The LA Times, Thursday, December 21, 2000


Preaching the Power of Tech

    Cardinal Roger M. Mahony has been archbishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles--the largest flock of Roman Catholics in the country--since 1985. In 1991, he became the youngest American named to the College of Cardinals, a select group who are the pope's closest advisors and who cast votes to choose new popes.

    Mahony's interest in high tech was apparent the day he and 23 other church officials were installed as cardinals. Thousands in the overflow, invitation-only crowd at the Vatican ceremony watched it on a wall-size television lent by the L.A. diocese.

    The son of a North Hollywood electrician, Mahony, 64, is known for championing social causes while maintaining strong beliefs in official church teachings. One of his most cherished projects is a $163-million cathedral complex under construction in downtown L.A. and scheduled to open in 2002.

    COMPUTER: I use an NEC laptop, the Versa LX, for everything. I used to have a desktop computer at home and one in the office, plus a laptop, but I never had the right files in the right place. So now I'm down to one computer. We have docking stations so that when I'm at home or at the office I can use the big screen and keyboard.

    Q: And the laptop is handy for your busy travel schedule?

     The problem is finding airplanes that provide power cords. The 747s, 777s and some 767s have them, and so do the MD-11s. Alitalia, which I fly to Rome, has the sockets for them on their MD-11s, but they are not hooked up. I have written to the airline, urging them to get the system activated.

     Q: How often do you fly to Rome?

     About three times a year. It's great that when I'm there, I can use the local number for AOL to get my e-mail and check the news.

     Q: You've urged bishops to get wired to the Internet.

     About four or five years ago at a meeting of the [National Conference of Catholic Bishops], made up of 50 bishops from all over the U.S., I circulated a sheet asking if they had e-mail. About 40 of them had no idea of what I was talking about. I got back only two names--one who had e-mail and another who said he was about to get it.

     Back home we moved much faster. By 1998, the diocese not only had an Internet site, we also had our own intranet. We gave all the priests in the diocese one year, and I reminded them every month, to get a computer and online by Dec. 1, 1999. They all got their own passwords for access to our intranet, and it's been wonderful. Things we used to have to mail to all the churches we can just put on the intranet.

     Q: Did the bishops' conference ever get wired?

     They are still sending out their report by mail. But I keep pushing them.

     HAND-HELD: No, not yet. For my personal calendar, I like to see the whole week in greater detail than any PDA can provide at this point.

     We use a Daytimer, with two pages for each day. On the left side are my appointments, and if I need greater detail it goes on the right side.

     BOOKMARKED WEB SITES: I look at the Catholic News Service [] for news about the church and the Vatican's Web site [] quite a bit.

     Our own site [] has two Web cams that update pictures of the new cathedral every three minutes. The cameras are mounted in the Hall of Records across the street--one gives a faraway view [the "Site cam"] and a close-up ["Cathedral cam"]. I can check in on what's happening wherever I am.

     SCREENSAVER: I do have one, and it's a picture of the construction site I take from the Web cams. I update it when I see a new picture I like.

     CELL PHONE: A Nokia that I use all the time in the car.

     Q: Do you have one for Europe? No, because of the time difference. It's easier to communicate with my staff by e-mail when I am in Europe.

     FAVORITE TECH TOY: My hobby is amateur radio. It has gotten very high-tech, with the use of satellites and transmitting images, but I just use it to talk to people.

     Q: Do you tell them who you are?

     No. Most don't ask. If someone wants to know what kind of work I do, I just say I'm self-employed. So, it's not lying.

     HOME AUDIO/VIDEO SYSTEM: For the new rectory, we will have great sound. There will be surround sound in the big living room and the den. I installed most of the wires in the walls before the Sheetrock was put in.

     Q: You don't mean you installed it yourself?

     I did. I used 12-gauge vampire wire, which is really good and won't disintegrate.

     Q: What components will you use?

     We haven't gotten that far. The technology changes so fast, it doesn't make sense to get it yet, but we'll be digital-ready.

     When we have guests, we can play music or show videos. Or watch football games.

     HAS TECHNOLOGY CHANGED YOUR DAILY LIFE?: I have become so dependent on the computer. I can think and draft on a computer in a way that I couldn't by hand or dictation. I use it to write all my homilies and talks.

     Q: Has using a computer changed your writing?

     I think so. In the past when I had to type or write by hand, I would not go back and make little changes. I just didn't bother. But now I can go back and tweak things in a way that I think makes my writing better.

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     --As told to DAVID COLKER