What do conservatives really think about Cardinal Mahony?

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Yes, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles will be in Rome and will vote in the process to select the next pope. In fact, as part of his social-media campaign against his critics, he plans to tweet whenever and wherever Vatican officials will let him get his hands on a keyboard.

Meanwhile, I am still following, with great interest, the mainstream media’s attempts to describe Mahony’s starring role in the North American Church and, especially, his approach to Catholic life and doctrine, which has for decades made him a figure of some controversy. Click here, for some background information related to this topic, especially the contrasting personalities of Mahony and current Archbishop Jose H. Gomez.

Both supporters and critics of Mahony would agree that, to understand the cardinal’s legacy, one has to wrestle with the history of the giant Religious Education Conference held in Los Angeles. Simply stated, it has long been a symbolic gathering of the progressive leaders of American Catholicism.

Thus, The New York Times dispatched a team to cover this year’s event. Here is some summary material from the resulting report to set the stage:

… This is a defining moment for Archbishop Gomez, who took over from Cardinal Mahony two years ago and is universally described as low-key and quiet, particularly compared with his predecessor. His public rebuke of Cardinal Mahony stunned observers not only for its content, but because the normally mild-mannered archbishop would react so swiftly and dramatically. …

Now, many see this as a first turn in the spotlight for Archbishop Gomez. Cardinal Mahony was known for marching in public rallies, cultivating allies in politics and Hollywood and an almost larger-than-life public persona. By contrast, Archbishop Gomez has only rarely appeared in the press over the last two years. He declined to be interviewed for this article and his staff declined to allow a reporter into the Religious Education Congress without an escort.

Once again, Mahony is described merely in terms of style, while Gomez receives both a style nod and, later on, an accurate theological label.

But here is the passage in this lengthy story that caught my eye:

Many here questioned whether Archbishop Gomez, a theological conservative shaped by his membership in the movement Opus Dei, would move quickly to undo Cardinal Mahony’s more liberal policies, like appointing women and lay people to powerful positions and supporting a robust AIDS ministry. But two years after taking the reins, he is often praised for not acting along ideological lines and has made changes only slowly. Last year, for example, he changed the name of the Office of Justice and Peace to the Office of Life, Justice and Peace. …

For many, Cardinal Mahony has long been a lightning rod in the church. He has deep wells of respect among Latinos, largely because of his role as a champion for immigrants. But traditionalists resent him for his liberal stances.

Now the key to this story is that the Times never appears to have actually interviewed any conservative Catholics in order to learn why they considered Mahony to be a liberal in the church. Instead, as is often the case, readers are given that reference to his “appointing women and lay people to powerful positions and supporting a robust AIDS ministry.”

Well, that’s interesting.

But what, pray tell, is doctrinally liberal about appointing women and lay people to administrative posts? These steps have been taken in conservative dioceses as well as liberal and, frankly, this issue usually says more about a culture of clericalism in the leadership, as opposed to being a test of doctrine. And what is doctrinally liberal about supporting a robust AIDS ministry, especially in light of the trailblazing work done there by the Blessed Mother Teresa and her Sisters of Charity? Perhaps AIDS ministry is being cited, in this case, as a symbolic reference to a more liberal approach on matters of sexual morality. It’s impossible to tell.

So it is accurate to say that Catholic conservatives consider Mahony to be a Catholic liberal. But is it accurate to say that they base their views of his doctrinal legacy on these particular issues?

Once again, the Times team allows nationally known progressives (Hello, Father Thomas Reese) and the supporters of Mahony to speak for themselves, including some who are softly critical of this progressive icon. But on the other side, Catholic traditionalists are not allowed to speak. Did I miss any quotes from authoritative voices on the Catholic right, either in Southern California or at the national level?

The bottom line: I am not sure that I trust The New York Times, at this point, to offer an accurate summary of the views of conservative Catholics when it comes time to evaluate the views of someone as controversial as Mahony. When in doubt, journalists are supposed to ask the crucial people informed questions and then print their answers.

So, Catholic readers, why was Mahony controversial during his tenure in the City of Angels? What were the top three or four issues — focus on worship and doctrine, for starters — that could have been mentioned in the Times article? Some may want to start right here.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.tobextended.com IC

    This is interesting, because I don’t live in LA and have heard the “Mahony is a liberal” stuff forever.
    But can I point to doctrinal details? Hmm. Not sure I can.

