With the Donald Trump presidency, we’re in a through-the-looking-glass moment in America, in which the previously implausible on multiple fronts has become the new normal. That includes the political profile of the U.S. Catholic bishops, and perhaps no one illustrates the point better than Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles.
On March 8, Archbishop Gomez was in Washington to speak to a symposium of the Napa Institute, which would generally be considered one of the leading forums for conservative Catholic thought in the country. His topic, however, was anything but a standard conservative canard: why immigration reform needs to happen now.
His bottom line was that comprehensive reform is long overdue, and he left little doubt that he doesn’t believe the moves of the Trump administration so far are coming anywhere close to accomplishing it.
If one knew nothing else about Archbishop Gomez, it might have been tempting to conclude that he’s a fairly typical center-left, peace-and-justice style Catholic, very much in keeping with the ethos of the Pope Francis era.
The comedy is that for most of his career, Archbishop Gomez actually has been known as a strong conservative.
In part, that’s because he’s a member of Opus Dei, a Catholic organization with a profile of being conservative both on matters of theology and secular politics, at one point serving as the group’s vicar in Texas. In part, too, it’s because he began his episcopal run as a protégé of Archbishop Charles Chaput, then of Denver and now of Philadelphia, who’s considered a hero by the conservative wing of the American church and something of a bête noir to liberals.
I recall vividly that when Archbishop Gomez was named the Archbishop of San Antonio in 2004, succeeding the charismatic Archbishop Patrick Flores, considered a hero on civil rights, there was fear among more progressive elements of the local church that Archbishop Gomez would lead some kind of purge. The same thing happened in 2010 when he was named to Los Angeles, following the more liberal Cardinal Roger Mahony.
There certainly were moments along the way that reinforced those impressions. In 2008, for instance, he went public with his unhappiness that St. Mary’s University in San Antonio was hosting Hillary Clinton, who at the time was on the campaign trail.
Here’s the thing: In some important ways, José H. Gomez is what most Americans would regard as a “conservative.” One of his points of emphasis over his bishops’ career has always been catechesis, believing that people need to be better educated in the basic principles of the faith. He’s mostly by-the-book when it comes to issues such as doctrine and liturgical practice, and he’s nobody’s idea of a wide-eyed reformer.
Yet he also believes deeply in the Church’s teaching on issues such as immigrants, refugees and the poor, and is fully supportive of Pope Francis’ leadership on those topics.
In other words, Archbishop Gomez illustrates a core insight about Catholic social teaching: It’s just not a good fit for the binary dynamics of American politics, and whether its exponents appear “conservative” or “liberal” generally has more to do with the questions being thrown up by the culture in any given moment than with what these people truly believe.
The good news is that Archbishop Gomez doesn’t appear terribly worried about whether he strikes people as leaning left or right. He’s forging ahead, flinging down a clear Catholic gauntlet in defense of America’s immigrant population.
Full story at Angelus.