Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Depart from us

So many others are marshaling and reviewing news and opinion articles after the announcement of the astonishing $660 million settlement for clergy sex abuse in the Diocese of Los Angeles that it's pointless for me to collect links to them here. But here's my take on Cardinal Mahony's future.

The most charitable attitude I think it's possible to adopt toward his reassignment of known molesters is that the Cardinal made an honest mistake in taking the advice of therapists who claimed to be able to cure such priests, permitting them to be sent back safely into situations of proximity to potential new victims.

Now, honest mistakes are likely to be overlooked at the lower echelons of most organizations. The stakes aren't high, and the staff are presumed to be still learning. But we are dealing here with someone near the pinnacle of leadership in a worldwide organization: an archbishop assigned to a large, very prestigious diocese, and a cardinal as well, one of the select group of bishops who, among other things, elect popes.

At such a level in any organization, you don't get and shouldn't expect the leniency extended to lower ranks. You've been given an enormous privilege; the position is not yours by right. You are expected to justify the trust you've been given with actions that are consistently worthy of it. If you want to be judged by your intentions, stay at the worker-bee level. If you want to rise to upper management, expect to be judged by results.

Maybe the Cardinal did make a series of honest mistakes. Maybe he did take bad advice. Maybe he intended no harm and merely did what he thought was best.

But those mistakes, as honest as they may have been, have cost the flock entrusted to his care over half a billion dollars, a humiliating public scandal, and worst of all a terrible blot on the reputation of the Church that will cripple its attempts to spread the Gospel for decades to come.

And that should get him removed from the leadership of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Period.

I leave it to others to analyze whether he should be held criminally liable, or disciplined within the Church in some other way than being removed from office. Those issues will hinge on evaluation of what he knew, and when he knew it. We'll have to wait for the opening of those files the Cardinal's been sitting on for years to know the truth of that.

But nothing more than the patent fact of his terrible errors in judgment is needed to justify an end to his term in Los Angeles, and his exclusion from any future job of high responsibility within the Church.

It needs more than good intentions to govern in the Catholic Church today. It needs wisdom and judgment that Cardinal Mahony has demonstrated he does not have.

Let the housecleaning begin.