Archbishop Jose Gomez of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles said in a letter that he is stripping his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, of his archdiocese duties, claiming that he did not do enough to address abuse by priests during his time in charge.
"I find these files to be brutal and painful reading," Gomez said in the letter, referring to more than 12,000 pages of files the church posted on Thursday detailing child sexual abuse crimes its priests have been accused of. "The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil. There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children."
The files apparently showed that Mahony worked with other top officials to protect the church body from many of the accusations filed against it, and shielded pedophile priests in fears that the church would be engulfed in a bigger scandal.
"I cannot undo the failings of the past that we find in these pages. Reading these files, reflecting on the wounds that were caused has been the saddest experience I've had since becoming your Archbishop in 2011," Cardinal Gomez added.
Mahony, 76, will no longer have administrative or public duties in the diocese, marking a highly unusual fallout between top members of the Catholic Church.
"It's quite extraordinary. I don't think anything like this has happened before," commented the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, according to The Associated Press. "It's showing that there are consequences now to mismanaging the sex abuse crisis."
"This is very unusual and shows really how seriously they're taking this. To tell a cardinal he can't do confirmations, can't do things in public, that's extraordinary," Reese added.
U.S. canon lawyer Nicholas Cafardi explained that Cardinal Gomez's authority only extents to the L.A. archdiocese, and he is not in a position to remove Mahony from any duties relevant to the Vatican in Rome, but his public reprimand of such a major Catholic official still marks a drastic change of how the church has handled previous abuse cases.
"Basically, only the Holy See can sanction a cardinal," Cafardi said. "It is fair to say that Gomez's authority only runs to the limits of the archdiocese.
"Still, do not underestimate the importance of one bishop publicly criticizing another. That is huge."
The LA Archdiocese, as well as the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, has received much criticism over the way it has handled the growing number of child sex abuse cases brought up against it. It is one of the most pressing issues that the Vatican has faced over the last few decades, and a growing number of officials, including Pope Benedict XVI, admitted that the church has failed to deal with the cases properly.
"We need to acknowledge that terrible failure today," Gomez said in his letter. "We need to pray for everyone who has ever been hurt by members of the Church. And we need to continue to support the long and painful process of healing their wounds and restoring the trust that was broken."