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Mahony is a big man in the church: L.A. cardinal makes friends and enemies with equal energy in most varied diocese on earth.

LOS ANGELES -- The Fresno pastor leaned forward and said with a conspiratorial smile,"The official biography of Cardinal Roger Mahony will state that when be was called to L.A. he was kneeling at his prie-dieu saying his office."

In fact, went on the priest-friend, "at the time the phone rang, Roger was installing a new exhaust fan in the bathroom of the cabin at the lake."

What else might an official biography miss about Mahony? Perhaps the comment from the woman who said, "Don't you just want to go up and muss up his hair? He's always so picture perfect?"

Picture perfect. Unless he becomes pope, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Michael Mahony, 57, has likely already been seen center stage by his largest ever audience: the entire U.S. television-news audience plus global pickups through CNN and other television-news transfer agreements. The occasion was the funeral Mass for United Farm Workers President Cesar Chavez on April 23. That day also gathered in the old organizing Left, plus progressive priests and ex-priests, women religious and brothers from the farm worker, civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements.

As they walked, these Catholics coalesced, talked. Occasionally, the topic was Mahony and his increasing identification with Los Angeles financial community bigwigs, not least Richard Riordan (the later successful mayoral candidate who in 1989 gave Mahony a $400,000 helicopter, now sold).

There were comments on Mahony's ambition,

It is joked that Mahony arrived in Los Angeles as archbishop in 1985 suffering two cases of fever: Scarlet fever (for the cardinal's red hat) and white fever (for the papacy). He got the one, in 1991. Will he get the other? As marchers chatted, the talk sometimes turned to the cardinal's rigid and willing toeing of the Vatican line on every issue and his drift from liberal stances on social issues to a growing conservatism.

And yet has the perception of a liberal Roger Mahony always been slightly off focus? A wish in the eye of the beholder? To some who know him, Mahony's involvement with the Mexican-American and Latino community was originally more the romantic and caring commitment of a young man become priest than a political statement.

Said one, "Roger seems to get most of his enjoyment out of being with the Spanish people. You know, using amateur psychology, you'd say the most obvious thing about him is his own rigid personality mixing with the very effusive and free-flowing spontaneity of the Hispanic culture."

Is it not more accurate to cast Mahony as a more-or-less constant conservative and corporate churchman who, through personality and chance, was drawn into one of the nation's major social dramas, the farm workers movement?

If there is a darker side to the Los Angeles archbishop, probably it is not his anticipatable conservatism or perceived ambition and their corollary, the Vatican and papal allegiance, but what some see as his personalizing of criticism, his sarcastic and, others say, wounding letters (known variously as "snot-grams" and "midnight epistles") to those who catch his displeasure.

Or again, some in Los Angeles question whether, for a man concerned about the rights of the Latino community, there is not some variance when Mahony or his deputies oust pastors or parish teams with what is depicted as scant regard for due process.

When Mahony is the topic, there seems to be little middle ground, though none deny his "incredible energy," as one female chancery official described it.

Does Mahony matter? Yes.

He matters because under normal circumstances he will be a power in the Los Angeles archdiocese, the largest in the country, and in the National Conference of Catholic Bishops until his mandatory retirement in 2011. He will be a power in church circles until he loses his right to vote in papal elections in 2016.

Influence counts

His influence counts, too, because he is a bishop-maker -- not only of his auxiliaries, but in a wider circle including Sylvester D. Ryan, installed in Monterey, and G. Patrick Ziemann in Santa Rosa. (His classmate bishops include Portland's Archbishop William Levada, and Boise's Todd Brown; California Catholic Conference executive director Msgr. James Petersen, Mahony's choice for the job, is also a classmate.) Mahony also matters in his own right. He's gutsy and highly industrious, and he plays a canny if not always predictable insider's game in church politics.

Yet if any L.A. archbishop matters, the archdiocese matters more. Nearly 10 million and growing, Day-Glo and pastel Los Angeles, home of 4.5 million Catholics, is the Kodacolor version of those 19th century sepia prints of immigrant New York.

In L.A.'s streets it's Spanish instead of Russian, Tagalog not Yiddish, Vietnamese not Polish, Korean not Italian, even though the old European languages are here, too.

This is the archetypal foundation for the third millennium church in the United States.

Side by side, Los Angeles is filthy rich in secure, suburban, gated communities and filthy poor in insecure communities on cast-out couches under the overpasses where cars overhead go swish-swishing by. In Swish City, cars compete with people.

The Los Angeles archdiocese is also a mass of folk who barely make it, and then only by using a Third World measure of survival. And there are the working, middling hundreds of thousands whose homes and hopes stretch mile after mile, who occasionally bask in a benevolent sun but more often smother under clouds of smog, recession, growing violence and spreading uncertainty. This new New World automatically poses questions about an old Old Church.

If the Catholic church cannot thrive here, rather than merely survive, then its future everywhere is bleak. Los Angeles is the Third World-First World church, the poor-rich church. For a growing number of Angelinos, this is the world in an oyster where someone else has already snatched the pearl.

Polyglot, multiethnic, multicultural, Los Angeles is St. Philomena's Church in Carson: 10 Masses -- a gospel Mass, a Spanish Mass; a Mass in Samoan, in English, in Tagalog, in Korean.

So how Mahony is finally measured by biographers, official or unofficial, should focus on whether he is able to allow and encourage this kaleidoscopic Catholicism to flourish, each piece unique and a gift to the entirety.

Assessments of Mahony gathered for this profile depend to a high degree on which model of church the commentators themselves worship or work in. One set of assessments takes the current second millennium church -- caring yet clerical, male, bureaucratic, materialistic and legalistic -- as actual and acceptable, as, apparently, does Mahony.

Other critics promote or minister in a third millennium church where the sacraments are closer to the hurts and where who blesses what is less an issue than making sure everyone is served and blessed, welcomed and encouraged to flower. The crucial question there is "What would Jesus do?" not "What does the current magisterium demand?"

Los Angeles, and therefore Mahony, straddles this grating, grinding ecclesial-theological fault line. "There are several ecclesiologies running around Los Angeles,"Mahony reportedly told one group, "but I want you to know there's only one. Mine."

It is common to hear it said that Mahony regards himself as "the man who would be pope." He himself denies that. Seated in his 1521 W. Ninth St. second-floor office, a room as modest and neat as a 1930s front parlor, down to the chiming clock, Mahony said he doubts that any American, given that the United States is the surviving superpower, would be considered in the foreseeable future.

Mahony has a reputation for being a manager -- industrious and organized. One friend called him "a born CEO." Possibly. His postgraduate degree is a master's in social work, not a master's in business administration. Though if MBA stood for "Mother's Business Acumen," maybe young Roger got all the organizational training he needed in the Mahony family kitchen in North Hollywood.

