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Mahony--Holding the Line on Doctrine : Prelate Mirrors Vatican Stance

August 25, 1986|JOHN DART | Times Religion Writer

Archbishop Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles, well-known as an activist on social issues, has also energetically supported, behind the scenes, the current Vatican moves to hold a conservative line on Roman Catholic teachings and doctrine.

In his first 12 months as archbishop, Mahony has publicly--and passionately--taken up the cause of the poor, immigrants and AIDS victims.

Although he was known to be conservative on theological matters when he was appointed to the Los Angeles post, little has surfaced since then about his activities within the church hierarchy.

Role as Teacher

But the prelate said that despite his seemingly low-key approach to church doctrine, "I am strongly committed to the accurate and complete teaching of the church. I take my role as teacher very seriously."

This other side of Mahony emerged in an interview with The Times last week.

- He said he was one of the U.S. Catholic bishops who balked last June at the appointment of a Berkeley theologian to the sensitive post as the American hierarchy's adviser on doctrine. It was not previously reported which bishops had objected to the choice of Father Michael Buckley, a professor at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley.

After the objections were raised, a panel of three bishops was named to review the appointment and Buckley's published dissent on certain church teachings. Mahony hinted, however, that Buckley's appointment might still go through.

- Following Mahony's suggestion last year, a nine-volume series on theology, co-edited by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now the Vatican's chief enforcer of doctrinal conformity, will be translated and published by the Catholic University Press.

Mahony said that he became interested three years ago, while he was bishop of Stockton, in meeting what he said were seminarians' needs for an updated, comprehensive set of books on theology in English. He said he heard high recommendations for the series, which was published in the late 1970s in German--before Ratzinger was named head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

- Mahony said that as a trustee of the Catholic University of America, he was one of the bishops "concerned" about the written opinions of Father James Provost, a prominent professor of church law there for seven years.

Amid questions raised by the Vatican, Provost's application for tenure was not acted upon and he would have been required to leave the faculty Aug. 31. But last week a majority of 18 bishop-trustees voted by mail to grant him tenure, virtually assuring his retention.

Reputation as Activist

Mahony did not say how he voted, but he denied one published account that he and Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston, had been "leading the pack" against Provost.

Mahony's predominant reputation as a social activist, especially on liberal issues, preceded his installation last Sept. 5 as successor to Cardinal Timothy Manning as head of the 2.6-million-member Los Angeles archdiocese.

Chairman of the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board in 1975-76, Mahony was identified with efforts to improve the lot of California farm workers and, in the 1980s, had helped formulate the American bishops' pastoral letter condemning the nuclear arms race.

Once ensconced in the Los Angeles chancery, he stepped out frequently to hold press conferences and address a variety of groups and public concerns.

He took up the cudgel--or, more aptly, swung the shepherd's crook (symbol of the church hierarchy)--on behalf of illegal aliens, the homeless and victims of AIDS, and made it plain by his appointments that women and lay Catholics would play an increasing role in running the archdiocese.

He also spoke out strongly against the idea of birth control clinics at public schools, the sale of erotic magazines at convenience stores and against abortion. But Mahony has not gone out of his way to reassert the church's prohibition on women priests, married priests, divorce and other church teachings unpopular with some church members. And he has rarely taken a public position in Los Angeles that would seem to cast him as a hard-liner on doctrine.

Few Complaints

Yet, the doctrinally watchful Catholic Right has had few complaints about Mahony. In fact, only weeks before the Vatican announcement last year of his assignment to Los Angeles, Dale Vree, a columnist for the conservative National Catholic Register, praised Mahony, then the 49-year-old bishop of Stockton, as not one of the "weak" and "vacillating" bishops that conservative Catholics have bewailed.

Mahony told a Times interviewer last summer that his rules for Stockton were consistent with church practices. "Dissent--even legitimate dissent--needs a particular forum for its expression. . . . I was particularly concerned that dissenting views not be taught on a par with the official teaching of the church and that people teaching the faith be . . . properly qualified," he said.

Legitimate Dissent

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