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Cardinal Roger Mahony on March 8, 2013 at the conclave that elected Pope Francis.Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

March 8, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Criticism of the annual Los Angeles Religious Education Congress (L.A. REC) is heightened this year as the event is again poised to scandalize Catholics with some presenters who affirm homosexual behavior, and also include a cardinal who embodies the Church hierarchy’s mishandling of its clergy sex abuse crisis.

Over the years, the L.A. REC has secured repute for providing a platform for dissident presentations on the Catholic faith, and in particular LGBT affirmation in conflict with Church teaching.

Catholics have protested the event for its problematic offerings beginning decades ago.

The L.A. REC, billed as the largest religious education gathering in the U.S., is sponsored by the Los Angeles archdiocese and conducted in Anaheim in the neighboring Diocese of Orange, and it is again offering presentations that are ostensibly LGBT-affirming.

But additionally this year, as the devastation of the Church’s clergy sex abuse crisis continues to unfold, Cardinal Roger Mahony, the retired archbishop of L.A., is scheduled to appear despite his controversial history of cover-up with abuse cases and his having been pulled from public duties in his archdiocese several years ago by his successor, Archbishop José Gómez.

Mahony is scheduled to present a workshop at the L.A. REC later this month on “Connecting Junior High and High School Students with the Volatile Immigration Issues.”

Gómez is taking part in the REC and is celebrating its closing “Eucharistic Liturgy.”

“The cardinal has become a symbol of the mishandling of sex abuse complaints,” Ruth Institute president Dr. Jennifer Roeback Morse said in a statement provided to LifeSiteNews. “For him to address a Catholic education conference at this time is wildly inappropriate.” 

Morse’s organization has gathered over 4,000 signatures on a petition for Mahony to withdraw as a speaker for the L.A. REC. LifeSite has also gathered over 5,000 signatures on a petition urging the conference to disinvite Mahony.

Mahony stirred controversy last November at the U.S. Bishops’ fall meeting in Baltimore, which was largely centered on the abuse scandal, when he took the floor during an open mic session of the meeting and spoke for more than five minutes about how he thought the bishops should lead during the abuse crisis.

Pope Francis had appointed Mahony as his special envoy to the 150th anniversary Mass for the Diocese of Scranton in Pennsylvania to be held last March, but following word of planned protest by local Catholics, Mahony pulled out of the appearance.

Mahony also withdrew from a fundraising appearance for the Diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah, last August during heightened furor in the sex abuse crisis, amid possible protests there as well.

Mahony, who led the Los Angeles archdiocese from 1985 until his 2011 retirement, was censured by Gómez in 2013 after a court-ordered release of archdiocesan files following a 2007 sex abuse lawsuit settlement that constituted the largest payout in Church history ($660 million).

The documents showed that Mahony had concealed his knowledge of priest abusers, shielded offending priests from prosecution, and transferred abusers after they’d received counseling, at times out of state to skirt reporting laws, where they could abuse again.

After the files were released, Gómez publicly removed Mahony going forward from having “any administrative or public duties” in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

While some continue to deny the role active homosexuality on the part of clerics has played in the Church’s sex abuse scandal, the fact remains that an overwhelming majority of the abuse was perpetrated by male clerics upon post-pubescent males.

Abuse survivors and other lay Catholics deserve better

As the debate over clergy sex abuse causation continues, and Church leaders connected to abuse cover-up such as Mahony appear at Church events, lay Catholics and abuse victims persist in their calls for accountability.

LifeSiteNews inquired with the Los Angeles archdiocese about how, with the sex abuse crisis continuing to play out, the archdiocese reconciles Cardinal Mahony’s appearance and that of other presenters at its faith formation event, whose message conflicts with Church teaching on sexuality.

The archdiocese did not respond.

James Grein, a crucial voice in the Church’s sex abuse scandal as Theodore McCarrick’s most incriminatory accuser, criticized the L.A. REC for presenting behavior at odds with the Church’s moral principles as acceptable at a religious education event, saying it could perpetuate abuse.

“The title of this conference brings innocent interest from many Catholics,” Grein told LifeSiteNews. “Most people attending believe they will receive guidance about the Church and our faith.”

“This is another misguided ploy by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to disguise homosexual and abusive behavior as [being of] good holy men of God,” he said. 

What about chastity?

There are 10 workshops on LGBT issues on the event schedule, nine classified under the REC’s LGBTQ Ministry category. Workshop descriptions show a focus on LGBT acceptance, with no language pertaining to chastity or Catholic moral principles in that regard.

The Church teaches that everyone, whether ordained, single, or married, is called to be chaste and that sexual relations are reserved for marriage, which occurs only between one man and one woman. This is a mirroring of Christ as the bridegroom and the Church as His bride. The Church teaches as well that homosexual acts are sinful and can never be condoned.

Some among the L.A. REC speakers are known for homosexual affirmation and are regularly booked to present at the REC. 

Welcome and respect?

