Mahony and Murdoch: When Roger Met Rupert

Writing a check or coming up with cash is a vital liturgical deed in the root meaning of liturgy, a work done by people on behalf of the larger community.

Roger Cardinal Mahony

Gather Faithfully Together, September 4, 1997

  

As all the world knows, in a last-ditch-albeit-successful effort to avoid the presence of my father-in-God, Roger Cardinal Mahony, on the witness stand, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has agreed to pay $660,000,000 to more than 500 victims of clerical pedophilia. This is quite a princely sum—enough to build three of His Eminence’s cathedrals, or, for those primitive enough to prefer beautiful buildings, to rebuild Paris’ famed Palais des Tuileries thrice over. Fortunately for us all, the insurance companies have agreed to kick in two thirds of the cost, leaving the Archdiocese to sell off non-essential investment properties for the remaining amount.

  

Where our beloved City of Angels has it over such poverty-struck burgs as Boston and New York is that, rolling in dough as we are, no parishes will be closed and sold to come up with the scratch. There will be no need to assert to the court—as several dioceses have unsuccessfully tried to do—that since the parishes are independent entities, their assets are not liable. The problem with this reasoning is that if, say, a bishop takes a dislike to a church’s high altar or communion rail, out it goes. Since His Eminence of Los Angeles is particularly notorious for exercising his right to commit vandalism, the Archdiocese would be hard pressed to justify such an allegation.

  

But the donors, living and dead, who provided such discretionary properties to be sold to pay off victims have not been the only ones to have had large sums of money offered in their names this month. Indeed, the settlement sum is dwarfed by the five billion offered by media mogul Rupert Murdoch to purchase Dow Jones Industrials, Inc., and its newspaper, the Wall Street Journal. Apparently, after initial resistance, the Bancroft clan are willing to allow their holdings to be subsumed into Murdoch’s Borg-like empire. To most people, there could be little in common between the two principals in the wildly different transactions. But the papist prelate and the Presbyterian publisher not only have much in common, they are friends. It is a friendship that says much about society, morality, and the new face of power in the brave new 21st century.

  

It was a woman who brought them together: Anna Torv Murdoch, Rupert’s Estonian-but-nevertheless-Catholic wife. From the time of the Murdochs’ 1986 permanent arrival in Los Angeles, subsequent to Rupert’s taking up American citizenship, Mrs. Murdoch began funneling her husband’s funds in the Cardinal’s direction. By 1993, so prominent had the expatriate couple become in local Catholic circles that Auxiliary Bishop John Ward married daughter Elisabeth to Ghanaian national Elkin Kwesi Pianim, at his own Church of St. Timothy (in keeping with modern custom, the blushing bride retained her name, and stayed busy with her own career). Alas, the marriage was doomed to last but four years; Elisabeth, in what, as we shall see, is a true family tradition, dumped her husband during the final trimester of her second pregnancy, in order to take up with her married colleague, Matthew Freud (great-grandson of Sigmund).

  

Unsettling as this must have been for Elisabeth’s parents, consolation was forthcoming. Already, Cardinal Mahony had created “Dames of St. Gregory” in violation of the statutes of that Papal Knightly order. In contemporary Roman fashion, the violation became the law; the Holy See confirmed the action, and many Catholic women have been given the title since, world-wide. Building upon this foundation, and mindful of the money that the Murdochs had poured into various Archdiocesan programs (to include the new cathedral), Cardinal Mahony invested both of them with the St. Gregory, Rupert as a Knight Commander. On that occasion, Bob Hope was also given the order; but few were surprised that the 95 year-old declined to make the trip cross-town; that he may have formed an opinion of the relative worth of this order and its proximate provider might be gleaned, however, from the fact that later in the year he flew to London to be made a Knight Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. In any case, the newly-minted Chevalier Murdoch ordered his Australian and British papers not to mention his new status.

