Archbishop Jose Gomez’s appointment Tuesday to head the Archdiocese of Los Angeles underscores the growing importance of Latinos in the American church and promises to give the nation’s largest Roman Catholic diocese an even stronger voice in the immigration debate.
The Mexican-born Gomez was named coadjutor for Los Angeles, which means he will take over the archdiocese when current archbishop Cardinal Roger Mahony retires next Feb. 27, his 75th birthday.
Gomez, who now leads the Archdiocese of San Antonio, appeared at the downtown Los Angeles cathedral, taking most questions in Spanish and vowing to make comprehensive immigration reform a priority.
He noted the first four bishops of the Los Angeles territory were Hispanic, and his appointment is a return to the church’s roots.
“It’s one of the great Catholic communities in the world,” he said. “Los Angeles, like no other city in the world, has the global face of the Catholic church.”
The appointment of Gomez puts him in line to become the highest-ranking Latino in the American Catholic hierarchy and the first Latino cardinal in the U.S.
The leader of the large and important Los Angeles archdiocese has traditionally been a cardinal and worn a red hat.
Mahony said he was “grateful to God for this gift of a Hispanic archbishop” and said he pressed for a Hispanic replacement during a 2008 audience with the pope.
Hispanics comprise 70 percent of the 5 million Catholics in the Los Angeles archdiocese, and more than one-third of the 65 million Catholics in the United States.
In a separate nod to Latino Catholics, Benedict in 2007 named Archbishop Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston as the first cardinal for heavily Latino Texas.
Gomez was recently elected chair of the Committee on Migrants and Refugee Services for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and will be the voice of the Catholic church on immigration reform, said Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.
“This man is not just a Hispanic, but he was born in Mexico, so he’s an immigrant,” Reese said.