Vatican Names Next Los Angeles Archbishop

The Vatican has named a designated replacement for Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony, who's expected to retire next year when he turns 75. Pope Benedict has named Jose Gomez as next in line. Gomez has been archbishop in San Antonio since 2004.

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Los Angeles is home to the nation's largest Catholic archdiocese and it's about to get a new archbishop. He'll be replacing Cardinal Roger Mahony. He's set to retire early next year. The new archbishop is Latino.

And as NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports, that's an important milestone for the Church.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Two days after he celebrated Easter Mass in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Cardinal Roger Mahony was back to welcome his successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio, Texas. Gomez says he was looking forward to his new assignment and loved the friendliness of L.A.

Archbishop JOSE GOMEZ (Catholic Church): The warmth of the people here gives life to the words we so often hear - we are not really strangers here, but only friends who have not met.

BATES: Gomez will serve jointly with Cardinal Mahony until Mahony retires, as the Church mandates, on his 75th birthday in February.

Mr. ROCCO PALMO (Blogger): This is a seismic, epic move for the life of the Church in the United States.

BATES: Rocco Palmo is a blogger who chronicles news of the Catholic Church. He says Gomez's appointment will be particularly important for the nation's Latino Catholics.

Mr. PALMO: He was born in Mexico. He knows what it means to have made the journey and to have come to this country.

BATES: The 58-year-old Gomez was born in Monterrey, Mexico and came to the United States as a priest more than 20 years ago. He holds three university degrees, including a doctorate in theology. In 1978, he was ordained in the conservative Opus Dei order and then served as a parish priest in San Antonio, Houston and Denver.

Abe Levy, religion writer for the San Antonio Express-News, says Gomez has been seen as a comer in the Church hierarchy for years.

Mr. ABE LEVY (Religion Writer, San Antonio Express-News): He's a loyalist to the Church. I mean, he's a doctrinal conservative, so he's in line with Pope Benedict and his leanings. You know, he's a good match for moving up in leadership.

BATES: The Los Angeles archdiocese is definitely a move up and a challenge. It has the largest Catholic population in the U.S. and it paid out a staggering $660 million to plaintiffs who say they were victims in the world's largest acknowledged series of priestly sex abuse.

In July 2007, an emotional Cardinal Mahony made this mea culpa.

Cardinal ROGER MAHONY (Catholic Church): I apologize to anyone who's been offended, who has been abused in the Catholic Church by priests, by deacons, religious men and women, or lay people in the Church.

BATES: Religion writer Abe Levy says Gomez will have to find a way to concentrate on other important things such as poverty, immigrants rights and strengthening the Catholic laity.

Mr. LEVY: He'd rather focus on those issues than sex abuse scandals and other things, of course. But he will deal with those other issues in his very sort of methodical and quiet way.

BATES: A large Mass and reception are planned next month to formally introduce the next archbishop to the region.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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