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Conclave brings out cardinals' dirty laundry

VATICAN CITY -- Popular pressure is mounting in the United States and in Italy to keep Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles away from the conclave to elect the next pope because of his role shielding sexually abusive priests, a movement targeting one of the most prominent of a handful of compromised cardinals scheduled to vote next month.

Mahony has made clear he is coming, and no one can force him to recuse himself.

A Vatican historian said yesterday that there is no precedent for a cardinal staying home because of personal scandal.

But the growing grassroots campaign is an indication that ordinary Catholics are increasingly demanding a greater say in who is fit to elect their pope.

Conclaves always bring out the worst in cardinals' dirty laundry, with past transgressions aired anew by an eager news media.

This time is no different -- except that the revelations of Mahony's sins are so fresh and come after a recent round of sex abuse scandals in Europe and in the United States.

This week, the influential Italian Catholic affairs magazine Fami- glia Cristiana asked its readers whether Mahony should participate in the conclave. "Your opinion: Mahony in the conclave: Yes or No?" reads the online survey of one of Italy's most-read magazines.

The overwhelming majority among more than 350 replies has been a clear-cut "No." The fact that magazine, distributed free in Italian parishes each Sunday, initiated the poll is an indication that the Catholic establishment in Italy has itself questioned whether tarnished cardinals should be allowed to vote -- a remarkable turn of events for a conservative Catholic country that has long kept quiet about priestly abuse and is deferential to the church hierarchy in its backyard.

That initiative followed a petition by a U.S. group, Catholics United, demanding that Mahony recuse himself. So far 5,600 people have signed the petition, according to spokesman Chris Pumpelly.

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