Cardinal Mahony has responded directly and indirectly to the outcry on his blog, writing about the many “humiliations” Jesus endured.
“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,” Cardinal Mahony wrote.
He said in recent days he had been confronted by many angry people.
“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.”
Cardinal Mahony declined further comment Wednesday, according to the archdiocese spokesman, Tod Tamburg.
Cardinal Mahony is scheduled to be questioned under oath on Saturday as part of a clergy-abuse lawsuit about how he handled a visiting Mexican priest who police believe molested 26 children in the Los Angeles archdiocese during a nine-month stay in 1987. The Rev. Nicolas Aguilar Rivera fled to Mexico in 1988 after parents complained. He has since been defrocked but remains a fugitive, with warrants for his arrest in both the U.S. and Mexico.
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.
Italian newspapers have been filled with profiles of the cardinals whose presence at the conclave would be an “embarrassment” to the Vatican. They include Irish Cardinal Sean Brady, accused of covering up sex abuse; Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, whose offices were searched in 2010 amid a crackdown on pedophile priests by Belgian police; and Cardinal Justin Rigali, who retired as archbishop of Philadelphia in disgrace after a grand jury accused him of keeping credibly accused abusers on the job.
Dirty laundry was also aired in the run-up to the 2005 conclave that elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as pope.
Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, for example, was cited in a criminal complaint just days before the conclave alleging involvement in the 1976 kidnappings of two fellow Jesuits during Argentina’s dark years of military dictatorship. The cardinal’s spokesman at the time called the allegation by a human rights lawyer “old slander.”
According to the only published account of the 2005 secret balloting, Cardinal Bergoglio came in, in second place.
• Rachel Zoll in New York and Gillian Flaccus in Los Angeles contributed to this article.