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Sarah Parvini, Religion News Service
LOS ANGELES -- After the release of damning sex abuse documents that prompted a rare public rebuke from the current archbishop of Los Angeles, retired Cardinal Roger Mahony again finds himself in the spotlight -- this time over his upcoming vote in the conclave to elect a new pope.
Despite allegations of hiding sexual abuse by priests and then being sidelined by current Archbishop Jose Gomez, Mahony remains a cardinal, a priest "in good standing" and under age 80 -- all enough to make him eligible to be one of just 11 American cardinals to hold a vote in next month's conclave.
"I look forward to traveling to Rome soon to help thank Pope Benedict XVI for his gifted service to the church, and to participate in the Conclave to elect his successor," Mahony wrote on his personal blog hours after the pope's stunning resignation announcement.
Others, however, say Mahony should stay home.
The left-leaning group Catholics United, which has started an online petition objecting to Mahony's role, said that the retired cardinal "should re-examine his priorities and stay home."
"Cardinal Mahony should do the right thing and stay home," the group said. "By putting children in danger, he's lost his ability to have a voice in the Church."
Mahony faces the same criticism that was directed at Cardinal Bernard Law in 2005. Law resigned in disgrace as archbishop of Boston in 2002 when the abuse scandal exploded. But he nonetheless got a vote in the 2005 conclave that elected Benedict.
Tradition says that an archdiocese should not have more than one cardinal-elector at a time, which means Gomez will have to wait to be named a cardinal until after the 76-year-old Mahony loses his vote in 2016.
Gomez called the 14,000 pages of internal church records full of "terribly sad and evil behavior," and promptly removed Mahony from all "administrative or public duties." But under church law, cardinals are ultimately answerable only to the pope himself, not the local bishop.
Manuel Vega, who was abused as an altar boy, told the Los Angeles Times that he couldn't understand how Mahony could retain a vote in the College of Cardinals.
"Mahony is going without clean hands," he told the newspaper. "His hands are dirty ... from covering up years of sexual abuse. How can he be part of the conclave?"
But across the sprawling archdiocese, Mahony's vote in the conclave is being greeted by many others with a shrug.
The Rev. Thomas Welbers of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills said Mahony's position as a member of the conclave is just part of the process.
"Voting rights are not determined by how others may feel about the person," Welbers said.
Others were openly supportive of the man who led the nation's largest archdiocese from 1985 to 2011.
Mike Flota, a parishioner at St. Agnes Church, in Los Angeles said, Mahony is just another sinner in need of forgiveness. "Nobody is perfect," Flota, 65, said. "He feels remorse."
The Vatican Press Office said the date of the conclave would be announced on March 1, the day after Benedict retires.
On Thursday, the 85-year old pontiff, in a 45-minute unscripted speech to Rome's priests, said he planned to live "hidden from the world" in a quiet life of prayer.
Contributing: Alessandro Speciale, Religion News Service