Former Los Angeles cardinal Roger Mahoney (AP)
Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TDOAY
One of the most powerful Catholic leaders in the USA, Cardinal Roger Mahony, the retired archbishop of Los Angeles, has been relieved of his duties for covering up for sexually abusive priests - a role the current archbishop called "evil."
Just hours after a court-ordered massive release of priest personnel files revealed the extent of Mahony's role in covering up for known sexual predators, Archbishop José Gómez announced Thursday night that he has relieved Mahony of his remaining duties.
A former top aide to Mahony also stepped down from his current post.
This is the first time since the massive abuse scandal exploded in 2002 hen there were direct repercussions for top church officials. In December 2002, Cardinal Bernard Law resigned his post as archbishop of Boston when protesters and priests called for him to step aside.
"I find these files to be brutal and painful reading," Gómez said in a statement, referring to the newly released files made public by the church Thursday night just hours after a judge's order. "The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil. There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children."
Gómez announced that he has "informed Cardinal Mahony that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties."
Gómez also said Thomas Curry, former vicar of the clergy under Mahony who was the cardinal's point person in dealing with priests accused of molestation, has stepped down from his current job as auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese's Santa Barbara region.
But the leading victims group was not satisfied. David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said in a statement Thursday night, "Hand-slapping Cardinal Roger Mahony is a nearly meaningless gesture.
"When he had real power, and abused it horribly, he should have been demoted or disciplined by the church hierarchy, in Rome and in the US. But not a single Catholic cleric anywhere had the courage to even denounce him. Shame on them."
The resignation of Bishop Thomas Curry, said Clohessy, is " a small, belated step in the right direction, though it's obviously only being done because the horrific extent of his complicity is about to become publicly known. He should have been fired long ago."
Both Mahony and Curry issued public apologies earlier this month.
Thursday's actions came within hours after the public release of some 30,000 pages from the confidential files of priests accused of child molestation. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias ordered the diocese to turn over without blacking out the names of top church officials who were responsible for handling priests accused of abuse.
Terence McKiernan, president of the online site, BishopAccountability.org which tracks church documents in the abuse crisis, complained Thursday night in a statement that Gómez only acted when the documents became public and that the pope should remove Mahony not only from his top ranking as a cardinal, a "prince of the church" but also from the priesthood itself.
"Gómez has had these documents for months and known about Mahony's wrongdoing long before now. And yet Mahony has continued to be an honored prelate and prince of the church. The difference is that now the people have access to evidence of Mahony's misdeeds. Sadly, we see the church acting ethically in these matters only when its actions become known," McKiernan said.
"Mahony's misdeeds deserve a much more substantial punishment than the tweaking of his administrative status by someone junior to him in the church's hierarchical society. Pope Benedict XVI should remove Mahony from the College of Cardinals."
Mahony led the archdiocese for 25 years until he retired in 2011. Were it not for his role in covering up for abuse, his legacy would have highlighted that he championed social justice and immigrant rights and built a massive new cathedral in the heart of Los Angeles.
Instead, story after story detailed the decade he spent fighting abuse victims and their lawyers to hide L.A. church officials role in protecting and promoting known abusers and shuffling them from one parish to another.
By the time of Mahony's retirement, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles had paid $660 million in settlements to 500 victims.
Contributing: Associated Press