Monday, May 31, 2010

For Ireland, Visitation Day

In a move that could be considered too coincidental to be a coincidence, the Holy See used this feast of the Visitation to roll out the plans for the much-expected Apostolic Visitation of the church in Ireland in the wake of the Isle's latest, most staggering wave of revelations of sex abuse by clergy and cover-up by church officials.

Spurred by last year's releases of the twin government inquiries on the Irish church's response to abuse -- May's Ryan Report on residential schools, and November's Murphy Report on the archdiocese of Dublin -- the visit will begin in the Fall, led by five prelates, all of Irish descent.

The investigation was called by Pope Benedict in his pastoral letter to the Irish church, released in March.

Here, the Vatican release detailing the plans:

Following the Holy Father’s Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, the Apostolic Visitation of certain Irish dioceses, seminaries and religious congregations will begin in autumn of this year.

Through this Visitation, the Holy See intends to offer assistance to the Bishops, clergy, religious and lay faithful as they seek to respond adequately to the situation caused by the tragic cases of abuse perpetrated by priests and religious upon minors. It is also intended to contribute to the desired spiritual and moral renewal that is already being vigorously pursued by the Church in Ireland.

The Apostolic Visitors will set out to explore more deeply questions concerning the handling of cases of abuse and the assistance owed to the victims; they will monitor the effectiveness of and seek possible improvements to the current procedures for preventing abuse, taking as their points of reference the Pontifical Motu Proprio "Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela" and the norms contained in Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance Document for the Catholic Church in Ireland, commissioned and produced by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.

The Visitation will begin in the four Metropolitan Archdioceses of Ireland (Armagh, Dublin, Cashel and Emly, and Tuam) and will then be extended to some other dioceses.

The Visitors named by the Holy Father for the dioceses are: His Eminence Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Emeritus Archbishop of Westminster, for the Archdiocese of Armagh; His Eminence Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, for the Archdiocese of Dublin; the Most Reverend Thomas Christopher Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, for the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly; the Most Reverend Terrence Thomas Prendergast, Archbishop of Ottawa, for the Archdiocese of Tuam.

In its desire to accompany the process of renewal of houses of formation for the future priests of the Church in Ireland, the Congregation for Catholic Education will coordinate the visitation of the Irish seminaries, including the Pontifical Irish College in Rome. While special attention will be given to the matters that occasioned the Apostolic Visitation, in the case of the seminaries it will cover all aspects of priestly formation. The Most Reverend Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, has been named Apostolic Visitor.

For its part, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life will organize the visitation of religious houses in two phases. Firstly it will conduct an enquiry by means of a questionnaire to be sent to all the Superiors of religious institutes present in Ireland, with a view to providing an accurate picture of the current situation and formulating plans for the observance and improvement of the norms contained in the "guidelines". In the second phase, the Apostolic Visitors will be: the Reverend Joseph Tobin, CSsR and the Reverend Gero McLaughlin SJ for institutes of men; Sister Sharon Holland IHM and Sister Mairin McDonagh RJM for institutes of women. They will carry out a careful study, evaluating the results obtained from the questionnaire and the possible steps to be taken in the future in order to usher in a season of spiritual rebirth for religious life on the Island.

His Holiness invites all the members of the Irish Catholic community to support this fraternal initiative with their prayers. He invokes God’s blessings upon the Visitors, and upon all the Bishops, clergy, religious and lay faithful of Ireland, that the Visitation may be for them an occasion of renewed fervour in the Christian life, and that it may deepen their faith and strengthen their hope in Christ our Saviour.
As preliminary notes go, O'Malley's already up with a statement on his selection for the team; Dolan just returned from a pilgrimage to Ireland's lone seminary -- St Patrick's in Maynooth -- where he delivered a lecture last week on priesthood in a time of scandal; the executive of the Irish bishops has welcomed the Vatican plans; presuming the Visitors' will investigate the "extended" dioceses within the provinces assigned to them, O'Malley and Collins would respectively be charged with looking into two of the hardest-hit suffragan churches -- Ferns and Cloyne... and, lastly, Murphy-O'Connor's appointment to the team represents the second Roman nod to the Westminster prelate since his retirement last year: named to the Congregation for Bishops shortly after Archbishop Vincent Nichols succeeded him in the UK capital, the cardinal's selection as Visitor to the Isle's primatial see -- where Cardinal Sean Brady recently decided to keep on (and seemingly request a coadjutor) after a firestorm over his involvement in a 1975 case -- is of interest given decade-old allegations that Murphy-O'Connor had mishandled at least one case during his tenure as bishop of Arundel and Brighton.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

In Memoriam

For those outside the States, tomorrow sees Memorial Day -- the annual commemoration of "the men and women in uniform who gave their last full measure of devotion so we might live in freedom."

Sure, the holiday might be more widely celebrated as "the unofficial start of summer." To keep things in their right context, though, a borrowed moment from Remembrance Sunday....

...and keeping with tradition for national holidays 'round here, the most time-honored of American Catholic prayers -- the invocation for the nation and its church delivered in 1791 by the founding father of the Stateside bench, John Carroll of Baltimore:
We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.

We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope Benedict, the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.

We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We pray for his excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.

We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance.

To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.

And for those who'd like to delve deeper still, here's the homily given by Archbishop for the Military Services Timothy Broglio at Ascension Sunday's annual Memorial Day Mass in Washington.

Celebrating its silver jubilee this year, the DC-based AMS encompasses the over 1.5 million American Catholics in uniform at home and abroad. Particularly on this weekend, may we especially keep 'em in our prayers and thanks.


Holy, Holy, Holy....

And for this Trinity Sunday, another play of the feast's signal hymn... in the most moving rendition of it that's ever been put to tape:

As ever, buona domenica a tutti.

SVILUPPO: Especially for the organ fans among us (narrator included), another sweet turn on the Trinity Sunday classic:


Friday, May 28, 2010

"Our Mission is the Mission of Christ"

Lest anyone didn't catch it on the webstream, the text of Archbishop José Gomez's closing remarks from Wednesday's Mass of Welcome (video/photos) finally emerged earlier today.

With the LA coadjutor's unscripted comments transcribed in, here's the talk in full (formatwise, the brackets represent English translations from the Spanish where the two didn't identically overlap)....
My dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

I am humbled by this beautiful welcome, this joyful celebration of the holy Eucharist. [Thank you for such a beautiful welcome!]

I was thinking that one thing you get in a ceremony like this is two homilies for the same price -- and actually that's for free, so it's a good deal.