"I did get it from my mother," he once said, "she would always plan a big Thanks-giving dinner, roughly in August. The refrigerator door would have lists, flow charts, in preparation for it."

Loretta Mahony was also bookkeeper for the family business, Shannon Brand processed chicken. Mahony's twin brother, Louis, has some of the same business flair. He is controller of a wholesale plumbing-supply firm.

Chicken farm

Roger and Louis Mahony were born Feb. 27, 1936, in Hollywood, Calif. His older brother, Neil, was 5. Their parish was St. Charles Borromeo, North Hollywood. Their father, a black-haired 6-footer, Victor James Mahony, was Canadian-born--a "full-blooded" Italian from Vancouver, said his wife, though there was some German and Irish there, too. Their mother, Loretta Marie Baron, is a German-American from Ohio; Roger Mahony resembles his Baron uncles and aunts.

The "Mahony" came when Victor was adopted by an Irish family and took their name. Mahony finds the name a considerable asset in Ireland, he said, laughingly pronouncing it Irish-style, "Ma-ha-nee," when he goes there seeking priests for the archdiocese.

The Barons were all located in the Los Angeles area, in the poultry business, though later most of them moved up to Fresno, as Mahony himself would.

Victor Mahony worked as an electrician at Universal Studios and ran his poultry-processing business, the V.J. Mahony Poultry Company, part-time. The growing boys were responsible -- alongside the Mexican workers -- for watering and feeding the birds and shoveling out the manure.

"Roger's good with his hands. He's a good electrician," said a priest friend. During seminary Roger worked at the [Monterey-Fresno diocese] Bass Lake summer camp as a maintenance man, fixing the plumbing, doing rewiring."

When the twins were 10 years old, Victor Mahony had a heart attack. He died 10 years later. He was 54. He was a devout man and belonged to the Knights of Columbus, which later named a council for him.

Loretta, short, slender and spry, equally devoted to the church, now 87 and living at home, is known as "a wonderful person."

"My parents didn't speak Spanish," Mahony said, "but my brothers and I learned fairly early from the workers because we worked at the place, too." By the third year of college seminary, he said, he felt called to work with Hispanics, in a large sense, migrants."

After some negotiations, though a Los Angeles seminarian, he switched to the Monterey-Fresno diocese of Redemptorist Bishop Aloysius Joseph Willinger, a former bishop of Ponce, Puerto Rico, who wrote mystical theology in Spanish. He willingly accepted Mahony -- seminarians did not flock to his priest-short diocese.

Later, some Mahony observers would look at Mahony's transfer out of Los Angeles from a different perspective, arguing that because the L.A. archdiocese had bright priests galore, Mahony realized his chances of promotion and preferment were probably higher in Monterey-Fresno.

One seminary friend's assessment: "I don't know that Roger would have set it forth in his mind that way, because I'm not sure that he avers to how cunning he innately really is. I guess that's strangely put. Let me put it another way: My experience with him down the line was that he was very eager to form some solid connections with the power structure even if he didn't see it in those terms."

By contrast, another priest from that period said, "Hispanic ministry was popular but it was not an up-the-ladder career move. The choice in philosophy was either Greek, and maybe go to Rome or go for Spanish and stay at home."

After the Fresno transfer, some of Mahony's tuition costs, like those of several other seminarians, were paid by one of the state's largest table grape growers, John Kovacevich. Later, when the Catholic church and Mahony moved to Chavez's side, the bitterness provoked in the San Joaquin Valley Catholic community "split it down the middle. Many growers just moved away from the church," said one priest.

At St. John's Seminary, Camarillo, where Mahony studied from 1956 to 1962, he was regarded, as was his friend Justin Rigali -- like Mahony a "lifer," meaning he entered the seminary after eighth grade -- as among the brightest of the students.

Rigali, later a workaholic dedicated to the church and the papacy, "never gravitated toward power the way Roger did," but nonetheless was picked off for the papal diplomatic corps.

In the seminary, both Mahony and Rigali were seen by peers as charitable, devout, self-disciplined and "fun to be with."

"Roger," said another colleague from seminary days, "was very excitable, pranced around, good sense of humor -- his own kind, kind of very adolescent, just like today."

Socially, said a former fellow seminarian, "that side of him to this day remains a kind of enigma to me. I don't know that the social, personal side ever really flowered, or, for that matter, whether it can. He was a twin; perhaps that makes a difference. In many ways he is very private and reserved."

Willinger wanted a soon-to-be ordained priest trained in social work to succeed Fr. Joseph Stieger as Monterey-Fresno Catholic Charities director. He ordained Mahony in St. John's Cathedral, Fresno, on May 1, 1962, and sent him to Catholic University of America in Washington. Mahony graduated with his master's degree in 1964.

Fresno years

Back from CUA, Mahony, named Catholic Charities and Social Services director, moved into Stieger's parish as administrator. In 1967, the Monterey-Fresno diocese was split; an auxiliary bishop from Los Angeles,Timothy Manning, became Fresno's first bishop.

Two years later, Manning was sent to Los Angeles as coadjutor to Cardinal James McIntyre, and Mahony's new bishop was Hugh Donohoe, a San Francisco auxiliary, former editor of the San Francisco Monitor.

Under Manning, in 1967, Mahony, 31, had skipped up two rungs of the career ladder:in February named a monsignor, and in September a pastor of St. Genevieve Parish.

Donohoe continued that progress. In 1970, Mahony was Fresno chancellor; five years after that, vicar general; and then, in January 1975, auxiliary bishop. Many thought Mahony would succeed Donohoe, but Msgr. Joseph J. Madera was appointed auxiliary with right of succession. However long before Madera s name "surfaced from nowhere," as one priest described it, the Fresno diocese was in serious trouble. The reason: Chavez, and the church's public support.

"It's hard to see it today," said a Fresno priest, "but whatever it looked like in New York and the East, supporting Chavez was high risk for the church here

"While Chavez was having the door slammed in his face at some rectories, the farmers in the valley here were outraged. Many became estranged from the church."

As Catholic Charities director, Mahony, a gadgeteer, brought in high-powered computers for mailing lists. In time, with contributions falling off rapidly because of the backlash of Chavez's support (the U.S. bishops had endorsed the grape boycott), the computers had to go. Charities was in trouble and "folded soon after Roger moved to the chancery. He's usually gone by the time there's a body to be buried," said one priest.

Mahony is tough. He loves the company of priests. He is an exemplar of the clerical club. Mahony truly believes in the male clerical church structure he entered in 1950. It is where he is at home. He will do anything to help out a priest in trouble who wants to be helped, yet he can be ruthless with those he feels have embarrassed him or the church.

