Cardinal Mahony's legacy

by Joe Ferullo

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As Cardinal Roger Mahony prepares to step down in a few days after 25 years of leading the nation's largest archdiocese, The Los Angeles Times delivers a fair and reasoned assessment of his impact on the church here and nationwide.

The Times' report focuses particularly on three areas of Mahony's legacy: his commitment to social justice; his campaign to build a controversial new cathedral; and his handling of the sex abuse scandal within his archdiocese.

The paper gives Mahony high marks on the first two, and is actually uncharacteristically reasonable in its look at the cardinal's approach to the priest abuse scandal.

In part, the Times does not assign bad motives to Mahony, but says he may be a victim of bad luck -- rising through the ranks of church hierarchy just as sexual abuse was becoming more common, and achieving the height of his influence as this scandal broke open in a society no longer willing to keep quiet about such dark secrets.

Richard Riordan, former mayor of Los Angeles and confidant of the cardinal, sums up the dilemma: "He did as good job as you can do... but obviously people are going to remember him more for that, which is sad."

Still, the Times' assessment at least takes a broad view of this influential figure -- reporter Mitchell Landsberg even notes that the paper has often been criticized by some Catholics for being anti-Mahony. It's true that the paper has covered the sex scandal with a rare vigor, but it has also been on Mahony's side in social justice issues, especially immigrants' rights.

As the report notes, it is a complicated legacy that Mahony leaves -- but there is no doubt about his influence on American Catholicism, and on the politics and culture of Los Angeles.

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