Cardinal Levada: I am so grateful for your presence. Thank you. When you return to Rome please convey my filial gratitude to the Holy Father for the confidence he has shown in me. Please tell him that I will work with all my heart to be worthy of his trust. Let him know also that we love him and that he is in our prayers always!

I want to thank all the cardinals and my brother bishops who are here. My brothers, I am touched that you have come to be with me on this important day in my life and ministry.

Your presence is a sign that our Catholic Church is founded on the apostles and is alive in our ministry as successors to the mission entrusted to them by Jesus Christ.

Yet every one of us here today in this glorious cathedral is a co-worker who has responsibility for this gran misión of the Church. Our mission is the mission of Christ—to proclaim the Good News that this world has a Savior; that the love of God is stronger than sin and death.

Cardinal Mahony, mi hermano y mi amigo Rogelio, I am honored to be your Coadjutor Archbishop. I come to serve and to follow Jesus Christ. I come to listen and to learn from you and to continue the work you have begun in this historic vineyard of the Lord.

Already I can see how the seeds you have sown over these past twenty-five years are bearing good fruit.

I’m starting to witness how bishops, priests, and deacons; religious, consecrated, and lay people in all walks of life—are serving bodies and souls, hearts and minds in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

You are building faith and family and friendship. Serving Christ in the least of our brothers and sisters. Preaching and teaching and celebrating the sacraments. Defending the freedom and dignity of the human person, from conception to natural death, especially of those who have no one to help them and no one to speak for them. In so many ways making a rich contribution to the fabric of this society.

The Church here in Los Angeles is a community of truth and love. It is a sign that our Church is one—united in love to Christ, alive with his Spirit, striving so that the Father’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

May this Church always be a sign that God is with us, and that in his loving eyes no one is a stranger for Him and no one is an alien to any of us! [All of us are children of God!]

In the communion of cultures here in Los Angeles we can see what it means to say that our Church is “catholic.” In this beautiful diversity we glimpse something of what God desires for the whole world.

We see how God longs to gather all men and women into una familia de Dios, one family drawn from every country, race, and language; stretching to the ends of the earth and into heaven above.

My sisters and brothers, I have so much to learn about this extraordinary family that God has gathered here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. I have only just begun and I’m going to need your prayers and assistance, your counsel and guidance -- and most of all, your patience.

Now, allow me to say a few words to my brother priests. You are at the frontlines of this great drama of salvation. You are men of God and men of brave heart, and the bishops’ first collaborators in the apostolic work of the Church.

In your ministries you are the presence of Christ, bringing God to people and people to God. You show them the compassion of the Father who seeks to carry them home—no matter how far away they might have strayed from the paths he intended for their lives.

Brothers, my priesthood is the joy of my life and I’m humbled to be able to minister alongside you. I’m eager to get to know each of you and the people you serve.

I still cannot believe I am here, my friends! This is awesome! This is not a future I could have ever imagined for myself. But this God we serve is a God of surprises—un Dios de sorpresas—as well as a God of blessings and tender mercies!

So let us pray to the good God: that he will stir the hearts of all his faithful, so that they will respond generously to his calling in their lives. Let us pray that many will answer his call to be priests, to be deacons, to be religious brothers and sisters, to be married men and women, or to live a consecrated life in one of the many movements and ecclesial communities.

Recently, a good friend told me about one of the local unknown saints here, Maria Luisa de la Peña, a refugee from Mexico who founded the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles.

Venerable Mother Luisita would tell everyone: “For greater things you were born!”

That’s it, my friends! That’s the good news we are called to proclaim to our city, to our country, throughout this continent and world. [For great things we were born!]

Each of us has been made for love and for great and beautiful things. There is no soul that God does not long to touch with this message of his love! And he wants to touch those souls through us.

So let us make our lives something beautiful that we can we can offer to God. Let us do everything, even the littlest duties of our days, out of love for him and for the love of our brothers and sisters.

I ask your prayers for me. And I pledge you my life and my love. I promise to always be your servant and a servant of the Word of God, la Palabra de Dios, the Gospel that we all believe in.

Finally, I’ve been thinking a lot about my family in these days. My sisters and their husbands are here today from Monterrey, and so are other members of my family and friends that are family too. I wish my mother and father could have been here to see this day. But I feel their presence among the saints and angels.

(I said the other day that if I speak English with an accent, it's my fault, because my mother wanted me to learn English, and I refused to do it. So it's a good lesson for all of us to always obey our mothers! But if I cry, it is my mother's fault.)

I grew up in a Catholic home where ordinary life was filled with simple love and devotion. Through the love I felt in my family, I came to know Jesus Christ and his love for me.

The prayers and support of my family and friends, my spiritual family, have helped me throughout my priesthood and in the last few years in my ministry as Bishop. I am grateful to them beyond words [but I offer them my prayers and affection].

[My parents likewise taught us that we have a Mother in Heaven, Holy Mary, Mother of Jesus: our most beloved mother Guadalupe, who always cares for us.]

To her, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and to her loving heart, I entrust all of us and my ministry to you.

Thank you all for your kind welcome! ¡Muchisimas gracias a todos!
Asked for his reaction on the way out, a random concelebrant summed up his reaction in a distinctly local way.

"We're moving forward, baby," he said, "Bright days ahead."

And, well, you couldn't have asked for a better capper than that.



"Keys to the Kingdom," Lord Stanley Edition

Putting matters ad intra aside for a minute, it's worth noting that this Memorial Day weekend, after the roughest winter in Philly history, the River City's still buried in a blizzard of Orange and Black.

For the first time since this scribe was a freshman in high school, the hometown Flyers are off to the Stanley Cup Finals... and as that last series saw a 4-0 sweep the other way, it's another shot at ending the one kind of winter hockey fans don't revel in: the 35-year drought on the sport's most-sacred hardware, last brought to town by the famous "Broad Street Bullies," who won it back to back in 1974 and 1975, celebrating each with parades that, thanks to liquid kudos provided by the fans en route, the players are said to not remember too well.

Back then, hockey was new here -- the team's first season came only six years before the first Cup. Still, the era of the Bullies sparked a love affair that's continued, win or lose, ever since, selling out the Spectrum and Center regardless of the year's point-totals. Such is the spirit that, growing up, the walls of the house would shake at every goal -- both sets of next-door neighbors were hockey nuts, one always seeing her next 24 hours through the prism of whether or not, as she invariably put it, "The Flyers Wan" (never "won") the night before.

(Then there's the friend of the folks whose orange house key bears the team's logo... and you get the idea.)

That said, this Cup final's seeing the Orange and Black facing an even hungrier squad: the Chicago Blackhawks -- one of the NHL's "Original Six" -- who last saw a final in 1991 and haven't "wan" Lord Stanley's prize since 1961 (hockey's longest title-drought).

