Last month, the nation got a taste of Bishop Jaime Soto, auxiliary of its diocese, talking up the Catholic response to immigration amid recent raids on undocumented workers in prime-time on CNN.
"For us, the Catholic Church of the United States is an immigrant church," he said. "And through the years, both through our schools or our social services, our hospitals, we've been very involved with immigrants since our beginning." Soto went on to say that "the raids really don't go after the perpetrators, the real perpetrators of identity theft, that the perpetrators of this crime, who are, in fact, the real criminals in this case."
Before that splash, the auxiliary with Ivy League cred -- a master's from Columbia -- caught the ad intra attention of many by being tapped to join a group of heavyweights (Murph, McCarrick, Mahony, et al.) on the roster of the US bishops' catechetical talks at 2005's World Youth Day in Cologne. The just-turned-51 prelate, a bishop since 2000, chairs the USCCB's Subcommittee on Youth & Young Adult Ministry.
Particularly given the Latino explosion in Utah over the last decade, his name's been mentioned prominently for Salt Lake. And now, given Bishop Richard Garcia's appointment to Monterey, a floater's out there that Soto might end up instead as coadjutor in California's capital city, Sacramento, where his policy savvy would be exercised to the max.
Moral of the story: wherever the destination, he's going somewhere, and quick.
While they can still claim him in the (non-dramatized and, ergo, regrettably Rachel Bilson-less) OC, the hometown paper there takes note of his approach to "taboo topics":
[H]ere's Auxiliary Bishop Jaime Soto, presiding over a mass where he's trying to explain what AIDS is, and how it's contracted, to a working-class, Spanish-speaking, immigrant congregation."Something positive to say" + "Openly and respectfully" = B16 textbook.
And here's Soto, leading a workshop called "Somos templos del Espíritu Santo: La sexualidad humana y el joven latino," or "We Are Temples of the Holy Spirit: Human Sexuality and the Latin American Youth," to a standing-room-only crowd.
Soto will be the first to admit that words sometimes stick in the back of his throat. But he soldiers on. Someone needs to address the joys and dangers of human sexuality head-on with the Spanish-speaking immigrant community. Preferably, someone highly respected, with great influence and moral authority. Who better than the man from Stanton who used to play priest in his back yard and make the other kids line up under the apricot trees to receive bread?
"The failure to speak about sexuality and the cruel disregard for homosexuals creates an unhealthy climate of silence that can allow young people to fall into dangerous sexual activity – dangerous morally as well as physically," Soto said.
"The church has something positive to say about the gift of sexuality and about the dignity of each human person. That message will not be heard unless we speak about it openly and respectfully."...
While Soto's frankness surely makes some squirm, it has also won him enthusiastic fans.
"Never, ever in my life have I heard any Catholic priest talk the way he does – or any other clergy from any other religion, for that matter," said David Merino, who went to Catholic school in San Diego and lost his brother to AIDS.
"He does this on the pulpit, which is almost unheard of. He's really in tune to what's happening right now. He's doing an incredible job."
On a recent Sunday, just hours after leading a procession honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe through the streets of Santa Ana, Soto was presiding over a Mass at St. Anne Church in memory of those who died of AIDS.
He took pains to explain what a virus is and how it spreads, and that you can't catch it just by touching someone. That AIDS is no longer just a gay disease. That many women have unknowingly been infected by their husbands. That homosexuals were created by God and should be treated with compassion and understanding. And he read the names of the dead, one by one.
It's not a coincidence that the Mass is held on the same day the beloved Virgin of Guadalupe is honored.
"We do it deliberately," Soto said. "People have such strong devotion to her and she's such a strong maternal image, they become a little more sensitive, and it becomes an ideal time to address this issue. Many of these families suffer in silence, never having had a sense that the church really cared about them. We want them to know that, despite whatever mistakes, the church is there for them."
The Mass has been put together by Merino, who works for the AIDS Services Foundation Orange County, each of the last five years. This year, the Foundation mistakenly brought Spanish-language brochures that also contained condoms, and Soto asked that they be put away. The church does not believe in birth control....
The Foundation and the Catholic Church may not agree on methods of prevention, he said, but they work together on things like treatment and how AIDS patients are regarded.
"We have to give young adults the tools and permission to talk about these things," Soto said.
"The old way was 'Don't bring it up! Don't bring it up! It'll only cause problems.'
"The real problem is silence."
PHOTO: Mindy Schauer/Orange County Register