Sunday, March 30, 2014


On March 31, 1927 Cesar Chavez was born.  And each year, March 31 is marked across California as a State holiday in his memory.

It was my privilege to know Cesar Chavez when I was a priest of the Diocese of Fresno, and to work with him over many years as the secretary to the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Farm Labor, headed by Bishop Joseph Donnelly, then Auxiliary Bishop of Hartford, Connecticut.  Cesar died on April 23, 1993, it was a grace to be able to celebrate his Funeral Mass at Delano, CA where the farm worker union got its real start.

To mark this year's anniversary of his death, two films and a new book have been issued:

     Documentary Film:   Cesar's Last Fast      This documentary shows many clips of footage from the days and years of Cesar's work in the fields, along with various portions of interviews with the major close collaborators of Cesar over the years.  The documentary offers helpful insights into the incredible effort by Cesar Chavez to bring dignity to farm workers, and to have them receive a just wage, employee benefits, and the right to bargain collectively with the farmers.

 In my opinion, the documentary would have been far more powerful and successful if there were fewer scenes of "talking heads."  Various old film footage could have been interwoven with several vignettes from a broader base of collaborators--especially more farm workers themselves.

      Major Motion Picture:   Cesar Chavez      This motion picture opened across the country in many theaters, and captures the beginning of Cesar's efforts up to the signing of a large number of contracts with the growers of table grapes in the greater Delano area.  The end of the film indicates that this event would be followed five years later by the enactment in California the the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, the first genuine effort to extend many of the rights of the National Labor Relations Act [1935] to agricultural workers.  Sadly, until this day, both agricultural workers and domestic employees remain excluded from coverage under the NLRA.

          Governor Jerry Brown appointed me to serve as the first Chairman of the State's new Act to give the right to secret ballot elections to farm workers, and to conduct those elections, certify the results of the elections, and to handle all complaints of unfair labor practices.

Major New Book:      The Crusades of Cesar Chavez  by Miriam Pawel  (2014:  Bloomsbury Press, New York).  In my opinion, this is probably the most comprehensive and accurate book on the life and work of Cesar Chavez.  It is extremely factual, and Pawel lets those facts speak for themselves.  She has no agenda or desired outcome in the book.  The book highlights the complexity of Cesar Chavez as a person, and does not hesitate to point out all of the virtues and shortcomings of Cesar's work in trying to organize California's farm workers.

          If you are interested in obtaining one of the best books on Cesar Chavez, this is the one.

While the life and work of Cesar Chavez is indeed complex, in the long view, he followed God's plan for him and gave his entire life and energies on behalf of farm workers.  Could he have done some things differently? Of course.  But that is true of every single one of us when we look back on our lives and our work.

Some 21 years after the death of Cesar Chavez, these two films and one book serve to capture the totality of a man motivated by his deep faith in God and his trust that God's grace would help bring about lasting justice for the millions of people who produce the food that we all consume day after day.



Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Catholic Bishops Call for Lenten Prayer and Fasting During Time of Drought
SACRAMENTOBishop Jaime Soto, President of the California Catholic Conference of Bishops, released the following statement:
During this Season of Lent, we, the Catholic Bishops of California, invite the Catholic community and other Californians of good will to exercise restraint in the use of water as an expression of solidarity with those whose livelihood and welfare are at risk due to extreme drought conditions. 
Lent is a holy, penitential season in the Catholic Church's liturgical year, reflecting the forty days Jesus spent in the desert in fasting and prayer.   In this time, Catholics unite themselves with the Lord Jesus in the struggle to overcome the power of evil and the slavery of sin.  We do so with prayer, fasting, abstinence, as well as other penitential sacrifices, and charitable works.
This year, Californians are in an actual desert as an historic drought looms over us.  Farmers cannot access sufficient water to raise their crops. Fields will remain fallow.  Men and women will be left standing without work.  Access for children and families to clean, drinkable water is uncertain.  Legislators struggle to craft an equitable public policy ensuring the State’s present and future water needs.
We are starkly reminded in this time of drought of our dependence on the Creator. The fragile relationship between ourselves and the creation that God has made to sustain us is threatened.  Our human dignity relies on access to water.  That same human dignity is diminished when we let this precious resource slip carelessly through our hands.  The creation entrusted to us is a common heritage and requires us to work together as responsible stewards for the common good, especially mindful of the weak and vulnerable.  As the economic and health impact of the drought grows those with limited resources will be the first to suffer.  Wise conservation practices will mitigate those effects.  They also serve as concrete acts of solidarity giving life and hope to other fellow Californians.
During this Lent, we pray that God opens the heavens and lets His mercy rain down upon our fields and mountains.  May we receive the grace to better conserve our natural resources and expend our energies in works of charity so that justice and mutual respect may flow like a river through the cities, towns and fields of our State.  Looking towards the sacred days of Easter, we hope that God’s wisdom and joy may rise like a fountain of living water in the hearts and minds of all Californians.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014


