Chapter 6: Remembering
Introduction by Robert Blair Kaiser: In Chapter Five, the jury found the cardinal guilty on all counts and sentenced him to become a Christian. "What!" he cried, "I have been a Christian all my life." The jury foreman said, "Few have noticed. You have been something of a crook. You lied during your depositions. you hid priests behind the statute of limitations. You bought the silence of their victims. You let your lawyers put legalism ahead of the Gospel. You manipulated the media. Try to think of yourself as a servant of the little people, not their lord and master." Then hell broke loose. Mexican commandos attacked the compound with automatic weapons and grenades. Mahony saw Díaz and Kelly wilt with bullets to the head. Then, for him, everything went black. Now here's Chapter Six...
Chapter 6: Remembering
CARDINAL MAHONY HAD BEEN IN A COMA for four days, lying flat on his back at Our Lady Queen of Angels Hospital in Los Angeles, his head a helmet of white bandages. Five men huddled in an adjacent room, four bishops in black suits and Roman collars and a priest wearing a black cassock cinctured with a red sash of watered silk. As auxiliary bishops overseeing major parts of the sprawling archdiocese of Los Angeles, they outranked the priest, but they deferred to him. Monsignor Jeremiah Hawkslaw looked younger than his age, fifty-nine. His blond hair was close-cropped and in his red-stockinged feet he stood a fit, muscular 5'6"—which tempted people to underestimate him, until they observed him take over a meeting, as he was taking over this one.
"You've done well with the press—so far," Hawkslaw advised them. "You've been affable, but you've told them nothing, because, in fact, you know nothing. The archdiocese wasn't a player in the drama of the past week. We lost our cardinal—for a time—to a gang of terrorists. That's all we knew. And that's all we said we knew."
"Right. We stonewalled all those crazy charges about Roger," said Fred Snyder.
"And now," said Hawkslaw, "our story is that, thanks to our prayers and the prayers of the faithful, we have him back—such as he is."
"'Such as he is,'" repeated Hector Rubio. "In fact, he's a vegetable."
"Uh huh," agreed Ralph Richley. "Nothing going on up here." He tapped his forehead.
Hawkslaw cleared his throat. "your Excellencies, that's why I called you in this morning," he said. "The neurologists have given me the results of two MRIs." He paused, to dramatize his next words. "I am pleased to report they found no brain damage at all."
"A b-b-bullet to the brain and no b-b-brain damage?" stuttered Thomas Dimleigh. "How do they—"
Jeremiah Hawkslaw cut him off. "One bullet—just one bullet, that is all—grazed the cardinal's skull. The MRIs, as I've already said, Tom, show no brain damage."
"The doctors say Roger has just had a major shock. The kidnapping, the, the process they put him through, the massacre. It was all too much to take. Something inside him—some protective, inner guidance system if you will—shut down most of his faculties. The doctors say they will be dormant until—until the shock wears off."
"They're saying it is just a matter of time?" asked Rubio.
"He, he, he's going to be a hun-, a hundred percent o-o-okay?" asked Dimleigh.
Hawkslaw said, "They won't go that far. But there's no clinical reason— that is, there's no observable, measurable indication why he won't be okay. He may need a long, long rest, but that's understandable. And we will give it to him."
THE LOS ANGELES TIMES had assigned twenty-three reporters to do a complete recap of Cardinal Mahony's abduction and trial, resulting in a total of forty-seven long pieces that took up much of the Times' news hole for a week. The New York Times reprinted the entire testimony of the trial, courtesy of Fox Television News. Two U.S. television networks did ninety- minute documentaries on the entire affair. Mother Angelica's Eternal Word Television Network ran a critical report on Para los otros and the small organization's apparent demise when Mexican Army commandos blasted its headquarters in the mountain jungle near Chiapas. The Wall Street Journal carried a Page One story on the left-wing organizations that had provided funds for Para los otros—based on leaked documents seized by U.S. troops during their raid in Chiapas. On the day the Journal story appeared, Dennis Kucinich, the congressman from Cleveland, Ohio, called for a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee to investigate the Pentagon's interest in the Mahony rescue. "Did we have to kill them all?" asked Kucinich on the floor of the House.
AT TEN IN THE MORNING OF HIS FIFTH DAY at Queen of Angels, Cardinal Mahony opened his eyes, turned his head first one way, then another, sizing up his circumstances. He was obviously a patient in a large, luxury hospital room, somewhere. He called for a nurse and told her he wanted a Diet Pepsi. "I'd also like someone to tell me where I am and what I am doing here," he said.
