Chapter 2: Arraignment
Introduction by Robert Blair Kaiser: In Chapter One, three liberation theologians (who look like terrorists) kidnapped Roger Michael Mahony, the cardinal-archbishop of Los Angeles, and take him off in his own helicopter to face trial for his sins. When his captors demand $49 million ransom, the President of the United States launched a military task force to rescue him, while the world's media watch with fascination. Now here's Chapter Two...
Chapter 2: Arraignment
MARIA USHERED THE CARDINAL through a courtyard featuring a simple but melodious fountain to a separate building constructed of heavy bamboo. It had a tile roof and no sides and a dark brown floor that might have been polished clay. Once they were inside, María pointed to his seat at a small wooden table, took the chair beside him, and folded her hands.
He had expected a courtroom like this, small and primitive—though he observed it was well lit by six fluorescent lamps that hung from the bamboo rafters. He noted a high-backed, carved wooden chair, but no judge's bench. He saw a witness box to the immediate left of the judge's chair and a jury box to the far left with only six places in it. The jury box faced the prosecuting attorney's table, which was largely taken up by a 27-inch television screen turned toward the jury box. What might have been an area reserved for spectators was filled with a tangle of television cable and three large Sony television cameras and a table full of controls. Mahony saw three cameramen, and several others wearing huge headphones—soundpersons, no doubt, and producer-types.
"No place in this courtroom for the public?" he quipped.
She shook her head, but favored his joke only with a faint smile.
They sat in silence for more than a minute. "Surely," he finally said to her, "you're not going to be my defense counsel?"
She whispered, "you'll see."
Then, with no fanfare, a tall lean man with aquiline features strode into the room and took the judge's chair. He had long gray hair tied in the back in a pony tail and deep set eyes under dark beetling eyebrows that said his hair might have once been as black. He looked like he had just stepped out of a painting by El Greco. "Once the cameras start rolling," he said softly, "I would like to start this proceeding with a prayer. To the Holy Spirit."
Mahony was taken aback. Through most of this ordeal, he hadn't been praying at all. Now the terrorists were leading him in prayer. He heard the judge intone a familiar Catholic antiphon.
Come, Holy Spirit, enkindle in us the fire of divine love.
He heard those standing by respond—and he joined in, mumbling automatically along with the cameramen and soundmen and producers:
And we shall renew the face of the earth.
The judge, who was wearing a severe black suit, a starched white shirt and a black silk tie, said, "I am Iván Díaz. I am a Sephardic Jew. I was baptized by Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli in Venice in 1955. I still consider myself a Jew because, as Roncalli told me, 'By becoming a Catholic, you do not become any less of a Jew.' Three years later, just before he became Pope John XXIII, he ordained me in Venice. I have two doctorates—one in canon law from the Gregorian University in Rome, the other in Church history from Bologna. I was a peritus at Vatican II. After the Council, I worked with Cardinal Evaristo Arns in Brazil. When I was brought to Rome in 1990 to explain my writings on liberation theology, I asked Cardinal Ratzinger, the man in charge, for a bill of particulars, and he refused. I took off my collar then and there, laid it on his desk and told him I was going out for a cappuccino. I never went back—to Ratzinger's office, or to the active ministry. Two years ago, I came out of retirement as a professor at UCLA to become the founding president of Para los otros."
Mahony brightened. "I know you. I met you once. It was in Rome many years ago, at the Vatican Observatory at Castel Gandolfo. You were with the Jesuit astronomer, Father George Coyne."
"I remember, your Eminence. But you do not need to remind me that we have a mutual friend in order to get a fair trial. Despite what you may think about your, umm, unusual invitation here, I will see that you get a fair trial. I have appointed an attorney for you, to make sure you get a fair trial. His name is Paul Kelly. He studied law at Georgetown. Before his retirement in Cuernavaca, he was a member of the trial bar in Atlanta, Georgia."
He turned to a huge man in a cream-colored Palm Beach suit who was standing off to his right. "Mr. Kelly, please come in and meet Cardinal Mahony. After this short hearing, when you have both heard the charges, you will have all day, and all night if you wish, to prepare your defense. In privacy, I might add."
Kelly lumbered over to Mahony's side with a smile, shook the cardinal's hand and stood behind the chair just vacated by María. He spoke with a Southern accent, and he had the courtly manners of the Old South. "Thank you, your Honor, sir, Father Díaz, Mr. President."
"For this proceeding, 'your Honor' will do."
