MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The archbishop of Los Angeles has stripped his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, of all public duties. The move follow the release of confidential church files - documents that show how Mahony, and other leaders of the nation's largest Catholic diocese, tried for years to protect priests who were accused of molesting children. NPR's John Burnett reports.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: On the occasion of the release of 12,000 documents related to clergy sex abuse in Los Angeles, Archbishop Jose Gomez signed a letter that says: I find these files to be brutal and painful reading. There's no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children.
Gomez succeeded Cardinal Roger Mahony, who retired in 2011 after resisting investigators for years. The letter accompanies the public punishment of a cardinal, an unusual act in the Catholic Church in America - or any other country. A church spokesman said Mahony will reduce his public profile, such as confirming and guest lecturing.
THE REV. TOM REESE: This is remarkable. For a - archbishop to publicly tell his predecessor that he cannot have any public administrative duties in the diocese, is a first.
BURNETT: Father Tom Reese is a Jesuit priest and senior fellow at Georgetown University.
REESE: And to take to task his predecessor, and publicly acknowledge that he didn't do a good job in handling the sex abuse crisis - this is really, quite extraordinary.
BURNETT: Reese speculates that Archbishop Gomez contacted the Vatican before publicly disciplining a fellow prelate. There are some who believe the dressing down of Cardinal Mahony is more symbolic than extraordinary. Joelle Casteix is western director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
JOELLE CASTEIX: Basically, his retirement is now just a little more relaxing. This is no kind of punishment whatsoever.
BURNETT: As the diocese points out, Mahony is still a priest in good standing who can celebrate Mass, and he remains a member of the powerful College of Cardinals, which elects popes. Casteix, the victims rights advocate, is also critical of Archbishop Gomez.
CASTEIX: From the point of view of victims, it took the public exposure of documents for Archbishop Gomez to finally do something publicly about Cardinal Mahony.
BURNETT: In 2007, a $660 million settlement was reached between the Los Angeles Archdiocese and about 500 people who said they were abused by priests when they were children. The settlement required the church to release the files on all priests - 122 in all - who were accused of molesting children over the preceding 50 years. Yet the archdiocese and individual priests fought for six years to keep the records secret until an L.A. superior court judge ordered the church to comply.
Some documents show how Mahony and his top aide, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry, shielded priests from law enforcement, and hustled them out of the diocese. The current archbishop also yesterday rebuked retired Monsignor Curry, and removed him from all public and administrative church functions. Both Mahony and Curry have issued apologies. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles claims that its now 10-year-old child protection efforts are among the most stringent in the nation.
Mahony released a letter late today addressed to Archbishop Gomez, in which the now-disgraced cardinal reviewed the actions he took in the 1990s to create zero tolerance for abusive clergy; Gomez took over as archbishop in 2011. Quote, "Not once over these past years," Mahony writes, "did you ever raise any questions about our policies, practices or procedures in dealing with the problem of clergy sexual misconduct involving minors. I have stated time and time again, that I made mistakes."
John Burnett, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.