    Catholics, both liberal and conservative, tend to cluster into camps and applaud their own. But do we even know what we are applauding? I’ve long said I have no idea what liberal and conservative means, theologically. They are political terms, not church terms.

    I suspect Mahony has aligned himself with more “politically liberal” groups in public (hey its LA) and hence the tag. I mean, immigration, care for those with AIDS, these are typically liberal calling cards. Did his archdiocese take a public position on the same sex marriage debate when the vote was going down in CA? I honestly don’t know, but that’s typically tagged a conservative issue…if he said nothing, or close to nothing….

    It’s true that LACongress has a real progressive bent liturgically, but honestly folks, its a big education conference. Mahony does not equal LACongress.

  • Darren Blair

    Critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints frequently employ a dirty little trick in their writings.

    The trick? Find sources that *look* like they are authoritative as far as doctrine goes but actually aren’t. These sources are often inaccurate, if not heterodox or even outright heretical, and as such reflect only the individual who wrote them; the works have no sanction whatsoever.^ A member of the church who is active in their faith will likely pick up on the deception immediately – especially if there is a dire lack of citations from actually sanctioned material – , but non-members and inactive members generally won’t know enough to realize that they’ve been had.

    The Times, whether they realize it or not, just pulled off a similar dirty trick.

    By using such terms as “Many here questioned…” or “long been a lightning rod”, they’re giving the impression that there is actual substance to the allegations; an uninformed reader could easily be led to believe that not only was Gomez a jerk and Mahoney a martyr but that Catholics in the area had all unanimously come to take these “facts” for granted.

    At best, the Times was being rather darned sloppy by not providing actual quotations to back themselves up with; in that fashion, it’s akin to some of what I wrote when I was first starting out and didn’t know better about the need to cite and evidence everything I said.

    At worst, the Times deliberately worded the article so as to give a false impression concerning the acceptance of one man and the lack of acceptance of another.

    ^Fun fact: if you aren’t sure whether or not a work was sanctioned by the church at any point, flip to the copyright page. All official material published since the 1980s will either by copyrighted by the church or by Intellectual Reserve. If you don’t see that copyright, then it’s either unsanctioned or so old as to likely have been superseded by something newer.

  • http://CatholicNewsLive CM

    Hi! I have lived in the LA Archdiocese all my life. Yes Mahoney is a “liberal”. Where should I start? He wrote and promulgated “Gather Faithfully Together”. A document that outlined his vision of the Mass and it’s meaning, the “appropriate” gestures, and the words to describe all the participants. It’s the first time I ever saw the word “presider”, which was, apparently supposed to apply to the priest celebrant. But most of us saw that he was trying to leave open the possibility of non-priests leading worship. It is THE document that got dear Mother Angelica of EWTN in so much hot water with Mahoney. She was right to criticize it.
    Mahoney was an advocate of liturgical dancing.
    He gave very short shrift to pro-life work, and no attention at all to NFP. Priests were discouraged to even talk about it, be ause he thought it would drive the faithful away.
    He made sure the diocesan seminary was staffed with people of the same ilk. They made a point of discouraging young men who had a more traditional view of serving the Church. He opened the seminary up to women who wanted to study theology, etc.
    He was known to be very harsh with priests who tried to disagree with his policies.
    The books he wanted used for CCD were so watered down they were all but useless for learning the basics of the Faith.
    He raised the age for Confirmation to 15 or 16, too long after puberty, and made it a two year program that is grindingly difficult for families to have to endure, not to mention tedious. The families I know went through it said a lot of the time was just filler, and they had to also, somehow, fit in a hundred “service hours” for the Church in already tight schedules.
    He was a fan of moving tabernacles away from the center of the church so that the focus could be on Jesus “active” presence at the Mass. The tabernacle was a distraction.
    He wanted as many parishes as possible to be renovated, at great expense, to fit his model of the Mass.
    The Religious Education Conference became a showcase for all the “progressive” religious and lay theologians, teachers, etc. who could then come and poison our diocese with watered down teachings on Faith and morals.
    He was soft on Dignity, the gay rights Catholic group. He allowed them a lot of freedom in the diocese, allowing them to have their own Masses in our parishes. He also encouraged a group that encourages families with same sex attracted children to meet and find acceptance of their children’s lifestyle.
    And last, but not least, he built his own massive, horribly ugly cathedral down in LA. He couldn’t find the money to renovate to earthquake codes the historic St. Vibiana’s Cathderal, but the cost of this warehouse looking thing was a great waste of money. He actually had a campaign during the Mass years ago, inviting everyone to buy a paver that would go on the floor around the altar. And, no, your name was not going to be on it, but you could go out into the foyer, and look up in a computer exactly where your paver was to be located. Oh, and I almost forgot, a former well known head of Disney, who donated a ton of money to building the “cathedral”, a non catholic, and gay sympathiser ,etc., will be buried under the altar someday. Perfect.
    We cannot wait for him to stop talking and writing. We have been praying for him for years. *Sigh*

