BALTIMORE — Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles, an immigrant from Mexico, pledged to push for a more welcoming immigration system after winning election Tuesday as the first Hispanic to head the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“I’m humbled by your support,” said Gómez, whose predominantly Hispanic archdiocese of 4 million Catholics is the largest in the U.S. “I think it is a blessing for the Latino community.”
The issue of immigration is personal to Gómez, who has relatives and friends on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. He described the situation at the border as a “tragedy” and said he witnessed the “suffering of the people there” during visits to south Texas cities last year.
“It’s an essential cause,” he said of overhauling immigration policy.
Gómez, 67, has been vice president of the bishops’ conference for the past three years. He is considered a practical-minded conservative in terms of church doctrine but has made clear his disappointment over key immigration-control policies adopted by the Trump administration.
He said he was praying for a favorable outcome from the U.S. Supreme Court after it heard arguments Tuesday on whether the administration could end a program that allows some immigrants to work legally in the U.S. while protecting them from deportation. Gómez and other bishops want the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to be extended.
“Archbishop Gomez is a quiet pastor with a powerful voice for immigrants,” tweeted John Gehring, Catholic program director at a Washington-based clergy network called Faith in Public Life. “The first Latino to lead Catholic bishops at a time when the Trump administration is attacking immigrants won’t be afraid to call out racism and nativism.”
Gómez succeeds Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, whose three-year presidency was complicated by the church’s clergy sex-abuse crisis.
Following the election of Gómez, the bishops chose Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron, 71, as the new vice president.Gomez was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and studied theology at the University of Navarra in Spain. He was ordained an Opus Dei priest in 1978 and worked in the Galveston-Houston area and in Denver before being named archbishop of San Antonio in 2004. He became archbishop of Los Angeles in 2011.