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Gomez vows to be an advocate for L.A.'s immigrants, the less fortunate

April 6, 2010 | 11:35 am

Archbishop-elect Jose H. Gomez, shown in 2005. Eric Gay / Associated Press

Cardinal Roger Mahony on Tuesday introduced Los Angeles to his successor, San Antonio Archbishop Jose Gomez, saying Gomez would be an advocate for the city's vast immigrant community as well as the less fortunate.

"Over the years he has been a most effective leader working with priests serving the Spanish-speaking communities across the country, and his leadership in proclaiming the dignity and rights of our immigrant peoples has helped motivate many people to advocate for our immigrants," Mahony said.

Gomez voiced his unequivocal support for immigration reform and said he wholeheartedly supported Mahony's advocacy for immigrant rights.

Gomez spoke of his joy of coming to Los Angeles, which he said “like no other city in the world, has the global face of the Catholic Church.”

He recalled how immediately after he was told about his new appointment, “the first thing I saw was a painting of our Lady of Guadalupe in the hallway. “I felt her love and protection. To Mary of Guadalupe, I would like to entrust my new ministry in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.”

He invited everyone to “thank God for our diversity and to commit ourselves to things that unite us,” which he explained were “our service to Jesus, the poor, the defense of the unborn child, the immigrant and the disabled.”

Gomez, who was warm and funny in his interaction with reporters, said he had not spent much time in Los Angeles.

“I need to learn about it,” he said. “I don’t know too much about it.”

Mahony, who spoke first, stressed to the pope about the importance of having a Hispanic archbishop. He noted that Los Angeles has the largest Spanish-speaking diocese in the U.S. and the fourth-largest in the world. He said that is the real story today.

He said Gomez’s appointment sends a signal around the world that the church supports Spanish-speaking Catholics. “I was so grateful to God for this gift of a Hispanic archbishop,” he said.

“I welcome Archbishop Gomez to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles with enthusiasm and personal excitement,” Mahony said. “During the process to select a new Archbishop, I urged that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles deserved to have a Hispanic as the next Archbishop. Los Angeles is the largest Hispanic Diocese or Archdiocese in the United States.”

Gomez, 58, has risen rapidly through the Catholic church and earned a national reputation. In replacing Mahony, Gomez would instantly become the most prominent Latino bishop in the U.S., leading an archdiocese that by far is the nation’s largest and is dominated by parishioners with roots in his native Mexico.

If his personal history is any guide, he also could be expected to guide the Los Angeles church along a more traditional -- some would say conservative -- path than Mahony, known as one of the most progressive archbishops in the country and an impassioned fighter for immigrants’ rights.

Gomez is a former member of Opus Dei, a conservative and controversial Catholic organization (known to most Americans because of its unflattering role in “The DaVinci Code,” which Opus Dei leaders denounced as misleading and offensive).

Mahony addressed that issue in his statement Tuesday morning: “Some may conclude that since Archbishop Gomez was ordained a priest of Opus Dei he must be 'conservative.' In fact, these labels of 'conservative' and 'liberal' are really unhelpful in the life of the Church. We are all called to a deep relationship with Jesus Christ, and I can attest that both of us share a common commitment to Christ and to the Church, and that both of us are interested in promoting the teachings of the Church fully as well as bringing the words and example of Christ to today’s society and world. I consider ourselves to share an equal commitment to the continued growth of the Church here in Los Angeles.”

Gomez built a reputation in San Antonio as a staunch traditionalist who reversed some of the more liberal-leaning initiatives of his predecessor. According to local news reports, he disbanded a Justice and Peace Commission whose members disagreed with his support for a state constitutional amendment barring gay marriage, and he once denounced a local Catholic college for hosting then-presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, an advocate of abortion rights.

Since taking over the San Antonio archdiocese in 2005, Gomez has pleased some members of the community with his strong anti-abortion stance and his insistence on traditional church doctrine, while alienating others who favor a more progressive approach, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

-- Mitchell Landsberg and Jessica Garrison at Our Lady of Angels Cathedral 

Photo: Archbishop-elect Jose H. Gomez in 2005. Credit: Eric Gay / Associated Press


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