Newsflash: L.A. parish has Latinos!

First the Los Angeles Times nonchalantly reported the news that Cardinal Roger Mahony, head of the largest Catholic community in the nation, would not be asked by the pope to stay on, as is common, after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75. In a glorified news brief, no less. Stories about Mahony's replacement, Jose Gomez, offered some redemption.

But now we have a trend story suggesting that, aside from the clergy sex abuse scandal, the LAT really has no idea what has been going on in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for quite some time now. Here's the gist:

His parishioners describe Father Paul Griesgraber as "old school," a term that is almost laughably open to interpretation, given the 2,000-year history of his particular school, the Roman Catholic Church. In his case, it is used with affection and respect to describe a priest who trusts in the majesty of the Catholic Mass and invests it with deep spirituality -- in both English and Spanish.

He is also a priest who brings people streaming through the doors of his church, St. Catherine of Siena in Reseda, a place that, in many ways, reflects the larger Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Once largely white, St. Catherine's is now mostly Latino. Immigrants have pumped new life into the parish, and Spanish-language Masses draw larger crowds than those in English.

"The church was dead," Olga Calderone, St. Catherine's health director, said bluntly of the time before Griesgraber arrived last summer. "Now we are bringing the cultures together. ... This is the beauty that Father Paul has brought to our church."

I encourage you to read the rest, which uses St. Catherine's story to talk about how one group of parishioners feel about Gomez's arrival. (He was officially welcome to L.A. yesterday.) These quotes don't really offer any surprises, but they provide some perspective:

It is hard to say to what extent these views reflect those of all Catholics. The people interviewed were regular churchgoers, outwardly the most faithful of the faithful, and may be more forgiving of the church's human failings than more casual Catholics.

Still, what emerged repeatedly from their conversations was a passionate belief in the Catholic Church as an institution, immense satisfaction with the stewardship of their local parish, and a slightly more skeptical view of the greater church hierarchy, both locally and in Rome -- views that are in line with surveys of Catholics nationally.

"Sometimes I pray to God," said parishioner Delia Garay, "and say, 'Why are there so many disappointments with humans?'"

The rest is going to feel a bit pedestrian to any regular observer of religion news, except for Griesgraber's pentecostal tendencies, which are mentioned but not really discussed in the Catholic context. (I really could have used a lot more there, though at least the lead photo was no longer completely confusing.) It reminds me of that story from last fall in which the LAT discovered megachurches.

No offense to reporter Mitchell Landsberg. Though he whiffed on the aforementioned story about the Vatican seeking a replacement for Mahony, he's new to the world of religion.

If anything, this story is more a reflection of the parallel demises of a once-great newspaper and the Godbeat itself.

The problem with this story isn't that it's old hash for this parish. Apparently, St. Catherine's resurrection is a recent development. It's just that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has been undergoing a Latino transformation for a few decades now. It has to do with demographics, not Mahony or his successor Gomez. The headline, then, is accurate: "Parish reflects L.A. -- and it's thriving." But the deckhead left me scratching my head:

Once largely white, St. Catherine of Siena in Reseda is now mostly Latino. Immigrants and a new priest have revitalized the church; members have high hopes for the archdiocese under new leadership.

When was once? Reseda, in the heart of the San Fernando Valley, is the most ethnically diverse portion of Los Angeles, with something like 110 languages and dialects being spoken there. This demographic shift took place before I was even born. The same could be said for many parishes across LA County.

Please respect our Commenting Policy