Wednesday, July 11, 2018

For San Jose, Obispo Oscar – Amid Transformation, Pope Makes Evocative Pick for Silicon Valley Church

(Updated with video, further context.)

The simple fact that you're reading this is testament to the reality behind today's lead story: given the shifts of the last two decades, it can be argued that no place has a greater impact on modern American life than Santa Clara County, California, a state of affairs that begins with the three behemoths all based there – Google, Facebook, and Apple.

With the rise of the local tech empires fueling a growth that's extended to their local church, the spurt has underscored a premium on youth and smarts...

...and now – a full two years ahead of schedule – the Vatican has responded in kind.

In a surprisingly early move, at Roman Noon this Wednesday the Pope named Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces – at 51, already a well-experienced hand on the national, and even global stage – as coadjutor of San Jose: now the US' tenth-largest city, and the seat of a countywide fold now numbering upwards of 700,000 Catholics, a doubling in size within a quarter-century.

Ordained an auxiliary of San Antonio at 41 in 2008, then head of New Mexico's border diocese since 2013, the Houston-born Cantú becomes heir apparent to Bishop Patrick McGrath, who reaches the retirement age of 75 in June 2020. Known as "PJ" among the locals, the Irish-born prelate – the last San Francisco auxiliary of John Raphael Quinn – has overseen the bulk of San Jose's transformation; 20 years ago this summer, as Netscape and Oracle led the first wave of the tech boom and Apple began its resurgence with the return of Steve Jobs, McGrath arrived as coadjutor to Bishop Pierre DuMaine, succeeding to the chair within 18 months.

While some rumblings that McGrath had sought an early succession have made the rounds over recent weeks, a selection was not expected until later in the year.

As for the turf itself, even for Silicon Valley's reputation of a white, wealthy enclave, the church that encompasses it is a markedly different story. Together with the growth of the diocese, Hispanics have claimed a solid majority of its membership – comprising close to 60 percent – while its contingent of Anglos has shrunk by nearly a fifth. Notably, however – especially in the context of California – the diocese's statistical report for the coming V Encuentro (slated for September in the North Texas Metroplex) states that the bulk of its Latino population is US-born as opposed to immigrants. In that light, the choice of a native-born Hispanic with crossover appeal strikingly mirrors the profile of the people he'll inherit; that Cantú was "imported" from outside California – a rarity among the state's bishops – indicates the degree to which the particular background and skill-set was a priority in the search.

Meanwhile, one of the church's key challenges is likewise hidden from the headlines – at least, most of the time. Together with the tech boom's infusion of people and capital, the resulting spike in housing prices that's made Santa Clara County one of the nation's richest (and with it, home to the US' most expensive costs of living) has birthed a homeless population recently estimated as the country's largest; in one prominent example of the scourge, some of the unsheltered were found to be spending their nights aboard a public-transit bus. Especially in the age of Francis – who has famously received each of the Valley's "Big Three" tech chiefs in private audiences – the sense of responsibility to "the least" in the midst of an opulence almost without peer anywhere else stands out as a glaring Job One.

All that said, though much will rightly be made of Cantú's youth and the prospect of another long tenure, the incoming bishop's experience belies his years. Having come to the bench with the backing of past and future USCCB presidents – Houston's founding Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza and his successor, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo – his formation as a bishop in San Antonio took place under the conference's next head, Archbishop José Gomez... and on the wider scene, all of it has ostensibly rubbed off: in 2013, Cantú was elected chair of the bishops' foreign policy arm – one of the US hierarchy's most intensive portfolios – becoming, at 46, the youngest head of a major committee in recent times. Given the global clout of the multinational corporations on his new turf – led by what's now the world's largest company by revenue – Cantú's specialized experience brings an added, almost unique match to this particular assignment.

As a coadjutor assumes the governance of a diocese immediately upon the death or resignation of his predecessor without a ritual act, the substitute for an understudy’s installation – the Mass of Welcome – has been slated for 28 September in the picturesque Cathedral-Basilica of St Joseph (above), which was both restored and realigned to an "in the round" style in 1990.

With today's move creating an opening in Las Cruces, three Stateside Latin dioceses would've been vacant, but at 6.30am local time today, the death at 71 of Bishop Richard Garcia of Monterey after a three-month battle with Alzheimer's disease has made for a fourth.

Led in terms of size by Southern California's 1.1 million-member outpost in Fresno, another four US dioceses are led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age. As previously noted, however, even as the docket winds down for the Curia's summer hiatus, its top line remains the flood of auxiliaries gradually recasting the leadership of the nation's largest religious body for a generation and beyond.

SVILUPPO: At his local rollout in San Jose, Cantú noted the challenge and opportunity of ministry to young people in a hyper-secularized culture from the very outset... and with it, reflecting the said omnipresent influence of his new charge, terms like "Googled" and "iPad" were dropped as a matter of habit.

That the event was streamed over YouTube is just as resonant – it, too, is a product of Santa Clara County:

On a final note, the arrival of one of the USCCB's lead policy wonks only serves to bolster what's already the most active – and, arguably, influential – state bench in terms of public policy.

Driven largely by Gomez from the nation's largest diocese, the California Catholic Conference pushes a sprawling agenda in Sacramento, its priorities ranging from the standard pro-life and immigration angles to environmental issues and criminal-justice reform. Meanwhile, highlighting the demographic shift of the largest religious body in the largest state, for the first time, last month a Latino took the helm of the CCC as its executive director.

Until now LA's diocesan chief for government affairs with a prior stint at the USCCB, along the way Andy Rivas was likewise the church's chief lobbyist in Texas, where the faithful's historic ascendancy of recent years has seen an equally monumental uptick of Catholic advocacy in Austin – a trajectory now capped by the election of Lone Star Country's first governor from the pews since the days of Mexican rule.