Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles leads the largest archdiocese in the nation. He is the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration and has spearheaded the Church’s campaign to enact comprehensive immigration reform. He was elected by his fellow bishops to be one of four delegates to the upcoming ordinary synod, where Pope Francis and bishops from around the world will address a range of issues related to marriage and the family.
On Feb. 20, during an interview with Joan Frawley Desmond, the Register’s senior editor, Archbishop Gomez reacted to the news that a federal judge had blocked President Barack Obama’s executive order to stay the deportations of an estimated 5 million undocumented immigrants. He spoke about his hopes for the synod and the need for pastoral support for divorced-and-remarried Catholics. He identified key themes Pope Francis should tackle during his address before Congress in September. Finally, he celebrated the vitality of his own archdiocese and the promising surge of vocations that will help advance the New Evangelization in the 21st century.
What’s your reaction to the federal judge’s decision to block the president’s new policy, which was designed to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation?
I am disappointed. Not only with the judge, but the whole problem of trying to secure immigration reform.
Immigration is a blessing for our country, and the U.S. bishops have supported legal immigration. All this political maneuvering is just delaying the process of welcoming our brothers and sisters who have been here a long time.
I wish President Obama and Congress could get together to come up with a solid plan for immigration reform. The president wanted to do something as an immediate solution to the real crisis involving the 11 million people in this country who don’t have legal recognition.
Some people who came to the cathedral this weekend for Mass [said they are] losing hope. Our brothers and sisters have children who want to make a contribution to society. The delaying, postponing and political games are frustrating.
When Pope Francis addresses the U.S. Congress during his visit in September, should he call on U.S. lawmakers to secure immigration reform?
Absolutely, I am sure he will talk about this, because it is in his heart. His first trip outside of Rome was to Lampedusa [to commemorate thousands of migrants from North Africa who died crossing the sea to Italy].
At some point, there was a talk about the Holy Father going to the [U.S.-Mexican] border. I don’t think that will happen now, but it would help people understand that the Church supports legal immigration.
We cannot stop the movement of people, who can move from one country to another part of the world. The U.S. should be an example for the whole world on how that should be regulated and done legally, while respecting borders.
What other subjects should the Pope tackle in his address before Congress?
Respect for the culture of life, the value of the human person, the need for peace between Israel and the Arab countries, and then the terrible situation of extremists killing people.
What was your reaction to the news that the Pope will canonize Father Junípero Serra?
It was a surprise when the Holy Father announced the canonization during his trip to the Philippines. It was a happy surprise, because Junípero Serra was the founder of the state of California and a wonderful evangelizer.
Obviously, as we all know, there is a concern by some people in the Native-American community about the atrocities that were committed during [the colonial period of] evangelization. But, from my point of view, Serra came here to bring the truths of the Gospel. He was one of the missionaries who was very clearly against violence and abuse against Native Americans.
The reality is that the Pope is making a point with the canonization. Catholics need to follow the missionary example of Junípero Serra when we are bringing the Good News of the Gospel. Serra’s dedication is a beautiful example of respecting the cultures of others. He learned the language of Native Americans and integrated their culture into [his outreach].
You are a delegate for the ordinary synod. What was your reaction when you learned you had been elected by your fellow bishops to be one of four delegates?
I was surprised that my brother bishops decided to include me.
But the archdiocese is the largest in the country, and we have so many different communities: Hispanics, African-Americans, Native Americans, 1 million Filipinos, Vietnamese, Koreans and Chinese. In that sense, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is what the Church in the U.S. will be in the future. With that in mind, it makes sense that the archdiocese is included [in the synod].
Besides that, the practice of the faith in the archdiocese is amazing. There are about 80,000 baptisms of infants every year, and it looks like we will have a record number for the rite of election.
What should Catholics understand about the synodal process as they wait for the final report after the gathering?
The extraordinary synod that took place last October was a way to prepare for the ordinary synod this year, and it [included] the presence of the bishops’ conferences from all over the world.
A certain number of bishops will represent the bishops’ conferences at the ordinary synod. During the first 10 days, there are individual presentations by each bishop. Then there are small group [meetings] and then final resolutions.
The purpose is to provide the Holy Father with a series of proposals, so he can prepare a document to help people strengthen marriage and family life. It is a process of talking and reflecting and trying to see what it is we need to do better in order to promote the values of our faith.
When you have your time to speak during the synod, what will you say?
As the Holy Father has said, there is a crisis in the institution of marriage and the family. At least 50% of marriages end in divorce — and that is a crisis, to me. Families have loosened their unity for many reasons: our secular society, people are really busy because of the economy and the movements of people.