The prophet Isaiah sets forth a good road map for the type of fast which is pleasing to God as we begin our annual Lenten Journey:

"Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers.  Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw.  Would that today you might fast so as to make your voice heard on high!

Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance:  That a man bow his head like a reed, and lie in sackcloth and ashes?  Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:  

     releasing those bound unjustly,
     untying the thongs of the yoke;
     setting free the oppressed,
     breaking every yoke;
     sharing your bread with the hungry,
     sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
     clothing the naked when you see them,
     and not turning your back on your own.

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.  

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say:  Here I am!

If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday;

Then the Lord will guide you always and give you plenty even on the parched land.  He will renew your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring who water never fails.  The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake, and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up;  'Repairer of the breach,' they shall call you, 'Restorer of ruined homesteads.'"  [Isaiah 58: 1--12]

Saturday, February 22, 2014


It was in early 1988—some 26 years ago—that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles became aware of the terrible sexual abuse which the Rev. Nicolas Aguilar-Rivera had been inflicting upon young people in Los Angeles. This case highlighted errors made by us in the Archdiocese in those early years, and for those errors I apologize once again. But this case also led to several major changes in procedures used by the Archdiocese, and these were improved upon over the years.

The evolution of the Archdiocese’s manner of dealing with allegations of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy and others in the Church was recounted ten years ago in The Report to the People of God. This Report can be found at this location:

Everything contained in this blog is available in the release of thousands of pages of clergy files in January of 2013. All of the documents involving Aguilar-Rivera can be found at:,%20Nicolas.pdf

It is key to understand that the first report about Aguilar-Rivera to one of our Catholic schools and to the Archdiocese took place late on a Friday afternoon, January 8, 1988. That late Friday alert, unfortunately, led to delays which should not have occurred.

The following are the more serious errors which several of us in the Archdiocese made, along with the steps taken to eliminate them in the future:
  1. Letters of Recommendation for Priests from Other Dioceses.
    Aguilar-Rivera arrived in Los Angeles with a letter from his Bishop in Mexico stating that he was coming to Los Angeles for “family and health reasons” [“por motivos familiares y por motivos de salud”] because he had family here. The Bishop asked that we consider giving him a priestly assignment here in the Archdiocese. Based on that positive recommendation, Aguilar-Rivera was given a temporary assignment. Throughout 1987 there were no reports of improper conduct by Aguilar-Rivera. It was not until early 1988 that such reports emerged from families of children abused.

    After further investigation, the Bishop in Mexico claimed that he had sent a second letter about Aguilar-Rivera some two months after his original letter. No one in the Archdiocese recalls ever receiving such a letter in which the Bishop refers to unfounded allegations of homosexual problems that led to physical aggression against him in Mexico. Had that letter been received, Aguilar-Rivera’s assignment would have been revoked or suspended pending a full investigation.

    Change in Procedures: Because of this case, from this time forward a letter of recommendation from a Bishop on behalf of a visiting priest was insufficient. A new format was developed requiring the sending Bishop, especially from a Diocese outside the USA, to respond to very specific questions about any possible misconduct in the history of the priest. This change in procedure was enhanced over the years and has served to make sure that priest from other places with any misconduct issues is not admitted to this Archdiocese.
  2. Priest Removed from Ministry.
    Early on Saturday morning, the Vicar for Clergy went to the parish where Aguilar-Rivera was assigned, revoked his Faculties to function as a priest in Los Angeles, and ordered him to leave the parish in order not to endanger any other children. Aguilar-Rivera stated that he was going to stay with his sister, and without a priestly assignment in Los Angeles, he would return to Mexico. Since the police were not informed until Monday morning about Aguilar-Rivera, he in fact stayed briefly at his sister’s, and then fled the country. That was a serious mistake.

