Reporting from London and Rome — Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday named a Texas archbishop to take over the archdiocese of Los Angeles after Cardinal Roger Mahony's expected retirement next year.
The pontiff appointed Jose Gomez as co-adjutor archbishop of Los Angeles, an assisting position that essentially puts him first in line to succeed Mahony, who reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75 for bishops next February.
Gomez is currently archbishop of San Antonio, a post he took up five years ago, during the last few months of John Paul II's papacy. Gomez, 58, is also a member of Opus Dei, the controversial group favored by John Paul II for its conservative teachings.
The selection of Gomez was apparently a nod to the demographics of Los Angeles, where Latinos form a large part of the overall population and especially of the region's Roman Catholics. Gomez was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and speaks fluent Spanish.
His appointment comes as the Vatican struggles to contain the biggest crisis so far of Benedict's papacy, an upwelling of complaints of physical and sexual abuse by priests across Europe.
The scandal mirrors an earlier one in the U.S., which has roiled the L.A. archdiocese and Mahony's tenure as archbishop. Three years ago, Mahony agreed to a record $660-million legal settlement with more than 500 alleged victims of clerical abuse.
The archdiocese's handling of abuse cases is also the subject of an ongoing investigation by a federal grand jury.
Mahony has served as head of the archdiocese for 25 years. In 1991, he was elevated to cardinal, a promotion that probably also awaits Gomez after, as expected, he takes over from Mahony at the top of the biggest Catholic archdiocese in the U.S.
"I welcome Archbishop Gomez to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles with enthusiasm and personal excitement," Mahony said in a statement posted on the archdiocese's website.
The cardinal is expected to introduce Gomez at a news conference at the L.A. cathedral Tuesday morning, and a welcoming Mass for the new co-adjutor bishop is scheduled for May 26.
Gomez became a priest at 26, and was appointed as an auxiliary bishop in Denver in 2001. He moved four years later to the archdiocese of San Antonio, which covers a population of 2 million, about one-third of whom are Catholics.
The Los Angeles archdiocese is home to more than five times as many people, of whom Catholics make up about 39%.