Alas, word got out, and criticism in Britain was swift. Deborah Jones, editor of the Catholic Herald, said: “We have been receiving a much larger mailbag that usual, about 99 per cent of it asking: ‘What the hell is the Church doing giving him a knighthood?’ The great majority are complaining about page 3 girls and soft pornography in his newspapers and on his satellite channels. Some of the more thoughtful ones are expressing concern over his monopolistic tendencies and his {legal} reluctance to pay taxes. Worst of all, it does the church no good at all because it gives the impression that these honours can be bought.” The celebrated Joanna Bogle, of the Association of Catholic Women, described the decision to honor Mr Murdoch as “absurd.” Speaking solely for herself, she said: “It sends out the message that you can make a living out of something—soft pornography—that is regarded by the Church as sinful, and yet you can be awarded for it. The Knighthood of St Gregory is supposed to be about honour and chivalry and splendour. To give it to Murdoch is ridiculous and wrong.”

There was similar reaction in the Cardinal’s domain. Among this were two letters that appeared in the January 9, 1998 Los Angeles Times. One Frank McPike of Torrance wrote, “[w]hile I don’t know who St. Gregory the Great was, I still have a feeling that if he were given a look at most of Murdoch’s newspapers, he might ask for a recount.” Mr. McPike added that “Murdoch’s sex-oriented British dailies, and even his blue-collar, lowbrow sensationalist U.S. holdings, make him an unlikely ally of the pope…. Perhaps the most telling factor is that Murdoch and his wife ‘have supported the Archdiocesan Education Foundation and other Catholic causes. Apparently, Murdoch bought more than the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1997.” George T. Bentley of La Puente, imagining the then-forthcoming investiture, “I can see it now. Murdoch’s Fox network will tape the ceremony, juice it up with the usual blood and babes, and air it during the February sweeps. I have the perfect title: “‘When Church Officials Lose Their Minds!’” Regardless of such sniping, however, His Eminence told Murdoch and the other freshly-made Knights that “you are examples of good peer pressure, positive influences on society and culture.” The Cardinal’s comments brought about a reaction in the happy couple. “I thought it was very moving,” Rupert Murdoch said after the ceremony. “‘I thought it was very spiritual, and I was very impressed by what the cardinal said.” Dame Anna added, “It was very humbling. We’re both trying very hard to get through the eye of the needle. Perhaps this is the beginning.” Certainly the pair must have been reassured during the course of the investiture by the ritual admonition that members of the order must be of “unblemished character.” Perhaps the new Knight Commander of St. Gregory, inspired by modesty, would attempt to keep his spotless nature concealed; if so, he did a splendid job. In June of 1999, he divorced his wife, and on June 25 went through the ritual of marriage with Wendi Deng, newly appointed vice-president of Rupert’s own STAR TV. While this may have been unexpected to outsiders, this move had a precedent: After divorcing his first wife, Patricia Booker Murdoch in 1967, he turned around in the same year and married the future Dame Anna, then a “cadet” journalist working for his Sydney newspaper The Daily Telegraph. Shattered as she surely was by history repeating itself, Dame Anna also took a new husband four months after the divorce, “marrying” William Mann in October. Considering all the juicy gossip that would have arisen had Murdoch’s tabloids given their owner’s amours the same attention that they gave to those of the Prince of Wales, he would have made a mint off of himself. Of course, given the relative tameness of the Prince’s exploits, ending as they did with marriage to the lady he had loved long before he met Princess Diana (to say nothing of that unfortunate noblewoman’s tragic death), some would charge the Chevalier Murdoch with arrant hypocrisy.

