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New L.A. Leader’s Focus Is on Evangelization
BY JOAN FRAWLEY DESMOND, REGISTER CORRESPONDENT
LOS ANGELES — The appointment of Archbishop José Gomez as coadjutor and successor to Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles signals the decisive role Hispanic leaders will increasingly play in the Church throughout the country.
But the appointment of the 58-year-old archbishop of San Antonio also marks a likely sea change in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Cardinal Mahony — who has held his post for 25 years and who will reach the official age of retirement in February 2011 — is viewed as a Church leader who has emphasized social justice concerns, increased lay participation in Church structures and encouraged liturgical experimentation.
Welcoming his successor Tuesday, Cardinal Mahony chose to underscore their common commitment to serving the needs of Hispanic Catholics. The cardinal applauded the appointment of a Mexican-born bishop to his archdiocese, the largest in the nation.
“I welcome Archbishop Gomez to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles with enthusiasm and personal excitement,” Cardinal Mahony said in a statement posted on the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s website.
Elsewhere, the appointment stirred a mix of reactions.
“The changes for Los Angeles’ Catholics may be wrenching,” wrote Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times’ opinion pages. “Mahony is the last of the politically progressive, pastorally centered American prelates selected in the wake of Vatican II. Gomez belongs to a traditionalist generation.”
In a different corner of this sprawling archdiocese, however, the news stoked joyful excitement. Father Marcos Gonzalez, the pastor of St. John Chrysostom Church, was openly thrilled. He noted a slew of e-mails he had received applauding the appointment.
Father Gonzalez is already familiar with Archbishop Gomez, who was a featured speaker at a 2009 meeting of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. Father Gonzalez was impressed with the archbishop’s warm personality, clear interest in the renewal of the liturgy, and practical solutions for evangelizing the culture.
“Evangelization poses tremendous challenges here. We are the largest archdiocese in the country. Mass is celebrated in about 51 languages every Sunday,” said Father Gonzalez, who noted that St. John Chrysostom offers eight Sunday Masses — five celebrated in Spanish — for its 8,000 parishioners.
Indeed, Father Gonzalez acknowledges that the honor bestowed on Archbishop Gomez, who could very well become the first Hispanic cardinal from the United States, will be accompanied by huge practical and financial burdens.
“Los Angeles doesn’t have enough priests, and we need to rebuild our vocations program. The archdiocese made a huge payout for clergy sexual-abuse claims, and now we need to rebuild our financial stability. But I hear Gomez has a proven track record for dealing with these issues,” said the priest, a glimmer of hope in his voice.
Armed with an undergraduate degree in accounting and having shown an impressive gift for recruiting vocations in San Antonio, Archbishop Gomez is likely to confront these issues with similar energy in Los Angeles.
But Church experts who have followed his career don’t expect the archbishop to tackle these problems alone.
Since his ordination to the priesthood — followed by his appointment as auxiliary bishop in Denver and his subsequent appointment to San Antonio — Archbishop Gomez has solved problems by forming alliances and adopting a pattern of collaborative leadership. Along the way, he has earned a reputation as a “good listener” who favors gradual reform rather than direct confrontation.
“He is orthodox in doctrine, but not reactionary,” observed Russell Shaw, former spokesman for the U.S. bishops’ conference and the author of Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication and Communion in the Catholic Church. “He is pastorally sensitive: When he arrived in San Antonio, he didn’t whip out his six-shooter and throw his weight around. He proceeded with prudence.”
Archbishop Gomez was ordained a priest of the personal prelature of Opus Dei, and that affiliation has prompted some media commentators to fret that he will impose “reactionary” practices out of step with the Catholic mainstream.
But Cardinal Mahony himself sought to dispel any preconceptions. “Some may conclude that since Archbishop Gomez was ordained a priest of Opus Dei he must be ‘conservative,’” the cardinal wrote on his