Retired Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony has been stripped of his official duties in an unusual public rebuke by his successor that followed the release of thousands of pages of internal church documents showing how the Roman Catholic leader and aides for years conspired to cover up the sexual abuse of children by clergy.
The current archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez, also announced late Thursday that Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Curry, a longtime aide to Mahony who was deeply involved in the cover-up, had resigned his position overseeing the Santa Barbara region.
"I find these files to be brutal and painful reading. The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil," Gomez said in a statement.
"There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children," Gomez said. "The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed."
In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI named Gomez to replace the embattled Mahony atop the nation's largest Catholic diocese.
Gomez noted that Mahony had apologized for his role in concealing the abuse and allowing it to continue, but he indicated that was not sufficient – and that he ordered Mahony's removal from public ministry.
"Effective immediately, I have informed Cardinal Mahony that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties," Gomez said. He added that Curry had requested to resign.
"This is unusual and extraordinary," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and political scientist at Georgetown University. "An archbishop has never before restricted the ministry of his predecessor and publicly taken him to task like this."
Mahony did not seem to appreciate the move. On Friday morning on his personal blog, the cardinal posted a private letter he had sent to Gomez in which he explained and defended his track record on abuse. Mahony pointedly noted that Gomez had known everything about the archdiocese's efforts on abuse since arriving in 2010 as he prepared to take over from Mahony.
"Not once over these past years did you ever raise any questions about our policies, practices, or procedures in dealing with the problem of clergy sexual misconduct involving minors," Mahony concluded.
Reese said that Gomez's censure of Mahony shows that "the abuse crisis is now having consequences not just for the abusing priests but also for the clerics who did not deal with them properly," he added.
But victims' advocates were skeptical of the moves, noting that they came only after the archdiocese lost a five-year legal battle to keep the documents secret or to release only edited versions.
"The lesson here for Catholic staff is clear: if you successfully conceal your wrongdoing, you can keep your job. If, however, you fail, there's an extraordinarily slim chance you might experience some slight consequences," said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
"Gomez has had these documents for months and known about Mahony's wrongdoing long before now. And yet Mahony has continued to be an honored prelate and prince of the church," said Terence McKiernan, head of BishopAccountability.org, also a leading advocacy group on behalf of clergy abuse victims.