LOS ANGELES — The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles said Thursday a search is under way for a successor to Cardinal Roger Mahony, who has spent 25 years as the spiritual leader of the nation's largest diocese and presided over a record-breaking clergy abuse settlement.
Mahony, the longest-serving U.S. cardinal since the Second Vatican Council, turns 74 on Feb. 27, and under church rules, bishops submit their resignation at age 75 to the pope.
The pope can decide whether to keep a bishop on the job longer.
Auxiliary Bishop Edward Clark notified his pastoral staff of the news in a memo Wednesday and included a prayer to be recited by parishioners for the success of the selection process.
The memo was first posted on the Catholic Web site Whispers in the Loggia.
A spokesman for the archdiocese confirmed to The Associated Press that the prayer was distributed.
"It's just an acknowledgment that the Cardinal is turning 74 and we have a year to go before he turns 75 and is required to submit his resignation," said Tod Tamberg, the spokesman.
During his tenure in Los Angeles, Mahony has been dogged by the clergy sexual abuse scandal.
In 2007, he agreed to a record-setting $660 million settlement with more than 500 alleged victims of clergy abuse.
A federal grand jury is also investigating how the Archdiocese of Los Angeles handled claims of abuse, and has subpoenaed several witnesses, including a former Los Angeles priest convicted of child molestation and a monsignor who served as vicar for clergy under Mahony.
Mahony's attorney has said the cardinal is not a target of the investigation.
The Rev. Thomas Reese, author of "Archbishop, Inside the Power Structure of the American Catholic Church," said it's unusual for an archbishop or cardinal to so openly indicate their departure before turning 75 and submitting their resignations to the pope.
Cardinals often stay on as archbishop of the diocese for several years past the retirement age. Cardinals can continue to vote until age 80 for the election of a pope.
"This seems to indicate that he's already talked to the pope or someone in the Vatican and made it clear that he's not kidding – he wants out when he turns 75 and the pope has said OK," said Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.
Mahony, who was born in Hollywood, was appointed archbishop of Los Angeles on July 16, 1985, and was elevated to cardinal by Pope John Paul II on June 28, 1991. Before coming to Los Angeles, he served as bishop in the Diocese of Stockton for five years in the early 1980s.
AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll in New York contributed to this report.