Big red hat for a Latino?

Bishop Jose H. Gomez, ordained by Opus Dei, a conservative Catholic organization favored by the Vatican, was named to lead a predominantly Hispanic archdiocese. The pope chose Gomez to succeed a retiring 25-year archbishop seen in many ways as a legend among progressives — but also a prelate who faced scrutiny over his handling of clergy sexual abuse cases and questions over what some critics labeled his shaky moral theology.

I am referring, of course, to what happened five years ago when Gomez succeeded San Antonio Archbishop Patrick Flores, the nation’s first Mexican-American bishop, who spent a quarter-century as spiritual leader for the Alamo City’s roughly 700,000 Roman Catholics.

But I just as easily could be talking about Tuesday’s news: Pope Benedict XVI tapped Gomez, a Mexican-born archbishop who could become the first Latino cardinal in the U.S., as coadjutor for Los Angeles. That puts him in line to follow Cardinal Roger Mahony, the current archbishop for L.A.’s 4.3 million Catholics, when Mahony retires next February.

Gomez’s appointment in Los Angeles — “the biggest prize in the American church,” according to a blogger quoted by the Los Angeles Times — is big news. I haven’t had time to read all the coverage, but what I have seen in the Times – L.A. and New York versions — as well as The Associated Press and San Antonio Express-News seems to focus on the three key themes named above:

1. The significance of Gomez’s appointment to Hispanic church members, who make up more than one-third of the 65 million Catholics in the United States. AP described it as “the Holy See’s most significant acknowledgment to date of the growing importance of Latinos in the American church.”

2. Gomez’s ties to Opus Dei and his strong defense of traditional Catholic doctrine (the L.A. Times reported that he “adheres to Benedict’s traditional notions about Catholic theology.” Notions? Hmmm, doesn’t seem like quite the right word when referring to the pope).

3. The clergy sexual abuse scandal. All the stories I have read note that Mahony agreed in 2007 to a record-setting $660 million settlement with more than 500 alleged victims of abuse. Most of the stories also quote victims’ advocates in San Antonio alleging that Gomez himself has mishandled abuse cases there.

The L.A. Times put it this way:

Critics, largely from the community of Catholic sex abuse victims, said Gomez had been overly lenient with several priests accused of sexual abuse in San Antonio.

“With Gomez, the pope is promoting a bishop with a troubling record of recent secrecy and risk regarding child safety,” said Barbara Garcia Boehland of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. “If the pope is trying to convince us he’s ‘tough’ on abuse, he’s shooting himself in the foot by elevating Gomez.”

The N.Y. Times had this:

At his first news conference as the archbishop-designate, at the city’s modern downtown Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Tuesday, Archbishop Gomez did not seem eager to engage repeated questions, many in Spanish, about the scandal, its impact on Catholics and accusations made by victims’ advocacy groups that he mishandled abusive priests in his former archdiocese.

And the Express-News included this:

Gomez said he’ll seek input from Mahony, but he plans to provide protections and help for victims of sex abuse by priests.

Two representatives of a local victims group protested outside the chancery Tuesday and warned Gomez would follow the company line in Los Angeles.

“If the pope is trying to convince us he’s ‘tough’ on abuse, he’s shooting himself in the foot by elevating Gomez,” said Barbara Garcia Boehland, local chapter president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Such claims against Gomez interest me because I covered his appointment as San Antonio archbishop. Shortly before leaving AP in 2005, I traveled to San Antonio and interviewed Gomez. I spent time with him driving around San Antonio and accompanied him to a couple of Masses where he introduced himself to parishioners. One story I wrote noted his predecessor’s troubles with the abuse scandal:

But Flores’ tenure was sometimes rocky.

His handling of clergy sexual abuse cases drew criticism from some victims’ relatives. Flores apologized for not doing more in the past to protect children against abuse from clergy members, but critics said he did not show enough compassion.

In other words, Gomez started his work in San Antonio with a fresh slate and, one would presume, full knowledge of past problems. He began his tenure as archbishop after the Boston Globe investigation on clergy abuse that won a Pulitzer Prize, after the bishops’ big 2002 meeting in Dallas that addressed sex abuse and after the statute of limitations ran out on claiming ignorance as a defense for mishandling abuse cases.