One Fresno story illustrates some of that: During the heady 1960s,the "encounter movement" (group sessions where people "let it all hang out") was "in" As charities director, an innovative, for-the-times Mahony would bring in many experts for his social services staff to consult, perhaps sex therapists or family psychologists, and then ensure that while the experts were in town there was also a presentation just for priests.

The encounter sessions were not a charities innovation, but Mahony stopped by at one, was suspicious of what he saw and suggested a doctor sit in. The group agreed. The doctor told Mahony that the sessions were not healthy as conducted --he later treated some of the troubled priests -- and Mahony acted immediately.

"He had no real authority, beyond his personality," said a priest, "but be told the group to disband and disband immediately or he would tell the bishop. And it did." The pastor said it was Mahony's way of caring about what happened to the priests, and true to character, he had moved decisively.

Hair and cuffs

"Roger changed with the chancellor job," said a priest from those years. Commented another, "That's when he went for the French cuffs. Fussy about his hair -- he hasn't much -- he had it trimmed every Saturday."

Characteristically, in the Fresno years, Mahony had thrown himself into a whirl-wind of activity, teaching at Fresno State, executive director Infant of Prague Adoption Service, chairman of California Association of Catholic Charities directors, member of board of directors, West Coast region of the Bishops' Committee for the Spanish Speaking, the Mexican-American Council for Better Housing, trustee of St. Patrick's Seminary, San Francisco, county executive for the Office of Economic Opportunity -- which paid a stipend and enabled Mahony to buy into the cabin.

In 1965, a thin and earnest young Mexican-American from Yuma, Ariz., arrived in the San Joaquin Valley to lead a strike against the table grape growers of Delano, to protest the pay and conditions faced by those who picked the nation's food. It was Cesar Chavez.

There was no doubt that Mahony was genuinely moved by Chavez's courage, by the justice of this poor and barely educated man's cause, by his humility and, particularly, his prayerfulness. (Mahony's own devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe was noted even in his seminary days.)

Because of his interest in the organizing efforts that became the United Farm Workers Union AFL-CIO, Mahony was selected as secretary to the U.S. bishops' own ad hoc farm labor committee. It was Mahony's first firm link to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/ U.S. Catholic Conference. He traveled the state with, and organized interviews for Bishops Donohoe and Joseph Donnelly and Msgr. George Higgins, the "labor priest" and the bishops' director of research.

Mahony's reputation emerged as that of an extremely efficient and affable person who kept careful notes. Later, people who served as staff to Mahony would remark he was a good committee person, organized, a good listener, a sound conciliator and generally good at summarizing.

A decade later, California Gov. Jerry Brown, with the agreement of Donohoe, had Auxiliary Bishop Mahony serve as first chairman of the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board, supervising farm workers' elections. Mahony became what today would be prohibited: a bishop holding a full-time government job.

The growers moved to gut the agricultural board budget and Mahony in time was reduced to typing his own mail and licking his own postage stamps. It was not just growers' interest fighting Mahony, there was another contentious force. The Teamsters were also organizing farm workers.

"After I left the Agricultural Labor Relations Board," said Mahony, "I said to myself, "Everything in life will be easy after this." There were some very real death threats, police protection, bombproof cars, all that kind of stuff. I said, Nothing will ever reach this proportion: and nothing ever has. It really kind of steeled me."

These farm worker activities gave Mahony his national prominence and projected a liberal image. However, Mahony's links to the farm worker and Mexican-American and migrant communities were not really political, except by circumstance. They went deeper.

In 1975, during the ceremony at which he became Fresno auxiliary bishop, speaking in Spanish from the altar, the new auxiliary asked a favor of the Mexican-Americans and Mexicans present:

"You are the most affectionate people. You know that even though I am not of your own race, I have always loved you much and have identified myself with you. Because of this I wish to ask you a great favor: that you accept me and receive me as your son and brother."

It was an astonishingly frank and emotional statement for a man generally hesitant to reveal his inner feelings, and it spoke of needs and commitment far beyond the role of domestic missionary or pastor, priest or politician.

This total identification with the Mexican community already had some older Anglo priest in Fresno complaining that Mahony was "too Mexican." The same complaint would be heard in Stockton: "The Hispanics have his ear." And in Los Angeles, the talk would be of Mahony's drive for "the Latino-ization of the church" and his parallel political intentions to help accelerate the Latino-ization of L.A. city politics.

Stockton bishop

In 1980, Mahony was named the third bishop of Stockton, a diocese founded in 1962. Mahony bad 82 priests (in 31 parishes) and the pastors had 104,522 people to serve. One interesting contrast between his Fresno and Stockton installations: no emotional appeal from the altar. Rather, in Stockton, on April 17, 1980, he based his address on five principles of church contained in John Paul II's first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis.

In Stockton, Mahony brought in consultants, did a diocesan survey and ran a tight ship. He was both at ease and in his element.

On Stockton's clergy during Mahony's years, one observer commented: "To the extent that priests are ever happy, I think he revitalized them in Stockton. He worked to establish a degree of fraternity and listened to their concerns." Another view is: "You'll notice, when Roger made cardinal, there wasn't a delegation of Stockton priests clamoring to board the plane to Rome."

A major influence on Mahony in Stockton was Fr. Fernando Villalobos, a veritable Friar Tuck of a Franciscan: 5-foot-pounds, 8, 230 with liberation theology in his heart and soul. Villalobos was a dynamo Mahony selected to head up Hispanic ministries.

But he played a role in Mahony's life that some claim has been absent since - that of a trusted colleague on the same Hispanic wavelength who on all the issues told it as he saw it. "The two were really close," said a Stockton colleague, "Fernando would confront Roger on the issues, call him on them, keep him honest."

Many suggest that as cardinal in Los Angeles, Mahony has no one around him, and wants no one around him, who will stand up to him, who will call him on the issues.

Worse yet, said others, today he surrounds himself with priests 10 to 15 years his junior who "are in awe of him." In 1985, there was the likelihood that Mahony and Villalobos would work together in Los Angeles, too. The Franciscan was being assigned as pastor to downtown's St. Joseph Church at 12th and Los Angeles.

But at Christmastime that year, Villalobos, at home in Costa Rica on vacation, was persuaded to have an operation for a persistent back problem. He died in the operating room. "We were very close," said Mahony, "primarily because of our concern for the Hispanic people."

Mahony was silent for a moment as the clock behind him chimed the quarter-hour.

When Pope John Paul II was elected in 1978, Mahony, in Fresno, was just one more 42-year-old American auxiliary bishop. But the new pontificate would be good to him. By the early 1980s, Mahony's face was coming into focus at the Vatican. In July 1984, Mahony was named to the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace; nine days later he was at the pope's summer home, Castelgandolfo, with two other U.S. bishops, reporting back on Africa's 5 million refugees.