* * *
Now, admittedly, as many of you know -- and even after this brutal week -- your narrator's first love lies at the ballfield, across the street from the heart of Flyerdom.

Sure, it's been wonderful watching a run for the Cup that's included a shootout to make the playoffs, and the overturn of a 3-0 deficit against the Bruins to get to the Eastern final. Still, I'm no hockey expert... but given the auspicious occasion, one was worth finding to offer a competent take on the "Keys to the Cup."

And luckily, that wasn't too hard on this beat. Because, really, what better guide could you seek on hockey's climax than...

...The "Holy Goalie," Himself?

That's right, gang: three weeks before his installation in Illinois' capital, Bishop-designate Tom Paprocki of Springfield took time out from his desk-cleaning in Chicago to shoot over some pointers on what to look for in the Flyers-Hawks series that begins in the Windy City tomorrow night.

A veteran of Blackhawks' practice shoots (seen above in net last fall on a visit to Wisconsin's St Norbert College, whose mens' team won a national title in 2008), the 58 year-old prelate once profiled by USA Hockey magazine has kept at the sport since his boyhood; among other things, his cross-state transfer will mean leaving the over-30 league he's played in since 1996.

Shown above with his brother John and three Hawks icons -- from left, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito -- after Sunday's clinch game at Chitown's United Center, the game even figured at Papo's introductory presser in Springfield.

"My favorite sport is hockey," the appointee said in his statement. "I still play hockey. I am a goalie. My nickname is, the 'Holy Goalie.'

"If you’re trying to figure out how my mind works, you should know that most hockey players say that goalies are different. I get enjoyment from standing in front of a hockey net and having people shoot pucks at me at 100 miles per hour. I am used to taking shots. With that in mind, I will now take your questions."

Notably for a state capital, the bishop's installation has been scheduled for 22 June -- the feast of the English martyrs of the Reformation, Saints Thomas More and John Fisher.

Here, meanwhile, the Holy Goalie's "Keys to the Cup":

Keeping in mind that the prediction isn't a binding article of faith, all thanks to Paprocki for the assist, and good luck to his long-starved Hawks.

Sure, especially given the run they've had, a Flyers win would be very sweet for this town. Yet even if it didn't pan out, that'd set the stage for a priceless consolation moment....

Has an installation ever taken place in the presence of hockey's Holy Grail?

Suffice it to say, that'd be quite a first... and the Canadian reaction would be one for the books.

That said, church, Go Flyers, and a safe and Happy Memorial Day weekend to one and all.

PHOTOS: Getty(1); AP(2); Sam Lucero/The Compass News(3); Most Rev. Thomas Paprocki(4)


"You Are Catholics. And 'Catholic' Means Universal": Gomez on Hispanics... and Migration

In his closing remarks at Wednesday's welcome, for all the changes his ascent will, in time, bring to the nation's largest Catholic community, the LA coadjutor underscored one constant of his new local church's emphases when he said -- first in Spanish, then English -- that "no one is an alien in the eyes of God."

A spontaneous ovation broke out at the line... and in a just-released extended interview with Catholic News Agency, Archbishop José Gomez extended his reflections on immigration, and the broader state of Hispanics in the US church:
CNA: What questions do you see as key for Catholic ministry to U.S. Hispanics?

Gomez: As Hispanics become more and more successful, more and more assimilated into the American mainstream, will they keep the faith? Will they stay Catholic or will they drift away—to Protestant denominations, to some variety of vague spirituality, or to no religion at all?

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?

Hispanic ministry should mean only one thing—bringing Hispanic people to the encounter with Jesus Christ in his Church.

All our pastoral plans and programs presume that we are trying to serve Christ and his Gospel. But we can no longer simply presume Christ. We must make sure we are proclaiming him.

We should thank God every day many times for the good things we have been given. But we also need to give thanks to God through service, through works of mercy and love.

CNA: What is the most serious problem Hispanic Catholics face in the U.S.?

Gomez: The dominant culture in the United States, which is aggressively, even militantly secularized. This is a subject that unfortunately doesn’t get much attention at all in discussions about the future of Hispanic ministry. But it’s time that we change that.

“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. Indeed, in San Antonio, the Gospel was being preached in Spanish and Holy Mass was being celebrated by Hispanics before George Washington was born.

CNA: You have said these secularizing forces put even more pressure on Hispanics and other immigrant groups. Why?

Gomez: Because immigrants already face severe demands to “fit in,” to downplay what is culturally and religiously distinct about them; to prove that they are “real” Americans, too. We might feel subtle pressures to blend in, to assimilate, to downplay our heritage and our distinctive identities as Catholics and Hispanics.

I believe that in God’s plan, the new Hispanic presence is to advance our country’s spiritual renewal. To restore the promise of America’s youth. In this renewed encounter with Hispanic faith and culture, I believe God wants America to rediscover values it has lost sight of—the importance of religion, family, friendship, community, and the culture of life.

CNA: What are other challenges facing Hispanics in the U.S.?

Gomez: In our Hispanic ministries, we must understand that we are preaching the Good News to the poor. The second and third generation of Hispanics are much better educated, much more fluent in the dominant language, and are living at a higher economic standard of living than the first generation.

But still about one-quarter of all Hispanics, no matter what generation, are living below the poverty line. Combine that with high school drop-out rates of about 22 percent, and a dramatic rise in the number of Hispanic children being raised in single-parent homes—both strong indicators of future poverty—and I worry that we may be ministering to a permanent Hispanic underclass.

We have moral and social problems too. Our people have some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy, abortion, and out-of-wedlock births, of any ethnic group in the country. These are things we don’t talk about enough. But we cannot write these issues off as just “conservative issues.”

To my mind, these are serious “justice” issues. If we want justice for our young people, if we want what God wants for them, then we need to find ways to teach our young people virtue, self-discipline, and personal responsibility.

CNA: What do you tell Latino leaders?

Gomez: Don’t be intimidated by the truths of our faith. They are a gift from God. Let these truths touch your heart and change your life.

You should own copies of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. If you spend a few minutes each day reading these books and also reading from the Gospel, you will notice a change. You will look at the world and your own lives with new eyes.

“Be proud of your heritage! Deepen your sense of your Hispanic identity, the traditions and customs of our ancestors!” I tell them. “But you are Catholics. And ‘catholic’ means universal. That means you can’t define yourself —nor can you let society define you—solely by your ethnic identity. You are called to be leaders—not only in the Hispanic community, but in every area of our culture and society.”

As Catholic leaders and as Hispanics, we must reclaim this culture for God.

