ROME – Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, believes that the two-year synodal process launched by Pope Francis last weekend is a “good opportunity” for the universal Church.
Speaking with Crux on Tuesday, a day after the leadership of the USCCB met with Francis in the Vatican, Gomez also spoke about the bishops, saying that “the perception that the American bishops are not united is not correct,” and even if each prelate has an opinion, “as they do anywhere in the world,” that doesn’t change the fact that what the conference wants is “for Catholics to know the Catholic faith better and to practice it better.”
Though no names were named, the prelate also referred to the “political situation” that could spread the idea that “you don’t have to be well-prepared to receive Communion,” in a clear reference to a series of pro-choice politicians who are also Communion-receiving Catholics, such as President Joe Biden.
Yet, he said, the strategic plan of the USCCB for the years 2021-2024 was always going to be centered on the Eucharist – even if Donald Trump had won the election in late 2020.
“On the Communion issue, the reality is that what we want is to better educate Catholics: There are statistics that say – I don’t know how reliable they are – that 70 percent of Catholics in the United States do not believe in the real presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist,” Gomez said. “Clearly, this is of concern to us. That’s why the centerpiece of our strategic plan for the next three years, 2021-2024.”
The goal is to close the process with a National Eucharistic Congress in 2024.
“With this in mind, we need a document on the Eucharist to give the doctrinal and pastoral foundation,” he said. “What happened is for the media, especially the secular media, it’s all about the political issue. But what we are trying to do is to give a foundation to the strategic plan of the conference.”
Crux: What brought you to Rome this time around?
Gomez: Every year the president and the VP of the conference comes to Rome to have an audience with the Holy Father and also visit with the congregations. Last year we couldn’t make it because of COVID-19.
How are those meetings going?
Great. The timing was good, because I was able to be at the opening Mass for the Synod on Sunday, and I also attended the gathering on Saturday for the launching of the Synodal process, organized by the office of the Synod of bishops.
What did you think about the opening of the Synod process?
I think it’s a good opportunity for the universal Church, especially after COVID-19, where we’ve faced so many challenges. In the United States, for instance, we had to close all the parishes, and they’ve only been opening little by little. I think it’s a great opportunity to reach out to people and help them to understand that we are all called to be active members of the Church.
In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, we also have the blessing of having our Jubilee year this year, because we have the 250th anniversary of the foundation of the first Church in Los Angeles, Mission San Gabriel. I think the combination of these two is good, because as a part of the Jubilee year we have Jubilee parishes in the five regions of the archdiocese.
You mentioned the Jubilee parishes, but how do you see the Synod process taking place at the parish/diocesan level?
In the United States there’s a structure that means that every diocese has a diocesan parish council, every region in the diocese has a region council, and every parish, its own council. This specific mission of the synod allows us to energize the councils, and through them, we can also reach out to many people.
For us, how to do the synod is probably easier than for other parts of the world, because we have a structure set up that will allow us to reach out to many people. And in addition, several dioceses in the United States have had synods recently, with several bishops sharing this experience with me.
It’s a process familiar to many in the United States, and I believe that, seeing how the reality has changed, including the fact that families are having less children, we have less immigrants coming to the United States and the tragedy of abortion. In this sense the number of people coming to Church are diminishing, and also because of COVID-19, because they are afraid, they think they might get sick and have second thoughts about going. And then statistics tell us young people are not too interesting in Church.
These are all reasons why we need to be open and excited about the synod, because it gives us an opportunity to be out there.
When you say people should get involved or be engaged by the Synod, how do you see that happening?
I think that a good way to think about it is the sub-header of the Synod: Community, participation and mission. This is a good way of understanding what the Synod is all about. And we need to remember that the Church is not just the priests of the bishops, but the People of God, so I think this Synod gives s an opportunity to share with each other, because we are all called to holiness. I think that historically, some have had the impression that the Church are the bishops and the priests, but no, we all are. Everything starts with the baptism, and it’s the same one for everybody.
I think that’s what synodality is about, understanding better our Christian call to holiness and feeling the responsibility to participate in the life of the Church, and hopefully, as a consequence of that, we’ll be able to, as our Holy Father says, be missionary disciples.
What keeps Archbishop Gomez up at night?
Many things! Age …
How much have you aged in the past years?
How can I say this in a nice way … It this time of the pandemic it was more difficult to exercise, and well, I’m losing my energy. But Los Angeles is the largest archdiocese in the country, and as you know, my brother bishops elected me president of the conference, so that’s more responsibility. But I sleep well…
So, you’re not going to answer the question?
What worries me, obviously, is the fact that people don’t feel connected to the Church, especially young people, reason why we started several events for young people, like Youth Day in the Religious Education Congress, we have a yearly youth gathering called City of Saints, and we also have the Christian Service for Life, and we’re currently working in Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese, because we have over 70,000 children in Catholic Schools and we’re trying to strengthen their religious education program. This is a big worry that I have, that young people don’t feel connected with the Church.
Is it accurate to speak of a divided USCCB?
The perception that the American bishops are not united is not correct. Bishops always have opinions, as they do anywhere in the world. But it is clear that what we want is for Catholics to know the Catholic faith better and to practice it better.
On the Communion issue, the reality is that what we want is to better educate Catholics: There are statistics that say – I don’t know how reliable they are – but they say that 70 percent of Catholics in the United States do not believe in the real presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Clearly, this is of concern to us. That’s why the centerpiece of our strategic plan for the next three years, 2021-2024, is “Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope.” That’s why we have a program called Eucharistic revival, which is going to start in parishes and dioceses and culminate in a National Eucharistic Congress, tentatively in the summer of 2024, somewhere at the central part of the country.
With this in mind, we need a document on the Eucharist to give the doctrinal and pastoral foundation. What happened is for the media, especially the secular media, it’s all about the political issue. But what we are trying to do is to give a foundation to the strategic plan of the conference.
You mean this plan and a document would still have been on the agenda if [President Donald] Trump was reelected?
That’s correct. This was the plan. What happens is, obviously, there is concern among the bishops in the United States that, because of the political situation, the idea that you don’t have to be well-prepared to receive communion could propagate.
But there is also the reality in the United States that the need to approach the sacrament of reconciliation has been lost. And this is very important and is going to be in the document.
Given the priority towards the sacrament of reconciliation, immigration, the intrinsic value of life, where did the supposed division between the U.S. bishops and Pope Francis come from?
I think it’s a misconception, because we bishops are very happy with Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si’, and the teachings of Pope Francis. Sure, there are different perceptions of people, the American culture is more structured, so maybe sometimes it’s part of the perception, but the reality is that the bishops are united with each other, and united with the Holy Father.