Los Angeles was coming vacant. The Apostolic Delegate (later Vatican ambassador to the United States), Archbishop Pio Laghi, had been in the states long enough to assess the merits of Mahony, who had been appointed auxiliary and bishop by Apolostic Delegate Jean Jadot. Mahony was the front-runner.

The Hispanics wanted a Hispanic and pushed for Archbishop Patricio Flores of San Antonio or (now resigned) Archbishop Robert Sanchez of Santa Fe. I.A. Auxiliary (now archbishop of Portland, Ore.) William Levada's name surfaced. He had his own promoters: Irvada and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith prefect, were Rome classmates.

Why Mahony? It is common enough these days to talk about successful people having mentors, elders who steer them and pull them up the ladder. That may be less true in Mahony's case than most, though it was known early on that Manning bad his eye on him."

Mahony does have a solid friend in Rome, seminary pal Archbishop Justin Rigali, Secretary of the Congregation of Bishops, but to some extent Mahony is self-made.

Roger knows what he's fighting for," said a Fresno friend, "hes very, very loyal to the church; its fight is his fight. If the pope said, "All cardinals have to get married," Roger would wed; he's that loyal - the poor woman."

Why Mahony for L.A.? "We needed someone with a lot of energy," was one assessment garnered in Rome earlier this year.

The Vatican selected Mahony because he was young, exceptionally hardworking, organized, earnest, spoke Spanish and was on the correct side of the papal issues.

Plus, in February 1985, with the search for Manning's successor well under way, Mahony joined the antidissent movement. He decreed that Stockton's parishes and agencies could not invite anyone from outside to speak inside the diocese without his permission.

(Later, and again in Los Angeles, Mahony banned priests not wearing roman collars from public platforms; veted potential exhibitors at local Catholic conventions; kept a censor's hand on his local newspaper, The Tidings; and apparently showed no opposition when parish ministry teams with women too strongly represented were ousted.)

L.A. appointment

On Sept. 5, 1985, in St. Vibiana's Cathedral on Los Angeles" skid row, Mahony was installed. Shades of John Paul II, he spoke in Vietnamese, Spanish, English and Hungarian. He likened the archdiocese's ambiguity of riches and poverty, discrimination and opportunity, to the complex of freeways crisscrossing L.A.

"The vast set of highways has a twofold possibility: It can bring us into contact with another in an immediacy no other previous period of human history can match, or it can separate us into isolated communities and pockets of people, into the privileged and those who wonder from day to day how they will find work or even how they will protect their families in a sea of urban violence."

The previous day, to 800 priests crowded into the chapel of Our Lady Queen of Angels High School Seminary, an open and modern setting abutting the historic Mission San Fernando, Mahony said: "As the first official step which I take as your new archbishop, I commit myself fully and completely to each one of you, my brother priests of our archdiocese."

Only one-third of Mahony's 1,400 priests were ordained for the archdiocese; more than half the existing priests are from religious orders and the others have transferred in. Eight years later, a veteran monsignor could say of Mahony, We're so frustrated with him we pee on his picture in the diocesan directory.

What could happen to this tall bishop from two smallish dioceses to draw such a reaction? A penchant for total control or, quickly, and within his new structure, power? Or was it a form of isolation by position and life-style, recalling Australian writer Patrick White's phrase, "How difficult it would be to recognize friendship if one achieved success."

On the day of his installation in Los Angeles, Mahony did achieve secular prominence, a pasteurized form of success. He had stepped into a new world.

An old comic-strip character, the Colonel, was wont to say, "A man is known by the company he keeps." In Los Angeles, Mahony began to keep a new sort of company -- with the old wealth and new, with the fast money and the foundations.

Organization man

Mahony, as is his style, hit the ground running. In the first few months he had consultors in on everything from charities to finance to computers.

The latter was essential because Mahony was both amused and appalled to find that "the Iron Chancellor," Msgr. Benjamin Hawkes' fabled financial empire for the most part depended on handwritten ledgers.

Hawkes had resigned with Mahony's installation and dropped dead 10 days later -- the money was safe but only Hawkes understood the workings of a diocese where many departments did not even operate on the same fiscal year.

By December 1985, Mahony had set in motion a convocation-consultation that, among other things, aimed to poll everyone in the archdiocese on 25 questions under three headings: Why do we exist as a church? What ought to be the future direction in Los Angeles? Whom specifically should we focus on and why?

The answer to the last, apparently, was to be the youth. But the process left many priests annoyed (they were not really a key part in the consultation) and many lay people bewildered.

"You wouldn't believe the amount of work laypeople put into this thing," said one priest, "but nothing really came of it." Some laypeople agreed with that statement. And it didn't help when several priests reported that Mahony had said, "I know what I'm going to do, but people like to be consulted."

But there was more to his arrival than that.

Staff anticipated a new style. "He would come to meetings. We felt very enthusiastic about his questions and responses to us, but as time went on, he did not really act on the things we hoped," said one agency official.

"His public commitment always seemed to be less than his private action. That was very true for the parishes in South Central, where I was. They were soon getting less money than they did under Hawkes," said a woman religious. "My criticism is he never really supported the issues he spoke so loudly about. And he is almost like two people. We would get those memos, his horrible midnight memos. Absolutely awful how he addresses people in them."

Another view is that "Mahony came in like General Motors, tripled or quadrupled the staff, expanding into buildings everywhere." Overseeing the remodeling of the chancery "appealed to the handyman in him," commented one priest. "Now the reality has set in and he's cutting back," said a former official.

"The fact is, though, the archdiocese is too big, one man can't run it," said a priest. "Managerially, today, it's passable, but not all his choices (of people) have been good." Said another, "He built up a bureaucracy of too many layers, and too expensive."

Mahony's view is somewhat different. The first staff meeting I held," he said, "when I came in, there were 25 people in the room. Twenty-four priests and one layman, Al Antczak, editor of The Tidings. That was it. So, to the priests' council early on, I said, "We really don't need priests in all these positions. So we began a process to move many out, and I moved in a lot of lay people, religious sisters, etc.

"We couldn't continue all of this at the same level -- benefits made a tremendous difference because in the early 1980s benefits accounted for about 10 percent of salary; today, they are about 36 percent. So it's getting to be an enormous cost: retirement, health insurances, all these things.

"We did quite a survey. We took all the archdiocesan services, who they were, how many personnel, budget, etc., and sent this out to each parish. I said to the pastor, "I want your whole parish team to fill this out, all people and ministries, because you may not know who is using these offices. We want to find out which services you use, need, and which need improvement." Two offices they relied on the most, we found out, gave the poorest service. One was insurance, the other was human resources."

