March 5, 2013 (crisismagazine.com) – As archbishop of Los Angeles, Roger Mahony was famous for his petulance, dispatching angry letters to priests and others whom he considered insufficiently deferential.  But now that he finds himself in a subordinate position as a retired and rebuked bishop he displays none of the deference he once demanded.

No sooner had his successor stripped him of his diocese-wide “administrative” and “public” duties than the cardinal took to his “blog” to pout over the demotion through a snubbing letter. Hinting at a powerful faction of Los Angeles movers and shakers behind him while adopting a tone of passive-aggressive innocence, Cardinal Mahony wrote on his blog that “others” had “encouraged” him to publicize his letter to Archbishop Jose Gomez. “I hope you find it useful,” he said.

The letter was designed to embarrass, undercut, and scare his successor:  “When you were formally received as our Archbishop on May 26, 2010, you began to become aware of all that had been done here over the years for the protection of children and youth. You became our official Archbishop on March 1, 2011 and you were personally involved with the Compliance Audit of 2012—again, in which we were deemed to be in full compliance. Not once over these past years did you ever raise any questions about our policies, practices, or procedures in dealing with the problem of clergy sexual misconduct involving minors.”

Sadly, Cardinal Mahony’s bullying seems to have worked at some level. Archbishop Gomez would have been justified in strengthening his original rebuke after this appalling letter (not to mention defending himself against its insinuations and fallacious misdirection).  Instead, Archbishop Gomez has given some ground to him, writing to Los Angeles priests recently: “I am confident that Cardinal Mahony’s accomplishments and experience in the areas of immigration, social justice, sacred liturgy and the role of the laity in the church will serve the College of Cardinals well as it works to discern the will of the Holy Spirit in these deliberations that will lead to the election of our new pope.”

This is odd and unjustified praise for a cardinal who is principally known for secularizing the liturgy, blowing up at Mother Angelica, habitually defying papal directives on lay ministry, and routinely mistaking “social justice” for his own personal views in favor of socialism and amnesty. How could any of this “experience” possibly serve the College of Cardinals in its deliberations?

The irony of this line of praise is that even many of Cardinal Mahony’s old progressive defenders have abandoned it.  Liberal editorial boards from coast to coast—which once would have been inclined to overlook his role in the abuse scandal out of gratitude for his leftism—no longer bother with that charade.

Obviously, Archbishop Gomez can’t prevent Cardinal Mahony from attending the conclave. But he shouldn’t weaken his original rebuke under bullying and factionalism. If anything, he should call on Cardinal Mahony to cease his self-justifying blogging (doesn’t that qualify as a “public” activity beyond ministering at his parish?), which makes the archdiocese look like amateur hour. Even by the low standards of the post-Vatican II Church, a retired bishop launching a public-relations assault on his successor from his blog represents an astonishing display of ecclesiastical dysfunction.

Cardinal Mahony’s clericalist habits are so ingrained that it wouldn’t occur to him that his behavior constitutes an open scandal. He has long confused his perceived personal good with the good of the Church and can’t stop himself now, even though his straining attempts at vindication open the Church up to enormous ridicule during the conclave, a problem that has led at least one Italian cardinal to suggest he sit it out. In an ecclesiastical culture that prized the salvation of souls over a bogus “collegiality” (which usually means letting derelict bishops repair their images and preserve their privileges at the expense of the Church’s common good), such spectacles of egotism would be unthinkable.

Back when the very editorial boards now condemning his participation in the conclave were calling for Cardinal Bernard Law’s demotion, where was Cardinal Mahony? He was eagerly joining the media’s cries for accountability, telling reporters exactly what they wanted to hear: that “he would find it difficult to walk down an aisle in church if he had been guilty of gross negligence.” Now that he finds himself on the receiving end of Law-like coverage, he is crying foul, taking to his blog to play the victim in a series of “Lenten” reflections on his Christ-like suffering. He says that he is working hard to “forgive” his critics.

“Given all of the storms that have surrounded me and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles recently, God’s grace finally helped me to understand: I am not being called to serve Jesus in humility. Rather, I am being called to something deeper—to be humiliated, disgraced, and rebuffed by many,” he wrote.

But he could have accepted Archbishop Gomez’s rebuke and adopted a low profile, in which case this scrutiny would have faded. Instead, he increased his visibility by parrying with Archbishop Gomez, by defying his demotion, and by issuing a stream of non-apology apologies sure to inflame victims, all the while “tweeting” and blogging as if the Los Angeles abuse scandal never occurred.

And now he wonders why he is a target? The public’s anger is simply a response to his clericalist clawing to power.

This article was originally published in Crisis magazine on Feb. 21 and is republished with permission