"Thank you, your Honor. Now, first thing, we'd like to know what the charges are. Second, we'd like to know what these TV cameras are doing here. Third, we're wondering about the jury. I haven't had time to consult with my client about this, but I kinda think he'd like to have a jury of his peers."
"And he shall have one." Díaz gave a signal, and five men in various stages of decrepitude made their way to the jury box. The judge introduced them in turn as they were seated. The five, he said, were retired auxiliary bishops—from Rio, Recife, Riobamba, Bogotá, Jaramilla. "We have a sixth bishop, Samuel Ruiz, who was once the ordinary of Chiapas. He could not make the trip, but he will be here in a virtual sense. I hope he can watch this proceeding on television. Later, he will be able to confer with his brother bishops on his Blackberry, and he will vote in the same manner."
"I'll be damned," Kelly whispered to the cardinal.
"I hope not," said Mahony. "This is getting good." The amused look on his face disappeared when the judge said, "you asked about the charges. I will let our prosecutor make them. your Eminence, Mr. Kelly, let me introduce Juana Margarita Obregón."
A tall handsome woman wearing high heels, a black pants suit and a simple silver cross hanging from a silver chain around her neck marched into the room and nodded to the judge, then to Mahony and his defense counsel. "Your Honor," she said, "bishops go way back in the history of the Church, to the early second century at least." Mahony detected a slight Mexican accent.
"Strictly speaking," she said, "according to some theologians, we could get along without bishops. Some reform-minded Christians do not have bishops at all. And maybe they had a point in getting rid of them. Too many of them turned out to be satyrs and scoundrels, more interested in serving themselves and their own pleasure than in serving the people. But, as Catholics, we have gotten used to our bishops. In fact, we love our bishops, partly because they give us the illusion that our priesthood goes all the way back to the Apostles. But we love most especially the simple, saintly bishops dedicated to selfless service of the people of God."
Kelly rose. "I am gonna object right now, your Honor. Before we go any further, I'd like to ask Ms. Obregón—"
Díaz said, "you can call her Doctor Obregón."
"Okay. I'd like to ask Doctor Obregón what standing she has here in this court. In fact, I'd like to ask the court what standing this court has."
Juana said, "I am a member of the parish council at St. Paul the Apostle in Westwood, California, one of the cardinal-archbishop's 287 parishes. I am a member of the same universal Church the cardinal has promised to serve. I am also a member of Christ whose body has suffered so grievously because of Cardinal Mahony's negligence in the performance of his duties to all the people of Los Angeles."
Mahony blanched and uttered a strangled little cry. "Not fair!"
Díaz cleared his throat. "You're out of order, Eminence. You'll have your chance to speak when we give you a chance to speak."
Kelly said, "But your Honor, under what law does this court proceed? Surely not the laws of the State of California? Surely not the laws of the United States of America? We are in—where are we actually? I don't even know what country I'm in! You brought me here blindfolded."
"For security reasons, that's all," said Díaz. "You came willingly, did you not?"
"Yes. When your people grabbed me before breakfast this morning in Cuernavaca and asked me if I would defend the cardinal, there was nothing I could do but say yes—after I got the permission of Mrs. Kelly. But we have to know what legal theory you are proceeding under."
"Doctor Obregón?" The judge was inviting her to answer Kelly's objection.
"Your Honor, we are proceeding according to the canons in Book Seven of the Code of Canon law entitled 'De Processibus' and the section in Book Six on delicts and penalties."
"Excuse me," said Kelly. "I am not familiar with the Code of Canon law. But I doubt that—"
She interrupted. "Your Honor, I can give you my points and authorities at the end of this hearing."
The judge said, "Very well, Doctor Obregón." When Kelly sputtered, Díaz turned and said, "Mr. Kelly, you can take exception if you want. But we have to get on with this. Doctor Obregón? Are you finished with your statement of the charges?"
"Not quite, your Honor. Thank you. Speaking most appositely for the people of God in Los Angeles, your Honor, we charge Cardinal Mahony with misfeasance and malfeasance. We will prove, your Honor, that Cardinal Mahony has forgotten the sacred duties of his episcopal office, and has demonstrated his forgetfulness by his actions, which we will outline in this courtroom. He has let the unwritten rules of his clerical club undermine the rule of the gospel itself. He has robbed the patrimony of Christ's poor to enrich crafty lawyers—and keep sodomizing priests out of prison."
Kelly said, "God save us!"
