He's known as the flying archbishop, but Roger Mahony insists his new helicopter is a way to take on the city's nagging traffic problem, not a takeoff of the 1960s television series "The Flying Nun."

"It's part of the Southern California scene now. Traffic is really a problem," said the archbishop, who demonstrated the $400,000 gift Tuesday with a spin over parts of the 8,762-square-mile Archdiocese of Los Angeles.Mahony, 53, who has a helicopter pilot's license and about 140 hours flying time, flew the blue-striped, turbine-powered McDonnell Douglas 500-D around Van Nuys Airport for about 15 minutes after a news conference.

The 160-mph helicopter, blessed by the archbishop and sporting a St. Christopher medal on the instrument panel, was donated by a group of businessmen to enable Mahony to better minister to the nation's most populous Roman Catholic archdiocese.

The three-county jurisdiction, larger than the nation of Israel, has 275 parishes and nearly 300 schools in rural agricultural areas, the Mojave Desert and the urban and suburban sprawl of metropolitan Los Angeles.

"If in fact you could guarantee that every day, any hour, you could get on the freeways and really go quickly, it would be, I think, a little different situation," Mahony said.

The helicopter has generated criticism from some advocates for the poor who say the money could have been better spent in the archdiocese, which serves 2.7 million Catholics in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

Mahony said he accepted it under the strict condition that acquisition and operation would not cost the archdiocese anything, and he blunted the criticism by elaborating on the generosity of the donors.

"Although they do not desire their names to be made public, nonetheless I must emphasize that each is a major contributor to a wide variety of church and community projects - most contributing in the million-dollar range for our inner-city Catholic schools, projects for the homeless, hunger programs and many other charitable endeavors," Mahony said.

Mahony is seeking landing rights near his downtown residence, St. Vibiana's Cathedral, and at a number of Catholic high school football fields. A number of local Catholic hospitals already have helipads.