Cardinal Roger Mahony has served as archbishop for more than two decades… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)
The Vatican has begun the search for a successor to Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, who is expected to step down early next year as head of the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese.
The archdiocese distributed a memo to priests and lay leaders this week confirming that the search is underway and asking parishes to join in a prayer enlisting God's help in finding "a shepherd who will be an example of goodness to your people and who will fill our hearts and minds with the truth of the Gospel."
The memo surfaced Thursday in a blog, “Whispers in the Loggia,” which closely follows Catholic affairs.
Mahony, who has led the Los Angeles archdiocese for more than two decades, turns 74 on Feb. 27, putting him one year shy of the usual retirement age for his post. The cardinal noted in his blog last month that this would be his last full year as archbishop.
His has been a tumultuous tenure, marked both by his emergence as a leader in the immigrant rights movement and by criticism of his handling of the church's sexual abuse scandals.
There has been speculation that the Vatican may be looking for a Latino successor to Mahony, whose archdiocese, encompassing Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, now has a flock estimated to be 75% Latino.
Tod Tamberg, an arch- diocese spokesman, said there was nothing unusual in the succession announcement.
"It would be normal for the Vatican to have begun gathering names of possible successors for any diocese in which the bishop is celebrating his 74th birthday," he said. "The bishop is talking to his priests and professional staff, who would also know this."