It takes a columnist

stevelopezSometimes it takes a news columnist.

Typically here at GetReligion we highlight work better characterized as objective observations. But Steve Lopez is a special case.

You may recognize the name. Lopez, just about the most famous byline left at the Los Angeles Times, wrote “The Soloist” and was played by Robert Downey Jr. in the 2009 film sharing that name. (EEE, you also might recognize the name from his days in Philly or the recent Germantown beating of his son.) A sharp-tongued columnist who loves to needle local politicians and Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Lopez’s news columns are typically insightful, infuriating, touching and absolutely brilliant.

On Tuesday, Lopez took aim, again, at the Catholic Church’s clergy sex scandal. I think revelations of wrongdoing, from priests on up, have generally died down in most big cities. But Los Angeles has been unique. Here’s the news that came out last Friday:

A former high-ranking official with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles has testified that Cardinal Roger M. Mahony ordered a subordinate to delay reporting claims of sexual abuse by clergy members to the police until the priest in question could be defrocked, according to court papers.

The cardinal also decided not to tell parishioners about the accusations, according to the papers.

The claims were contained in a motion filed on Friday in Los Angeles County Superior Court by lawyers for the plaintiff in a civil case and were based on the recent deposition of the former vicar for clergy, Msgr. Richard Loomis.

Teflon Rog has long been accused of covering up sexual abuse in his archdiocese. This new allegation really wasn’t that different from ones we’ve heard before. And the AP, which reported the above paragraphs, and the Los Angeles Times metro reporters assigned to this story approached it in a completely appropriate manner.

The trouble is we need something else. Readers have grown so numb to news about the clergy sex scandal that straightshooting and evenhanded reporting doesn’t really register.

It takes a news columnist to jumpstart our attention and really excise those emotions. Here’s Lopez mixing detailed reporting with an acerbic tone and an it’s-so-simple entreaty:

If you’ve got rosary beads handy, please say a prayer for the leader of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Last week was not a good one for Cardinal Roger Mahony, and there may be no letup in weeks to come if a certain monsignor continues to testify in a deposition being taken as part of a civil case against Mahony and the diocese.

Msgr. Richard Loomis, former vicar of clergy for the archdiocese, said under oath that in the year 2000 he wrote a memo advocating that the archdiocese inform police about allegations of sexual abuse by a now-defrocked priest named Michael Baker. Mahony, Loomis testified, directed him not to report the allegations.

That testimony grabbed the attention of those who have followed the years-long molestation scandal, in which Mahony has fought like a tomcat to withhold documents sought by investigators and has had PR teams build him an image as a reformer.

In all that time, no one from Mahony’s inner circle had dared stand up and point a finger at the cardinal until Loomis did so last week. With the testimony by Loomis, there wasn’t just a challenge to the archdiocesan leader, but a suggestion that a paper trail exists.

Lopez e-mailed the archdiocesan spokesman, Tod Tamberg, to get a reaction to Loomis’ testimony. From my experience, Tamberg is a generally accessible guy. But even if he wasn’t, Lopez isn’t the kind of reporter you ignore. He didn’t expect a very forthcoming answer, but what surprised Lopez was what Tamberg didn’t say: He didn’t deny that Loomis’ memo exist:

Tamberg said that in the year 2000, the practice of the archdiocese was to report current allegations of abuse against minors. If the accusers were adults, the “archdiocese encouraged those people to contact the police directly.” In 2002, the diocese switched to a policy of reporting “any and all allegations of abuse” to police. And in fact, in 2002, Mahony authorized an attorney to notify police about Baker.

Forgive me, father, for having to ask:

But what took so long?

I don’t care what the policy is, or even the law. If you’re a stand-in for the supreme being, is there a higher power than moral authority?

Honestly, Lopez’s whole column is so good, and there are so many powerful moments, that I want to excerpt the entire thing. But that’s not really an excerpt. Just go read it here.

PHOTO: Lopez speaking with Michigan State freshmen.

Print Friendly

  • Julia

    I miss the on-going articles on this subject that were filed by that guy who lost his religion.

    Mahony is turning 75 in February, 2011 – that’s when he has to submit his resignation. Hope it is immediately accepted.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    Bill Lobdell — yeah, I miss him too.