Repeat L.A. REC presenter Jesuit Father James Martin, widely known for his LGBT activism, is scheduled again for the REC. One of his workshops centers on “showing welcome and respect to LGBTQ people” in parishes.

Martin’s LGBT activism has been criticized for suggesting that welcome and respect mean acceptance of the LGBT lifestyle, for failing to effectively articulate the Church’s teaching on sexual relations outside of sacramental marriage, for the claim that LGBT-identifying individuals’ sexual preferences are given to them by God, and for implying that this sexual preference is innate in a human being’s identity.

Some of the LGBT workshop speakers are lay people recognized for their LGBT activism, some openly gay, and there are other priests presenting on this topic as well at the event in both Spanish and English.

The Church’s Catechism is “gravely evil” regarding homosexual acts?

Dr. Arthur Fitzmaurice, former longtime chair of the archdiocese’s Catholic Ministry with Lesbian & Gay Persons, is a scheduled REC speaker who has called the language on homosexual acts in the Church’s Catechism gravely evil.

At last year’s REC, Fitzmaurice said in a presentation that the Church teaches that homosexual orientation is not a choice and also suggested that it was acceptable for Catholic parents to allow two boys or two girls to attend their high school prom or homecoming as dates.

One of the other presenters in that 2018 workshop was Fr. Chris Ponnet, director of the Office of Catholic HIV/AIDS Ministry for the archdiocese and the archbishop’s spiritual director for Catholic ministry with lesbian and gay persons.

Building bridges?

Ponnet will again join Fitzmaurice this year at the L.A. REC to present “Building Bridges with Catholics Who Are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Questioning.”

Fitzmaurice had moderated another 2018 workshop that presented “transgenderism” among children positively. Joining him for that presentation was Fordham University theology professor Father Bryan Massingale, another regular REC presenter.

Massingale had said at previous REC events that the Church invented sin at the Council of Trent and that moral rules don’t always apply in every situation. He is scheduled to present this year at the L.A. REC with workshops titled “Race and the Limits of Dialogue” and “Jesus and the Virtuous Life.”

Massingale, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, spoke in 2017 at a national symposium for New Ways Ministry, the co-founders of which were officially silenced by the Vatican in 1999 because their teaching on homosexuality was found to be “erroneous and dangerous” and “doctrinally unacceptable.” 

In 2011, Massingale spoke at a Capitol Hill event advancing the increased support for homosexuality among Catholics, appearing alongside dissident Sister Simone Campbell on behalf of the pro-LGBT group “Equally Blessed.” He also opposed Wisconsin’s 2006 Marriage Protection Act, which banned gay “marriage” and civil unions.

A retreat for gay priests

Massingale tangled with Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki last fall when leading a retreat in the archdiocese for gay priests, brothers, and deacons. Listecki criticized the event but allowed it to proceed, and Massingale pushed back against critics — including his archbishop.

Responding to America Magazine in regard to Mahony’s problematic history with abuse cases, archdiocesan communications director Carolina Guevara told the Jesuit periodical that the cardinal had “apologized for mistakes of the past” and “met personally with victims and established a Victims Assistance Office to ensure that they would receive the support to help them through the healing process.” 

Morse called this response “pathetic.”

“To call the horror of clerical sex abuse, and the cardinal’s role in covering it up, ‘mistakes of the past’ is an understatement of epic proportions,” Morse said. 

“It’s good that Cardinal Mahony met with some victims of crimes he may have helped to cover up,” she said. “But, if he’d acted responsibly when he was in a position of authority, there wouldn’t be as many victims in need of healing.”

“Guevara’s statement is a weak rationalization for inexcusable conduct that diminishes the suffering of victims,” continued Morse. “Imagine how they will feel when he speaks at a conference where he will, in part, interact with youth.” 

“For the sake of victims,” she said, “and the pain that never goes away, the cardinal should do the decent thing and withdraw from the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress.” 

Grein forthrightly condemned the presentation of homosexuality as acceptable to the Church by priests at the L.A. REC.

“A different church”

“The abuse from these men may not be physical, but their speeches, writing, and pictures are presenting a different church,” Grein told LifeSiteNews. 

“It’s Jesus’ Church,” he said. “Not a false god church. Jesus wants us to be fruitful and multiply. Homosexual behavior is forbidden. [With it o]ne cannot multiply.”

He expressed hope that L.A. REC attendees will be exposed to authentic Catholic teaching on human sexuality.

“It is a mortal sin for a priest to use his collar to speak or preach blasphemous ideas that homosexuality is part of Jesus’s Church,” Grein said. “It would be great if a few hundred true followers of the faith were there to help attendees see, hear and witness how a true Catholic lives.”

To respectfully communicate concerns on the L.A. REC, contact:

Most Reverend José H. Gomez
Office of the Archbishop of Los Angeles
3424 Wilshire Boulevard, 5th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90010-2241
Phone: (213) 637-7534

FAX: (213) 637-6510 
[email protected]

Office of Media Relations
(213) 637-7215
(213) 216-8395
[email protected]