Being a leader means, first of all, accepting Jesus Christ as the ruler of your life. The martyrs of Mexico all lived—and died—with these words on their lips: Viva Cristo Rey! (“May Christ the King live!”) To be true leaders, the living Christ must be your king.

CNA: What is the role of the Church in the political debate over immigration?

Gomez: The Church is not a political party or interest group. It is not the Church’s primary task to fight political battles or to be engaged in debates over specific policies. This task belongs to the laity.

The Church’s interest in immigration is not a recent development. It doesn’t grow out of any political or partisan agenda. No. It is a part of our original religious identity as Catholics, as Christians. We must defend the immigrant if we are to be worthy of the name Catholic.

For bishops and priests, our job as pastors is to help form our peoples’ consciences, especially those who work in the business community and in government. We need to instill in our people a greater sense of their civic duty to work for reforms in a system that denies human dignity to so many.

While we forcefully defend the rights of immigrants, we must also remind them of their duties under Catholic social teaching. Chief among these duties is the obligation to respect the laws of their new country.

We need to help ensure that these newcomers become true Americans while preserving their own distinctive identity and culture, in which religion, family, friendship, community, and the culture of life are important values.

I’m not a politician. I’m a pastor of souls. And as a pastor I believe the situation that’s developed today is bad for the souls of Americans. There is too much anger. Too much resentment. Too much fear. Too much hate. It’s eating people up.

In this volatile debate, the Church must be a voice of compassion, reason, and moral principle.

The Church has an important role to play in promoting forgiveness and reconciliation on this issue. We must work so that justice and mercy, not anger and resentment, are the motives behind our response to illegal immigration.

CNA: How should Catholics respond to immigration?

Gomez: Unfortunately anti-immigrant sentiment and anti-Hispanic bias is a problem today, even among our fellow Catholics. I don’t want to over-dramatize the situation. But we do need to be honest and recognize that racial prejudice is a driving factor behind a lot of our political conversation about immigration.

In the bitter debates of recent years, I have been alarmed by the indifference of so many of our people to Catholic teaching and to the concrete demands of Christian charity.

It is not only the racism, xenophobia, and scapegoating. These are signs of a more troubling reality. Many of our Catholic people no longer see the foreigners sojourning among them as brothers and sisters. To listen to the rhetoric in the U.S. and elsewhere it is as if the immigrant is not a person, but only a thief or a terrorist or a simple work-animal.

We can never forget that Jesus himself and his family were migrants. They were forced into Egypt by the bad policies of a bad government. This was to show us Christ’s solidarity with refugees, displaced persons, and immigrants—in every time and in every place.

We all know these words of Jesus: “For I was a stranger and you welcomed me . . . As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:35, 40). We need to restore the truth that the love of God and the love of neighbor have been forever joined in the teaching—and in the person—of Jesus Christ.

Many of these new laws on immigration are harsh and punitive. The law should not be used to scare people, to invade their homes and work-sites, to break up families.

I would like to see a moratorium on new state and local legislation. And, as the U.S. bishops recently called for, I would like to see an end to federal work-site enforcement raids.

The bottom line is that as long as workers can earn more in one hour in the U.S. than they can earn in a day or a week in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, they will continue to migrate to this country. Immigration has to do with peoples’ rights to share in the goods they need to secure their livelihoods.

We need to come together and find a solution to the complicated economic, national security, and legal issues raised by immigration.

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? I think, from a moral standpoint, we’re forced to conclude that deporting immigrants who break our laws is too severe a penalty.

Now, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enforce the laws. It means we need to find more suitable penalties. I would suggest that intensive, long-term community service would be a far more constructive solution than deportation. This would build communities rather than tear them apart. And it would serve to better integrate the immigrants into the social and moral fabric of America.
In a transition set into play months before his April appointment to the City of Angels, Gomez becomes chair of the US bishops' migration efforts at November's Fall Plenary of the Stateside bench.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Chairs and Chants

Apologies for the dead air, gang -- still processing it all, and trying to figure out how to best convey the impressions of the day.

In the meantime, a sufficient shot's finally appeared of yesterday's surprise climactic moment... and here's the intro that led up to it:
Archbishop Gomez, as you have become the coadjutor archbishop, as you know, the ceremony is very brief -- maybe 35 seconds?....

When an archbishop or a bishop is installed in his church, it is done very formally with the official seating of the archbishop or the bishop.... We don't have any of that for this rite.

So I've been scouring the liturgical books, and I can't find anything in there that helps. Except one thing, and it says that the cathedra -- the bishop's chair -- 'must be fitting.' 'Must be fitting.' And I thought, 'You know, the one thing we haven't done: does the archbishop fit in the chair?'

We only have some months to find out. I'd like to invite Archbishop Gomez to come sit in the chair....
And as he did, the place erupted for a good 90 seconds.

Another of the day's poignant moments took place outside, as a traditional feature at many installations saw an LA-sized edition.

Especially at major possession-takings, local members of the Neocatechumenal Way customarily show up to pray and sing near the Mass-site. Yet while the delegations usually number in the 20 to 30 range, what looked to be over 200 members of the Spain-based new movement took over Temple Street just outside the cathedral gates to celebrate the historic arrival in song... and, for a moment, made the place feel like it was shaking.

Here, some video:

(No idea why the latter ended up upside-down; it was filmed right-side up, and the conversion process seems to have bizarrely rotated it.... Still, hope you get the idea.)

For the record, the Neocat singers handily outnumbered the handful of protesters -- ten at most -- who likewise held forth on the sidewalk: a group representing carpenters from outside the archdiocese protesting the local church's union-optional labor policy for parish construction projects (the archdiocese is union-only on its own efforts, cathedral included), and two lone gentlemen: one (a seeming fixture at cathedral events) toting a sign that read "Phony Mahony," and another who called on the church to repent, claiming that Catholicism had caused more harm to the world than any other institution in the history of the planet

* * *
On another note, as some have asked for the English text of the bull of appointment, only having it in hard-copy form, here it is as a readable shot.

Among other key elements, B16's letter urged his LA pick to be "joined in close communion with the knowledgeable Shepherd" of the place in the transition and, above all, indicates that José Gomez was, in fact, the choice recommended to Benedict for the post by the Congregation for Bishops. Likewise conspicuous was the letter's close, which -- alongside the see city's Angelic patrons -- invoked upon Gomez the intercession of St Josemaria Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, for which the coadjutor was ordained a priest in 1978. (Among the six cardinals present at yesterday's rites was the personal prelature's first member to receive the red hat: Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani of Lima, a seminary classmate of the archbishop's.)

