Why is virtually no one accepting his defense? The reason is plain: when a priest commits sexual sin against a child, he has irrevocably violated his vocation; he has permanently lost the trust of the Church. This is the Catholic understanding of the priesthood, regardless of any “standard practices” in any culture.
Cardinal Mahony seems to have misunderstood the nature and identity of the Catholic priesthood. He seems to have managed the Church more as a civic organization than the Bride of Christ. And this is why even the Los Angeles Times finds his behavior indefensible. Everyone, even the Church’s enemies, expect the Catholic Church to act like the Catholic Church.
It is as plain as plain can be: if a priest preys on a child, he forfeits his role as spiritual father. No bishop need deliberate over a course of action—he simply needs to follow canon law and revoke the priest’s faculties. A significant number of bishops failed to oversee the Church in accord with her own nature. Rather, they managed the Church as one would manage a business, with lawyers and public relations agents. There is no excuse for this.
I for one, as a priest, long to be treated as a priest. I hope to be disciplined as a priest, not as an employee. I wish for my bishop to expect a clean heart of me, not merely a clean legal record. Priests need their bishops to expect them to be men of prayer, sacrifice, and sanctity. It seems that the priests of Los Angeles were called not so much to holiness as to professionalism, and this is why we find this story so disappointing. It would help all of us if Cardinal Mahony could see past events from this perspective.