    • Martha

      I thought the cathedral was bad enough, but liturgical dancing???!!!

      Okay, being more serious: I had a tiny bit of sympathy for Cardinal Mahony before all the revelations came out. Then I thought “Okay, he’s being dealt with”. But the blogging, and the insistence on heading to the conclave, and the blogging from Rome – it sounds a bit tone-deaf, to put it charitably.

      I’m not going to discuss his theology, because I’m not American, have no inside knowledge of the Church in America or in the diocese of Los Angeles in particular, and don’t know any more about the man than what I’ve read on blogs and in the quoted newspaper articles.

      I am curious to know, though, how the papers would have covered it if Mahony was not considered progressive, liberal, or an activist. I may just be being paranoid or reading into the stories what is not there, but there seems to me to be remarkable restraint shown about the allegations of cover-up and knowing about criminal behaviour. Compare this with the comment about Bishop Finn’s trial in their editorial:

      “At a minimum, Catholic officials concerned about church credibility should press for the resignation of Bishop Finn for having abetted the scandal.”

      I don’t see any calls for Cardinal Mahony to be tried or to step down, but perhaps the “New York Times” will write a further editorial about going after the head of the hierarchy in the archdiocese of Los Angeles, as they did about the diocese of Missouri?

      • http://www.tobextended.com IC

        Compare the media coverage between Mahony’s LA abuse problems and Law’s Boston–absolutely no comparison. True, Law was first, and perhaps got raked over the coals more because of it. But still.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    The first place to look, tmatt, is his cathedral, the Taj Mahony — oops, sorry, meant to say the Cathedral of Our Lady, Queen of the Angels. An appendeged stone box that’s virtually devoid of right angles (What did the architect and the Cardinal have against right angles? Can the missing angles file a lawsuit for discrimination?), the interior is like an empty box made of sand. Compare that to the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston, which is also a contemporary building, and you see a vast difference, not only architecturally, but also theologically. The L.A. box has no central focus and it’s boring-ness is only broken by the lighting hanging down. Sacred Heart, however, is vertical and has a very clear focus — the sanctuary. While Sacred Heart could use some further interior decoration, at least one knows where to look and what the central purpose for people gathering in that building is.

    After that, all one need do is look at who the keynote and other speakers were at the L.A. Religious Education Conference year after year. Let’s not forget tmatt’s blog post on this conference from five years ago: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/getreligion/2008/03/labyrinths-bobbleheads-sex-catholicism/ and I reference one of my comments on it: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/getreligion/2008/03/labyrinths-bobbleheads-sex-catholicism/#comment-296632

  • midwestlady

    “What do conservatives really think about Cardinal Mahony?”
    HAHAHA! You don’t want me to type that into your page, do you? Seriously. It’s not for general audiences.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    A few years ago I had occasion to talk with a NY Times reporter ( no longer there) who didn’t have the foggiest notion that there were Catholic publications, writers, university professors, etc. who are orthodox (or traditionalist, or conservative).
    I have to give this guy credit, in later stories he included quotes from some of the orthodox Catholics I suggested he put on his rolodex or computer for future research.
    However, after he left the Times it was mostly downhill as far as balanced coverage of things Catholic. I guess the reporter I talked to took the rolodex with him.