And lastly for now, the decree wasn't the liturgy's only intriguing set text: the Eucharistic Prayer employed was the first of the "Swiss Synod" prayers -- in this case, the one dedicated to "The Church on the Way to Unity" -- used in Switzerland since 1974 and approved for use in English by the Holy See in 1995.

PHOTO: Rich Villacorta/Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (Album); Getty(2)


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Mahony Goes; Gomez Comes. Christ Alone Endures."

And in a word, church... wow.

The sound might've been a bit low on the webstream. In the house, it was anything but... and to signify the close of "Arch Madness," the winner was surprisingly seated in the "championship trophy," nine months early.

It all needs a bit more time to process and type out. In the meanwhile, more vids and texts to come, starting with the memorable homily. (A copy of coadjutor's emotional closing remarks has yet to emerge, and will run as soon as it does.)

Above all, though, suffice it to say that the "Show of the Century" more than lived up to the hype that preceded it... so much so that it gave a certain scribe from Pharaohdom the most powerful, moving experience of worship he's ever had.

And if that ain't high praise for the day, then what is?



The Mass of Reception

The Mass having concluded, here on-demand from the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the historic liturgy welcoming José Gomez as coadjutor-archbishop of Los Angeles:

And here, your worship aid.

Sit back, relax... and pray.

Texts to come.

And so, church, in the words of the hymn to be sung during the canonical rite of welcome, "This is the day...."

As some didn't see it the first time and have asked where they can catch today's LA Mass of Reception, the livestream will be watchable right here on the main page -- come back around 1.30 Pacific (4.30 Eastern, 1830GMT), and the embed box will be up and running for your viewing pleasure.

In the meanwhile, for those who'd like an early look at what'll ensue, the worship aid is posted... nothing you didn't already know, though.

And now, off to the races.

SVILUPPO (11.30am PT): Another of those "can't see on TV" moments: coming down in an elevator, the doors open... to reveal the "Grand Inquisitor" of the Holy Roman Church.

The traditional pre-Mass lunch has begun for the bishops and the healthy delegation of 100 or so clergy and laity come from San Antonio. And on a related note, as soon as tomorrow, the lounge buzz is anticipating the appointment of the bench's youngest member -- the 43 year-old auxiliary Oscar Cantú -- as apostolic administrator of the 700,000-member Alamotown church, with full powers of the ordinary pending the appointment of its sixth archbishop.

Again, the livestream'll appear here at 1.30... and for all the rest, as always, stay tuned.

BENEDICT, bishop,
Servant of the Servants of God:

To the Venerable Brother
until now Archbishop of San Antonio,
appointed Coadjutor to the Metropolitan Church of Los Angeles:
greetings and Apostolic Blessing....
* * *
Cardinal-Archbishop: My dear brothers and sisters, are you willing to support Archbishop José Gomez with your cooperation and prayers as he begins his ministry among us?
Assembly: We are.

Cardinal: "On behalf of the entire Archdiocese of Los Angeles,
I welcome you,
Archbishop José Gomez,
as our Coadjutor Archbishop of Los Angeles.
Be assured of our prayers and support as you join me
in continuing the work of the Gospel...."
* * *
For the nation's largest local church -- 5 million members and growing -- it's a day that hasn't been seen in a quarter-century.

For a Hispanic bloc quickly becoming a majority of the 68 million strong Stateside church -- and, indeed, for American Catholicism, all told -- it's an epic, unprecedented moment.

Long in the making, the day is here... the time has come.

Welcome to history, folks.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reception Eve

Little did they know it, but the handful of folks milling around in the Cathedral Plaza at mid-afternoon got to see one of those quiet moments from which history is made.

Clad in an open shirt, ring conspicuous by its absence, Roger Michael Mahony -- native son, lightning rod, folk icon, second founder of the LA church -- emerged from his residence bearing a white tube, taking it across the space into the cathedral he built.

The tube contained the papal bull appointing his successor.

Just another of those things you can't see on TV... and another reason why it's such a treat to be covering this on the ground.

* * *
Of course, no shortage of buzz has been tossed about since 6 April on the contrasts -- real, imagined, and both -- between the hometown cardinal and his Mexican-born, Opus Dei-formed successor.

Then again, especially given the nominee's background in the church's lone personal prelature, much of this has quickly veered into hyperbole -- a British newspaper wildly mused that the appointment of José Gomez was Rome's "revenge on Hollywood" for The DaVinci Code... and, admittedly, some of the locals remain hopped up along similar lines.

To be sure, in any transition, there's going to be some degree of evolution and change. Still, it bears noting that Gomez's calm, gradual approach to tweaking things was such that, in San Antonio, criticism that the archbishop was given to moving like "molasses" came from his right flank.

For purposes of the optimal context you'll find at this point, it's well worth looking to the foundational texts of tenures present and future: for Mahony and today's LA church, the signal document remains 2000's As I Have Done for You -- the Jubilee Year pastoral on ministry written by the cardinal in conjunction with his presbyterate, which helped lay the foundations for the landmark 2003 Synod. In Gomez's case, the vision of church is most extensively articulated in You Will Be My Witnesses -- the framework pastoral the incoming archbishop released in February on his fifth anniversary in San Antonio.

So if it's the tea leaves you're interested in, read both, compare and contrast.

* * *
And lastly, the final numbers have been released on tomorrow's attendance -- six cardinals (led by the native son, now CDF prefect, William Levada), some 60 bishops, just over 400 clergy, and a ticket-only crowd expected to skirt 4,000.

Get ready, folks -- for all the installations we've seen over the years, smart money says this one's gonna be in a class by itself.

SVILUPPO: Lest anyone was curious, the coadjutor's Ford Taurus has, indeed, made the trip from San Antonio.

Meanwhile, in tribute to tomorrow's rites, Wednesday's LATimes profiles a typical parish in this largest Stateside church -- one that's diverse, revived, and "thriving."


Why Transitions Matter

On Saturday evening, already feeling "the enormity" of what lay ahead, the figure who'll become Los Angeles' fifth archbishop arrived quietly at LAX, accompanied by his two sisters.

Whether José Gomez's Ford Taurus has likewise made the trip remains unclear at press time. Still, as one local op noted, the reserved prelate's inauspicious touchdown was a far cry from the old days -- in February 1948, Archbishop-elect James McIntyre's train was met outside the city by the 36 year-old auxiliary, Bishop Timothy Manning, who escorted the New Yorker into Downtown, where a frenzied crowd of thousands waited at the station to greet McIntyre on his entrance.

