Roger M. Mahony, 49, the newly appointed archbishop of Los Angeles, oversees the largest Roman Catholic community in the United States. As the outspoken bishop of Stockton, he gained a national reputation for his role in formulating the bishops' widely debated pastoral letter condemning the nuclear arms race, in 1983, as well as the forthcoming pastoral on economic justice. This is his first interview since his appointment.
Q: What are the key social issues at the top of your agenda? A: The question of the homeless. The question of refugees. There are 350,000 refugees here from El Salvador alone. Then there is the whole question of the continuing arms race, particularly since our county is such an extraordinary leader in the development of armaments. Q: Not long ago, a bishop in Texas took the position that Catholics should not work in the defense industry. There's probably no bishop in the country who has more defense plants in his diocese than you. Have you given any thought to taking such a position? A: The bishop of the very small diocese of Amarillo, Tex., happened to have a major nuclear-weapons assembly plant located there. He really wasn't encouraging people to leave that work. He was encouraging Catholics who were employed there to re-examine their consciences. Should they be basing their livelihoods upon a plant whose sole purpose is the assembly of nuclear bombs?
He appealed to them to start thinking and praying about that and set up a fund, whereby the diocese would help them in retraining and relocating, if they would come to their personal conscience conclusion that . . . "Hey, I don't think I should be in this."
I admire him for doing that. Now, whether that is something we'd want to do here, I'm really not certain. We have a large military-industrial base here, about $15 billion a year, producing all forms of armament. I'm not so certain that we're at the point here of peace education to be able to suggest that. Maybe in the future we will be. Q: You speak of a Christian obligation to oppose the arms race. Yet others, including some evangelical Christians, claim that the Bible's Armageddon prophecies foretell a nuclear holocaust preceding the Second Coming. How do you view that? A: It's sad that people would seriously propose that for belief. I could take any event in our time, good or bad, and find something in Scripture that would support it, deny it, oppose it or whatever. For example, I could find Scripture passages that would portray a Bruce Springsteen concert as the moment before the Second Coming of Jesus. I think it's terribly deceptive to use theatrics and manipulation to play games with the Scriptures and with peoples' lives. I don't have a whole lot of patience with that kind of thing. But we see it all the time. Q: But it seems to have a great deal of appeal to people. A: Yes, it does, and I think it's part of people's inner need for signs and wonders. For example, if tomorrow morning I announced to the press that I had seen a vision on the garage door of the cathedral, we'd have 10,000 people out there within an hour or two. We'd have buses coming in from all over the West. There's that inner craving for visible signs and wonders, but Jesus calls us as Christians to a life of faith. And faith isn't faith if you've got the answer on a videocassette.