VATICAN CITY -- Popular pressure is mounting in the U.S. and Italy to keep California Cardinal Roger Mahony away from the conclave to elect the next pope because of his role shielding sexually abusive priests, a movement targeting one of the most prominent of a handful of compromised cardinals scheduled to vote next month.
Amid the outcry, Mahony has made clear he is coming. And a Vatican historian said Wednesday that there is no precedent for a cardinal staying home because of personal scandal.
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Conclaves always bring out the worst in cardinals' dirty laundry, with past sins and transgressions aired anew in the slow news days preceding the vote. This time is no different -- except that the revelations of Mahony's sins are so fresh, and ordinary Catholics seem to want to have a greater say in who is fit to choose their next pope.
This week, the influential Italian Catholic affairs magazine Famiglia Cristiana asked its readers if the Los Angeles-based cardinal Mahony should participate in the conclave given the revelations. "Your opinion: Mahony in the conclave: Yes or No?" reads the online survey of one of Italy's most-read magazines.
That followed a petition by a group in the United States, Catholics United, demanding that Mahony recuse himself from the papal conclave.
Mahony, however, has made clear he will vote. "Countdown to the Papal Conclave has begun. Your prayers needed that we elect the best Pope for today and tomorrow's Church," he tweeted earlier this week. He promised daily Twitter updates from the conclave.
Last month, a court in Los Angeles ordered the release of thousands of pages of confidential personnel files of more than 120 priests accused of sex abuse. The files show that Mahony and other top archdiocese officials maneuvered behind the scenes to shield accused priests and protect the church from a growing scandal while keeping parishioners in the dark.
Mahony was stripped of his duties last month by his successor at the largest Catholic diocese in the United States. But the administrative dressing-down by Archbishop Jose Gomez only affected Mahony's work in the archdiocese, not his role as a cardinal.
Historian Ambrogio Piazzoni, the vice prefect of the Vatican library, said there was no precedent for a cardinal staying away from a conclave because of personal scandal, though in the past some have been impeded either by illness or interference by governments.
Regardless, he said, any decision to stay away would have to be approved by the full College of Cardinals given that the main duty of a cardinal is to vote in a conclave.
"The thing that characterizes a cardinal is to be an elector of the pope," he told reporters.