Organizationally, Mahony divided the archdiocese into five regions, each with an auxiliary bishop in charge. From a management standpoint, however, responsibility and authority are two separate areas.

One observer said, "They did need the regional concept That's good. But the auxiliaries didn't get what they needed to pull it off and make strong regions -- a measure of independence and some financial control. They're trying to function."

Not so, said one priest: "Roger does go with Jose DeBasa (head of finances) to these regions and deaneries to talk about the finances and let them ask questions."

Of Debasa one priest financial expert said, "It would be a capricious criticism to suggest under Jose there was money ill-spent or unwisely raised."

Cuban refugee DeBasa, a former banker who became a Santa Clara University accounting clerk and later its financial vice president, had left Catholic institutional life for investment banking before being lured back -- to the L.A. chancery.

"L.A. may run a deficit ($3.5 million in 1992) from having to help bail out San Jose or Fresno and paying off this papal business, but that would just be an operational deficit, paper shuffling," said one priest.

"L.A. is sound. What Roger needs to get credit for, I think, is setting up an operation which links him to the high-end (moneyed) people like (now mayor Richard) Riordon and also strongly to the parochial level through tithing and sacrificial giving. His consultants did that. He's using the rich to help the poor."

A chancery official summarized this way: "His genius is -- I've seen him faced with very difficult situations, complex and multifaceted. He listens, then proposes an approach that amazes me. Contrary to public perception, he manifests an extraordinary sensitivity and understanding of the individual or situation involved."

Private cleric

His cathedral rectory-room is simple. Perhaps once a week, in his top-floor ham radio hideaway, be tunes out his day by tuning in the world. (Mahony also tunes out by being with family - he is close to some of his nieces particularly - although he keeps his family life out of the public glare.)

Downstairs in the rectory, which he shares with four other priests, the furnishings, silver and chinaware are sufficient to entertain a pope, though apart from the occasional bishop or priest there are very few overnight guests.

Mahony does entertain at the cabin he owns with Fresno pastor, Msgr. Ray Swett, possibly his closest friend. At the cabin he's a good host, gets chancery people up there to brainstorm or bishops up there to talk or relax. Mahony also goes to the cabin alone, to unwind or to research and write. His unwinding can also mean strapping on his tool belt and tackling the maintenance jobs.

Colleagues uniformly say there has "never been a whiff of (sexual) scandal" around Mahony. "There's always that discipline there," said one friend. On the silent annual retreat with fellow California bishops, Mahony is noted for his prayerfulness -- and the fact that he skips lunch to jog. There are stories of Mahony's suffering through tremendous personal verbal attacks, whether at the agricultural labor relations board or at sessions with priests or others, and never allowing himself to get ruffled.

Later he can explode, and sometimes does, driving his car and saying to others who are with him, "Did you hear that guy? Did you hear what he said?

Perhaps it is because he is able to maintain his public decorum while being provoked that some people, media included, bait him with seeming relish. In return, Mahony appears to exult in a good fight over issues, even if he ends up wounded.

Mahony is hyperproductive. When traveling, he answers his mail on the plane, pops it into the overnight envelope and drops it off at the nearest office or box; or he studies agendas, forms his opinions.

I'm amazed. He addresses almost every issue," said one bishop. "He's read everything before meetings, always scanning reports, something I can't do."

Some USCC staffers regard Mahony as a good committee chairman: "He's not going to win any Dale Carnegie awards, but he gets things done." Others still fault Mahony for his 1986 opposition to Jesuit Father Michael Buckley, named to the NCCB doctrine committee. (In 1977, Buckley had signed a public letter from 23 theologians dissenting from a Vatican declaration on women's ordination.)

About 70 percent of all Catholics live east of Denver, and Mahony is the only cardinal west of the Rockies. Possibly the Eastern Catholic episcopal establishment looks at Mahony through the wrong end of the telescope.

On Jan. 21, as head of the bishops' pro-life committee, he gave the homily at the National Prayer Vigil for Life in the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It was the eve of the Right-to-Life March. Mahony gave a balanced, seamless garment talk. ("On abortion he believes more in winning hearts than the tough-guy confrontational stuff," said a priest friend.) That same week, Washington Cardinal James Hickey's Catholic Standard, despite extensive pro-life coverage, skimped on Mahony's evening homily but not Boston Cardinal Bernard Law's utterances the following morning.

Priests inside

At Palm Springs in 1989, in surroundings that oozed wealth, the cardinal met with his priests. One, Fr. John Kane, told Mahony: "We don't trust you." Mahony had by then been archbishop for four years. Now, four years beyond that, it is not uncommon to hear, "The priests' morale has never been lower."

Both are brutal assessments. Not every priest agrees with them and the range of comments is revealing.

Los Angeles has approximately one priest for every 3,000 Catholics. The archdiocese is 60 percent Hispanic. Only 22 percent of the priests (about 300) are Latino, though nearly 50 percent of the current 402 seminarians are Latino. Los Angeles has eight black priests.

"Morale was zero before Roger," said one priest. "Los Angeles" priests were demoralized under McIntyre and under Manning, so nothing has changed."

An inner city priest contended that "any priest's morale depends on the day you ask him and what's happening in his life. It's pretty subjective. I know a lot of guys whose morale is pretty high - dedicated to working as priests and realizing we can make progress here. And the cardinal's into some good things.

"I think what the cardinal's trying to do more and more [is what] he said at Palm Springs, that it's time for us all to take responsibility for our own parishes and our own lives, that the old thing of blaming the chancery or the archbishop for difficulties is gone."

How does Mahony deal with his "brother priests?

At one level, by having them to dinner. Shortly after he arrived, he began inviting the oldest priests first and working down to the newest, then repeating the cycle. Each week, usually, eight or 10 priests come down to St. Vibiana's rectory. An hour for drinks beforehand, a simple catered meal, everyone relaxed in sports clothes, much small talk. Most call him "Roger," none of the "eminence" bit. So, he's probably met most of his priests this way three or four times.

Next, as at Palm Springs, he stands up and takes it. Even if it is feigned listening, as some critics suggest, it's gutsy to go knowing what might be.

One priest remarked that even priests "who bitch a lot" don't necessarily tackle him. "They get the chance to confront him, then chicken out."

As plans were being made for an October Los Angeles priests' assembly, Mahony expressed the belief that "we are in a very different place this year than we were at the last assembly. The last one, I think, was really more directed toward the leadership of the archdiocese: "What are you doing and what are you going to do for me?" That's not the situation today; it is: "What are we going to do about our ministry and our local church; and what are we to take responsibility for?"