(Five years later, McIntyre would go on to become the Pacific coast's first cardinal... and in 1969, after 18 months in Fresno, Manning returned as coadjutor-archbishop -- the last understudy given a red hat on these shores. At least, until now.)

That 1948 arrival is likewise notable today as it was the last time an "outsider" came to take the reins of the LA church -- its Catholic population then just hovering around 800,000.

Clearly, no shortage of things are different today -- for one, the venerable 1876 cathedral where McIntyre was installed (left) is now a reception hall. (And his mentor's "Kingmaker" clout now belongs to a tag-team of native Angelenos.) Still, much remains the same -- above all, the significance of the moment in the life of a local church... just, in this case, multipied several times over.

In that light, as tomorrow's reception Mass for Coadjutor-Archbishop José Gomez approached, the LA church's Theological Commission took to preparing a series of catecheses on the role of the bishop in the life of the church that've been circulated widely around the nation's largest diocese.

While the historical or political aspects of this transition are easily grist for the mill, its prime import -- namely, as an ecclesial moment -- can just as easily be missed.

Ergo, here below are a compilation of the Commission's four articles on the office and its meaning today:

PHOTOS: Getty(1)


"The Culture of Discretion"

In a lengthy Pentecost letter to his local church, the chief shepherd of Australia's capital see took the unusual step of detailing his path to awareness of the scope of sexual abuse in the church... and the even more unusual step of naming the factors that contributed to it, including the legacy of Irish Jansenism and, indeed, "a certain triumphalism in the Catholic Church."

The source is especially notable: now 62, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Canberra and Goulburn is regarded as a star still on the rise, and not just by the folks Down Under. A Scripture scholar and veteran of the Secretariat of State, the Melbourne native served on the editorial committee for the impending reboot of the Roman Missal and has already been tipped as a front-runner for the Aussie church's pre-eminent post should, as has been widely expected, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney be appointed prefect of the Congregation for Bishops in the coming weeks.

Given the context -- and, candidly, the worthwhile nature of the complete text -- here in full is Coleridge's 4,000-word letter, titled "Seeing the Faces, Hearing the Voices":


Monday, May 24, 2010

So, folks, along the course of this ride, it's become clear that some things just can't be covered from the home-office -- sometimes, you've just gotta hit the road and see a story with your eyes.

As veteran readers know, these moments have been as notable as they're rare: papal visitsNovember Meetings… and, now, the most significant transition of leadership this Stateside church has seen in some three decades.

And quite possibly even longer than that.

For a city founded in 1781 as "El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora de los Ángeles de Porciuncula" -- the seeds of faith planted by Spanish missionaries, its first five ordinaries of Latin birth -- the resumption of the line could be seen as something of a return to tradition.

Yet for an American Catholicism ever more driven by its Western half and its Hispanic bloc, as the lead-off hitters go, it's a whole new ballgame.

In that light, greetings from LA and the run-up to Wednesday's Mass of Reception for Coadjutor-Archbishop José Gomez, who'll succeed Cardinal Roger Mahony at the helm of the 5 million-member church -- North America's largest, and the global fold's sixth-biggest -- come March 2011.

To help set the stage for its close -- and especially for anyone just dropping in -- below you'll find the major pieces which, over the last half-year, chronicled the process that produced the figure who'll become the first American cardinal of Hispanic origin... and given the moment's Providential backdrop, God only knows what'll ensue over the coming days.

Looking forward, the livestream of Wednesday's "Show of the Century" begins at 1.30pm Pacific (4.30pm Eastern, 1830GMT); thanks to the crew on Wilshire, you'll be able to catch it... right here. (And with worship aid, to boot.)

Time to settle in and rev up. In the meanwhile, hope everything's great where you are. Wherever we might find ourselves, though, in the spirit of this place, we'd be remiss to gather without a taste of the extraordinary form of worship the local church in the spotlight has made famous:

As ever, a world of thanks to everyone whose support keeps these pages afloat and has made this coverage possible... for whatever's to come and all the rest, as always, stay tuned.



Twilight for "Hollywood"

(Originally published 28 January 2010.)

Over recent months, a growing wildfire of chatter -- both from the West Coast and points beyond -- has carried word of an expedited timetable on what'll arguably be Benedict XVI's most important pick for the Stateside bench: the pontiff's choice of a successor to Cardinal Roger Mahony as head of the nation's largest local church, the 5 million-member archdiocese of Los Angeles.

While this desk has spent practically all of January tracking the talk -- hence the low posting of late -- the story broke into the open late last week after the American Papist blogger Thomas Peters reported that Mahony "has approved a coadjutor bishop [sic] recently selected for him," and that "this news – and the name – will be publicly announced 'soon.'"

For the record, any claims of a selection already made cannot be confirmed and, as the lay of the land is looking at present, would appear premature. What's more, lacking an announcement from the Holy See, it should -- but, given the hysteria surrounding appointments, can't -- go without saying that anything can change at any time.

Keeping that important corollary in mind, scores of reports in church circles have circulated since November that, over a year before he reaches the retirement age of 75, Mahony is "widely known" to have petitioned for an understudy on his own initiative. In early January, three independent sources outside the archdiocese indicated to Whispers that the consultation stage of a selection process had been underway at least since mid-autumn, with one adding that the cardinal's request for a coadjutor had been granted by the Holy See in October. From there, the cardinal is credibly understood to have been given the privilege of approving the terna of his potential successors -- not the final choice -- with at least one Mahony aide anticipating an announcement sometime around the cardinal's 74th birthday, February 27th.

Once named, then installed with the customary "Mass of Welcome" some two months after his appointment, a coadjutor would spend roughly a year assisting the ordinary and learning the ropes before immediately succeeding to the archbishopric upon its vacancy -- in this case, on the acceptance of Mahony's resignation by the Pope shortly after the cardinal turns 75. Though such provision is often sought by prelates seeking a smooth transition of governance, it's likewise a savvy move; a departing ordinary usually stands a better chance of getting the coadjutor of his choice than a successor who's selected outright.

That said, while a putative version of the shortlist has made the rounds, given Benedict's commitment to intense personal study of case-files and making his choices his own, especially for major assignments, all bets are genuinely off until the Apartment has spoken. As for what's already on-record, Mahony let slip in a recent posting on his new blog that 2010 would be "my final full year" as head of his hometown fold, American Catholicism's progressive seat and one of the global church's most complex, energetic and diverse diocesan set-ups.

Long a flashpoint figure in the US church's eternal culture wars, the cardinal will mark his 25th anniversary at the LA church's helm in September. The longest-serving American cardinal named since the Council (and Paul VI's subsequent institution of a retirement age for bishops), the archdiocese has more than doubled in size since the native son's 1985 appointment, with Hispanics -- Mahony's most-cherished constituency and staunchest "base" of support -- now said to comprise approximately 70 percent of its total membership.

