Steve Lopez is really going to miss Cardinal Roger Mahony. For years, the Los Angeles Times' cutting metro columnist has held Mahony's feet to the fire. And it's been needed. Mahony, after all, is the head of the largest Roman Catholic diocese in the country. But as Mahony concludes his two-decade tenure as L.A.'s archbishop this week, he leaves largely with a free pass from any of the other metro reporters at the LAT.
I mentioned this time last year that the Times' religion reporter didn't seem to get Mahony's legacy in Los Angeles. I also felt that the stories that followed focused too much on Mahony's "controversial" -- translation: allegedly too conservative for L.A. -- successor and not enough on the what Mahony would be leaving behind.
Not once in the past year did I see a story in the Los Angeles Times that reflected on Mahony's legacy, the good or the bad. (Good news: the paper is finally running that story tomorrow, and I'll blog about it here after taking a look.) Instead, we got a lot of stories like this one from earlier this month: "Archbishop Jose Gomez learns L.A. as Mahony's retirement nears."
Gomez has been learning his new turf, which encompasses Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. In a sense, he has also been trying to sell himself to his parishioners and priests. Some of them were wary of his history as a member of Opus Dei, a controversial Catholic organization with a reputation for extreme orthodoxy.
Gomez appears largely to have calmed fears that he might be too conservative for an archdiocese like Los Angeles, which, under Cardinal Roger Mahony, has gained a reputation as one of the most progressive in the Roman Catholic Church.
"As we've come to know Archbishop Gomez, all that concern has been put aside," said Father John Provenza, pastor of Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church in San Pedro, where Gomez celebrated Mass in December. "We see him as very open and understanding of the needs of our church and community."
To be sure, I actually thought that was a pretty good story, though I did have three primary complaints:
First, the story still fell back on the possibility that Gomez is "too conservative." Second, Opus Dei was referred to as controversial, but other than saying its depiction in "Da Vinci Code" was fictional, no details about the group were given. (Here's a lame story I wrote about the group from my Daily News days.) And, lastly, the story did what I've been discussing to this point: the LAT, which for years was so good about holding Mahony's feet to the fire, has given him a free pass because 75 is "the standard retirement age for a bishop." That's such a misleading statement, and not once over the past year has the Times explained why.
The reason it's misleading? Because cardinals and bishops, who serve at the pleasure of the pope, have on many, many occasions been asked to keep serving in that capacity years beyond turning 75. Mahony wasn't asked to stick around, and I've contended all along that the "early" standard retirement was news in and of itself.
We may never know exactly why the pope declined to ask Mahony to keep leading the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. And maybe that story was the wrong place to find out. But for Steve Lopez, there has never really been a wrong time to drag Mahony before the court of public scorn and scrutiny.
Here's the lede of Lopez's latest column criticizing Mahony:
Before His Eminence passes the torch, I put in one last request for an interview, to no avail. That keeps my record intact, but it's a shame because I had several questions about the latest scandal at the archdiocese. This one involves a priest who admitted he was a molester but remained in ministry. The good reverend was even appointed, if you can believe this, to Mahony's sexual abuse advisory board.
The priest in question is the Rev. Martin O'Loghlen, who was abruptly dismissed Feb. 10 from his post at a parish in San Dimas. The next day, another clergyman lost his job. Mahony accepted the resignation of Msgr. Michael Meyers, who was vicar of clergy for the archdiocese and directly responsible for vetting priests who are assigned to parishes.
These events transpired after a member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests went to the New York Times with information about O'Loghlen's past, and the L.A. Times and other news organizations followed with stories. In reading those accounts, though, it wasn't clear to me exactly what Mahony might have known about O'Loghlen and when he knew it.
Tod Tamberg, director of media relations, told me Mahony was not aware that O'Loghlen had been assigned to San Dimas. In Mahony's defense, I suppose it's possible he has trouble keeping track of so many pedophiles, given the fact that his archdiocese was forced into a $660-million settlement with 508 people who alleged they were abused by priests as children.
I would expect nothing less from Lopez, who brings a reporter's curiosity and a pundit's righteousness to the metro news column. Unfortunately, a column like this has its limitations. Namely, it's not an objective report.
What the Times needs, and what readers would be well-served by, is an unbiased report about Mahony's legacy -- the whole package, not simply that he was a leader in immigration rights or that he terribly mismanaged pedophile priests. Here's hoping the paper's story tomorrow does the trick.