In what will be largely perceived as a shot across the bow from the United States Catholic bishops to President-elect Donald Trump, Mexican-born Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles was elected as the new vice president of the body on Tuesday, putting him in line to lead the bishops three years from now.
Gomez was elected on a third ballot, which pitted him against Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, who had actually received more votes for the presidency on the first vote (30 against 15).
In keeping with tradition, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, until today vice-president of the USCCB, was chosen beforehand to replace Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky.
He won the voting in the first round, with 113 votes, three more than needed.
To be elected president of the bishops conference requires a simple majority (50 percent + one), which is one thing that makes it different, for instance, from electing a pope, which requires a two-thirds majority.
During the voting for the vice-president’s position, Gomez and Aymond had a clear lead among the nine candidates, who had been announced in October by the conference.
The first two times, the new vice-president was ahead, but didn’t reach the threshold needed.
DiNardo, who will take over from Kurtz by the end of this meeting, was born in 1949 and ordained a priest in 1977. He was appointed as archbishop of Galveston-Houston in 2006. A year later he was created a cardinal by Benedict XVI.
He is a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. In 2014, he was named by Pope Francis to serve in the newly established Council for the Economy.
Gomez, the first Mexican-born bishop to hold the vice-presidency of the USCCB, is a member of the conservative and somewhat white-collar Catholic group Opus Dei. He was ordained a priest in 1978, studied in Rome and did his early priestly ministry in Mexico.
He was transferred to become the Archbishop of San Antonio, Texas in the late 1980s, and became an American citizen in 1995. He began his episcopal ministry as an auxiliary bishop in Denver, under the guidance of Archbishop Charles Chaput, at the time leading that diocese.
After being transferred to Los Angeles, he took over from Cardinal Roger Mahoney.
Gómez is not only seen as doctrinally solid but basically non-ideological (he’s a CPA by training, and an emminently practical figure).
As a naturalized citizen himself, he also puts a face and voice on American Catholicism’s mushrooming Hispanic population and has long called for comprehensive immigration reform as a way of dealing with the challenge of more than 11 million undocumented migrants currently living in the United States.
Speaking Nov. 10 in both English and Spanish in Los Angeles, Gómez said it was “time to build unity and heal communities” and that people’s true identity was not as liberals or conservatives but as “children of God.”
Although he did not specifically name Donald Trump and his pledge to deport millions of migrants while building a wall to keep Mexicans out, Gómez said children since the election are scared. “They think the government is going to come and deport their parents, any day now.”
Gomez’s homily did not just highlight the fears of migrants since Trump’s election, but also the mass deportations that took place during President Barack Obama’s administration.
“Our immigration system has been broken for a long time,” he said. “Our leaders could have come together and solved this problem – at any time in the last 15-30 years.”
He added: “More than two million people have been deported in the last eight years. Nobody seems to care. Except that little girl who comes home at night — and she knows her father isn’t there anymore.”
Both DiNardo and Gómez are bishops in the American Southwest, and as such, have had the opportunity to work together on many occasions. It’s worth noting that Texas and California are the two states with the largest Hispanic populations in the country.
This was not only a great day for Gómez, but also for the entire Archdiocese of Los Angeles, since Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron, well known for his series Catholicism, was elected as the chair of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis.
The mood during the voting
The voting took place in a very relaxed atmosphere. Just to illustrate the point, when the names of the seven runner-ups for the vice-presidency had to be taken out for the third voting, someone called for “getting rid” of the extra names, to which Kurtz said: “[that’s] not a very elegant way of putting that!”
Monsignor Brian Bransfield, the conference’s secretary, directed the bishops in two rounds of practice voting, to guarantee that the system was both understood and functioning.
One of the practice votes was on the bishop’s intention to attend a reflection to be held on Thursday morning. Interestingly, “no” won, with 105 vote, against 75 on yes and 35 bishops saying they’re not sure yet.
Jokingly, Kurtz said: “Just so you know, you can change your attendance if you want to go from no to yes.”
Also on Tuesday morning, the bishops voted in favor of a 2017-2020 strategic plan, with a focus on evangelization, family and marriage, human life and dignity, and vocations and religious freedom.
The chairmen for the following committees were also chosen:
- Bishop Robert Deeley, of Portland, Maine, as chair of Canonical Affairs and Church Governance.
- Archbishop Timothy Brolgio, head of the military ordinariate, as International Justice and Peace Chair.
- Bishop Timothy Doherty, of Lafayette, for Protection of Children and Young Adults.
Also voted in were new members of the board of Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas humanitarian arm of the US bishops, and the creation of a permanent Subcommittee on the Church in Africa to replace a temporary one.