The nurse scurried out, returned with a tray, a can of Pepsi and a glass of ice, and said, "I called Dr. Sargent. He will be here in a minute."
In less than a minute, William Sargent, a wiry redhead wearing his green scrubs and a pair of Ben Franklin spectacles, burst into the room. After ten minutes with the cardinal, he realized that Roger Mahony certainly knew who he was—but didn't recall anything of his ordeal. "The last thing I remember," the cardinal told him, "I went off for a morning hike." He wanted to know who had won the presidential election.
Dr. Sargent grinned. "We don't know. They're doing a recount right now in Florida."
The cardinal's voice wobbled. "What, uh, what day is this?"
"What year is this?"
"Two thousand and eight."
"And they're doing a recount in Florida?" He rolled his eyes. "Again?"
The cardinal said, "Where's the remote for that TV? I want to see what's happening on CNN."
Sargent had heard the cardinal was a news junkie. His interest in CNN helped him decide there was nothing wrong with the cardinal's mental faculties. "Your Eminence," he said, "I think I need a few minutes with my colleagues." He looked around, saw no phone in the cardinal's suite, pulled a cell phone from his pocket and hit the keypad twice.
"Gladys," he said, looking at his watch, "see if Dr. Freedman and Dr. Kazarian can cancel any appointments they may have for lunch today and ask them to meet me in my office at noon. Yes. Yes. Oh, I'd say you can tell them it shouldn't take us more than a half hour. Then I want to bring them up to meet with the cardinal."
Sargent looked up at the cardinal and gave him an encouraging look and a smile. "I think we're going to let you go home."
At 12:30 PM, the cardinal was finishing a hospital lunch—roast beef and dry roast potatoes and a small dish of tapioca pudding—and watching CNN when Dr. Sargent strolled in with Drs. Freedman and Kazarian in tow. Dr. Sargent informed the cardinal that he'd gone through a horrendous series of events. "I won't even tell you what they were. But you've blocked them from your memory. you're suffering—but we would hardly call it suffering, you're fortunate—from post-anterior amnesia."
"When people have a car accident, for example, sometimes they do not only not remember the accident. They do not even remember the events leading up to the accident. It's as if their psyche wants to block out the pain."
"I see." He smiled. "Apparently my psyche has done a pretty good job."
The three doctors chuckled. "We'd like to see how well you can walk," said Sargent. He gave the cardinal a terry cloth robe, helped him out of bed, and held him by the elbow as the two of them headed to the window. The cardinal peered out at the cars below on Sixth Street, then plopped into a seat in an overstuffed chair in the other corner of the hospital suite.
The cardinal said, "I feel just fine."
"Okay," said Sargent. The two doctors stood behind him. "You're tired. That's obvious. But you can go home. We'll call Monsignor Hawkslaw right now. He can come and get you."
AND SO, THE CARDINAL RETURNED to his sumptuous new rectory (with twelve bedroom suites) next to the cathedral, hoping to act as if nothing had happened. But of course something had happened, as he soon discovered when he logged on to the Internet that afternoon, Googled his own name, and found thousands of entries for the week before last, when his abduction and trial was the news of the world. Judging by Matt Drudge's Web site this very morning, his violent rescue was still one of this week's major stories—despite the controversy in Florida over how to proceed on yet another recount.
Yesterday, President Bush, shaky and somewhat subdued because he had no way of knowing whether his handpicked successor won or lost the contested election campaign, had told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that the Army's Special Forces had gone far beyond their orders in their attempt to rescue the cardinal. He apologized for all the bloodshed. "Bloodshed is not what this country is all about," he said.
In today's New York Times, Vice President Dick Cheney, was less apologetic. "Sometimes, in our fight for freedom," he said, "we do what we have to do." Which prompted a coalition of Senate Democrats to call for a hearing, a request that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee concurred in. The committee's chief counsel told the Associated Press, "We want to ask Dick Cheney whose freedom he was talking about—other than the cardinal's of course."
For almost four hours, Roger Mahony surfed the Internet, appalled and confused by the cacophony of opinion that raged around the ending of his ordeal—when Mexican commandos had descended on this mountain redoubt near Chiapas and slaughtered everyone but the man they had gone in to rescue. Then, after a Pepsi break and a fifteen-minute stroll around the cathedral plaza, he returned to his desk and started from the beginning by logging on to www.nytimes.com, going to an archive called "Mahony" and reading the Times' reports starting with November 5. That done, he walked down to the common room he shared with Hawkslaw and plucked the current Time and Newsweek off a shelf, both featuring his face on the cover. Time's headline, "Cardinal Mahony's Trial" seemed more serious than Newsweek's "Roger's Rescue."