  

What was Cardinal Mahony’s response to this trans-national Peyton Place? Well, His Eminence, perhaps innocently misunderstanding the Church’s social teaching to be a “preferential option for the rich,” has had long experience assuaging the consciences of the wealthy and powerful. He has been, perhaps unfairly, charged with “playing the role of Archbishop of Canterbury to the L.A. elite.” Critics would point to his relationships with such folk as “the last mogul,” the late (and Mafia-connected) Lew Wasserman, and various pro-abortion politicians, such as congressman Edward Roybal and former mayor of Los Angeles, Richard Riordan. Writing of Wasserman’s death in Archdiocesan paper The Tidings of Friday, June 7, 2002, the cardinal declared of the man who brought us The Last Temptation of Christ, and much else:

  

the passing of Lew Wasserman closes an era in the entertainment industry which will never again be experienced. Lew was both the architect and the patriarch of the motion picture and television industries, and his creativity and energies took the industry forward in ways never envisioned. What you and I take for granted in today’s entertainment medium did not just happen. It took extraordinary initiative, daring, courage and talent.

  

Certainly, it took daring, given the number of times films produced by Wasserman have been condemned by Catholic bishops. In any case, the cardinal went on to assure us: “the English language does not possess the superlatives needed to describe this exceptional human being and leader. I considered him a dear friend, a wonderful counselor, and a model leader. In the Hebrew scriptures, he would surely be called both prophet and patriarch, because so he was.” Indeed. Wasserman had been appointed by the Cardinal to the Catholic school board, and had showered the prelate’s causes with millions of dollars.

  

So too with Congressman Roybal. In 1987, Archbishop Mahony, (still awaiting, and perhaps lobbying for the Red Hat), wrote a letter declaring that the faithful could not vote for pro-abortion politicians. This was a bit odd, as there was no election immediately coming up at the time. Nevertheless, emboldened by this bit of pastoral advice, a move surfaced among the Golden State’s Knights of Columbus to oust Roybal from the Knights because of his pro-abortion voting record. This effort foundered when Archbishop Mahony faxed a letter to Supreme Knight Virgil Dechant, quoted in the Wanderer, which said: “Cong. Roybal is a faithful Catholic, one of our best examples of a Hispanic Catholic in public life who is not afraid to live out his Catholic life with pride. I have known him and his family for over 30 years, and I have the highest respect for him as a member of this Archdiocese.” Whatever anyone might claim, Roybal knew that his archbishop was with him, and the congressman voted for abortion happily until his retirement. In earthly terms, it was fitting that the cardinal should preside over the funeral of this man.

  

Mayor Riordan was and is a similar case. Shortly after the knighting of the Murdochs, the then serving mayor announced February 10, 1998 that he would marry his longtime companion, Nancy Daly, in a civil ceremony on St. Valentine’s Day. Since His Honor had been married twice in the Church (the second time following an annulment), this third attempt with Mrs. Daly prevented both parties from receiving communion. Riordan declared at the time that he would “regret” being no longer allowed to receive, but that he intended to remain an active Catholic—an activity expressed in the past by such actions as the donation of $250,000 to the post-1994 earthquake alterations at St. Monica’s Santa Monica, and endorsing the cardinal’s successful effort to persuade the City Council to strip St. Vibiana’s Cathedral of its landmark status (this latter move was necessary in the campaign to bulldoze it and build the new one). Cardinal Mahony’s response to Mayor Riordan’s civil marriage, as reported in the February 12 Los Angeles Times was measured. “I am saddened by their decision to wed civilly,” His Eminence declared. “Although they remain members of the Catholic Church, their action compromises their ability to participate fully in the Church’s sacramental life… I urge them, as I would all other Catholics who find themselves in similar circumstances, to continue to attend Mass regularly and to share in the life and the mission of the Church.” Riordan was not upset, according to the mayor’s secretary, Noelia Rodriguez. “He knew this was coming. He respects the cardinal for his position.” Of course, none of this was a great surprise to His Eminence. After all, the mayor and Mrs. Daly (at the time still legally married to Robert Daly, former head of Warner Brothers Studios) were beneficiaries of a Mass said for them by the cardinal on the day of His Honor’s inauguration as Mayor of Los Angeles. Shortly after, Mayor Riordan named Mrs. Daly as the city’s "Official Hostess.” The second Mrs. Riordan was at the time living in Carmel .

