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EDITORIAL: A cardinal pays for his sins

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A cardinal was relieved of his public duties last week in another sign the American Catholic Church is more willing to confront decades of abuse of children by priests and the sins of those who tried to hide the truth and protected pedophiles.

In a never-before-seen move, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez relieved his predecessor, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, of all public duties over his failure to handle reports of clergy sex abuse.

Mahoney served as Los Angeles archbishop from 1985 until his retirement in 2011.

Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Curry, who according to the Los Angeles Times worked with Mahony to conceal abusers from police in the 1980s, resigned his post as the regional bishop of Santa Barbara.

According to a Times story, the announcement of Mahoney’s censure came as the church posted on its own Web site files of more than 120 priests accused of molesting children over many years.

“I find these files to be brutal and painful reading. The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil,” Gomez wrote in a letter to members of the archdiocese.

The censure of Mahony shows two things: the church continues to deal with abuse of children by priests – crimes and sins committed decades ago and too often pushed under the rug as priests known to be abusers were shuttled from parish to parish. Some priests abused children for decades in dozens of communities.

Secondly, Mahony’s removal from the public’s eye shows the church is taking the job of protecting children seriously and punishing those who helped shield abusers. Today, every diocese has reporting and investigatory processes for handling allegations of abuse. Once-secret proceedings handled only by clerics are now more open and include lay representatives including law enforcement and social workers.

The church is moving forward in ways that are helping to heal the scars of the priest-abuse scandal. Seminarians are now more thoroughly screened before ordination and receive counseling and instruction that better prepare them for lives of healthy celibacy. As proof of the change, very few cases of abuse by recently ordained priests have been reported in the U.S.

Nearly all cases involved priests ordained many years ago, many of whom are already retired or have died, putting them beyond the reach of punishment, at least in this life.

Like other organizations, such as the Boy Scouts of America, the church has learned it cannot hide pedophiles in its ranks of leaders. Dioceses have paid hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements and been forced to sell assets and some have even filed for bankruptcy.

For many Catholics and the vast, vast majority of priests who lead good lives, the impact has been just as traumatic.

We commend Archbishop Gomez for a tough decision but one that sends a powerful and important message. It takes the church one step closer to closing a painful chapter in its history.

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