    Change in Procedures: Since the new danger of fleeing from the civil authorities had emerged, beginning procedures were put into place to deal more quickly with priests from other countries who had been accused of the abuse of minors in the Archdiocese. Unfortunately, in a few other cases allegations of abuse emerged only after the priest had left the Archdiocese, and he was out of reach by both the civil and Church authorities.
  3. Attempts to Reach Child Protective Services.
    On Saturday and Sunday, January 9 and 10, the Catholic School teacher who learned of the abuse tried to contact the appropriate reporting agency, Child Protective Services. No one answered the phone all weekend. Early on Monday morning the teacher instead called the Los Angeles Police Department [LAPD] and quickly an officer responded.

    Changes in Procedure: Following the case of Aguilar-Rivera, and the futile attempts to reach the staff of Child Protective Services at night and on weekends, that agency instituted a new “800” number which would be answered 24/7. That change has been in effect ever since, and a staff person is always available to take a report of suspected child abuse, and to begin at once processes to investigate the report.
  4. Communication with Police Agencies.
    Had officials of the Archdiocese been in immediate contact with the LAPD, Aguilar-Rivera could have been held pending a full civil investigation. That delay was a serious error. In addition, when the police requested a list of the altar servers in the parish where Aguilar-Rivera was last assigned, that request was denied because the recent allegations were from families from another parish, and the allegations were that Aguilar-River had molested the minors at the home of the families, not on Church property. That refusal was also a mistake.

    Changes in Procedure: On March 4th I met Lt. Steven Day of the LAPD at a conference, and we discussed the mistakes made in the Aguilar-Rivera case. As a result, a special meeting took place on March 9th with Capt. Mayes and Lt. Day, and officials of the Archdiocese. The result of that meeting led to new lines of open communication with the LAPD, and the assurance that all future allegations of the abuse of minors would be made directly to that police agency—regardless of who was the mandated reporter. 
  5. Communication with Parishioners.
    It also emerged that efforts to protect children and their families from any negative impact a police investigation might have upon them was a serious mistake. As subsequent years would show, the sooner that the victims of abuse are identified, the sooner the threat to them can be removed, and the sooner counseling services can be made available to the victims.

    Changes in Procedure: It became clear over the years that a firm plan to inform all parishioners of allegations of the sexual abuse of minors within that parish must be implemented. Announcements by an Archdiocesan official were to be made at all Masses on a given weekend, and parishioners were asked to come forward if they were aware of any victims or other useful information. If particular groups of minors, e.g., students or youth group members, were victims, then special outreach efforts to those groups would also be taken.
  6. Counseling for Victims:
    Once the young victims were identified, they were referred to an experienced counselor to assist them with the trauma of their awful ordeal. All of these victims remained in counseling until the counselor felt that no further services were required.

    Changes in Procedure: In the years following the abuse of these young victims, a more intensive and protracted program of counseling was put in place, and other family members were actively involved in those sessions so that the young victims could be assisted even more fully.
  7. Pursuit of Aguilar-Rivera in Mexico:
    The Bishop of Aguilar-Rivera was informed at once of the moral and criminal conduct of the priest, and the Bishop was urged to assist in returning him to Los Angeles to face the legal consequences of his actions. The Bishop reported that he never returned to his home Diocese, but that he would keep alert to see if he could be located. Whenever word was received that Aguilar-Rivera was spotted in this or that location, we sent letters immediately to those Bishops to make sure that he was not allowed to function as a priest, and to assist us in locating him for return to Los Angeles.

    Changes in Procedure: The Archdiocese continued to send letters across Mexico in the hope of locating Aguilar-Rivera, and having the LAPD work with local civic authorities to have him returned to Los Angeles since felonies had been committed. However, no credible sighting of him ever occurred. The new procedures required the immediate notification of law enforcement, but especially if a foreign national were involved.
  8. Conclusion:  
    The case of Aguilar-Rivera was the first one with sexual misconduct allegations involving a priest from a foreign country who was an extern, or visitor, to the Archdiocese. This early case would be part of an ever more stringent set of procedures to respond to such cases, to protect all children and young people, and to make certain that the Church was safe for all people. The evolution of procedures would continue into the 1990s and beyond.