  

Given his past experience as keeper of the conscience for such worthy magnates, His Eminence was well-equipped to assist the Chevalier Murdoch in his hour of moral peril. Rather than castigate him, or cut him off from cardinalatial affection and sympathy in this dark hour, the prelate stood beside him, proudly posing arm-and-shoulder with the troubled Knight Commander in a Los Angeles Times photo-op. On September 6, 1999, it was reported in the Los Angeles Times that Murdoch was donating a further $10,000,000 to the building of the new cathedral. Still and all, despite the appearance of the building (memorably described in the L.A. Weekly as “butt-ugly”), it was money well-spent, in the sense that Rupert has bought himself a permanent home. According to a September 7, 2002 L.A. New Times article, both Murdoch and Riordan bought burial spaces in the cathedral’s crypt. Of course, one might well wonder how the Chevalier, as a non-Catholic, might be buried in consecrated ground. The answer had already come, earlier in the year, in a February 8 Los Angeles Times story, where it was noted that “church policy throughout the diocese allows an individual who is married to a Catholic or who comes from a Catholic family to be buried in consecrated ground, and that will hold true in the cathedral.” Since the Church does not recognize the Knight Commander’s divorce from his Dame, this rule will still apply.

Although Murdoch’s affairs have since taken him far from the City of Angels, he will always have a place in our earth, if not in our hearts. Interestingly enough, the belated convert the Chevalier Bob Hope, KCSG, KCBE (hon.), also spurned all efforts at getting him to be buried at the new cathedral. Instead, he had a tomb built for himself and his wife at historic San Fernando Mission cemetery. It would be unkind, unfair, and possibly untrue, despite all that has been said, to infer that the warmth of the Cardinal toward his paladin is based purely upon filthy lucre. In truth, there are many similarities in character between the duo, which doubtless helped build cordiality between them. Above all, there are their protean ideals. One would be hard put to say just what either of them really holds about anything. As an example, the Chevalier Murdoch’s Fox News is widely trumpeted as the voice of American “Conservatism,” whatever that may mean. To be sure, it does swarm with pro-life and anti-homosexualist messages. But as we see in a fine New Yorker article (“Murdoch’s Game” his views are really all over the place—and generally in the direction of whomever he can control. In this country, he has been a stalwart neocon, and has supported Bush and CO., over the war. Certainly, his $3,000,000 annual subsidy of the Weekly Standard has helped to make that journal not only the rag of record within the Beltway, it has allowed the Standard to drown out less bellicose and big-government voices on the right.

  

But neocons should take care; Rupert, like fire, is not merely a dreadful but a changeable master. When the Chevalier unloaded his wife, he changed not only spouses but views on China; his News Corp. is a virtual partner of CCTV International, a company that spews propaganda for the Beijing regime. Murdoch’s organs have attacked the Falun Gong and other opponents of the Party. Most famously, he directed HarperCollins to drop former Hong Kong Governor Chris Patten’s book, for fear of Lord Patten’s critical remarks of the government to whom he turned over the hapless Crown Colony.

  

