02/28/2013 04:34 pm ET Updated Apr 30, 2013

Why Cardinal Mahony Should Not Vote for the Next Pope

Catholic Cardinals William Levada and Roger Mahony are fighting back. This weekend, Catholics United delivered nearly 10,000 signatures to Mahony's parish residence demanding he recuse himself from the papal election because of his participation the church's ongoing sexual abuse scandal. On Monday, Levada responded: "There are some victims groups for whom enough is never enough, so we have to do our jobs as best we see it. ... He [Mahony] has apologized for errors in judgment that were made," Levada said. "I believe he should be at the conclave."

Mahony took to social media, tweeting: "Anyone interested in loving your enemies, or doing good to those who persecute you? See my blog for today. Wow, Jesus is demanding."

He blogged: "I can't recall a time such as now when people tend to be so judgmental and even self-righteous, so quick to accuse, judge and condemn ... Whatever happened to the norm of giving others the benefit of a doubt until hard evidence proves otherwise?"

The picture these cardinals paint of sexual abuse victims who demand accountability in the Catholic Church is of unreasonable, insatiable, judgmental, self-righteous and hard-hearted aggressors. In Levada's view, it is enough that Mahony, who willingly and repeatedly endangered children by placing known pedophile priests in parishes, apologized. The implied message to those of us who are abuse victims is, "Why can't you just forgive us and find closure?"

Someone recently asked me what it would take to find closure regarding my experiences of being sexually abused. Is it possible for victims to have perfect closure? Does closure mean that the years of psychotherapy we're undergoing will magically make our wounds disappear? Does closure mean that the recurring nightmares we have about our perpetrators will cease? Does closure mean that when we make love to our spouses the tactile-induced PTSD we sometimes experience will stop?

We victims of sexual abuse can learn to "live with" and "manage" abuse-related PTSD, but it doesn't go away completely. Closure implies that one is done, finished and can move on unimpeded, but healing is a lifelong process.

Mahony's words send the message that victims should just forgive and forget. But it was the "forgive and forget" understanding of sexual predation that justified the reassignment of thousands of pedophile clerics, enabling them to rape, torture and harm more children. The victims with whom I've spoken want justice.

We want the Benedicts, Mahoneys, Laws, and John Paul IIs of the world to follow the example of their beloved savior and subject themselves to civil authority. We want them tried for endangering children, enabling abusive priests and conspiring to obstruct justice. We want to see the "hard evidence" scrutinized in a court of law. We want the church to defrock not only pedophile priests but also vicars, bishops and cardinals who assumed guilt the moment they learned of sexual abuse and decided to sacrifice the child for the predator. Closure is a cheap substitute for justice.

We no longer give clerics like Mahony the "benefit of the doubt," because the Church's leaders have consistently shown us they are not serious about justice. Cardinal Law was not defrocked but was rewarded with the posh post of St. Mary Major's archpriest. After the Dallas Charter, in which the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops promised to cooperate with civil authorities in abuse cases, the cover up continued. When his refusal to defrock a Wisconsin priest who abused of 200 deaf boys was exposed, Pope Benedict didn't resign. John Paul II wasn't disgraced for his refusal to punish known abusers, including a priest who abused over 2000 children, he was beatified. Perhaps, if either John Paul II or Benedict had broken centuries of precedent earlier and resigned because of his involvement in the abuse scandal, there might have been some reestablishment of trust.

Calculated hypocrisy and broken trust are at the core of this scandal. Priests who publicly presented themselves as holy men were secretly abusing children. Bishops who publicly presented themselves as shepherds of the people were covertly covering up the abuse. Victims and their supporters have heard Catholic leaders promise change, but the words aren't enough. This Lenten season, priests all over the world are preaching, "Words mean nothing if they aren't matched by equal and appropriate actions."

Now, Cardinal Mahony and other pedophile enablers will elect the new pope. Do they not see how their participation in such a process undermines their institution's credibility? Perhaps victims would find some peace if the cardinals who participated in the cover up of abuse were to recuse themselves from the coming conclave. Perhaps victims would find some hope for the future safety of children if all bishops involved in the scandal were defrocked.

Rather than fighting back, Levada, Mahony and other powerful Catholic clerics need to take a note from their Jesus and walk compassionately with the victims. They need to embrace the Catholic social ethic of the preferential option for the poor and oppressed by learning from the experiences of those oppressed by the sexual predation of priests and a bullying bishops. They need to embrace victims' desire for civil justice.

The conviction of Monsignor William Lynn of Pennsylvania was a start. Finally, a Catholic cleric, who conspired to endanger children, had his day in court. When Cardinal Law, Pope Benedict, Cardinal Mahoney and all clerics who have been sullied in the ongoing sexual abuse scandal have their day in court, maybe then, those injured by these crimes will experience a more satisfying healing and peace.

But closure? There will never be complete closure, nor should there be. If victim-survivors and their advocates don't continue to speak out, if they are silenced or ignored, then the same hubris that fueled the cover-up of child sexual abuse by Catholic "shepherds" will be unchecked and history will repeat.