"I think that's a magnificent advance because I think that's where the whole question of morale needs to be dealt with -- priests feeling they do or do not have a voice or power in shaping their ministry and the direction of the local church and then taking responsibility for it."

By no means are all priests down on Mahony. One pastor probably spoke for many when he commented that, "I'm impressed -- given the national and international demand on him and his travels -- by how much time he does give."

Another priest saw a reason for priestly disgruntlement in "Roger's control." The tradition, he said, was that L.A. priests who put in their time "did the assistant thing for 10 or 15 or 20 years, behaved themselves, finally got a parish and were left alone. Some of these places are million-dollar parishes with million-dollar rectories, maids in froufrou pinafores serving lunch. The pastors could write their own ticket.

"That's not the way Roger does it. He wants to know how much money there is and where it is."

Some priests bolt, as did Msgr. David Cousineau whose departure as head of diocesan Catholic Charities, "the largest nongovernmental agency in Southern California providing direct services to the poor," was finally mentioned in The Tidings six months later. It said that Cousineau had "stepped down," a delightful understatement given that Cousineau quit after an angry confrontation, with Mahony.

Cousineau (now in Seattle) and Mahony were buddies and went to ball games together. But it soured. Some say Cousineau was disappointed at not being named an auxiliary. Others doubted that.

"The major mistake David made," said another priest, "is that when be got pissed off at Roger, he put it in writing. Roger will never forgive that; there's a record of it. Roger can't forgive that, you see, because Roger's always been very good at covering his tracks, removing his paper trail to power."

Perhaps there is another moral in the Cousineau story. One priest friend of Mahony's said, "Roger has no shirt-tails. You can't get ahead just by being close to him. These cultural gadflies around him in the chancery office aren't going anywhere -- he picks good men for bishops. Does thorough research.

"Roger is not afraid to choose as bishops people unlike himself Years from now, he may be best judged by the quality of the bishops he has chosen."

Women outside

To some, Mahony can be quite a study in contrasts. Years ago, said a woman religious, Stockton Bishop Mahony came down to give a retreat. "He gave a good talk," she said, "the Eucharist and social justice -- he mentioned he was reading Albert Nolan's Jesus Before Christianity, which I thought rather fascinating.

(Mahonys more recent reading includes Avery Dulles's The Craft of Theology: From Symbol to System, David N. Power's The Eucharistic Mystery, Charles B. Cousar's A Theology of the Crosa: The Death of Jesus in the Pauline Letters, and Gerald Coleman's Human Sexuality: An All-Embracing Gift.)

"At the retreat, he helped clean up afterwards," she said. Once Mahony was transferred to Los Angeles, she saw a different side of him, she said, in that I presume he's comfortable with men because he isn't with women. At least not the women I known."

As this article was being prepared, it was astonishing how many women religious declined to be interviewed, even anonymously. Their refusal would be accompanied by statements such as Roger's vindictive. He'd find out somehow who it was and [my order or my organization or my colleagues] will suffer."

Mahony denies he is vindictive and said he was surprised at the accusation and would like to see evidence of it. He also contends there are many "strong women," including chancery officials, who are "not afraid of" and "not intimidated by" archbishops.

He named three. Only one of them was prepared to be interviewed. "I'm completely free to speak my mind to the cardinal," she said, "I have access to him. I find him extremely honest and up-front. We may not always like what he says, but he's ready to say it out front. He has given me his trust; he never interferes or looks over my shoulder."

Understandably, other women (as well as priests and laypeople) did not want quotations used from their personal Mahony "snotgrams" -- too easy for Mahony to trace tack who had been talking or complaining, they contended.

Yet, with Mahony, a more general postulation might be: Is it that women organized together beyond the chancery somehow loom larger on his horizon? Women members of teams and groups that existed when Mahony arrived commented in quite strong terms on his riding roughshod. "Unless he founded it himself, could take credit for it, control it, he didn't want it," said one.

"There was an existing right-to-life group; he started his own. A group working on gangs; he started his own. There was a strong justice group, the Peace and Justice Center of Southern California [formed with the backing of LCWR Region 14 when Manning had no such group]. Roger eventually developed one." Under Manning, there was a Women in Church and Society commission that gathered input from almost 3,000 women as a response to the first draft of the proposed bishops" pastoral on women.

Said one member, "We became a strongly cohesive group of women and did a really fine job, I think. We suggested, that with the report done he (Mahony) establish a commission on women. He thanked us for our input and said bye-bye. That was it."

When Mahony formed a justice advisory group with 11 priests plus a sister as secretary, women religious protested. Mahony told them they could have two members.

One Mahony-established interim justice group proposed, in memo form, creating social justice units in each of the five diocesan divisions, prioritizing issues and fostering racial and gender diversity in the membership.

"Roger read our letter and we were told he had rejected it out of hand," a sister reported. "People were angry, hurt. They called for a meeting with him but he would not meet. He disbanded the group and said he was going to create a new one. He said there were people on the committee "who weren't even faithful Catholics."

"There were really faithful Catholics, one of them a pillar of the church. Mahony's comment broke him. From that day on he had nothing to do with the institution. He still went to Mass, but he put his energies instead into Habitat for Humanity until the day he died. He was mortally wounded. The rest of us just went away licking our wounds."

When Mahony wrote "terminating the work of this group," he stated "it does not conform to the ... process I had envisioned and had entrusted to your group. It would appear that the members of the interim group chose to identify a variety of particular justice and peace issues in which they have a very personal interest and to propose certain action steps along the lines of those interests."

Two years later, he was writing to a regional archdiocesan peace and justice task force member, a layman: "I was very surprised to receive in the mail a copy of a report which you did on your recent trip to El Salvador. I am gravely concerned: No task force is authorized to have its own stationery and to give, as yours did, the impression that the work of the task force represents the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The task forces work with and report to the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, the only body empowered to represent the archdiocese and take action steps... Thank you very much for your understanding and compliance."

Where American women religious seeking radical change in the church are concerned, there's reason to think that Mahony has made the pope's fight his own, and Mahony may have many male allies. Of U.S. women religious, one priest friend of Mahony's said, "My thought would be, "Who is comfortable with them nowadays?"

The cardinal does not like to be challenged publicly; the women have challenged him just as they challenge all the church. But he doesn't let them do it on his turf if he can avoid it.

"Dear Sister," he wrote in 1988, "this is just a note to inform you that Mr. Al Antczak, [now retired] editor of The Tidings, did not run the two-page article which you submitted to him with respect to the Sisters' Council.

"It has been the long-standing practice in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, as well as in most other dioceses, that groups that are consultative to the archbishop do not submit for publication the views and recommendations which are a part of the consultative process.

"In the case of your article, you are really directing a series of recommendations for my own reflection and response."

