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Thursday, February 21, 2013

I have been following your coverage of Roger Mahony and the rest of the child-abuse Church scandal with great interest, though for a very different reason than what you have been covering. (As an important aside: Child molestation is horrible. But, I consider what the Church does to children an abuse even without the molestation: Making them ashamed of their bodies, making them feel guilty for inappropriate reasons, frightening them with tales of fire and brimstone. This is a very serious abuse that is not taken seriously enough in my view.)

But that aside is not why I am writing. I am writing because of something else that you know about: The atrocities in El Salvador mostly during the late 1970s and into the early 1990s. What does this have to do with Mahony? Please read on. I cannot promise you will find this as outrageous as I do, but I have never gotten over my hatred of Mahony over this matter.

Many human rights groups in that era were trying to find strategies to stop the atrocities in El Salvador. The Reagan and Bush administrations kept funding the Salvadoran military, which was in fact an extension of the death squads and vice versa.

But the death squads also had a corporate dimension to them. In fact, that was their very reason for existence. Corporations wanted to terrorize workers from organizing for basic rights.

The largest single source of funding for the death squads (after the U.S. government) was the coffee business. A coffee boycott was called for by labor and human rights groups in El Salvador and picked up by U.S. human rights organizations.

One of the corporations buying Salvadoran coffee on a large scale was Procter and Gamble, for their coffee brands like Folgers.

I do not drink coffee. But I wrote to Procter and Gamble saying that I would boycott their other products that I had enjoyed until they stopped buying Salvadoran coffee.

Their reply completely took me by surprise. They used a letter from then-Archbishop Roger “Rogelio” Mahony to justify their support for purchasing Salvadoran coffee!

I was stunned. I could not believe what Mahony was supporting. And, even more, I could not believe that he was letting Procter and Gamble use his letter for their political and corporate purposes.

I called his office in Los Angeles thinking maybe it was all a mistake. At first they pretended not to know what I was talking about. But suddenly the tone completely changed. They not only knew about Procter and Gamble distributing his letter. They said he absolutely had approved it and stood by that decision. They said I could write to him if I wanted a more detailed explanation.

Which I did. And soon I got a reply from him. He said that he was opposing the boycott because the bishops in El Salvador were opposing the boycott. Case closed, end of story.

How interesting. The death squads had murdered the archbishop of El Salvador just over ten years earlier. (Not to mention various nuns and priests.) And they were supporting the second largest source of funding for those same death squads. The bishops were either corrupt or scared or both. But any sane person would know that.

Mahony could have stayed out of it. But he went out of his way to oppose the boycott of this death-squad funding source – and to let Procter and Gamble use his “moral authority” to continue their purchases.

Procter and Gamble later relented and admitted they were wrong. They stopped buying Salvadoran coffee within a year as I remember. I thanked them and resumed buying Procter and Gamble products.

But Mahony? He never admitted he was wrong and never apologized.

We hear so much about the corruption and conflicts of interest in our political system. And those are very real. But I wonder what corruption and conflicts of interest were going on with Mahony and the situation in El Salvador?

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