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Catholic activists petition LA cardinal not to join papal conclave

Cardinal Roger Mahony arrives in the procession for a mass for Coadjutor Archbishop of Los Angeles Jose Gomez in Los Angeles May 26, 2010. R
Cardinal Roger Mahony arrives in the procession for a mass for Coadjutor Archbishop of Los Angeles Jose Gomez in Los Angeles May 26, 2010. R

By Brandon Lowrey

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Roman Catholic activists on Saturday petitioned a U.S. cardinal to recuse himself from taking part in selecting a new pope so as not to insult survivors of sexual abuse by priests committed while he was archbishop of Los Angeles.

The activists delivered a petition with nearly 10,000 signatures to the North Hollywood church where Cardinal Roger Mahony resides.

"It's a total slap in the face to victims to think (Mahony) can cover up 25 years of child sex abuse and then go prancing off to Rome like a prince of the Church," said Joelle Casteix, western regional director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

As archbishop of Los Angeles from 1985 until 2011, Mahony worked to send priests known to be abusers out of state to shield them from law enforcement scrutiny in the 1980s, according to church files unsealed under a U.S. court order last month.

Although his successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez, removed him from all public and administrative duties, Mahony has announced his intention to be among 117 cardinals allowed into the Vatican's Sistine Chapel to vote for the next leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI, 85, announced his resignation effective February 28, making him the first pope in centuries to abdicate rather than die in office.

His eight-year reign will be remembered by many for the child sex abuse scandal in Europe and the United States - most of which took place in the 1980s but which came to light more recently.

In California, at a news conference outside the St. Charles Borromeo Church, where Mahony is in residence, members of the groups held up signs reading, "Respect the victims. Honor the church. Hold leaders accountable."

"This should be a time for new beginnings," said Chris Pumpelly, a spokesman for social justice nonprofit Catholics United, before delivering the petitions to the church. If Mahony were to vote, "it would be a step backward. It would be a validation of the old ways."

It was unclear whether Mahony was at the church at the time, or if he would receive the documents before he left for Rome.

Earlier on Saturday, Mahony was deposed for more than three hours about his handling of sex-abuse cases. It was the first time he was asked about the church files unsealed last month, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Influential Italian magazine Famiglia Cristiana, or "Christian Family," has also questioned whether Mahony should be part of the conclave. Many readers responded online that he should not.

On Friday, Mahony took to Twitter to repeat his intent on voting: "Just a few short hours before my departure for Rome. Will be tweeting often from Rome, except during the actual Conclave itself. Prayers!"

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston; and Jackie Frank)

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