Pope Benedict XVI named José Gomez the co-adjutor archbishop of Los Angeles. The 58-year-old Gomez, who currently serves as the Archbishop of San Antonio, Texas, now becomes the official successor to Cardinal Roger Mahoney when he turns 75 next year, the mandatory retirement age for archbishops.
You can read the LA Times story here.
The appointment of Gomez is already being lauded as a momentous day in the LA Archdiocese, since the Mexican-born priest becomes the first Latino to hold such a high position in the region since 1846 (the Spanish-Mexican era). As the Times writes, his appointment “was apparently a nod to the demographics of Los Angeles, where Latinos form a large part of the overall population and especially of the region’s Roman Catholics.”
Gomez is a conservative priest; he is a member of Opus Dei and received his current appointment near the end of the papacy of John Paul II. Pope John Paul II made a record number of appointments to the Church hierarchy in his final years, most of which involved conservative advocates in the Church. He increased the size of the College of Cardinals (the body who chooses the pope) and, in the case of the U.S. Church, made key appointments to major Archdioceses. Gomez’ new appointment continues this trend.
If you are Roman Catholic and Latin American, then the appointment of Gomez is, I suppose, a momentous occasion. In a city like Los Angeles, where the Mexican (and Central American) population is a definable sector of the city’s economy, society, culture, and, well, everything, then this kind of recognition is fitting. It is especially noteworthy that it comes from an institution that has struggled to meet the culturally-specific spiritual needs of the people it serves. (All previous Archbishops of the LA Archdiocese, proper, have been European or U.S.-born whites.)
But there are other forces involved here, too. Los Angeles is an immigrant city, making it one of the epicenters of US Catholicism in the 21st century. As the US Catholic Church continues to lose its hold over the US faithful, the immigrants who revitalize our economy and society also do the same for the church. The appointment of a mexicano, in particular, is a clear attempt to make immigrant LA feel more welcome and at home in the church.
But immigrants are not loyal Catholics without limits. One of the major trends facing the Catholic Church is the growth in Latino immigrant Protestant sects and established Protestant Churches who are making major inroads in their recruitment of the Spanish-speaking. This is an ages-old problem in the Church, one referred to as “Protestant leakage” in their U.S. historical records. The appointment of Gomez is also a clear attempt to stem this tide, and reaffirm the place and position of the Catholic Church in Latino America.
Only time will tell if they are successful, though I personally think the cards are stacked against them. With the scandal of protected pedophilia plaguing the Church now, this is a critical moment in its North American history–a time without comparison. Out of this moment of crisis will come a reshaped Church, one likely even more immigrant-dependent than in the past. But the ultimate question is the extent to which it will be adversely affected by these scandals.