The women can irritate him on things large and small. A Sisters Council steering committee, instead of establishing a traditional governing structure, chose a Sarah's Circle-style governance and appointed an archdiocesan contact person.

"This frustrated the man beyond belief," said a sister. "We also said that if the Sisters Council was called on to be represented on any other diocesan bodies, we would decide who the representatives were."

Mahony wrote, "I find it virtually impossible to deal with the so-called Coordinating Committee"... the effectiveness of the council would be far greater if you simply elected officers, like every other group in the church and in society."

That was precisely the point the sisters were making, of course, that it was time to move beyond where other groups were in church and society.

There are 2,400 women religious in Los Angeles, and the numbers are being bolstered by new arrivals. The Korean, Vietnamese, Mexican and Latin American-based orders are growing.

Some U.S. sisters complained that Mahony was long a hold out on pay parity issues in the California Catholic Tri-Conference -- the Bishops, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men -- and that many sisters, because their orders had heavy financial burdens, left for better paying dioceses.

As for his attitude toward the progressive women religious, said one, "We're not numerically in the institution like we used to be, so he just feels he can dismiss us."

Hispanic sensibility

In the social justice arena, Mahony's earliest and loudest commitment has been to the Latinos. An official biographer would note that Mahony's strongest commitments came in 1986 before 50,000 wildly enthusiastic Latinos in Dodger Stadium.

In his first two years he unveiled a comprehensive Hispanic pastoral plan to promote vocations (he sold the "Doheny collection," including a Gutenberg Bible, to swell seminary funds) and to help immigrants (the archdiocese opened a score of processing centers to help register people). He said he wanted a "conscience clause" in the federal law so religious groups could employ the undocumented. He urged the USCC to help organize repeal of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Aces employ sanctions, took custody of 24 teenage illegal immigrant boys detained by the INS and moved to help halt gang violence.

In summary, said a Hispanic priest, "the cardinal's heart is in the right place; mind and spirit, too. No quarrel with that, and recent personnel changes (activist Jesuit Fr. Pedro Villarroya has been named Hispanic ministry director) bode well.

But the difficult thing is the cardinal bites off more than he can chew institutionally. Immigration -- it didn't do that well. Pastoral plan -- part yes, part no. I've no sense there's a consistent, strategic, long-term follow-on to the plan. I see a sporadic kind of reaction only when the buttons get pressed on it."

Critics charge that Mahony will not move to seriously change any structures that would help the poor and has moved against those who were pushing hard: La Placita and Dolores Mission. Louis Olivares (from 1981, Claretian pastor of Our Lady Queen of the Angels Church -- La Placita), who declared the church a santuary for Central American refugees, "was so popular with Hispanics, Roger couldn't handle it," said one colleague.

"Plus (Louis) was saying "Screw you" to the police and the government," he added. Under protest, Olivares left La Placita and died earlier this year from AIDS. La Placita and the Jesuit-staffed Dolores Mission were undoubtedly Los Angeles' functioning liberation theology parishes.

At Dolores Mission, the outreach was so constant (particularly Fr. Greg Boyle's gang work) and so widespread (a shelter for immigrant women with children, feeding, community and education programs) that the media coverage was, too.

Boyle had his own Los Angeles Times Magazine cover story and made the major networks. "Roger was upstaged," said a priest. Boyle is now on sabbatical with the word out that he will not be back.

Mahony is media-sharp, as can be seen in a note accompanying a letter he wrote to the Los Angeles Times in 1991: I made the decision ... to set the record straight if nothing else, since history, too often, has a way of being made by looking at newspaper clips."

That letter came at the end of a three-year fight over the possible unionization of the archdiocesan cemetery workers, which Mahony won.

Mud still sticks to his apparent tactics, however camouflaged, during that confrontation -- one of the rare times when it was known that Msgr. George Higgins, "the labor priest? at the NCCB-USCC, a consummate. diplomat, was at loggerheads with a senior member of the episcopacy. The Los Angeles Times periodically pounced on Mahony during the three-year scrap, and Mahony's letter came when columnist Harry Bernstein had summarized the battle by blasting the archdioceses "antiunion" strategy.

In the gravediggers' case, even after the union acknowledged acts of improper campaigning, intimidation and threats of violence, an impartial panel sustained the 66-62 vote, favoring Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union representation at the 10 (later 11) cemeteries.

The scene was already ripe for misunderstanding and bitterness. No one disputed that the workers were poorly paid, receiving less than 50 percent of unionized San Francisco archdiocese's gravediggers' $15 an hour. Furthermore, the archdiocese had arbitrarily eliminated the gravediggers' annual bonus without even notifying them.

Mahony responded to the panel's ruling with personal letters in Spanish to all the workers, and more of the same followed from the chancellor and the cemeteries' director. (The next year, 1989, the archdiocese fired three cemetery workers for "harassment" and but denied the firing was unionizing related. Later, there was an out-of-court financial settlement.)

The archdiocese kept up the pressure until, in a fresh February 1990 ballot, the workers voted 92-24 against the union representation. In a subsequent vote, the workers again rejected unionization. The cardinal wrote so much on the topic, people were paraphrasing Shakespeare, "Methinks he doth protest too much."

Mahony defended his actions by alluding to "principal goals" of upgrading "all of our employee benefits," his "personal commitment based on the consistent social teaching of our church and the bishops" economics pastoral." Yet, all in all, like many employers, he wanted not unions but the "best approach ... a collaborative effort, one directly between the workers and the archdiocese."

Current history's view is that Mahony lost his cool and took it personally when the ACTWU first won the right to be bargaining agent for 120 of the 140 cemetery grounds workers. Said one priest: "Roger had a fit of pique. He saw himself as the "great union man.' "

Archbishops and gravediggers are rarely an easy mix. New York's Cardinal Francis Spellman went to his grave with labor, like Marley's ghost, hauntingly recalling 1949 when Spellman led in the seminarians as gravediggers in order to break a strike.)

Mahony's ambivalence about the media is not untypical of prominent public figures. He complained in one letter, as he had said in person, "For me the most onerous duty is having to spend time on news stories about my life and ministry. That surely is my greatest purgatory, and I do hope the Lord gives me a lot of "time off for good behavior" because of these various stories."

But he gives the interviews anyway.

In 1991, Mahony fiercely went after the local public television station, KCET, for airing "Stop the Church," the film of the 1989 AIDS activists' demonstration at St. Patrick's Cathedral, in which Cardinal O'Connor was vilified.

In Los Angeles Times and Daily News advertisements, Mahony urged KCET contributors to withdraw their pledges. Nearly 2,000 did, and one Catholic resigned from the KCET board and took his $100,000 pledge with him. Other Angelenos, outraged by Mahony's tactics, contributed $85,000 to offset the losses.

