Unholy Days

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Summer is supposed to be when news cycles slow down. So many people go on vacation that it's rare for a big story to break through the languor of beach days and barbecues.

When I was an editor for projects at the L.A. Times, we used to hold our most juicy investigations until after Labor Day. Any earlier and we figured they would just be ignored.

But this season hasn't fit the tradition. Compelling local news keeps erupting, and the stories have not been kind to the reputations of some prominent Los Angeles public figures.

Who, for instance, would want to be in Antonio Villaraigosa's Armani suits right now. He's hounded everywhere by questions, jeered by soccer fans and mocked by Jay Leno most nights.

So much for Mayor Substance. He can't even enjoy a quiet dinner out with his girlfriend.

The City Attorney, Rocky Delgadillo, has his own full plate of image troubles. He's lucky he still has a job. And Lee Baca, the sheriff of Los Angeles County, is hoping that people will forget he ever mentioned Paris Hilton.

Arguably, though, the image that has incurred the most lasting damage in the public eye belongs to Cardinal Roger Mahony.

By title he is the spiritual leader of all the Roman Catholics in Southern California. But there are a lot of Catholics who can't look up to him any more, and a lot of us non-Catholics who don't understand why he still holds a position of responsibility.

Some wonder why he hasn't yet been booked into Sheriff Baca's own Hotel Hilton. After all, the Twin Towers jail is just a few blocks from the Taj Mahony cathedral downtown.

This week, Mahony and the L.A. archdiocese agreed to settle legal cases with more than 500 past and present parishioners who were sexually abused by the church's clergy.

Often, the victims were children who presumed their priest had the authority of God behind his sordid deeds.

Often, they were molested on church property. Sometimes it went on for years.

Too often, the criminals committing the trespass were priests who the church moved to new posts because of complaints about sexual abuse.

In all, and this is just shocking, the abuse occurred in more than a hundred parishes, going back decades.

For years, the victims, activists, journalists and lawyers who exposed this appalling and painful chapter were attacked. Mahony hired the city's top crisis PR firm to chip away at the revealers and their tales.

But they deserve our admiration, and the victims our understanding.

Who will be able to forget some of the painful, anger-inducing stories the victims told this week, crying their eyes out on television -- years after the fact.

Their priests molested them. Their church let it happen.

The financial reparations agreed to this week total about $660 million, less what the lawyers take. Mahony's archdiocese could end up paying about half.

Collections at Sunday Mass won't raise that kind of cash. The church plans to sell its headquarters in Koreatown, and dozens of the properties it owns around Southern California.

Investments that pay the expenses of local parishes will be liquidated.

Mahony has apologized many times, privately and publicly. But it's hard to find anyone who feels truly better at hearing them. His mea culpas are too carefully worded, too sneaky to offer satisfaction.

You have to wonder how the Pope in Rome views all this nefarious news out of Los Angeles. But the earthly force Mahony should worry about most is District Attorney Steve Cooley.

He calls Mahony a moral failure and suggests the Cardinal will have a hard time living with his conscience. Cooley's lawyers are pressing for documents that could lead to charges of obstruction of justice.

Mahony's lawyers accuse the DA of playing politics with the whole case. Cooley is a conservative and probably was never that happy that Mahony walked with the farmworkers and protected immigrants.

But on this, Cooley sounds more like a good Catholic.

For KCRW, I'm Kevin Roderick and this is LA Observed.