* * *
Even more than the pontiff's appointment of Tim Dolan to New York early last year, Benedict's choice to become LA's fifth archbishop will be thrust headlong into the three key threads of this chapter in the American Catholic story.

For one, the West's mega-see is still feeling the brunt of 2007's mammoth $660 million settlement of over 500 abuse cases -- the largest such payout by a Catholic diocese worldwide -- whose aftermath led the archdiocese to sell its famed Wilshire Boulevard chancery, birthed ongoing fiscal turmoil and, more recently, sparked a Federal grand jury investigation into the archdiocese's handling of accused priests. (LA's former vicar for clergy, Msgr Richard Loomis, recently appeared before the panel, for which he was granted immunity.)

On another crucial front, lacking both the institution-as-cult Irish tradition of the Northeast and the Bible Belt DNA of the country's newest cardinalatial post, the left-leaning SoCal ecclesiology that's made Mahony a lightning rod is unique among the US church's major hubs. Given the cardinal's endorsement of liturgical and theological concepts long panned as heretical or praised as visionary, the enduring polarization of the top tier and the moment's strong Roman currents toward traditional worship and a beyond-pure doctrinal fidelity, an LA selection will inevitably be viewed as the Vatican's definitive verdict on the archdiocese's Catholic culture: put bluntly, a "thumbs-up" choice... or a "crackdown" one.

(On a related note, claims of a possible revolt over a "more conservative" pick among the faculty of the archdiocesan seminary, St John's in Camarillo, appear to lack foundation, particularly as the house's days as part of the LA church could well be numbered. In tandem with Mahony's eventual departure, a division of the immense jurisdiction is said to be under consideration, with the most-proffered scenario eyeing the creation of a new diocese comprising the suburban counties of Ventura and Santa Barbara -- the former of which includes Camarillo. If implemented, a pared-down archdiocese would retain the lion's share of its Catholic population -- some 4 million in Los Angeles County, where the church is said to count 70 percent of its total inhabitants.)

Ultimately, however, the dominant storyline hovering over a Los Angeles process would be its staggering Hispanic supermajority… and with it, the distinct possibility -- if not likelihood -- of a watershed moment: a pick who would become the nation's first Latino cardinal.

To be clear, that outcome is by no means assured. Yet with key players in the process known to believe that "the moment has come" for two-fifths of the nation's 65 million Catholics to finally see one of their own reach the pinnacle of the Stateside hierarchy, the reality of the LA church -- and, nationally, the bench's relative dearth of genuinely "bi-cultural" figures in its topmost posts -- signals that, if not winning the day, the prospect of a Hispanic appointee will receive exponentially more consideration than any major opening has known to date on these shores.

Just as the Angeleno see's roughly 3.5 million Hispanic Catholics would, on their own, constitute the nation's largest diocese -- the figure's a million more the total Catholic population of the second-largest see, New York -- national trends indicate Rome's willingness to provide the burgeoning bloc with homegrown leadership.

Stepping briefly away from the case at hand, but pertinent to it, at his Appointment Day press conference on Tuesday, newly-named Austin Bishop Joe Vasquez said that his selection as the first Latino to head the church in Texas' capital likely owed itself to Benedict's keen awareness of the linchpin role played by Hispanics in the sustained, exponential growth and vitality that's seen Catholics recently eclipse Evangelicals as the Lone Star state's largest religious group, and drastically shifted the demographic center of the Stateside church away from its faltering Northeastern birthplace toward Southern and Western locales which would've seemed unlikely hotspots even twenty years ago.

Once the youngest American bishop, the 52 year-old Vasquez might be freshly off-the-market, but he's just one member of a rising generation of American-born, Hispanic-bred clerics whose native fluency with both Anglo and Latino communities has become the most desired quality for appointees in no shortage of spots over recent years -- if only a sufficient supply existed.

In a time when most of the country's major cities see the local Univision and Telemundo affiliates battling, and even besting, English-language TV in the ratings, this small but growing "crossover" group (which, among others, likewise includes Bishops Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Richard Garcia of Monterey, Brownsville's Daniel Flores, and San Antonio auxiliary Oscar Cantú) stands poised to reshape the face and extend the reach of the Stateside bench over the years to come.

All told, it's a far cry from 1917, when the vicar-general of San Francisco, John Cantwell, was named bishop of Monterey-Los Angeles, ending a two-year vacancy that saw four other clerics decline what was then an ecclesiastical backwater.

Two decades later, the boom having arrived, the Irish-born prelate became the city's first archbishop.

On another historic note, just two American cardinals have previously received coadjutors: Bishop Michael Corrigan of Newark was named to aid and succeed the nation's first red-hat, New York's John McCloskey, in 1880, and out West, Mahony's predecessor, the future Cardinal Timothy Manning, was appointed coadjutor to Cardinal James McIntyre in May 1969, succeeding California's first clerical prince eight months later. And speaking of cardinals, it bears especial underscoring that two of Mahony's Camarillo classmates will likely shepherd the process' penultimate stage from their seats on the Congregation for Bishops: Philadelphia's Justin Rigali, and the CDF prefect William Levada (who was Mahony's auxiliary for a year before his 1986 promotion to Portland in Oregon). The trio have remained friends since their seminary days.

Asked on 5 January for comment on the coadjutor reports, the cardinal's influential and omnipresent spokesman, Tod Tamberg, pulled out his A-game, memorably telling Whispers that "speculation is for people who watch football," but conspicuously avoided any denial of the buzz. Some days later, another member of the cardinal's inner circle replied simply that "Cardinal Mahony will turn 75 a year from this February 27 and is looking forward to submitting his letter."

* * *
Regardless of when or how the moment comes, or even one's impressions of the man, at least one truth transcends opinion: that Mahony's departure will bring down the curtain on one of the monumental reigns in the four-century history of the American church.

Named an auxiliary bishop of Fresno 35 years ago this month, the cardinal's episcopate has seen him march with Caesar Chavez, spar with Mother Angelica, bless a Democratic convention, bury Joseph Bernardin and -- in a move his critics should've appreciated, but ignored -- help short-circuit the 11th-hour opposition to the impending Roman Missal at last November's USCCB plenary in Baltimore.

Considerable as all that is, it's not even the top line of the story. We won't see Mahony's duration repeated anytime soon, if ever… nor, perhaps more significantly, the scope of his influence.

