An often-ignored cause of the clergy sex abuse and cover-up crisis

On Behalf of | Aug 11, 2022 | Catholic Church

Tons of ink has been spilled theorizing and pontificating on the causes of the Catholic church’s seemingly endless clergy sex abuse and cover-up crisis. Some of this analysis is silly. In 2002, for instance, Pennsylvania GOP Senator Rick Santorum blamed the then-just-emerging scandal on Massachusetts ‘liberal’ mindset or values. Some of this analysis is true, to a degree, but misses the more complex ‘big picture.’ Many put far too much emphasis on gay clerics or the priestly celibacy requirement. Both are relevant; neither is the crux of the crisis. Other notions about the causes of the clergy sex abuse crisis get short shrift.

We at Horowitz Law, for example, believe that the church’s rigid, all-male hierarchical and monarchical structure plays a considerable role in the abuse itself and the cover-up. But one undeniable cause of the crisis is rarely mentioned. In a word, it’s arrogance. Specifically, it’s the arrogance of many of the so-called “Princes of the Church,” the cardinals, bishops, and other top officials who have extraordinary decision-making power and are rarely held accountable for how they exercise their power. A recent story out of California is a particularly striking example of the hubris of a particularly corrupt and callous member of the church hierarchy, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles.

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles

You may recall reading about Mahony. He was the first sitting US Catholic bishop to testify at a predator priest’s civil abuse trial, Fr. Oliver O’Grady of Stockton, California. (O’Grady was later found criminally guilty of child sex crimes, imprisoned, deported to his native Ireland and profiled in a chilling, award-winning documentary called “Deliver Us From Evil.”) When that trial ended in 1998 (with a $30 million award to two of O’Grady’s victims), the jury foreman told reporters that neither he nor his colleagues believed a word of Mahony’s testimony. Since then, Mahony’s awful behavior in clergy sex abuse and cover-up cases got even worse. You don’t have to take our word for it, though. Consider the view of The Pillar, a conservative Catholic website:

“Mahony has a record dating back to 1980 of mishandling allegations of clerical sexual abuse, in some cases rather brazenly. Memos and letters paint a picture of a cardinal far more concerned with institutional self-protection and maybe with career advancement than with the protection of vulnerable children.”

The cardinal has issued a few tepid apologies over the years, but there’s a sense among many LA Catholics that his handling of sexual abuse cases was especially egregious. It caused untold harm to children and families, cost the diocese millions, and has had severe consequences for many people — though none of them are actually named Roger Mahony. But despite all that, Mahony – now 86 – never seems to display an instinct for laying low or maintaining a discreet profile. And a recent letter from the cardinal might take the cake.

Finally, in 2013, Mahony’s successor stripped him “of any administrative and public church duties,” calling his actions “terribly sad and evil.” Around that time, one California newspaper columnist wrote, “Mahony, as much as anyone living, has helped sap the Roman Catholic Church of its moral authority. He’ll probably cost it a billion dollars before the civil trials are through.” That same columnist continued, “Appallingly, Mahony remains in good standing in the church. He is neither locked up nor defrocked. Until he reached the mandatory retirement age of 75, he remained one of the most powerful men in the church.” So, why was Mahony the subject of a recent news story if he had been retired for several years and primarily out of the public eye? Last month, Mahony wrote to hundreds of LA area priests, indicating that he’d be more than delighted to send a signed copy of his expensive new portrait to any Archdiocesan priest who requests one. The retired cardinal explains that in the photo, he’s “holding a basket of loaves,” which is meant to harmonize with the call of Pope Francis for us to be humbler.

You read that right: Mahony wrote to a couple of hundred LA clerics to offer them his new “humbler” portrait. (He also acknowledged that he’d already sent – unsolicited – “a signed an 8 x 10 copy” of the photo to all the archdiocesan priests he had ordained over the years.)

Incredible. Where does this kind of arrogance come from? Well, imagine what it must be like to be a Catholic prelate. Imagine what it might do to you if you were constantly called – by underlings, followers, and even some secular officials, “your eminence,” “your grace,” or “your excellency.” Imagine what it might do to you if grown-ups approached you and asked if they could kiss your ring. Imagine if you knew that you had a lofty title and an excellent job for the rest of your life. Imagine if you had someone to cook your meals, do your laundry, chauffeur you around, and be your own personal legal and public relations expert. That’s the life of many Catholic prelates. How could you NOT become at least somewhat arrogant? They genuinely believe they are superior human beings and live by their own rules and standards. And how could your arrogance NOT impact your confidence in your own judgment and actions?

We at Horowitz Law have come to the sad conclusion that arrogance rarely reigns itself in. Arrogance must be contained. Thankfully, the laws of this country, coupled with the courage of those who suffer from the arrogance of others, can help control the behaviors. If you’ve been hurt or abused, thanks to the arrogant behavior of a Catholic official, you can get help. We can help.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy.  If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a member of a religious organization, contact us today at (888) 283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.