Words from an LA man in a big hat

As young master Brad A. Greenberg noted the other day, Archbishop Jose Gomez has arrived on the West Coast where he will soon become the shepherd of the giant and influential Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. This means he will almost certainly be given a brand new red hat, sooner rather than later, making this very traditional Catholic one of America's most prominent Latino leaders -- period. You may recall that Greenberg had some fun with the whole hat thing, seeing as how the Los Angeles Times seemed to think that liturgical headgear is an unusual thing in Catholic worship (and they broke out the incense, too). So, how did that lede go?

Los Angeles officially welcomed its next Roman Catholic archbishop ... with a celebratory Mass that included a bit of just about everything: tears, drama, majesty, song, hats, incense, a cast of thousands, prayer and even a little slapstick humor.

If you have been paying attention to GetReligion lately, even a little bit, you know that this Gomez guy is going to be a mover and a shaker.

Thus, I thought the GetReligion crowd might enjoy reading the following Q&A interview with the archbishop, care of the Catholic News Agency. Scribes on the Godbeat may want to file it for future reference.

No, it does not mention Opus Dei.

The interview does, however, range over some interesting political, cultural and theological terrain. Note, in the following exchange, that Gomez brings up one of the most obvious dark clouds on the horizon of Latino Catholic life, before he is even asked. The following includes pieces of his answers to several related questions:

CNA: As the next Archbishop of Los Angeles, you will be the most prominent Hispanic prelate in the Catholic Church in the United States. What is your view of the state of Catholicism among U.S. Hispanics?

Gomez: The number of Hispanics self-identifying as Catholics has declined from nearly 100 percent in just two decades, while the number who describe themselves as Protestant has nearly doubled, and the number saying they have "no religion" has also doubled. I'm not a big believer in polls about religious beliefs and practice. But in this case the polls reflect pastoral experience on the ground. ...

As Hispanics become more and more successful, more and more assimilated into the American mainstream, will they keep the faith? ... Will they live by the Church's teachings and promote and defend these teachings in the public square? Or will their Catholicism simply become a kind of "cultural" background, a personality trait, a part of their upbringing that shapes their perspective on the world but compels no allegiance or devotion to the Church? ...

"Practical atheism" has become the de facto state religion in America. The price of participation in our economic, political, and social life is that we essentially have to agree to conduct ourselves as if God does not exist. Religion in the U.S. is something we do on Sundays or in our families, but is not allowed to have any influence on what we do the rest of the week.

This is all very strange for a country that was founded by Christians -- in fact by Hispanic Catholics.

Later on, the archbishop waved away attempts to label key social trends as "conservative issues," noting that the church must be concerned that Hispanics have some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy, abortion and out-of-wedlock births, while rising numbers of young Latinos are dropping out of school and being raised in single-parent homes. Gomez insists that "these are serious 'justice' issues."

Ditto for issues linked to immigration. The archbishop argues that it's impossible to be Catholic, in every sense of the word, and not care about justice for migrants. But he also makes this point:

CNA: But how would you respond to those angered by illegal immigration? Shouldn't those in the country illegally face punishment?

Gomez: As we stress the Church's moral principles, we need to be more sensitive to people's fears. The opponents of immigration are also people of faith. They are afraid. And their fears are legitimate.

The fact is that millions of immigrants are here in blatant violation of U.S. law. This makes law-abiding Americans angry. And it should. 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.

The question is how? What punishments are proper and just?

Could a traditional Catholic, one with gravitas among cultural conservatives, serve as a bridge personality on that issue? Stay tuned.

By all means, read it all.

Photo: Catholics use candles, too!

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