SAN DIEGO — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has elected a Latino to serve as its president for the first time.
Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles was overwhelmingly elected by his fellow bishops on Nov. 12 at the semiannual meeting of the USCCB in Baltimore.
He will provide leadership to a U.S. Church confronting serious problems, such as dwindling Mass attendance, particularly among young people; dropping Catholic school enrollment; new sexual abuse scandals; and a Catholic flock deeply divided along political, social and racial lines. It is a U.S. Church that is also straining to serve new immigrant families, who jam Masses in some locales, particularly in the Southwest; who want a Catholic education for their children but find it hard to afford; and who need religious formation but don’t always have access to it in their native language.
“This election is an honor for me, and it recognizes the beautiful diversity and the missionary spirit of the family of God in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” the archbishop said in a statement after the vote. “But it is also a recognition of the essential place that Latino Catholics hold in the life of the Church and in the life of our great nation.”
Latinos represent 38 to 40 percent of the nation’s 74 million Catholics, and 54 percent of millennial Catholics. Latinos are about 66 percent of Catholics in the San Diego Diocese. Archbishop Gómez has led the nation’s largest and most diverse Catholic community for nearly a decade. Before then, he served as archbishop of San Antonio from 2005 to 2010, and as auxiliary bishop of Denver from 2001 to 2005.
Though progressive on immigration and social issues, he’s viewed as a conservative on doctrinal matters, such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
The 67-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen is intimately familiar with the realities of immigration and border life. He was born and raised in Monterey, Mexico, and crossed the border regularly to visit family in San Antonio, Texas. He told the Los Angeles Times that parts of his family had settled in Texas more than 200 years ago, when the region was under Spanish rule.
He served as vice president of the USCCB for three years before being elected to the top spot. In that time, he became a national voice supporting “Dreamers,” young people granted temporary legal status under the DACA program, and has repeatedly called for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. It’s a role he is sure to continue in his new position, given the hardline policies being implemented by the Trump Administration.
Archbishop Gómez said he would not solely focus on immigration issues. He said he looked forward to working with his fellow bishops to reform the Church in the wake of the sex abuse scandals and to promote marriage and family life, noting some of his priorities.
“We are living in a moment of hope and renewal in the Church,” the archbishop said in his statement following his election.
“United with our Holy Father Pope Francis, I look forward to working with my brother bishops to inspire our Catholic people to follow Jesus Christ in holiness and love and to continue our mission of spreading the mercy of God and building His kingdom on earth.
“I entrust these next three years to the maternal care of Our Lady of Guadalupe and I ask the prayers of my fellow Catholics — all our priests, deacons and seminarians; all our consecrated men and women; and especially our lay people, who are so vital in carrying forward the Church’s mission.”