It's good for both Archbishop Jose Gomez and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles that the new shepherd and his flock are embarking on a getting-acquainted period that will last almost a year. Instead of abruptly replacing Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, Gomez, a native of Mexico who is now the archbishop of San Antonio, will serve as the cardinal's coadjutor -- ecclesiastical parlance for being in the on-deck spot -- and will thus have the opportunity to learn from the man who has defined Southern California Catholicism for 25 years.
It will be an instructive apprenticeship. Along with some low points -- notably the archdiocese's settlement of shocking sex abuse claims -- the cardinal's tenure has been marked by a defense of the rights of the poor and immigrants, an ecumenical attentiveness to the entire community, and a pitch-perfect understanding that persuasion can be as effective in spreading the Gospel as bluster or bullying.
Of course, Gomez will be his own man, and he will bring different life experiences to the archbishop's position, including his Latino heritage and his membership in Opus Dei, a conservative Roman Catholic fellowship known for its emphasis on self-denial. One question is whether this appointment signals a more confrontational style of leadership. For example, Mahony has refrained from joining some conservative bishops in calling on pro-choice Catholic politicians not to take Holy Communion. It would be comforting if Gomez emulated his predecessor's circumspection.
We certainly hope there will be continuity between Mahony and Gomez on the church's role in defending immigrants. Mahony said Tuesday that Gomez, who has worked extensively with priests serving Spanish-speaking communities, "has helped motivate many people to advocate for our immigrants." Gomez has been elected chair of the Committee on Migrants and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which supports humane immigration reform. It's fitting that such a position would be occupied by the leader of L.A.'s 5 million Catholics, 70% of whom are Latino. As with so many trends, Los Angeles is in the vanguard of the multiculturalization of the U.S. church.
Between now and Feb. 27, 2011, when he takes over from Mahony, we look forward to getting to know Gomez. In his new role he will preside over not just cloisters and chapels but an ambitious system of social services from which the entire community benefits. And when it comes to preaching a gospel of greater inclusiveness, it's hard to imagine a more powerful pulpit than the one occupied by the Roman Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles.