In another case, Mahony resisted turning over a list of altar boys to police who were investigating claims against a visiting Mexican priest who was later determined to have molested 26 boys during a 10-month stint in Los Angeles. "We cannot give such a list for no cause whatsoever," he wrote on a January 1988 memo.
While Gomez's decision to strip Mahony of his administrative duties and reduce his public role was unprecedented in the American Roman Catholic Church, Mahony can still act as a priest, keep his rank as cardinal and remain on a critical Vatican panel that elects the next pope.
Victims were quick to point out the contrast between Mahony's pared-down local standing and his continued position as a cardinal who travels frequently to Rome and remains in good standing there.
The decision "is little more than window dressing. Cardinal Mahony is still a very powerful prelate," Joelle Casteix, the Western regional director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said at a Friday news conference outside the Los Angeles cathedral. "He's a very powerful man in Rome and still a very powerful man in Los Angeles."
The Vatican declined to comment Friday when asked if the Holy See would follow Gomez's lead and take action against Mahony.
Tod Tamberg, the archdiocese spokesman, said he did not know if Pope Benedict XVI was aware of Gomez's actions. Mahony was in Rome several weeks ago for meetings unrelated to Thursday's announcement.
Mahony is a member of three Vatican departments, including the Holy See's all-important economic affairs office, and he remains a member of the College of Cardinals. At 76, he is still eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.
The Vatican's former sex crimes prosecutor, Bishop Charles Scicluna, has said Canon Law provides for sanctioning bishops who show "malicious or fraudulent negligence" in their work, but he acknowledged that such laws have never been applied in the case of bishops who covered up sex abuse cases.
In the past, even high-ranking members of the church hierarchy who have spoken out about how senior church officials handled clergy abuse crisis have been rebuked by the Holy See.
In 2010, for example, Viennese Cardinal Cristoph Schoenborn criticized the former Vatican No. 2, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, in an interview for his handling of a notorious sex abuse case. Schoenborn didn't use Sodano's name in his critique but was nonetheless forced to come to Rome to explain himself to the pope and Sodano.
The Vatican publicly rebuked Schoenborn, saying that only the pope has authority to deal with accusations against a cardinal.
The Vatican's silence about Gomez's actions indicates that officials there were aware of it, said Patrick Wall, a former Benedictine monk and priest and vocal church critic who consults on clergy abuse cases.
"Gomez was as brilliant as a sniper the way he orchestrated this because he did not overstep his authority against the pope and yet at the same time it appears that some type of penalty is being imposed," said Wall. "It's brilliant and this has never happened in the U.S."
Mahony will reduce his public appearances, including numerous guest lectures nationwide on immigration reform, Tamberg said. However, he remains a priest in good standing and will continue to live in a North Hollywood parish and can celebrate the sacraments with no restrictions, he said.
Mahony, who retired in 2011 after more than a quarter-century at the helm of the archdiocese, has publicly apologized for mistakes he made in dealing with priests who molested children.
He repeated that apology in his blog post Friday.
"I have stated time and time again that I made mistakes, especially in the mid-1980s," he wrote. "I apologized for those mistakes, and committed myself to make certain that the Archdiocese was safe for everyone."
Associated Press writers Shaya Tayefe Mohajer, Michael Blood and Christina Hoag in Los Angeles, and Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.