Defying Easy Categorization

A look at some of the views and speeches of Archbishop Jose Gomez, Roger Mahony’s successor in Los Angeles.

In April 6, Pope Benedict XVI named Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of San Antonio, Texas as coadjutor archbishop of Los Angeles. Archbishop Gomez, 58, will automatically succeed Cardinal Roger Mahony when Mahony retires on February 27, 2011 at the age of 75.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has more than five million members; it is the largest diocese in the United States and one of the largest in the world. The selection of Archbishop Gomez would appear to mark the close of an era of liberal Catholicism in Los Angeles under Roger Mahony, who has served as archbishop there since 1985.

Gomez was one of the first to support Bishop John D’Arcy in his decision to protest the University of Notre Dame for honoring Barack Obama in 2009. In San Antonio, when a local Catholic university, St. Mary’s, announced that Hillary Clinton— a prominent supporter of abortion rights—would speak there in February 2008, Archbishop Gomez denounced the school’s decision.

Archbishop Gomez is supportive of the traditional Latin Mass. After the release of Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, Archbishop Gomez issued a statement that welcomed the letter and said, “It is my hope that our people will be able to more clearly see the growth and progress we have realized since Vatican II, while at the same time preserving the rich heritage and legacy of the Church.”

He doesn’t minimize his association with Opus Dei, an international lay organization that promotes the universal call to holiness and the sanctification of work. He talks about the influence of the founder of Opus Dei, St. Josemaría EscrivÁ, in the preface to his book Men of Brave Heart: The Virtue of Courage in the Priestly Life (Our Sunday Visitor, 2009), and at the conclusion of his recent pastoral letter “You Will Be My Witness,” he says that “my approach and understanding of these matters [personal apostolate and the new evangelization] owes a great deal to my appreciation of the spirituality of St. Josemaría EscrivÁ. I continue to find St. Josemaría’s teachings on sanctity and apostolate to be both profound and practical” (no. 33).

Ethnically, Archbishop Gomez is an obvious fit for an archdiocese that is 70 percent Hispanic. He was born in Monterrey, Mexico and became a US citizen in 1995. In 2005, Time magazine named him one of the 25 most influential Hispanics in the United States. In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI named him a consultant to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

Gomez has written and spoken frequently on the subject of immigration. In his February 2008 address to a special meeting of Latin America bishops titled “Immigration in 21st-Century America: Its Root Causes and the Obligations of Catholic Social Teaching,” he discussed the role of globalization as a driver of immigration:

Globalization has expanded opportunities for businesses and for workers. But it has also created many problems. One problem is that while we have developed laws and policies to govern the flow of capital and money, we have no standards for the movement of laborers.

For instance, the North American Free Trade Agreement eliminated tariffs and many restrictions on trade and business in the US, Mexico, and Canada. But it didn’t include a treaty concerning the mobility of persons.

Money, capital, and other resources now flow more freely among our three nations. But human beings— the men and women who do the work—cannot. In the new economy, there are many safeguards for businesses and financial institutions but very few for workers.

Does this mean he supports illegal immigration? He addressed this subject in an address to the Missouri Catholic Conference Annual Assembly on October 4, 2008 titled “Let Your Hospitality and Good Works Abound: The Catholic Contribution to Immigration Reform”:

The fact is that millions of immigrants are here in blatant violation of US law. This makes law-abiding Americans angry. And it should. Why should they obey the laws if others aren’t punished for breaking them? As advocates, we can’t ignore this fact or somehow argue that our immigration laws don’t matter….

We have to make sure that our laws are fair and understandable. At the same time, we have to insist that our laws be respected and enforced. Those who violate our laws have to be punished.

Gomez said he supports as a punishment for illegal immigration long-term community service rather than deportation, which breaks up families:

What punishments are proper and just? I think, from a moral standpoint, we’re forced to conclude that deporting immigrants who break our laws is too severe a penalty. It’s a punishment that’s disproportionate to the crime. It’s a punishment that doesn’t account for the complex circumstances of how and why people enter this country illegally.

What’s most troubling to me as a pastor is that these deportations are breaking up families. Leaving wives without husbands, children without parents. A fundamental dimension of Catholic social teaching on immigration is that our policies should be aimed at reuniting and strengthening families—not tearing them apart. As we all know, a policy that breaks families apart can only lead to greater sufferings and social problems.