Beyond his own turf, the cardinal's spent most of his quarter-century as the lone red hat West of the Mississippi, his onetime auxiliaries now run dioceses from the Rio Grande to the Pacific, and among his former clergy are found the head of California's other metropolitan church and, indeed, the two most influential Americans in the history of the Holy See.

Even for that, though, his empire's mostly been built at home, among a crowd where he's more revered than loved. And what's more, even amid the scandals and controversies of the years, the long eye of history has its way of looking at matters differently than many might see them today.

For any student of the church's journey on these shores, the story is familiar: an ethnic "old guard" wrought by divisions, chatter and complacency finds its model of church wiped off the map by a mass infusion of fresh blood, true believers in the faith and the promise of the land. Even within the church, this "immigrant church" of great fervor and hard work experiences scorn or disdain just as it births both renewal and a considerable growth spurt. Yet still, for all its talents and testimony, it would take the emergence of one transformative leader to integrate the newcomers' gifts into ecclesial life, to shepherd them to their rightful place and, indeed, to herald their arrival -- not just as a presence, but a force, both within the walls and on the streets.

Faced with a rapidly changing, growing local reality, this "born fighter" builds an epic cathedral both to gather his own and make immortal the church of his vision. He defends his institutional prerogatives with the same vigor he devotes to his beloved migrants. He revels in the prestige and possibilities of politics, quells ethnic strife as he divides public opinion… and by the end of the day, himself becomes an icon -- not so much a leader of the church as, among his own, the very personification of it.

Sure, that's a rough sketch of the Mahony legacy… one that finds its precursor in John Hughes.

Perhaps that's why Our Lady of the Angels happened to be built one foot longer than the "Dagger"-wielder's dream project -- read: St Patrick's, New York. Still, for the titan-pastors of both coasts, the tale would end the same way: for all their work and the transformation they oversaw, all the controversies braved in the moment and accomplishments birthed for generations onward, each bore his respective charge to the threshold of the brass ring… but only under their successors would the local churches they revolutionized become American Catholicism's capital see.

Who'll bring that title Westward is the choice we await.

For all of it, as always, stay tuned.

PHOTOS: Getty(1), Newscom(5)


The Making of the Archbishop

(Originally published 6 April 2010.)
And so, the morning after March Madness reached its end, the ecclesial outbreak of "Arch Madness" fittingly followed suit...

...only here, the long-tipped favorite won.

Some notes on this morning's historic emergence of the figure who'll become the fifth archbishop of Los Angeles... and, far beyond the 5 million-member fold, the symbol of Hispanic ascent in the life of the 68 million-member Stateside church:

A once-in-a-generation appointment -- if even that often -- the nod is beyond significant on several fronts.

First, in the church's nearly five-century history on these shores, no American cleric has ever been thrust headlong into the leadership of a flock as massive as what Archbishop Jose Gomez will inherit next February... and some 70 percent of it Latin, at that. (By way of comparison, LA's runner-up -- the archdiocese of New York -- is but half the Western mega-see's size.)

Already the nation's ranking Latin cleric for a half-decade, the further rise of the Mexican-born theologian shatters the "Anglo ceiling" of the bench's topmost rank as Gomez becomes the first Hispanic prelate who, in time, will receive the cardinal's red hat north of the border. In its broadest sweep, however, the move stands as a signal moment of arrival for the nation's roughly 30 million Latin Catholics -- half of them under age 25, a group expected to become the majority bloc of the 68 million-member US church within the next decade.

Named to San Antonio in late 2004 after less than four years as an auxiliary bishop of Denver, Gomez enters a situation marked by sizable, fairly staggering challenges, above all the continuing fallout of the LA church's 2007 settlement of over 500 clergy sex-abuse cases for $660 million -- by far a record sum, one that's since impacted practically every aspect of the mammoth see's ecclesial life, led by the sale of its Wilshire Boulevard chancery. On a related note, early last year reports emerged that the Angeleno archdiocese's handling of accused clerics had become the focus of a Federal grand jury -- the lone such investigation undertaken into any Stateside diocese.

Humble, prayerful and reserved, theologically conservative and spiritually fervent, Benedict's choice is both a Roman embrace of and evolution from the legacy of the epochal Mahony -- the longest-reigning US cardinal named after Vatican II, whose quarter-century at his hometown church's helm has been marked by a uniquely progressive streak that's made him, depending on who you're talking to, a folk icon or lightning rod amid the ever-polarized American Catholic discourse.

Among other contrasts, while Gomez's record echoes Mahony's commitment to an energized, prominent lay role in the church, the incoming archbishop's focus has largely centered more on the pews' witness in the public square as opposed to the cardinal's strong emphasis on a heavy lay role in ecclesial ministry. Elsewhere, it bears noting that the 850,000-member San Antonio church's current contingent of 28 seminarians is double what Gomez found on his 2005 arrival; the appointee's tenure in Texas saw a sizable boom at his archdiocese's Assumption Seminary -- home to a celebrated bi-lingual formation program -- which opened a new wing at mid-decade as its overall student population boomed from 34 in 2000 to almost 100 in 2007, a figure that's seemingly kept pace since.

In the final analysis, it bears underscoring that, at 58, Gomez could occupy the chair in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels for some two decades.

While at least some key players in the selection process were said to have preferred an older candidate in order to avoid lengthy back-to-back tenures (a common concern in appointments to major posts), the choice clearly reflects the pontiff's judgment that -- as at least one of his advisers was dead-set on advancing over recent months -- "the time has come" for a Hispanic prelate to reach the pinnacle of the nation's church leadership, and that the relative youth of the most-seasoned of the group, in the end, only added to Gomez's strengths.

The coadjutor-designate having landed in his charge-to-be late last night, as previously noted, a 10am Pacific press conference will take place in the LA Cathedral -- Mahony's $190 million, 4,500-seat crown jewel, which the cardinal dedicated in September 2002.

In the new Archbishop's Residence adjacent to Rafael Moneo's alabaster temple, the cardinal's said to have already vacated the principal suite in expectation of his successor-to-be, with a full transition plan already prepared, only waiting on Rome's appointee for its execution to begin.

According to several locals who've seen the cardinal at close range over recent days, Mahony was said to have appeared particularly ebullient; during last week's Holy Week rites, the cardinal was showered with waves of affection and appreciation from the gathered throngs at the cathedral liturgies. Across the archdiocese, the first native son-archbishop's final cycle has apparently sparked a tide of emotion of a kind unseen over his quarter-century tenure.

As announced earlier, Gomez's "Mass of Welcome" has been set for 26 May. Given the coadjutor's immediate succession to the cathedra of the Angels upon its falling vacant, no subsequent installation will take place upon his final ascent.

PHOTOS: San Antonio Express-News File