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The gospel in retreat in Los Angeles

People are going to think there’s something awfully wrong in the Los Angeles archdiocese, and they’ll be right.

Cardinal Roger Mahony opened a $200 million cathedral one week, and closed down all Catholic campus ministry and half the detention ministry -- and much else besides -- the next week. All to meet a $4.3 million budget shortfall.

The archdiocese contends, and they can be quite correct (though they won’t open the books either to axed employees or journalists), that all this is due to a catastrophic fall in income from its investment portfolio. Seniors on fixed incomes looking at 2.3 percent interest rates on CDs and boomers who thought they had their golden years all taken care of with technology stock investments know the feeling.

Certainly Mahony and his managers must be hurting having to do it, and rightly cringing at the remarks and insights of those most deeply affected (see story Page 17).

The public perception will be disastrous. The Catholic public is seriously affected in one way, the general public in another.

We are told that Catholic young people headed to a secular college in the world’s largest archdiocese will find no one at the Newman Center. No Catholic ministry.

The thousands of Catholics and others detained in bleak Immigration and Naturalization Service centers, and dangerous juvenile halls and holding pens, plus those imprisoned in the region’s jails, will have fewer, if any, Catholic chaplains.

What? It’s true.

Family life outreach, justice and peace, interfaith and interreligious work, all face cuts or elimination.

OK, so there’s a financial shortfall. That’s happened before, especially in cyclically economic boom-and-bust California. Where’s the forward planning, where are the contingency funds? Who’s running the store?

What vision of church is this?

What price the cathedral on the hill now?

One soon-to-be-lopped employee, knowing who will no longer be served and perceiving that the public carrying of the gospel is in retreat in Los Angeles, asked: “What are they doing to our church?”

What indeed.

National Catholic Reporter, September 27, 2002