VATICAN CITY — Pressure is mounting in the United States and Italy to keep retired California Cardinal Roger Mahony away from the conclave to elect the next pope because of his role shielding sexually abusive priests, a movement targeting one of the most prominent of a handful of compromised cardinals scheduled to vote next month.
Amid the outcry, Mahony a former bishop of the Stockton Diocese has made clear he will participate, and no one can force him to recuse himself. A Vatican historian said Wednesday that there is no precedent for a cardinal staying home because of personal scandal. But the grass-roots campaign is an indication that ordinary Catholics increasingly are demanding a greater say in who is fit to elect the pope.
Conclaves always bring out the worst in cardinals' dirty laundry, with past sins aired anew in the slow news days preceding the vote. This time is no different except that the revelations of Mahony's sins are so fresh and come on the tails of a recent round of sex abuse scandals in the United States and Europe.
In January, Mahony was relieved of his remaining administrative and public duties on the same night the Los Angeles Archdiocese released thousands of pages of personnel files of priests accused of sexual abuse.
Mahony served as the third bishop of the Stockton Diocese from 1980 until he was appointed the archbishop of Los Angeles in 1985. He came to the Stockton Diocese four years after the notorious pedophile priest Oliver O'Grady had admitted he sexually abused an 11-year-old girl, and Mahony was bishop in 1984 when O'Grady confessed to a therapist that he had fondled a 9-year-old boy. Mahony sent O'Grady to the Church of the Presentation in Stockton in 1982 and to St. Andrew's Parish in San Andreas in 1984.
O'Grady later was convicted of molesting two young brothers and was deported to his native Ireland after serving seven years of his 14-year sentence. The diocese has paid $18.7 million to settle 22 civil lawsuits since that 1993 conviction.
This week, the Italian Catholic affairs magazine Famiglia Cristiana asked readers if Mahony should participate in the conclave given the revelations. "Your opinion: Mahony in the conclave: Yes or No?" reads the online survey of one of Italy's most-read magazines. The overwhelming majority among more than 350 replies has been a clear-cut "No."
The magazine is distributed in Italian parishes each Sunday. The fact that it initiated the poll is an indication that the Catholic establishment in Italy has questioned whether tarnished cardinals should be allowed to vote a remarkable turn of events for a conservative Catholic country that long has kept quiet about priestly abuse and remains deferential to the church hierarchy.
That initiative followed a petition by a group in the United States, Catholics United, demanding that Mahony recuse himself. So far 5,600 people have signed the petition, according to a group spokesman.
Mahony, however, has made clear he will vote. "Count-down to the papal conclave has begun. Your prayers needed that we elect the best pope for today and tomorrow's church," he tweeted earlier this week.
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki contributed to this story.