  • Patrick

    I used to live in Los Angeles, and I will happily confirm everything that CM noted above. The annual Religious Education Congress was something that I attended four consecutive years as a young lay Catholic, chiefly because other twenty-somethings in what was then my parish were also attending. It was — and presumably still is — invigorating to find so many Catholics in one place. But by my second year as an attendee, I realized that devout workshop leaders and speakers of a theologically conservative stripe were exceedingly hard to find. Attendees with an interest in apologetics, for example, might find one talk (out of 80+ over a long weekend) in that area. “Social Justice” is a perennial theme there; Catholic doctrine, not so much. Surprisingly for a gathering focused on religious education, even catechesis usually gets short shrift.

    I realized that fellowship alone was an insufficient reason to keep attending when, in my fourth year and after an underwhelming pair of Saturday morning workshops, I decided to watch the NBA All-Star game on TV rather than return to the Anaheim Convention Center for afternoon sessions that had already been paid for. At least one friend and fellow parishioner made the same decision that year.

  • SouthCoast

    “…a theological conservative shaped by his membership in the movement Opus Dei…” Ummmm…While I must confess a personal strong ambivalence about Opus Dei, I would think it more likely that his theological conservatism led him to Opus Dei, rather than his having had an albino monk shanghai him in a dark confessional and haul him away for a quick theological brainwashing. But, I suppose, it made for a darkly dramatic reportorial moment in the article (wondered why the ears of both my dogs shot straight up when I read that bit).

  • Jacqueline Y.

    As a catechist in the Diocese of Orange, where the actual venue of the LA RE Congress is located, I have seen how the speakers roster is dominated by so-called progressives and their cheering section. When the new Catechism was published in 1994, Thomas Groome of Boston College came to tell us, in his charming fashion, why the CCC was mostly bad. I could go on, but it’s too depressing.

  • Julia

    LA Ed Conf: You can find the whole events going back for years on YouTube. The dancing isn’t so bad if it’s really people doing their cultural thing. For example the Vietnamese drumming kids were awesome and it wasn’t during Mass. There were lots of other ethnic dance performances and singing that were great. But the middle-aged white bread American women doing their interpretation of modern day Greek goddess worship is just silly to watch. The only authentic cultural dancing we have is with Jazz and country-West square dancing, but no – we have to have the dancing Geritol ladies. [I'm a Geritol lady, so I can say that] I thought the rosary rap kids were over-the-top irreverent. There were just a few middle-of-the-road speakers, but they seemed to be harmless tokens.

  • Martha
    • Katherine

      It’s as bad outside. When I was a graduate student at Berkeley — many years ago — I heard that Holy Spirit had been variously dubbed “The Cave”, “The Mighty Fortress”, and “God’s airplane hangar”.
      The very popular 10 pm Sunday Mass, by candlelight, at least minimized the unfortunate atmosphere.

      • Martha

        God forgive me, Katherine, but you’d want to be blind (let alone lit only by candlelight) to avoid that atmosphere. Looking at it makes me think that either Berkeley has very, very, very warm weather or the heating bills are stratospheric.

    • anna lisa

      Hahah. My daughter is an art student in Oakland, and lives near the Berkeley Newman center. She said it is positively HORRENDOUS. The priest there cheers and prays for “women priests” too.

    • JoFro

      Oh Holy God in Heaven…what the hell was that? That actually exists? All I could think of when I saw that image was Hell – yes, Hell…seriously, tear that monstrosity down already!

      • SouthCoast

        May St. Andrew intercede. And soon! (And, of course, during a suitably unoccupied time.)

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    one wonders why an article about Mahoneyis printed without mentioning Mother Angelica’s rebuke of his theology (and his attempt to have the Vatican remove her for that remark) ?

  • Bob

    Many of the Catholic school teachers in the area are required to attend the REC, the schools are closed for this purpose and teachers are given continuing religious education credits for the different sessions they attend. The new archbishop has had two years to do something, but hasn’t.
    There are some “really out there” sessions and if you make a mistake and relay the weird “Catholic” thing you saw at the next staff meeting, you run the risk of being shot down in front of your peers. Most of your peers, you see, went to Loyola Marymount University (where they have gay clubs, lavender graduations, no mandatums – I remember asking an Education professor about mandatums and was told he didn’t know, but they’re really Catholic – and most have no depth in things Catholic and it seems to be a requirement – unspoken, of course, to become a principal) . Remember too, that Bishop Curry (one of the cardinal’s cohorts) was the head of the education committee for the USCCB – and that didn’t go anywhere, did it?
    It’s hard to tell what’s worse, the LA or the Orange cathedral. Liturgical dance in both LA and Orange. Hide the tabernacles in both, too. Anyone see a trend?

