Cardinal Roger Mahony, retired archbishop of Los Angeles, withdrew Monday as the keynote speaker at next month’s annual fundraising dinner for Utah’s Catholic diocese after hearing of potential protests about his alleged role in covering up priest sex abuse in Southern California in the 1980s.
Mahony decided to decline the invitation after recent reports of abuse — including the explosive grand jury finding that more than 300 priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses had abused at least 1,000 victims over 70 years — and the call from Pope Francis “for greater accountability,” diocesan spokeswoman Jean Hill said.
Mahony himself was accused of covering up priest abuse during his time as archbishop of Los Angeles from 1985 to 2011 and as cardinal since 1991.
In 2013, Mahony’s L.A. successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez, barred him from any public duties, according to the National Catholic Reporter, which said the reason for the move was Mahony's “alleged failures to protect young people from sexually abusive priests — documented in court filings in recent years.”
Mahony was a seminary classmate and longtime friend of the late Archbishop George H. Niederauer, who led the Beehive State’s Catholics from 1994 to 2005. The affable Niederauer died in 2017 at 80.
Utah’s current bishop, Oscar A. Solis, worked with Mahony in Los Angeles as an auxiliary bishop before coming to Utah last year.
In the aftermath of the Pennsylvania report, Solis said he was “stunned, enraged and scandalized by the past and recent revelations of these misdeeds and the mishandling of allegations of abuse by some of our church authorities.”
Solis, who oversees the 300,000-plus Catholics in the Diocese of Salt Lake City, expressed his “personal shame, distress and anger” about the “sexual abuse committed by some of our priests, bishops and church leaders against our children, young people and adults whom we are supposed to serve and to protect.”
Steve Onysko, a member of St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Parish in Park City, was among those troubled by Mahony as a guest speaker at the dinner.
The former archbishop, Onysko wrote in an email, “evokes unwelcome memories of Los Angeles Archdiocese leaders' failings in prevention of priest sexual abuse of children.”
The fundraiser should honor “the courage and strength of these abuse victims, and their advocates' efforts,” he added, and a “guest speaker [who is an] appropriate spokesperson for these victims' healing journey.”
A substitute for Mahony at the Sept. 6 Utah event has yet to be named.
“We hope to have a speaker at the annual Bishop’s Dinner,” Hill said, “who can highlight a vision for moving forward in the Catholic Church.”