Cardinal Roger Mahony had retired with a tainted career after dodging criminal charges over how he handled pedophile priests.

It wasn’t clear whether the Vatican supported Archbishop Jose Gomez’s decision to publicly criticize a fellow priest and colleague. The announcement was seen as long overdue by victims and surprising to church experts who said it was unusual for an archbishop to take action against a higher-up.

The move came as the church was legally forced to release thousands of confidential files on pedophile priests — and two weeks after other long-secret priest personnel records showed Mahony worked with top aides to protect the church from the engulfing scandal. One of those aides, then-Monsignor Thomas Curry, stepped down Thursday as auxiliary bishop in the Los Angeles archdiocese’s Santa Barbara region.

Gomez said Mahony, 76, would no longer have administrative or public duties in the diocese. It didn’t appear that Gomez’s actions would affect Mahony’s position in Rome, where he can remain for another four years on a counsel that selects the Pope.

“I find these files to be brutal and painful reading,” Gomez said in a statement, referring to 12,000 pages of files the church posted online Thursday night just hours after a judge’s order. “The behaviour described in these files is terribly sad and evil. There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children.”