So if indeed Gomez has a poor record on dealing with abuse cases in San Antonio, then that is big news that needs to be reported fully. However, none of the stories I read contained any concrete facts or detailed explanations concerning cases in which Gomez has been involved. These charges certainly seem to merit further examination by reporters to determine the true facts.

There is undoubtedly much more that could — and should — be said about the coverage of Gomez’s appointment, but that’s my quick take and I’ll leave it at that for now. If you want to take shots at him, please provide URLs to the mainstream sources of your information.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • http://bullschuck.blogspot.com Bull

    Please note that the quote above from Barbara Garcia Boehland is actually from a SNAP press release.
    SNAP is, as always, a protest organization. Not to demean victims or to say that SNAP doesn’t speak truth upon occasion, but they only exist as long as they have something to protest, meaning that they are perpetually OUTRAGED!!!
    They actually mention two persons (a priest and a brother) in the press release that Archbishop Gomez is “keeping silent” about.

  • http://bullschuck.blogspot.com Bull

    Above comment is journalistically related in how reporters get their quotes and who their sources are. SNAP Press Release, not “protester on the Chancery lawn”.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    It does raise the question, especially since the L.A. Times and the Express-News use the same quote: Should the story indicate that the quote came from a press release?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Bobby:

    YES, they should.

    BTW folks, the only coverage of this major story in DC today is by one of my WJC students, a California Baptist University scribe who is an intern with the religion and culture desk at the Washington Times. Spanish is her first language, too.

    Check it out:

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/apr/07/hispanic-opus-dei-archbishop-named-for-la/

    By Monica Martinez

    Pope Benedict XVI, increasingly under fire in the Catholic Church’s sex-abuse scandal, has appointed Archbishop Jose Gomez to replace Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, putting Archbishop Gomez in line to become the nation’s first Hispanic cardinal.

    When he takes over America’s largest Catholic archdiocese next year, Archbishop Gomez also will become the first U.S. bishop to be a member of Opus Dei, the traditional-leaning movement for which Pope John Paul II took personal oversight. He also will replace one of the American churchmen hardest hit by the sex-abuse scandal.

  • dalea

    If the concern here is to survey press reaction to an event, it should be noted that in Los Angeles La Opinion and Hoy have a substantial readership, particularly among Catholics. At my local seafood market, I counted 7 different Tagalog publications, also a source of news for Catholics. In Los Angeles, the MSM is not mono-lingual which is an issue GR should address. It seems to me that the coverage on Univision and GALA would be more important than anything the LA Times does in reaching a Catholic population that is 70% Spanish speaking.

  • Peter

    The WP had at least three stories from the AP in its On Faith section, plus a blog post by Boorstein. It’s interesting that the WT story–largely culled from wire reports–left out any mention of criticism of Gomes.

  • MikeL

    Pope Benedict XVI, increasingly under fire in the Catholic Church’s sex-abuse scandal…

    That’s become a self-perpetuating phrase.

    Interesting side-note:

    Rome, Italy, Apr 6, 2010 / 05:52 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The influential Italian political newspaper Il Foglio published an article today criticizing the New York Times for relying on a computer-generated translation from Italian to English of important responses from the Vatican to a sex abuse case. The failure to translate led the American newspaper to argue that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was protecting a sexually abusive priest from Milwaukee…“Behind the accusations,” says Il Foglio’s senior writer Paolo Rodari, “there is a gross translation mistake.”

    Il Foglio notes that the NYT story provides links to both the English and Italian version of the 1998 meeting, “but it omits to say one thing: the English version is a grossly distorted translation of the Italian, made with ‘Yahoo translator,’ a translation that the Vicar of the diocese, Thomas Brundage, sent to his authority, Bishop Fliss, to help him understand the Italian,” the Italian political paper explains.