Friday, February 14, 2014


We keep hearing conflicting reports from Congress on whether they will proceed with any kind of needed immigration reform.  The Senate-passed Bill is in the House, and many predict that if that Bill were brought to the floor of the House today, it would pass.  But apparently, the Republicans won't move a Bill to the floor unless a majority of their party would vote for it.  That is really tragic.

The inability of Congress to fix the broken immigration system is not only a major public scandal for our country, but a moral and ethical failure.  We continue to leave countless millions of people living in the shadows, living in fear, and living in families torn asunder by deportations.  This situation is morally unacceptable to a country founded with, and enhanced by, countless waves of immigrants.

I am saddened to hear people on talk radio programs decrying the presence of so many new immigrants in our midst.  However, we forget that these people are here for one reason:  we have offered the magnet of low-skill and low-paid jobs which no one else in our country will take.  And so, they have come and they have taken those jobs.

During the dark days of the Great Recession, when farmers could not get enough farm workers to harvest the crops, did you see other unemployed Americans lining up to pick strawberries, peaces, and apples?  No, because they can't and won't do that type of work--for any salary.

The Senate Bill is not perfect, but it is the most comprehensive proposal on Capitol hill.

We all need to urge our House Representative to insist on a vote on the Senate Bill before them; and to halt these delaying tactics which are taking such a terrible burden upon our immigrant brothers and sisters.

St. Toribio Romo, pray for us!!

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Today, Thursday, January 16, it was a great grace to concelebrate Mass with Pope Francis in the Chapel at Domus Sanctae Martae, and then later in the morning, to have a private Audience with him.

The MASS          Each weekday morning Pope Francis celebrates Mass at 7:00 AM in the Chapel of his residence, Domus Sanctae Martae.  Today, Cardinal Carlos Amigo Vallejo, OFM, the Archbishop Emeritus of Seville in Spain, also concelebrated, together with a group of Italian priests.

Photo: Servizio Fotografico of the L'Osservatore Romano Publications, 00120 Vatican City
It is so evident that Pope Francis is a man of prayer, a holy Successor to St. Peter.  It is remarkable how he is able to reflect on the Scriptures of the day without any notes or text--but flowing directly from his prayer life and from his heart. Vatican Radio provided this synthesis of the Pope's homily:

"Scandals in the Church happen because there is no living relationship with God and His Word.  Thus, corrupt priests, instead of giving the Bread of Life, give a poisoned meal to the holy people of God.

Commenting on the day's reading and responsorial Psalm which recount the crushing defeat of the Israelites by the Philistines, the Pope notes that the people of God at that time had forsaken the Lord.  It was said that the Word of God was 'uncommon' at that time.  The old priest Eli was 'lukewarm' and his sons 'corrupt; they frightened the people and beat them with sticks.'  In their battle against the Philistines, the Israelites brought with them the Ark of the Covenant, but as something 'magical,' 'something external.'  And they are defeated: the Ark is taken from them by their enemies.  There is no true faith in God, in His real presence in life.

Cardinal Mahony concelebrates Mass with Pope Francis at Domus Sanctae Martae on January 16, 2014
"This passage of Scripture," the Pope says, "makes us think about what sort of relationship we have with God, with the Word of God:  is it a formal relationship?  Is it a distant relationship?  The Word of God enters into our hearts, changes our hearts.  Does it have this power or not?  Is it a formal relationship?  But the heart is closed to that Word!  It leads us to think of the so many defeats of the Church, so many defeats of God's people simply because they do not hear the Lord, do not seek the Lord, do not allow themselves to be sought by the Lord!  And then after a tragedy, the prayer, this one:  'But, Lord, what happened?  You have made us the scorn of our neighbors.  The scorn and derision of those around us.  You have made us the laughing stock among nations!  All the nations shake their heads about us.'

