?
Yes. I think the District Attorney is going to say so pretty soon.

What was behind the effort to depose you?
Obviously they were not after any information in that case. The case involves something that happened in Stockton in 1973, seven years before I got there. Until a month ago, I had never heard of this person. No one in Stockton had ever heard of this person. There's no record anywhere of this person ever accusing anyone or ever coming forward to anybody. That deposition would have lasted one answer. 'Never heard of the person, don't know anything about it, period.' That's not what they were after.

So you're saying this was a fishing expedition?
Yes. What they're interested in is, they've got a bunch of cases with Orange and Los Angeles. All the depositions are stayed because we're in settlement talks. There's no discovery. In my opinion, they're trying to do an end run and have discovery while mediations are going on. The reason we delayed the first time was because the State Supreme Court had been petitioned by the Northern California diocese to consolidate all of their cases. We said, let's wait until that judge decides that question, because if he does [consolidate], then discovery is stayed up there too. That includes Stockton. That's exactly what happened. The judge coordinated them and said all discovery is put on hold, let's go to mediation and settlement. It really is no big deal, except they're trying to make it a big deal.

You had a private meeting recently with Sen. John Kerry. I know the bishops are waiting for the McCarrick Commission to report, but in the meantime, what do you do if Kerry comes to Los Angeles and wants to take communion?
This is a bigger issue than just Sen. Kerry and right now, because there's a presidential election. Since Roe v. Wade, there have been a lot of Catholic politicians doing and saying things that would not be in line with the church's teaching. Over that period of time, there was very little action taken. I personally believe, as church law sets out, that sanctions are an absolute last resort, particularly penal sanctions of depriving people of the sacraments. In fact, canonically, somebody has to be publicly found guilty of something that merits excommunication, or interdict, or some public crime.

You mean there ought to be a judicial process?
That's right. There has to be some process that leads to formal guilt, that then leads to sanctions. Obviously we don't have that situation. Moreover, in Evangelium Vitae, our Holy Father expressed many areas of concern with life issues, not just this one. In fact, he hit the death penalty as hard as many of the others. You have Catholic politicians who may be in favor of one but not the other. They're following their own different lights on these issues. With respect to Holy Communion, it is up to the communicant to decide whether they are in a state of grace and worthy to receive the Eucharist. Each one of us makes that decision. The church never has the minister of communion make that decision, except in that rare case of public sinners who have been so found guilty. I'm puzzled by people rattling sanctions at the moment. That has not been our tradition over the years.

Bottom line: You are not prepared to withhold communion from Sen. Kerry or anyone else?
Or anyone else, exactly. Our priests know that. This has come up before, and I've said this is not our role. I also believe we will do far better in changing hearts and minds to sit down with our Catholics who are running for office. I found out that many of our Catholics simply don't know what the church teaches, and why, on a lot of issues, and therefore are saying things that they think are okay. They simply don't know, because we haven't taken the effort to meet with them informally and to dialogue. I think we'd find a lot more success.

In theory, can a politician be both firmly pro-life and opposed to legal abolition of abortion, on the grounds of a prudential judgment that in this moment and culture legal prohibition won't work?
I think that's a good way to look at it. Let me back up a little more fundamentally before I get to that. The value of the church's tradition, scripture, teaching, etc., is to help illuminate the contemporary social issues, to look at them through the lens of a faith tradition that has a moral and ethical basis. That's what I think is at the heart of what we should be doing, rather than getting involved in questions of sanctions. We have not done a good job of this. The Second Vatican Council called for us to help illumine the minds of legislators. It's interesting that documents out of the Holy See will say that Catholic legislators can vote for legislation that doesn't eliminate abortion if it helps lessen it.

That's in Evangelium Vitae. But what I'm asking is a different question: Can a Catholic politician, without rupturing communion with the church, vote against bills to reduce or eliminate abortion on the grounds that they won't work? Is that a legitimate exercise of prudential judgment?
Yes, I think so. If you look at the efforts we have been taking, because I'm very close to the pro-life movement, they have raised great concern with the National Abortion Rights League and everybody else because among younger women, those who favor wide-open abortion, has gone from 64 percent to 55 percent. That's a remarkable change. I'm not talking about priests or bishops, but younger women. I think that is very important information. I think it's the indirect educative, formative steps we have been taking that have helped give us that result. That is extremely important for us to keep in mind.

Why do you think this debate is surfacing now?
The nature of our two main political parties has changed in the United States. I think that's been a big determinant. The Democrats used to have a very deep moral "soul," in a sense, and a unified moral soul with a sense of right and wrong. It began at the grassroots, with the labor unions and so on. I think what has happened today, and with the Republican Party as well, there's no longer a "soul" of the party. They've become federations of various interest groups. Rather than trying to advocate for the party, you now have interest groups that align themselves and try to get votes, try to influence the party, but towards their interests, not towards the common good. I think that has been a very big change that has been unhelpful.

In the Democratic Party, there is no tolerance [for a pro-life view.] That springs from a lack of spirited soul and a moral/ethical vision that the party used to bring to things. It's not there anymore. It's now who's got the most members in their particular interest group. That has diminished the role of any of the parties.

National Catholic Reporter, May 13, 2004

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