Pope Benedict was adamant on this point during his visit to America. He said this: “I have seen the breadth of this problem, especially the serious problem of the break-up of families. And this is really dangerous for the social, moral, and human fabric…. Families should be protected rather than destroyed” (interview during the flight to the United States, April 15, 2008).

Now, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enforce the laws. It means we need to find more suitable penalties. The Church needs to be a voice for mercy as well as justice. We have to insist that those who come to our country respect our laws. If they are here illegally, they can’t expect to escape punishment. But I would suggest that intensive, long-term community service would be a far more constructive solution than deportation. This would build communities rather than tear them apart. And it would serve to better integrate the immigrants into the social and moral fabric of America.

Gomez sees his position on immigration as the traditionally Christian one:

The Church’s interest in immigration is not a recent development. It doesn’t grow out of any political or partisan agenda. No. It is a part of our original religious identity as Catholics, as Christians. We must defend the immigrant if we are to be worthy of the name Catholic….

I want to go back in history a little bit. To the short reign of the Emperor Julian, who ruled the Roman Empire from 361 to 363 AD.

Julian came to be known for all time as “Julian the Apostate.” He got that notorious label because, although he had been baptized and raised a Christian, he abandoned his faith immediately upon becoming emperor. Julian then used his “bully pulpit” as emperor to scorn the Church and Christianity and to promote devotion to the pagan gods and goddesses of ancient Greece and Rome—Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, and the rest.

Julian called the Christians “Galileans.” It was a kind of ethnic and class slur. And he wrote a big book against the Church. He said his aim was to strip that “new-fangled Galilean god” of “the divinity falsely ascribed to him” (Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, 177).

But there was something that Julian couldn’t shake about the Christians. Something he couldn’t get out of his mind. And that was the Christians’ virtue. Their charity. And especially their hospitality to those they didn’t even know. In fact, Julian once issued an order to try to get pagan believers to start imitating the Christians in what he called their “benevolence toward strangers”.… From the beginning there was something very different about Christians. Something even their enemies, like Julian, couldn’t help but notice—and admire, no matter how reluctantly.

Defying easy categorization, Gomez has spoken against multiculturalism when it takes a self-centered and unspiritual form. He discussed this in an address he gave to the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry in San Antonio, Texas on August 28, 2007, titled “The Encounter with Christ and the Future of Hispanic Ministry.” The address was part of a symposium on “Paradigmatic Changes in Hispanic Ministry.”

Commenting on a Bible study being developed for Hispanics, he said,

The introduction is meant to help people start thinking about Jesus. The people are asked to reflect on “Who is Jesus in my life?” and “Who is Jesus for us as a community of disciples?”

To inspire reflection, the study provides four pictures of Jesus to look at. One is an Anglo-looking man with long flowing hair and serious eyes. The second one is a Chinese man in a straw hat holding a small baby animal in his arms. The third is a black Jesus shown crucified above a city on a cross made of steel girders. Finally, there is a Jesus who was made to look like a Native American medicine man.

I came to the conclusion that it’s hard to picture Jesus. Nobody knows what he looked like. Then, I thought: not one of these pictures even attempted to portray the Jesus we find described in the Gospels. The real Jesus. The Jesus who was a Jew. A son of David and a son of Man. The Jesus who at the same time was also the Son of God and the man of heaven. The Jesus who took flesh and blood in the womb of Mary and who rose from the tomb by the power of the Holy Spirit.

That’s the real Jesus. The Jesus who dwelt among us at a concrete time in history and at a concrete place. A Jesus who is with us today in Word and sacrament. All these other Jesuses are just abstractions.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15) Notice. That’s a very different question than, “Who is Jesus in my life and for my community?”

To ask who Jesus is in my life has the danger of turning the question inside out. Suddenly we’re not talking about Jesus anymore. We’re talking about ourselves. About our expectations, our grievances, our needs. When you ask the question that way, you end up with a Jesus who looks a lot like you. Or like the people in your community.

You cannot encounter Jesus Christ, true God and true man, by such a method. You can only encounter yourself. But not even that. Because unless we know Jesus, the true Jesus, we can’t truly know ourselves.

That’s my point, my friends. Often we have very good intentions. We want to remind people who are suffering, who feel marginalized and excluded, that they are loved by God. But we can’t use Jesus as a means to an end. No matter how well-intentioned our ends may be.


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About Mark Sullivan 0 Articles
Mark Sullivan is a songwriter and guitarist living in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the co-author, with Mike Aquilina, of St. Monica and the Power of Persistent Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor, 2013).