In Great Britain, Murdoch was Tony Blair’s foremost supporter, despite that worth individual’s left-wing social agenda (the legalization of gay sex in public restrooms was only the icing on a fetid cake). Despite renouncing his Queen and Country in 1985 in order to circumvent FCC regulations, Murdoch also maintains a heavy interest in Australian politics. His media organs backed up Labour pols Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke, and Paul Keating to the hilt. Not too surprisingly, in view of his vendetta against the Prince of Wales (exposure of whose peccadilloes did much to dampen support for the Monarchy in Australia), Murdoch and his minions propagandized and financially supported the republican side in the 1999 referendum—not content with that defeat, the Chevalier’s proxies continue the struggle. In Commonwealth politics, Knight Rupert has trampled upon everything that his distinguished father, Sir Keith Murdoch, KBE, stood for. His nonagenarian mother, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, DBE, a noted philanthropist (who proudly remains in Australia ), bravely soldiers on in vocal and public support for the Crown that honored both herself and her husband. It is a pity that loyalty is a virtue not always inherited. In the light of all this, the fact that Murdoch was single-handedly responsible for the election of Ed Koch as Mayor of New York via endorsement through the New York Post should shock no one. Nor should his impending endorsement of Hilary Clinton in our presidential election in 2008. His detractors would say that he has no principles, and would sell anything or anyone for money or power; his allies would point to that as a healthy flexibility. However you choose to read it, you cannot condemn him for consistency, foolish or otherwise.

All of which reminds one of his clerical ally, Roger Cardinal Mahony. As Bishop of Stockton, the future Prince of the Church was renowned as a “labor priest,” and was never so happy as when marching by the side of Cesar Chavez and the UFW. Nothing about this was too strange, since the Church has traditionally supported unions when the clerics involved have believed workers’ rights to be threatened. For the first three years after his ascension to the archiepiscopate of Los Angeles, Mahony (while cultivating the preferential option earlier spoken of) continued to play the same song, happily appearing alongside various pro-abort “Catholic” politicians at the Catholic Labor Institute’s annual Communion Breakfast. But then, in 1988, the mostly Latino cemetery workers at the Archdiocesan graveyards began to organize with the intent of forming a union. His Grace’s reaction was volcanic. Pressure of all sorts was brought to bear, and in the end the workers knuckled under. When the CLI backed the initiative, the Archbishop angrily cancelled his attendance at their breakfast, noting that he was shocked, shocked to discover that one of their other speakers was pro-abortion—the view shared by Murdoch’s friends Roybal and Riordan, and Governors Davis and Schwarzenegger. But all is not politics in the Catholic Church; there is Faith also. The cornerstone of the Faith is loyalty and obedience to the Pope, the Successor of St. Peter. Here too, Cardinal Mahony has shown the same fealty to the pope as Sir Rupert showed his Sovereign—yet another point of convergence. Consider: in 1997, the Pontifical Council for the Laity issued an instruction on the collaboration of the un-ordained with priests in the exercise of their ministry. Among a number of other requirements, the document declared, “Extraordinary ministers may distribute Holy Communion at Eucharistic celebrations only when there are no ordained ministers present or when those ordained ministers present at a liturgical celebration are truly unable to distribute Holy Communion.” When asked how the Archdiocese would respond to this decree, so flagrantly in violation of Angeleno norms, His Eminence airily replied, “oh, that doesn’t apply to us.” This was, however, only the beginning of a number of such documents emanating form the Vatican, each doomed to the same fate. In March of 2004, the Holy See’s Congregation for Divine Worship issued a decree, Redemptionis Sacramentum, which called for a crack-down on liturgical abuses in the Catholic world, naming in particular the use of ice tea pitchers to hold the Precious Blood at Mass. The Cardinal’s response was that the decree did not apply in Los Angeles, since there were no liturgical abuses here. As for the ice tea pitcher… well, the Cardinal claimed local option on that one.