He took the magazines with him when he went in to a lone supper with Hawkslaw. "Just give me a minute or two," he said as they pulled their chairs up to the table. He skimmed both cover stories, and agreed with both writers, who concluded that the story was hardly over.
David Van Biema wrote in Time, "The wildcatters who put Cardinal Mahony on trial may be gone, but their bill of particulars against him has put the cardinal's credibility on the line. Back in the U.S., he can either say nothing, or he can confess everything. And that will tell us what Mahony is made of."
Ken Woodward wrote in Newsweek, "Some Catholics in Los Angeles believe the cardinal's life was spared for some providential reason. But insiders were puzzled last week when they heard the nuncio in Washington had been told by the Vatican to start looking for a new archbishop in Los Angeles."
Mahony waved the copy of Newsweek. "Is this true?" he asked his chancellor.
"That the nuncio is looking to replace me?"
Hawkslaw opened his palms. "It didn't come from me. But, yes. We were asked over a week ago to put together a terna. Cardinal Re wants to see a list of names by the first of the year."
"Over a week ago? you mean before my rescue?"
Mahony's lip curled. "They thought I was already history?"
Mahony drummed his fingers on the table for a moment, then drained his glass of Diet Pepsi. "Are you still working on the terna?"
"We've put it on hold."
"I should hope so," Mahony snapped. He rose from the table. "I like the new Mac G-6 you got for me," he said. "And I love the higher-speed DSL. Now I can navigate cyberspace like, like an angel. But I can't do my e-mail on it. Where's my old laptop? The one with all my addresses in it?"
"We didn't find it in your mountain cabin. Did you have it in Chiapas?"
"I don't remember."
"It doesn't matter." Hawkslaw gave a dismissive wave. "We don't want you doing any e-mail. Not for a while yet."
"And why not?"
"For the same reason that we haven't given you a telephone. To protect you."
"From what? From whom?" All of a sudden, he felt like a prisoner in his own rectory.
"From the press, mainly. I have had several reporters from the LA Times calling me every day. And your favorite columnist, the guy who has been attacking you for more than four years, Steve Lopez. He wants—they all want to know when they can talk to you."
He tried to hold back his anger. "And you tell them what?"
"I tell them if they want to talk about Chiapas, never. you don't remember Chiapas. Remember?"
Mahony thought that over, and told himself that he might want to talk about Chiapas— if and when he could start remembering.
THAT NIGHT HE DREAMT about a beautiful young Chicana who kept calling for his help. He awoke in a sweat, troubled, because, in the dream, he saw her on a rope bridge that was tumbling into a jungle ravine, and he couldn't save her. He sat on the edge of his bed for some long minutes, wondering who the young woman was. Then he made the obvious conclusion—that she was part of the scenario in Chiapas. But how could he find out?
He said no Mass that morning, but assisted at Hawkslaw's instead, from a vantage point in the cathedral sacristy, where he ran little risk of encountering a Mass goer or a curious reporter. And then, during breakfast, he realized that Pete Noyes, an old friend in the news business who was now working for Fox in Los Angeles, could get him a copy of the entire feed transmitted by Para los otros. But how could he get to Noyes? For a time—at least until he could demand that Hawkslaw give him a phone line and e-mail access—he figured he'd be patient.
Patience paid off. For the next few nights, Mahony saw a whole lineup of characters in his dreams, and was even able to put names on them by studying pictures of his captors in Time and Newsweek, pictures they'd printed off the television feed. With no difficulty, he started identifying them. Here they were in Newsweek: the five bishop-jurors, Iván Díaz, Juana Margarita Obregón. And here in Time was a short profile of Paul Kelly that gave the details of his work as one of Atlanta's best criminal defense attorneys. Mahony was suffused with a warm, grateful feeling when he regarded Kelly's ruddy Irish face. But the curious thing was that he felt nothing but compassion for his captors, even for Iván Díaz, the judge who sentenced him, and his dogged prosecutor, Juana Margarita Obregón. But he was quite sure she was not the woman in what had become a recurring dream—the Chicana who kept calling for his help.
Looking for a present for a friend who might not be reading "CARDINAL MAHONY" on Catholica? Why not consider purchasing a copy of Cardinal Mahony as a present...
Other books by Robert Blair Kaiser:
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2009Robert Blair Kaiser