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Right turn on red hat?

9 April 2010

José Horacio Gómez Velasco was born 26 December 1951 in Monterrey.   Like a good regiomontaño (native of Monterrey) should, he went to Mass regularly and studied at TEC.  Unusual for a conservative, he transferred to  UNAM in the early 197os, obtaining degrees in accounting and philosophy without turning lefty, or even anti-clerical, let alone secular.   Instead, he pursued a doctorate in theological studies in Spain, and was ordained in 1978 by Austrian Primate Cardinal Franz König, one of the most progressive church leaders of the time.  What makes this so incongruous is that the new Father José was ordained as a member of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross.  In  common parlance, Opus Dei.

Without venturing into Dan Brown territory  Opus Dei is controversial, even in Latin America.  With its rituals rooted in the most ultra-montane forms of Spanish Catholicism, and a top down,  hierarchical structure demanding unquestioning obedience to ones superior, it gets a creepy reputation for secrecy.  The reputation is enhanced by the unusual structure of Opus Dei, which unlike other religious orders, is neither communal, nor do its members wear any identifiable garb.  It has conservative theological views, there is some controversy about its role in secular political affairs.  Having been founded, and prospered in Spain during the Franco era, and appealing to social conservatives and the wealthy to begin with, its members are more likely to be active in rightist politics than otherwise and to be prominent within rightist social movements.

In Latin America, where the more conservative (and sometimes creepy) traditions of the Spanish Church still linger, we are fairly used to Opus Dei priests and even Opus Dei bishops.  In the United States, a country with a more individualist tradition, Opus Dei is seen as it is in Dan Brown novels — a weird, shadowy and sinister movement.  Gómez, a resident of the United States since 1987 and a United States citizen since 1995, is the vicar of Opus Dei in Texas — a place also known for weird, shadowy and sinister movements of its own.

Gómez was elevated to the post of Bishop of San Antonio in 2004.  The previous Bishop, Patrick Flores, was something of a legend in Texas — having been a ranchero singer as a teenager, and come from migrant worker stock, he was beloved (not just by Catholics, and not just by Tejanos) for his common touch and avidity to work with all factions in the wider Texas community on issues of common concern.

Gómez — who as a Bishop cannot be a member of Opus Dei (whose members answer to the order’s superiors, while diocesan Bishops have to answer directly to the Pope) has not been a bishop in the Flores mode.  He immediately took the Diocese in a rightward direction, disbanding a Diocesan Commission that opposed a ban on same-sex marriage (as opposed to Raul Vega, the Bishop of Saltillo, supported Coahuila’s “civil union” bill) and threatening to cut funding to a Catholic University that had invited Hillary Clinton to give a speech, on the pretext that Mrs. Clinton (then a United States Senator and not a Catholic) did not oppose legal abortions.

Earlier this year, he was named Coadjutor Archbishop of Los Angeles.  This means, come next February when Cardinal Roger Mahoney turns 75,  Mexican born José Gómez will be the Archbishop of the largest Roman Catholic Diocese in the United States.  Normally, the Archbishop of Los Angeles is a Cardinal, and it is expected that Gómez will receive his red hat.

This will make for an interesting situation.  Gómez has closely worked with Cardinal Norberto Rivera, the Primate of Mexico City, for a number of years.  Both are extremely conservative in their theology and Rivera has been skirting the line on the very strict separation of Church and State in Mexico.  In the United States, where clerics can, and do, make political pronouncements, José Gómez will have a huge bully-pulpit (as well as a regular pulpit in the Cathedral, of course).  The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is overwhelmingly Mexican-American (who like other demographic groups in the United States are more regular church-goers and to heed their priests much more than Mexicans do) and should Gómez be seen as the “voice” of a sizable ethnic minority (as he was in Texas), could cause problems for progressive Latino groups.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is in serious financial trouble, as a result of court-ordered settlements stemming from lawsuits involving pedophile priests (one scandal dragging in Norberto Rivera, because the priest was bounced back and forth between Los Angeles and Mexico staying one step ahead of the law).  I suppose being an ex-Opus Dei Cardinal could have one advantage for Los Angeles.  The order is famous (or infamous) for its skills at fund-raising.  Maybe two advantages.  Sexual abuse among Opus Dei types seems to confine itself to opposite gender adults.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 9 April 2010 8:02 am

    We lived in San Antonio when Patrick Flores was archbishop and he was a wonderful man, a wonderful leader of the church. The mood in San Antonio was very much one of different religions talking to each other, doing things together for the good of the community. One sensed a compassionate church, very much aware of the problems of the poor. Catholic institutions were pretty liberal in a quiet way in things that mattered to families like birth control. The Cathedral was filled with music. I took a Spanish class at the Mexican-American Cultural Institute, a Catholic institution, and was deeply touched by the warmth and non-judgmental faith I found there. Pope Benedict’s mean-spiritedness is seeping into many places, and it is a terrible shame, especially at a time when it is more openness and love that is needed.

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