And of the scandals in the Church, Pope Francis said:

"But are we ashamed?  So many scandals that I do not want to mention individually, but all of us know....We know where they are!  Scandals, some who charged a lot of money....The shame of the Church!  But are we all ashamed of those scandals, of those failings of priests, bishops, laity?  Where was the Word of God in those scandals; where was the Word of God in those men and in those women?  They did not have a relationship with God!  They had a position in the Church, a position of power, even of comfort.  But the Word of God, no!  'But I wear a medal, I carry the Cross.'  Yes, just as those bore the Ark!  Without the living relationship with God and the Word of God!  I am reminded of the words of Jesus about those for whom scandals come ... And here the scandal hit:  bringing decay to the people of God, including the weakness and corruption of priests."

Pope Francis concluded his homily, turning his thoughts to the people of God, saying:

"Poor people!  We do not give the Bread of Life to eat; we do give--in those cases--the bread of Truth!  And many times, we even offer a poisoned meal!  Awaken!  Why do you sleep, Lord?  Let this be our prayer!  Awaken!  Do not reject us forever!  Why do you hide your face?  Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?  We ask the Lord never to forget the Word of God, which is alive, so that it enters into our hearts and to never forget the holy people faithful to God who ask us to nourish and strengthen them."

After Mass, the Holy Father greeted the priests and the lay people who had attended the Mass.

The AUDIENCE          Later in the morning I had the great privilege of a private Audience with Pope Francis.  Since my Italian is not fluent, we spoke in Spanish.  Most of our conversation focused on the plight of migrants, immigrants, and refugees around the world.  I recounted for the Pope that in 2012, during our last Ad Limina visit, Pope Benedict had requested a proposal on how to address the plight of these many peoples on the move.  I had told Pope Benedict that the last Papal document on the pastoral care of peoples on the move was some 60 years ago--it was entitled Exsul Familia issued by Pope Pius XII.  The Bishops of our Region had requested a possible updated pronouncement from the Holy Father.

I gave Pope Francis some materials about the reality of migrants, immigrants, and refugees in our day.  Back in 1952 when Pope Pius XII issued his document there were about 50 million people on the move--many as a result of the Second World War.  Today, there are some 425 million people on the move, suffering from so many human problems--many related to wars, terrorism, political instability, and the search for economic stability for their families.

Pope Francis expressed an interest in this entire matter, and pointed out that in Evangelii Gaudium he had made reference to some of these issues.  He also saw the need for a possible new document dealing with today's vast numbers of peoples on the move.

Pope Francis also emphasized the need for all of us, disciples of Jesus, to be ever more attentive to the needs of the poor and disadvantaged in our midst.

He made it clear that he intends to keep bringing the dreadful plight of so many millions of people to the attention of the world and to all of us in the Church.

[Photos courtesy of Servizio Fotografico of the L'Osservatore Romano Publications, 00120 Vatican City]

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


We are just concluding our annual Bishops' Retreat, and I have finished praying with Pope Francis' incredible Apostolic Exhortation, The Gospel of Joy.

But this important document on the new evangelization is written like no other Vatican document.  Rather, it reads more like a warm letter from our Pastor to each one of us, members of the flock.  Pope Francis sets us  on a course to do two things: first, to have us deepen our friendship and relationship with Jesus, then secondly, to share that relationship with Jesus with everyone we know and meet.

His many personal experiences with Jesus and the Church are everywhere throughout the letter, and his practical call to have all of us open our lives more fully to God's love and forgiveness in our lives resonates so deeply.

He does not hesitate to remind us that it is impossible to love God without loving all our brothers and sisters. He makes it clear that preeminent in Jesus' life was the proclamation of the Gospel, along with frequent and humble acts of service to those most in need--the sick, the lepers, the blind, those on the margins of society.  Pope Francis makes it clear that through our Baptism we have received a special mandate to move outside ourselves and to embrace the face of Jesus in the lives of those most in need.

My own ministry has been profoundly affected by this letter, and I am already looking forward eagerly to adopting some new ministry outreach actions starting right away.

I encourage all of you to this incredible letter, and to allow it to permeate your own life and soul!  I pray that many small groups in the Church will take it up as a prayer and study guide during 2014, and help re-shape our parish communities to reflect what Pope Francis is proclaiming with such urgency.

May we all become more fervent messengers of the joyful proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!!

The Gospel of Joy can be purchased through the Publications Office of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: