ROME, February 20, 2013, ( – Velasio De Paolis, an Italian cardinal and Curial official, has responded to calls for the former archbishop of Los Angeles, Roger Mahony, to decline to attend the upcoming conclave, saying, “The common practice is to use persuasion. There is no more that can be done.”

“He could be advised not to take part only through a private intervention by someone with great authority,” the curial cardinal said, adding that ultimately “it will be up to his conscience to decide whether to take part or not.”

De Paolis is one of the 117 cardinal electors and president emeritus of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See. More pertinently to the issue, he is also Pontifical Delegate for the Congregation of the scandal-ridden Legionaries of Christ.

De Paolis insisted that he was not suggesting that Mahony not attend, or even that someone should try to persuade him. He told La Repubblica daily that under the laws of the Church, Cardinal Mahony “has the right and duty to take part.”

“This is a troubling situation, but the rules must be followed,” he said.

Mahony himself has written on Twitter that he has no intention of passing up the chance to vote in another conclave. Mahony wrote on Monday, “Count-down to the Papal Conclave has begun. Your prayers needed that we elect the best Pope for today and tomorrow’s Church.”

Bishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s former sex crime prosecutor and Pope Benedict’s personal choice for implementing reforms, also told La Reppublica that it is up to Mahony’s conscience to decide. “It’s not an easy situation for [Mahony],” Scicluna said.

In Italy, the question of scandal-plagued cardinals coming to the conclave has dominated the front pages of the papers. Italian news agency ANSA quoted Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, a highly placed official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, saying, “If his presence creates difficulties or embarrassment, then I think it could be opportune to renounce.”

The comments from the Vatican have given more attention to the lay organizations and individuals calling for the cardinal to decline, citing his decades of cover-up of sexual abuse by priests. The issue has crossed both international and language boundaries, with the Italian weekly Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana on Monday writing about the “Mahony affair” on its homepage, offering a petition asking the prelate to “stay home.”

An online poll on the magazine’s website received an overwhelming number of “no” responses to the question of whether Mahony should participate in the conclave. “Cardinal Mahony should not only stay home from the conclave but retire to a life of prayer in a monastery,” one commenter said.

“He should have the good sense to stay well away from Rome,” said Roberto Mirabile, director of the Italian anti-abuse group La Caramella Buona.

The call for the disgraced, and notoriously liberal, cardinal not to attend was started by the left-leaning political group Catholics United. Andrea León-Grossman, a Los Angeles member of Catholics United, said it would be a “good idea” for Mahony to give the conclave a pass.

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“In the interests of the children who were raped in his diocese, he needs to keep out of the public eye. He has already been stripped of his ministry. If he’s truly sorry for what has happened, he would show some humility and opt to stay home,” he said.

Barbara Blaine, writing on the website of the anti-Catholic group, Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), echoed the sentiment, saying that given “the multitudes of crimes he abetted – and in some cases may have committed” Mahony should stay home.

“His church superiors should insist that Mahony stay home, and his church colleagues should publicly prod Mahony to stay home,” Blaine said.

Blaine added, “We hope that the words of Cardinal De Paolis ring true and that the choice is taken away from Mahony.”

“We hope that high ranking Vatican officials will instead preclude Mahony from attending the conclave and voting for the new Pope,” he said. “His sordid record covering up child sex crimes should be considered a stain on the church and unworthy of a papal elector.”

Cardinal Mahony led the nation’s largest archdiocese from 1985 to 2011 and has long been the subject of doctrinal and liturgical complaints from the orthodox wing of the U.S. Catholic Church. But it was not until late last month that the scandals and rumors that had been dogging him for years finally came home. He was stripped of his administrative and public duties by his successor after it became impossible to continue to deny his decades-long role in the cover-ups. A court-ordered release of 14,000 pages of internal church documents proved that Mahony had worked for years to shield abusive priests from prosecution.

Mahony’s successor as archbishop of Los Angeles, however, has said he believes Mahony’s “accomplishments and experience” will “serve the College of Cardinals well” at the Conclave. In a letter to priests of the archdiocese, Archbishop Jose Gomez added that despite “confusion” in the media, Mahony remains a priest and bishop “in good standing in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.”

“Cardinal Mahony has all of the prerogatives and privileges of his standing as a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church,” Archbishop Gomez added.

Mahony has shown few signs that he understands the depth of anger his actions have generated. He recently talked about his fall in terms echoing the biblical descriptions of Christ’s Passion. “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,” he wrote on his blog. “Rather, I am being called to something deeper — to be humiliated, disgraced, and rebuffed by man”.

“I could understand the depth of their anger and outrage — at me, at the Church, at about injustices that swirl around us,” he wrote. “Thanks to God’s special grace, I simply stood there, asking God to bless and forgive them.”

Many of the Italian papers have included Mahony’s case with those of Justin Cardinal Rigali, former archbishop of Philadelphia who resigned under a cloud of suspicion and Belgian cardinal Godfried Danneels formerly the head of the Brussels archdiocese, who had computer files seized at his home three years ago over suspicion that he may have helped cover up hundreds of abuse cases.

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