  • anna lisa

    I have lived in the LA archdiocese for most of my life. I have known good conservative priests whose lives were made miserable by Cardinal Mahoney. One was exiled to an obscure parish for writing a pro-life letter to the LA Times. He was also “run out of town” when he dared go up against the authority of a nun who ran the parish he became pastor of. It got ugly.
    .
    I just don’t understand why Archbishop Gomez doesn’t clean up that religious Congress, once and for all. …

    By far, what scandalizes me the most is that the church here became so self centered. Everyone likes to point at the narcissism of yuppies, but I found the same attitude toward Catholic children in the years I grew up here. Once the nuns left, the education system went to seed. The liberal educators and “we are church” types became obsessed with *themselves*. Can you imagine what half a billion in payouts could have paid for? We can’t afford tuition at Catholic schools for our big family. But even if we could, I wonder if it is better than public education. At least in public school the enemies of the Church are more readily apparent.

  • dalea

    Just a little note on the situation here. My neighbor complains that there is no longer a weekday mass in English at the local parish. There are masses in Tagalog, VietNamese and Spanish; but the English mass is not held. The only ones are on weekends. Most of the English speakers are over 60. Hispanics are the largest group but few can afford to attend the parish school. The more affluent Asians make up the majority of the students. She tells me the parish is riven with ethnic conflict and laguage problems. This is just one parish in LA but apparently this story plays out all over the city. It looks like Mahoney was leading a white liberal church in a city where most Catholics are immigrants. Given the way the churches are sited, they require fairly homogeneous congregations. But don’t have them.

    I think the journalistic problem here is that we are following the LA Times while the majority of Catholics here read La Opinion or Hoy. Or one of the many Tagalog or VietNamese or Ukranian or whatever papers. We really don’t know what Catholics are reading concerning their church.

  • FW Ken

    Sex offenders range from Romeos – the 19 year old boy with a 15 great old girlfriend – to real sexual predators. These are manipulative, sometimes violent, serial rapists and child molesters. Press coverage tends to present “sex offender” as being of this last type. In a similar manner, many bishops were following the path common at the time. They trusted psychologists who considered handling matters quietly to be better for the victims, and claimed that some priests were “cured” and posed no further threat. For some sex offenders, this is true – getting caught is the best therapy they will have. Not all sexual misbehavior is a deep seated compulsion.

    My reading of these articles is that Cardinal Mahony gets off light, in a manner opposite to the usual media treatment. He deliberately hid true predators with no excuse of concern for the victims. This should have been highlighted a good deal more. Whether he gets a pass for his liberal views, I can’t say, but he is definitely media-friendly, leading demonstrations and all. Maybe that’s the thing.

    It should probably be noted that current conservative anger, at least on the conservative Catholic blogs, concerns the self-serving victim role he has carved out for himself.

  • David M Paggi

    Terry:

    You wrote, “… I am not sure that I trust The New York Times, at this point… ” Really? I am quite certain that I do NOT trust the New York Times, on ANY point – and that is truly a tragedy. There simply have been too many times I have caught the mainstream media badly misrepresenting (whether from malice or negligance is beside the point; either is inexcusable) the few matters I happen to know something about to place any trust in their reporting with respect to the much larger number of things about which I know nothing.

    Pursuing truth for its own sake is really the only way journalism can serve its audience with integrity, and while I would rather I was wrong, I fear this is a goal long abandoned to the gratifying, lucrative, and much less difficult traffic in advocacy so many media outlets have embraced.

  • http://www.post-gazette.com Ann Rodgers

    I’m not wading into the Mahony debate, but want to comment on the fact that Archbishop Gomez didn’t take questions from the reporter. Circa 2007 when the Religion Newswriters Association met in San Antonio, where he was then the archbishop, Gomez came to our meeting and gave an excellent talk on the importance of the news media and how the church should interact with us. Has he changed his approach in LA or was there something about this reporter, outlet or story that caused him to remain silent?


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