The synod is not like a “board meeting,” where you would come up with something practical immediately. It is more like a retreat. You talk about things, you pray about it, and then the Holy Father is the one who will tell us, “This is the way to go.”
But, still, it is important for me that the synod will help the Holy Father to give us direction on how we can strengthen the institution of marriage in a secular society. How can we help young people prepare for marriage? How can we support them once they get married and have families?
As a Church, we need to find a way, and even when we do our best, it is often difficult to get our message across. My hope is that, as a consequence of the synod, we give more priority to strengthening marriage and the family.
On the archdiocese’s website (LA-Archdiocese.org), we are asking people to respond to questions and make practical suggestions for how we can reach out: Just getting people to participate and give them ownership is important.
Pope Francis has said that many divorced-and-remarried Catholics feel they are “excommunicated” from the Church. What can we do to better care for them?
What we need to do is help people understand what the Mass is, and that everyone — [whether] they can receive Communion or they can’t — is welcome.
There is some sense that if you are divorced and remarried you can’t go to church, and that is not correct. The only thing you cannot do is receive the Eucharist. But there are many other reasons why people cannot receive the Eucharist. You can still go to Mass and pray. That can be a big support for people in those situations.
Does the annulment process need to be changed? Or do people need to be better educated about what it is designed to accomplish?
The reality of how the Church in the U.S. handles the process of annulments needs to be shared with the Church in other countries. We have a very efficient way to receive the cases and expedite the process, study and make a decision. That doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world — in Latin America or Asia.
We have canon lawyers and communications. It is much easier in this country to process annulments. In other countries, they don’t have the infrastructure to do that.
Some U.S. Catholics have complained that the annulment process is intrusive and emotionally painful. But others argue that it’s important for both parties to establish what happened and to retrace their steps and choices.
Going through the annulment process is painful for people, and we in the Church need to be pastorally aware of that and help them with the process.
Maybe we need to establish a ministry in parishes with people who know how to deal with this process and can help others go through it.
You are going to be asked, “What caused the breakup of the marriage?” It is very emotional and painful for people. But once they are able to do that, and have the elements to go through it, it is a blessing. They understand that the Church is there for them.
When you get married in the Church, you make a promise before God to be faithful for the rest of your life. So, now that you are divorced, you know the promise is not forever. When the Church is welcoming and understanding, it is very healing for people. They understand that there is a merciful God and that the Church is merciful.
This year, you launched a new initiative to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, OneLife LA. It provided a platform for national and local speakers who had made a choice for life, from conception to natural death, and have inspired others to do the same. What led to that new initiative?
Traditionally, there is the Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco, but we didn’t have anything here in Los Angeles. We decided to do something to support the community and invited dioceses in southern California, with the hope of celebrating life.
In my view, following the understanding of the Church, a respect for life includes every stage, from conception to natural death.
In fact, some time ago, I changed the name of our Office of Justice and Peace to the Office of Life, Justice and Peace.
Brittany Maynard, the young Californian who moved to Oregon to take advantage of its “death with dignity” laws, has inspired a new effort to legalize assisted suicide in the Golden State for people with terminal conditions. While young people increasingly oppose abortion, are you concerned they will be inspired by Maynard’s example?
In Sacramento, legislation has been introduced to legalize assisted suicide.
In 2006, I published a booklet, A Will to Live: Clear Answers on End-of-Life Issues (The Shepherd’s Voice), because a lot of Catholics do not understand the teachings of the Church on end-of-life issues.
There is a perception that no matter what we have to keep people alive. In fact, the Church understands that death is painful and sad, but that it is also the beginning of eternal life.
We need to help people understand that there are ordinary means to sustain life and extraordinary means that, sometimes, we don’t need to pursue.
Priestly renewal and vocations outreach have been important priorities for you. Are you hopeful about fostering vocations in Los Angeles?
When I came here, there was a good program for the promotion of vocations. We have a director of vocations and an assistant. And in every one of our five regions, there is a priest in charge of vocations. But the goal is to have every priest promoting vocations.
We have 77 seminarians in the archdiocese and about 60 young men in the discernment process.
We have eight who will be ordained this year — and next year another eight. Hopefully, we will foster even more vocations in the future.
In an era where so many young people have so much trouble making commitments, how does the local Church inspire young men to embrace priestly life?
We are getting more and more young men who are interested, coming out of high school and at the beginning of their college years.
They are coming from a broken world, where things come and go. They are looking for something really solid, and they find that in God and in a relationship with Christ. They find solace in prayer. More and more, they are interested in the exposition and the elevation of the Blessed Sacrament and prayer before the Eucharist. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.