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L.A. after Mahony

The archbishop left his mark on the city. What will his successor's vision be?

March 03, 2011

Cardinal Roger Mahony stepped down this week from his position as archbishop of Los Angeles, ending a consequential 25-year tenure that has transformed the place of the archdiocese in the civic life of Southern California.

His reach has been wide and profound. He invigorated Los Angeles' immigrant communities and stitched them into the fabric of his church. He stood fast on principle, from his opposition to abortion and the death penalty to his ardent support for farmworkers, organized labor and a living wage. He counseled mayors and titans of industry. He built a great cathedral. And yes, he squandered a portion of his reputation — and the Roman Catholic Church's — in the abominable sex-abuse scandal. His role in shuffling some priests accused of abuse and his penchant for secrecy in those matters deprived both victims and the public of a full accounting of the clergy's crimes.

Mahony leaves a parish that is interwoven in every respect with the cultural, social and political life of Los Angeles. Now Archbishop Jose Gomez has the opportunity to deepen and extend the work of his predecessor. He confronts a city of bewildering complexity, where immigrants from Korea and Vietnam imagine their faiths and place in America in vastly different ways than those from El Salvador or Guatemala. His own background in the conservative Catholic order known as Opus Dei causes him to be viewed with wariness by the liberal base of his new constituency. Mahony has graciously welcomed his successor. Gomez's parishioners are eager for him to express his vision, and Los Angeles awaits his influence.

This is not a Catholic city, any more than it was a Protestant city in the early 20th century when a shrewd, ruthless Protestant business oligarchy — centered at this newspaper — led its transformation from a Mexican pueblo to a modern American metropolis. It is today a profoundly fractured city, one in search of leaders who are willing to articulate a uniting and constructive purpose, spiritual or civic.

Just last week, Mahony served as the host for the funeral of L.A. Firefighter Glenn Allen. Allen was a Protestant, but his funeral was held at the cathedral Mahony built. There — in the presence of a Jesuit governor, a Catholic mayor who's been divorced and favors abortion rights, Protestant and Jewish members of the City Council and state Assembly, leaders of business and philanthropy, and thousands of firefighters and members of the public of disparate faiths — Mahony welcomed all to what he calls a "sacred space for all Los Angeles."

That space, literal and figurative, is our departing archbishop's gift to his city. As Roger Mahony leaves his post, Jose Gomez embarks on a mission of promise and potential.

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