Gomez, Mahony and the ‘Sodano Rule’ – Vatican politics

This column probably ought to carry a warning label: “The following piece of writing contains an apples-and-oranges comparison that may be hazardous to your intellectual health.” I’m going to compare two fights among senior churchmen, but the purpose is not to suggest they’re identical. Rather, it’s to understand what makes them different.

The first term of comparison is the tension between Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony. On Jan. 31, Gomez announced that Mahony would “no longer have any administrative or public duties” because of failures to protect children from abuse, documented in files released by the archdiocese. That triggered an open letter to Gomez from Mahony acknowledging mistakes, but insisting he went on to make Los Angeles “second to none” in keeping children safe.

Mahony remains a priest and bishop in good standing, and he really hasn’t had any administrative role since stepping down in March 2011. The practical effect of the action thus is limited, but symbolically it amounts to what Jesuit Fr. Tom Reese has called a “public shaming.”

So far, the Vatican hasn’t said much other than it’s paying attention and clarifying that the action applies only to Los Angeles.

Behind door No. 2 lies the highly public spat in 2010 between Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria, and Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, a former Secretary of State and still the dean of the College of Cardinals.

For those whose memories may have dimmed, a series of clerical abuse scandals exploded across Europe in early 2010, which among other things cast a critical spotlight on Benedict XVI’s personal record. Sodano created a media sensation in April 2010 by calling that criticism “petty gossip” during the Vatican’s Easter Mass.

In a session with Austrian journalists not long afterward, Schönborn not only said Sodano had “deeply wronged” abuse victims, but he also charged that Sodano had blocked an investigation of Schönborn’s disgraced predecessor, Cardinal Hans Hermann Gröer, who had been accused of molesting seminarians and monks and who resigned in 1995. Schönborn reportedly said that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, wanted to take action, but he lost an internal Vatican argument to Sodano. Continue reading


John L Allen Jr is NCR senior correspondent.

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