In 2005, His Eminence derided the issuance of a new, faithful translation of the Mass in English. On the one hand, his priests (who, as a body, are generally too intimidated to cross him), would “not accept it;” on the other, the layfolk, upon whom he had just inflicted another round of liturgical alterations, “should not be disturbed” by an accurate rendering. Cardinal-watchers here are wondering how His Eminence plans to dodge the recent motu proprio liberating the Tridentine Mass, and laying book on the ingenuity with which he does it. One area where the prelate does part company with the Aussie knight-errant is in his outward behavior toward the proper object of his loyalty. One would not expect, given his attacks on the royal Family in print and in the ballot box, to see Rupert lolling around the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, or squiring his Dame-du-jour at a Windsor garden party. But when in Rome, His Eminence definitely does as the Romans do; there he dresses very much the part of a Prince of the Church. His title church in Rome, Santi Quattri Coronati, is one of the few (if not the only) churches in the Eternal City where you can see its Cardinal photo displayed as well as his coat of arms. At the Conclave two years ago, he took his place with his colleagues amidst all the pomp and splendor. In this writer’s ears still ring the words of His Eminence on that occasion when, asked by a television interviewer for his opinion on the spacious new Conclave accommodations, he replied, “oh, there’ll be no shortage of fine wines and chocolates!” But fun as life can be under the miter, here in the “Big Nowhere,” into each life a little rain must fall. In the case of His Eminence and us his subjects, it is the pedophilia scandal, which has necessitated the big payoff. While the awful disclosures emanating from Boston since 2002 almost immediately generated answering echoes here, the Cardinal maintained that he had a “no-tolerance” policy for sex-offenders. Then it developed that he did know about a few. Or some. Or whatever. In any case, no stinkin’ D.A. was getting a look at the files anyway. For the most part, in deference to the Cardinal’s special relationship with Los Angeles’ movers and shakers, for most of the past several years, he received fairly light treatment from the Los Angeles Times. Apart from slings by talk radio and the alternative press, he was generally able to ride out the storm, more or less.

That pattern was disrupted in 2006. In that year, a documentary was released. Entitled Deliver Us From Evil the film voiced charges that His Eminence, while Bishop of Stockton, had known that Fr. Oliver O’ Grady, a truly disgusting pedophile, among whose victims in his 20-year-long spree was a 9-month-old baby, had a little problem; nevertheless, according to the documentary, then-Bishop Mahony had not either defrocked him or sent him away from the kiddies. The civil authorities responded, however. But in 1984 the police enquiry into Fr. O’Grady’s play-time activities was closed when the diocese promised that he would have no more contact with children. Instead, he was reassigned to a parish about 50 miles east, in San Andreas, where he got up to his old tricks. Shortly afterwards, Bishop Mahony was transferred to L.A. But he was not forgotten, and certainly not by Fr. O’Grady. In the documentary, the fun-loving cleric says of his one-time boss that he was “very supportive and very compassionate and that another situation had been smoothly handled.” To be fair, His Eminence has denied that he knew about Fr. O’Grady’s little difficulties.

  

At any rate, while quite happy to concede that both the prelate and his press lord are motivated by only the purest and highest of intentions, this writer must observe that it has been a fatal friendship. The Cardinal’s policies have cost his office a great deal of moral authority: recently, California Assembly Speaker (and sometime Mahony-ally) Fabio Nunez, stung by the Cardinal’s reprimand over the Speaker’s support of assisted suicide, responded that His Eminence’s energies would be better spent dealing with pedophiles. The fact that two weeks later Speaker Nunez was revealed to be involved in a strange love quadrangle with Telemundo announceress Mirthala Salinas, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaragosa, and State Senator Alex Padilla did not diminish the force of his gibe much (although the fact that the Cardinal has supported all three men at various times did not build confidence in his spiritual guidance). The fact is simply that, brown or white, foreign or domestic, the contemporary rulership—of whom Sir Rupert is certainly a poster child—is deeply, perhaps irredeemably corrupt, in most senses of that elastic word. “If you would dine with the devil, you’d best use a long spoon,” runs the Irish proverb; alas, His Eminence apparently has no such cutlery in his drawer. What make the Cardinal’s apparent truckling to the dissolute elite doubly unfortunate is that there is much good he could do with the resources at his disposal. But then, the same could be said of Rupert Murdoch. Every day at Mass, I offer my Communion for Cardinal Mahony, in hopes that one day he might see things as they are: I doubt I need fear any such change of heart from Rupert.

Charles A. Coulombe is an author in Los Angeles.



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