The truce came a year later when an unyielding Mahony and the somewhat bloodied local Public Broadcast System executives met face-to-face.

One priest remarked, regarding Mahony and the media, "Mahony's a strong leader. He's on the front page of the LA Times regularly. I want my bishop there. He's a national and international figure. Sometimes, when he goes off half-cocked, I usually agree with his initial reaction -- before the Vatican or someone gets on to him and he pulls back. On condoms he said at first it was okay to use a condom or to teach about condoms in AIDS prevention programs as long as you put the emphasis on abstinence. Then Washington (the Vatican Embassy) got on to him.

"Again, he broke ranks over gays in the military, but backpedaled. Sometimes when he backpedals, people question his integrity.

"Of course, he goes off half-cocked when he writes those nasty, bawling-out letters, too. He has wounded some of the guys through those."

Mahony counters, "Well, I've sent out an awful lot of letters and I just don't see it that way. I can think of only two or three letters that were harsh and were meant to be so. I've asked people, show me what, I'd like to be able to change my style."

Sometimes the national media seek him out, as they did when he opposed U.S. entry into the Gulf War, declaring it immoral.

Once the war was reality, he pulled back: A "Dear Pastor" letter talked of the war as the "necessary step in achieving full freedom for the people of Kuwait."

In the run-up to the 1993 mayoral contest, in which his friend and attorney Riordan was the final victor, The Tidings interviewed both candidates. But the questions were softballs, and issues that challenge Mahony -- abortion, freedom of choice, condoms in schools, styles of AIDS education -- were not raised. Riordan is said to be prochoice.

Third millennium

Word was that during the election, Mahony-Riordan relations soured. But they must have improved because the cardinal celebrated a private Mass for Riordan the day he was sworn in (July

It was the location of the Riordan Mass, rather than the Mass itself, that offended the Los Angeles social justice and activist community. Mahony chose "La Placita," all cleaned up, homeless removed, programs softened. "He wanted to say, It's mine," said one observer, "that "I'm in charge." Perhaps.

In Los Angeles, Mahony is now a key political insider. In Sacramento, on state issues, through the state Catholic conference, and in Washington, on national and international issues, Mahony can and will be heard. But how does this translate into his hopes and dreams for the Los Angeles archdiocese?

An official biographer, in time, will measure Mahony's term as archbishop from the top down, from the archival records. Colleagues, friends and harsh critics were asked how Mahony should be measured.

The consensus was on two matters. First, his ability to bring the multiethnic immigrant community together as "church," the third millennium folks did not suggest it be tailored to the existing model. But there was agreement it was essential to create a vibrant church that could be a vital part of the broader community.

Second, on his ability to hold on to the nominal and actual Latino Catholic community -- 60 percent of the archdiocese. To those whose model is the second millennium church, the cardinal's success in increasing vocations was a major measure.

Looking at these threat issues in reverse order, 19 priests were ordained for the archdiocese this year and the numbers are increasing. That bucks the national trend, though it still is not a replacement figure. Further, the temperament and suitability of those priests for the tasks ahead is an open question.

And so is the role of the Latino community. The archdiocese cannot take the fervor of Latino L.A. for granted," the LA Weekly had stated in 1989, and that is correct. The paper continued: The church in Los Angeles, as elsewhere, is in crisis. Though four out of five Latinos remain Catholic, most are Catholic in name only.... Moreover, L.A. is the major battleground north of the Rio Bravo in the increasingly high-stakes struggle between Roman Catholicism and an aggressive Spanish-language Protestant evangelicalism."

Mahony knows the facts and figures as well as anyone. But does he have answers for the Latinos and the rest of multiethnic polyglot Los Angeles?

It appears that laypeople are to be trusted only under the guidance of a priest. Despite the overcrowded polyglot parishes, there are no Ma-and-Pa-run clericless miniparishes. Control, not trust, it seems, is the order.

What an official biographer is likely to miss is what actually went on among the people. The quality of the lay Catholics working at the local level is often truly outstanding. They are, in their own ways, as courageous as the cardinal, for they pit themselves against the worst of society and against the worst of their church. In Los Angeles, as elsewhere, institutional church blindness or duplicity can run from the deepest values to the silly things.

Catholic pronouncements on population issues, condoms and sex education, some laypeople will attest, are ridiculous or irrelevant or counterproductive for a church attempting to assist people in a pluralistic community. The church's stances simply do not connect with people facing excruciatingly difficult and immediate choices in daily life; and those pronouncements do little to bolster the credibility of the folk initially addressed, the faith community.

Where the Catholic church is on divorce or intercommunion, on condoms or gays, seems not to be the shrine visited by many Catholic Angelenos.

At the niggling end, girl altar servers are forbidden, though a blind eye is turned if girls do one Mass and boys another. It seems to many Los Angeles Catholics that the archdiocese does not need more organization so much as it needs greater openness and trust.

Countered Mahony, "It isn't just me who needs to be more open. The difficulty, too, is that there are a lot of pastors who have been here under the two previous archbishops who aren't open to that kind of involvement.

"When you talk about "stifling," there are two sides to that. When you set standards or guidelines, they have two possibilities: to call people to something more, or to limit and cut off. My goal, (with) the model for the parish, isn't to stifle or diminish, but hopefully to bring everybody up to something better."

And yet, if the following comment from a black laywoman is typical, the black Catholic community, for example, feels no particular archdiocesan commitment: To be honest with you, the African-American Catholic is not a priority nor its presence seen as a real gift. We get lip service. (The cardinal) attends the black congresses, encourages us to go. That's it. But the question really has to do with using our gifts."

Like many an archbishop, as Mahony climbed the ladder and achieved rank, he became a manager of managers. Mahony's friends are mostly pastors, priests and the successful. There are few, if any, marginals now on easy first- name terms, people at the bottom, struggling. The contact has been broken.

Cesar Chavez's death severed the cardinal's last links of close and sustained personal contact with poor ordinary Catholics, and even Chavez had moved on. Mahony's official biographer will note that the cardinal still walked the streets of Los Angeles. But will that biographer perceive that Mahony's personal helicopter had become the symbol of the distance between the second millennium church and those on the sidewalk down below? (Or that the whirlybird was banished only because the Vatican insisted.)

So, two questions linger.

Once, as a new bishop, Roger Michael Mahony was able to look out into the body of a poor church and beg it to accept him as "son and brother." Could he do it today and have it ring as true?

Could anyone, in this First World church which, from Rome to Los Angeles, talks "poor" yet lives rich?
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Title Annotation:Cardinal Roger Mahony
Author:Jones, Arthur
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Nov 12, 1993
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