    According to Il Foglio, Fr. Brundage warned in his letter that “It is a very rough translation and the computer certainly cannot distinguish some of the peculiarities of canon law.”

    full article: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/italian_political_paper_ny_times_needs_consultants_more_than_vatican_does/

  • http://www.opinionatedcatholic.blogspot.com jh

    I am sad to say the SNAP release was veyr misleading. I am and another blogger detailed a lot of this yesterday

    He writes better but he has the details with lots of news links
    http://www.thesacredpage.com/2010/04/archbishop-gomez-did-not-cover-anything.html

    It appears to me he operatly properly

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    jh, Thanks for the link. Interesting.

  • Brian Walden

    I was just about to post the same link as jh. I’m growing tired of the media’s throw up anything you can find and see what sticks approach to sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

  • http://www.pilgrimage.subcreators.com Lori Pieper

    MikeL, thanks for the great info. The press itself is finally starting to look into the Times reporting and is finding out how flawed it is.

    I know I’ve posted this before, but here is a link to a complete and accurate translation of the original Italian of that memo from the meeting between the CDF and the bishops in the Murphy case:

    http://subcreators.com/blog/2010/04/01/what-really-happened-at-the-cdf/

    It explains a great deal. Also, don’t miss the link to Jimmy Akin’s detailed article.

  • Passing By

    All this fuss over his ethnicity is interesting, seems rather over-blown. In Texas, nearly half of the dioceses (7 of 15) in Texas are headed by hispanic bishops and a couple of others have had hispanic ordinaries in the past. I’ll bet this is fairly true across the southwest, although until Bp.Vásquez went from auxiliary in Houston to ordinary in Austin, it was the smaller dioceses headed by hispanic men.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    The N.Y. Times noted:

    There are 28 Hispanic bishops active in the United States, making up only 9 percent of the bishops, although Hispanics make up more than 35 percent of all American Catholics, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

    The focus on his ethnicity seems appropriate to me, especially given the fact that he would be the first Latino cardinal in the U.S.

    The Texas stats you cited are interesting (source?). As of 2005, there were only nine Hispanic bishops heading dioceses nationwide (the rest served as auxiliary bishops). I did a bit of Googling but didn’t quickly find any current stats.

  • Martha

    So what exactly does overly lenient with those accused mean? That he didn’t investigate at all, that he actively stifled investigation, or that his punishments were not as harsh as the advocacy group wanted?

    There is a difference between ‘he did nothing about proven abusers’ and ‘he only gave mild censure to someone accused and still being investigated’.

    Are those investigations ongoing? Are the accused indeed guilty?

  • Passing By

    Bobby -

    My source is

    http://www.catholic-hierarchy.org/

    I made the count by surname. Here’s my list:

    Lubbock – Rodriquez
    San Antonio – Gomez
    El Paso – Ochoa
    Laredo – Tamaya
    Austin – Vasquez
    Brownsville – Flores
    Tyler – Corrada del Rio

    Actually, Catholic Hierarchy already had Gomez moved to LA, but I counted him. It’s likely his successor will be hispanic, although not a done deal. Central Texas has a significant German-American population.

    My viewpoint might be skewed since I live in an area where bi-lingual signs have Spanish first. :-) It’s just not a big deal. The Opus Dei connection is much more interesting to me.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Thanks, Passing By. Appreciate the information.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    From today’s L.A. Times:

    A teenage boy from west Texas filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging that a priest in the diocese under incoming Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez sexually assaulted him repeatedly and that Gomez should have known that the priest was an abuser.

  • Passing By

    Wouldn’t it have been nice for the reporter to tell us why Abp. Gomez should have known.

    What we do learn, down in the article is that the archdiocese knew of an investigation for “interference in the custody of a minor” (that could involve rescuing a child from abuse). We also learned that the archbishop suspended the accused priest and had his parishes informed of the allegations. We also learn that 3 other cases being charged to the archbishop came from long before his tenure.

    What we never learn is why the archbishop should have known Fr. Fiala was a risk.

    Finally, someone who rapes with a gun is not likely to have one victim. If Fiala is guilty, he certainly has other victims and a trail. Can’t someone find it?


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