di Riccardo D'Andrea
Vatican City, February 19 - A large number of Catholic faithful on Tuesday called for American Cardinal Roger Mahony to stay away from the upcoming conclave to elect a new pope amid a growing scandal over his alleged role in covering up sex abuse by priests in his former Los Angeles archdiocese. The deluge of opposition found expression on social networks and media blogs after the 76-year-old ex-archbishop posted a message on his Twitter account asking for prayer so that "we might elect the best pope for the Church of today and tomorrow" following the resignation of Benedict XVI with effect from the end of this month. "#Mahony Cardinal, please, stay home!" said one Twitter user, using a hashtag to identify the word Mahony as a trending topic. #Mahony voting for a new pope rankles some Catholics. I can see why!" said another. Mahony will be questioned under oath February 23 about how he handled Father Nicolas Aguilar Rivera, a visiting Mexican priest who allegedly molested 26 children in the Los Angeles archdiocese in 1987 during his tenure. The deposition Saturday will be the first since a court order forced the archdiocese to release thousands of pages of confidential files on over 120 priests accused of sex abuse, showing how Mahony and other top officials shielded them in order to contain the scandal. Earlier Tuesday Cardinal Velasio De Paolis said only a person in high authority could advise Mahony not to attend the conclave. However numerous Catholics said they hoped the cardinal might have the "good taste" to step aside. In response to an online poll launched by the influential Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana on Monday some believers however defended the position of the former archbishop, arguing that the outcome of a conclave is led by the Holy Spirit and that alleged 'sinners' should be allowed to attend. Pope Benedict XVI's pontificate has been characterised by a spate of sex-abuse scandals involving priests in numerous countries. On Monday Father Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's top sex abuse investigator until two weeks ago, applauded the pope for leaving a legacy of "extraordinary reply and response to the very sad phenomenon of sexual abuse of minors by the clergy". However critics say he did not do enough against the scandals and to promote transparency within the church, citing cases such as that of Mahony, and others like Sean Brady, primate of Ireland, who has faced repeated calls to resign over his role in covering up priest sex abuse.