Just keep this in mind before you read further: Retired Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony will be one of the Roman Catholic prelates who chooses the next pope should Pope Benedict XVI die before 2016.
Why is that important? Because, according to documents released during the past couple of weeks, Cardinal Mahony actively conspired with his chief adviser on sexual abuse to hide diocesan priests from criminal prosecution.
The fact that Los Angeles was a hotbed of predator priests is not news. The archdiocese has already committed $616 million – more than a half-billion dollars! – to compensate victims of that abuse. But church officials tried strenuously to keep their records of child abuse secret and, at the least, to have names of church officials dealing with the offending priests blacked out from public view.
Now we know why.
The records show that the cardinal and his chief adviser on sexual abuse, one Monsignor Thomas Curry, were well aware of what their priests were doing and that those activities were illegal.
They didn't just ignore the abuse; they sent the offending priests for psychiatric treatment at an out-of-state center – but they did make sure that any therapy done was not done in California, where the therapist would be mandated by law to report the crime.
Mahony says he really didn't understand how devastating the rape of young people by priests must have been for the victims until he started meeting with them in the 1990s, about a decade after the abuse occurred.
Let's take him at his word: the archbishop of Los Angeles, a prince of the Roman Catholic Church, one of the cardinals who may well help choose the next pope, didn't understand that being raped by a priest might be emotionally difficult for an altar boy?
If Mahony were alone in all this, it might be one thing.
He's not alone. He is part of a pattern. That former adviser we talked about, Monsignor Curry? Curry is now auxiliary bishop of Santa Barbra, California. Advising his archbishop on how to shield rapists from the law doesn't seem to have harmed his career.
Mahony's colleague in Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law, was even more egregious in shielding rapists and perverts. Law now lives in a luxurious apartment in Rome, is pastor of a major basilica, and reports last week suggests he was one of the prime movers in a Vatican investigation of American nuns.
Should these guys have known better? Well, in the early 1990s, the bishops hired the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a Spring Green native, as their adviser on the sex abuse crisis. He issued a prophetic report about what would await the church if the bishops didn't act. The bishops fired him.
That was a long time ago, two decades ago. About two weeks ago, the church in Germany fired the criminologist it hired to investigate child abuse in that country. It seems he wanted to make his report public.
This is not a priest problem; this is a bishop problem. It isn't getting any better.