Dear Archbishop Jose Gomez:
Welcome to Los Angeles!
Actually, I don't feel quite as gleeful as that exclamation point suggests. I'm going to miss Cardinal Roger Mahony, who said Tuesday that he's gotten a license and he's going fishing.
Mahony produced a lot of great column fodder for me, Archbishop Gomez, so don't hold it against me if I keep referring to church headquarters as either the Taj Mahony or the Rog Mahal.
If you haven't already been filled in, the archdiocese agreed in 2007 to pay $660 million to 500 victims going back decades. And to keep things interesting, there's still a federal grand jury investigation into the handling of the sex abuse scandal.
Did I say, "Welcome to Los Angeles?"
But you and I, Archbishop Gomez, will be starting with a clean slate, of course, which means I'm assuming you're free of any wrongdoing. I worry a little that it was Pope Benedict XVI who sent you here, since his handling of molesters has recently been called into question.
And I know you've got your critics in San Antonio, where the local chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests says a clergyman accused of sexually abusing a teen was allowed to live next door to an elementary school.
But for now, I'll accept your adamant claim Tuesday that those allegations were "not true."
I want you to know I'll be pulling for you. And I love the fact that a region with a vast Latino population has a church leader born in Mexico.
But just for the heck of it, here's a little quiz.
1. If a priest told you he'd molested altar boys, would you:
A) Fire the altar boys.
B) Call your PR agency.
C) Send the priest for counseling and then return him to the ministry.
D) Call the police.
2. If law enforcement officials asked you for records of priest molestation cases, would you:
A) Tell them the dog ate them.
B) Tell them you don't speak English.
C) Hide the most damaging ones and argue they're confidential.
D) Tell them you'll cooperate fully.
There's no rush completing the quiz. Thursday or Friday would be fine.
The answers are perfectly obvious to lay people. But given your place in church hierarchy, I recognize you may have a handicap, so let me give you a couple of clues:
The good Christian thing to do is to protect children before the church, and it's always best to tell the truth up front. Anything else, and you're asking for trouble.
Take, for instance, Mahony's 2004 "Report to the People of God," in which he told parishioners he had left five priests in the ministry despite complaints that they were molesters. Imagine Mahony's embarrassment when The Times checked the records and came up with an additional 11 priests who were still in business despite concerns about inappropriate behavior.
By the way, Archbishop, I'd like to hear more about your history with Opus Dei, the conservative element in the church that believes in, among other things, mortification of the flesh.
I'm no theologian, but if self-inflicted pain extends to denial of normal physical urges, couldn't that practice -- and celibacy itself -- be one cause of so much twisted sexuality and abuse over the last several hundred years or so?
As a former "A" student at St. Peter Martyr grade school in the San Francisco Bay Area, I'd love to discuss theology with you.
I mean, it's not like things are going well, with the flock dwindling and many loyal parishioners impatient about resistance to reform on issues from birth control to priestly celibacy.
But those are things we can talk about when we get to know each other better. And I did see, by the way, that you said you'd like to learn more about L.A.
Did you see my hand just shoot up? I'm your guy, Archbishop Gomez. Let me be your welcome wagon and tour guide, and I ask only one thing in return.
A few years back, Mahony said he was reserving a crypt for me at the cathedral. I'd like to think that even after the regime change, the offer still stands. And in honor of Mahony, I'd like for my tombstone to read: