Los Angeles, Calif., Feb 1, 2013 / 05:22 pm (CNA).- Archbishop José Gomez's decision to relieve Cardinal Roger Mahony and Bishop Thomas Curry of their duties in the L.A. archdiocese is being welcomed as “the best possible thing he could have done.”
“The archbishop has in one stroke, opened up the doors and let in the sunlight,” historian and author Charles Coulombe told CNA Feb. 1. “It is an enormously difficult task he has taken on…it would have been the case no matter what he did.”
“However, he handled it brilliantly, wisely, pastorally, truthfully, honestly, openly,” he reflected. “Very, very different than what we're used to here in Los Angeles.”
“I can't overemphasize how grateful I am that the Holy Father gave us this man.”
On Jan. 31, Archbishop Gomez announced that with the release of personnel files of priests accused decades ago of sexual abuse, his predecessor, the retired Cardinal Mahony, and his one-time vicar for clergy, Bishop Curry, would no longer have official duties in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
The files showed that in the late 1980s, Cardinal Mahony and Bishop Curry, who was then vicar of clergy, corresponded often about dealing with priests who had sexually abused minors. The Los Angeles Times said the memos show a campaign to hide sex abuse cases from police.
“I find these files to be brutal and painful reading…We need to acknowledge that terrible failure today. We need to pray for everyone who has ever been hurt by members of the Church,” Archbishop Gomez announced.
“Effective immediately, I have informed Cardinal Mahony that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties. Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry has also publicly apologized for his decisions while serving as Vicar for Clergy. I have accepted his request to be relieved of his responsibility as the Regional Bishop of Santa Barbara.”
The decision has been roundly welcomed throughout the Church in America. On the archbishop's Facebook page, 278 have liked the statement, and virtually all of the comments have been supportive of Archbishop Gomez.
“I applaud Archbp. Gomez. and plan to have Masses said for him for his courage,” one online commenter wrote. “Living in Santa Barbara for the past decade, I have seen what a barren land for solid Catholicism the LA archdiocese has been for decades.”
Coulombe continued saying, “it signals above everything else that the church in Los Angeles has entered a new, and if I may so, a much better age.”
Cardinal Mahony served as the head of the Los Angeles archdiocese for 26 years, and as such has had a profound effect on the local Church.
“Suffice it to say, it's been a very long, difficult time here. What the archbishop has done, I think, is draw that period to its end.”
Coulombe went on to compare Archbishop Gomez' task to that of the character John O'Hanlon in the 1970 film “The Cheyenne Social Club,” who “inherited a house of ill repute.”
“It's not that far-fetched of an analogy, unfortunately, because he inherited a huge risk.”
“For his Grace to succeed, on the one hand at re-Catholicizing the archdiocese, and on the other, of pursuing the archdiocese's rightful work – evangelization in this part of the world – he's going to need the help of everyone. And fortunately, he really seems to know that.”
Coulombe praised the archbishop's pastoral letter “Witness to the New World of Faith,” in which he gave a mission for the diocese focused on evangelization and the salvation of souls.
“In every way seemingly, he's the opposite of his predecessor, and that's what we need,” Coulombe said.
Cardinal Mahony's removal will be largely unchanged, the archdiocese's media relations director said, according to the Los Angeles Times. The biggest effect for Cardinal Mahony is that he will no longer administer confirmation in the archdiocese.
He remains in good standing and a cardinal, Tamberg said. No cardinal has resigned from the College since Father Louis Billot in 1927.
The larger change in the day to day functioning of the diocese comes with Bishop Curry's removal. He has been an auxiliary bishop of the diocese since 1994, and was responsible for Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. As Bishop Curry is now 70, he is stepping down five years before bishops' mandatory retirement age.
Last week, both Cardinal Mahony and Bishop Curry offered apologies for their failures in adequately protecting youth.
On Feb. 1, Cardinal Mahony released a letter he wrote to Archbishop Gomez explaining his history of dealing with clergy sexual abuse.
“Nothing in my own background or education equipped me to deal with this grave problem,” he wrote.
He reproached his archbishop for not expressing displeasure with his policies before now.
“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.”
The Los Angeles archdiocese has been found in compliance with every audit of child protection measures, which have been conducted since 2004.
Coulombe said Archbishop Gomez' removal of the two prelates may “free him up in making appointments.”
“I don't know who Curry's replacement will be, but I'm very confident it will be someone…much better for the job.”
Coulombe concluded his reflections on Archbishop Gomez' statement by quoting Gerald Ford at his presidential inauguration, following Richard Nixon's resignation following Watergate.
“Our long national nightmare is over.”