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Mexico-born archbishop to lead Los Angeles Catholics [Updated]

April 6, 2010 |  6:16 am

Jose Gomez, who has been tapped to take over the archdiocese of Los Angeles, has risen rapidly through the Catholic church and earned a national reputation.

In replacing Cardinal Roger Mahony, Gomez, 58, would instantly become the most prominent Latino bishop in the United States, leading an archdiocese that is by far 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.

In 2005, Time magazine named him one of the 25 most influential Latinos in the United States.

In a profile, the magazine wrote: "Born in Monterrey, Mexico, Gomez enjoys an excellent relationship with the powerful bishop of Mexico City and is a natural conversation partner for legislators toiling over immigration riddles. A long affiliation with the conservative teaching group Opus Dei guarantees him the Vatican's doctrinal confidence and a support and information network leading high up in Rome. Yet despite his orthodoxy, Gomez is a natural conciliator admired for uniting rich and poor and Anglo and Hispanic Catholics behind Denver's Centro Juan Diego, a hybrid Latino religious-instruction and social-services center hailed as a national model."

Mahony reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75 for bishops next February. 

 “I welcome Archbishop Gomez to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles with enthusiasm and personal excitement,” Mahony said in a statement. “The Auxiliary Bishops and I are looking forward to working closely with him over the coming months until he becomes the Archbishop early in 2011.”

The Catholic News Agency released the a brief biography of Gomez:

Archbishop Gomez was born in 1951 in Monterrey, Mexico to Dr. José H. Gomez and Esperanza Velasco, both who are now deceased.

The prelate earned bachelor's degrees in accounting, philosophy and theology and was ordained an Opus Dei priest in 1978. In 1980, he obtained a doctorate in theology from the University of Navarre's Pamplona, Spain campus.

From 1987 to 1999, then-Father Gomez was in residence at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in San Antonio where he assisted with the parish's pastoral work. It was during this time that he became a regional representative to the National Association of Hispanic Priests (ANSH). In 1995 he was named president, then took on the role of executive director in 1999.

Archbishop Gomez played a central role in establishing the Hispanic Seminary of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City which opened in 2000.

Then in 2001, he was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Denver, where he served in several areas, including outreach to the Hispanic community. He also organized the establishment of Denver’s Centro San Juan Diego for Family and Pastoral Care, a place for formation of lay leaders and a base to provide welcoming services to immigrants.

Gomez was named archbishop of San Antonio in 2005.

[Updated at 8:15 a.m.: Michael Barber, a professor of scripture and theology at John Paul the Great Catholic University in San Diego, wrote in The Sacred Page blog that Gomez “fits the template” of a typical appointment by Pope Benedict XVI: He is well-educated, with a doctoral degree in theology; he has worked in Rome, for the Pontifical Commission for Latin America; and he “has experience in priestly formation,” the training of young priests.

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).

He 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 press 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 Clinton, an advocate of abortion rights.

Since taking over the San Antonio archdiocese in 2005, he 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 Shelby Grad

Photo: Eric Gay / Associated Press

Photos: Archbishop Jose Gomez