Díaz said, "Mr. Kelly, we don't ask God to undo our own malefactions. We save ourselves." He nodded to Juana Margarita Obregón. "Anything else? No? All right then. Without further objection, I will adjourn this court until tomorrow morning at nine."
"I have an objection," said Kelly, still on his feet. "The TV cameras. I object to these television cameras. They are an invasion of my client's privacy."
Díaz said, "Dr. Obregón?"
"Canon law has nothing to say about privacy. Secrecy, yes. But not privacy. Maybe it should. And nothing about television either."
"All right then," said the judge. "Objection overruled. We'll televise this trial, live, by satellite. In fact, I will spend the rest of my day negotiating with the world's broadcast networks on my secure satellite phone. They will decide whether they want to let their viewers see and hear what we do here." If Iván Díaz had had a gavel, he would have banged it. Not having one, he slapped his knee.
JUANA MARGARITA OBREGON was pleasant when she walked over to Paul Kelly's side, but she was all business. "Look," she said. "I am headed to the back of the room now, to put myself on the record."
Kelly said, "I don't understand."
"I am going to tell these cameras who I am. And I am suggesting that you might want to do the same thing."
Mahony hovered, but said nothing.
Kelly said, "But why should I do that?"
"This trial may well be carried live—or on tape—all over the world. But, for obvious reasons, we have not invited any reporters here. If they were here, they would be asking us who we are, and how we got here. Even now, as Iván Díaz is on the phone to the networks, they are more than curious about us. I am going to tell them about Para los otros right now, and put our résumés on the feed that will go out at noon. You can do this, too. But only if you want to." She cast a sidelong glance at the cardinal, a man who, she knew, prided himself on knowing as much about the media as any prelate alive.
Mahony told Kelly, "let's hear what she has to say. I'm curious to know more about Dr. Obregón. And if she's giving you time on their feed, I suggest you better take it."
Kelly shrugged. Damned if he knew why Mahony wanted to cooperate in this legal charade at all. But if that's what he wanted, Kelly wouldn't say no. He was a trial lawyer. He knew the value of a running minute or two on television.
KELLY AND THE CARDINAL AND MARIA (who, Mahony decided, had been designated his nurse and keeper) watched Juana as she faced into the three cameras and said, "My name is Juana Margarita Obregón. My great-great-great-grandfather's name was O'Brien when he came to fight for Mexican freedom in 1849 and stayed to punch cattle and eventually marry the cattleman's daughter. I received my doctorate in scripture from the Jesuits in Berkeley and my law degree from Boalt Hall. I never took my bar exam. Soon, I was working in the administration of Salvador Allende in Chile. In 1973, I fled to Boston after the CIA had Allende assassinated and my friends started disappearing at the hands of military goons.
"My husband, José Avillán, died in Boston after a short, merciful illness. He was fifty-two. I was thirty. I felt the loss, I grieved for almost a year, then I moved on—to a new career. I became pretty good with a mini-cam, and I learned how to win candor from my subjects, even when they knew I was taping them. In 1999, I won an award at the Sundance Film Festival for a documentary on homeless women in Boston. I like television. It can help make us more human. It can change the world."
She looked over to a young woman wearing headphones who was standing beside one of the cameras and smiled. "Okay, Carmen?"
"Tell us more about Para los otros?" said the young woman.
"Right," said Juana Margarita Obregón. "I forgot to do that. Okay. We translate Para los otros as Men and Women for Others. Our inspiration comes from the vision of the revered Jesuit General Pedro Arrupe, who shared his dream with his colleagues at the Jesuits' Thirty-Second General Congregation in 1972. Out of their devotion to Jesus who had come to redeem the world, the Jesuits had to carry on that work of redemption. They had to change the world, not all by themselves, but by enlisting the help of men and women with the same redeeming aim." Her voice thickened, and her eyes glistened. "What we do, mainly, is find bread for people who have very little of it, and look for justice where we see none."
"Okay," said Carmen. "More than okay. Call it a wrap, boys. Thank you, Juana. That was great."
Juana Margarita Obregón said to her, "Maybe Mr. Kelly would like to have equal time."
Kelly laughed. "Doctor Obregón, if you think I can top that, you're crazy. I'm just a poor little ol' country lawyer." She smiled. "Well," he said, patting his paunch, "maybe not so little."
Juana shrugged. "As you wish, Mr. Kelly. If you change your mind, just let someone know. They will find Carmen, and she will set you up."
Kelly looked at the cardinal. "First thing, I think we gotta talk. Maybe you can tell me what in the hail has been going on in LA."
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©2009Robert Blair Kaiser