Pentecostal gap in that LATimes immigration reform story

There was an important interfaith gathering the other day in Los Angeles that allowed some highly symbolic religious leaders to make a faith-based appeal for immigration reform. As you would expect, The Los Angeles Times produced a short news story that focused on the basic facts.

The double-decker headline pronounced:

Local religious leaders unite for change in immigration law

Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders in Southern California hold vigil calling for a revamp in federal immigration laws.

As noted in the lede, the service attracted several of “Southern California’s most prominent religious leaders,” led by the local Catholic archbishop. The presence of a Catholic leader was par for the course, especially in this case:

Immigrants who are in the United States illegally “need mercy and they need justice,” said Archbishop Jose Gomez, welcoming an array of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders to the gathering at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

Gomez, who has made changing immigration laws a hallmark of his three-year tenure leading the L.A. Archdiocese, described the current system as “totally broken,” adding that federal laws punished families and children unfairly.

“These are human souls, not statistics,” the archbishop said. “These are children of God. We cannot be indifferent to their suffering.”

I appreciated the fact that the Times team candidly reported that hardly anyone was in the cathedral’s pews during this event. The actual phrase was “only a few dozen in attendance.”

The story also noted that it was important that leaders from “each of the three main Abrahamic traditions” were in attendance, instead the usually rally for Christians, alone. That is certainly a newsworthy point.

So what is missing in this short report?

Read the following material from the story quite closely and tell me who is missing. What is the major hole in this coalition, especially if the goal is to make a faith-based case for immigration reform in the context of modern-day Southern California and the lands to the South of the United States?

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LA Times offers a gentle, shallow Catholic health-care story

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I was encouraged, and a bit surprised, that the editorial team at The Los Angeles Times elected to cover the local White Mass honoring Catholics who work in health-care jobs, in Catholic hospitals and in other settings.

I was also happy, and surprised, that the story focused on the spiritual side of this story with several professionals talking about the degree to which it is natural to consider the needs of souls while attempting to heal the bodies of those who are suffering.

I was surprised, you see, that this story didn’t focus on some of the very real political conflicts that are currently threatening faith-based health institutions. Instead, the story offered — appropriately so — kind voices of pastoral experience that blended into the reporting like this:

An annual tradition since 2009, the event has outgrown several local churches that once hosted the mass. Sunday was the first time it was held at the cathedral.

“People think healthcare and God go together automatically, but work isn’t always a God-filled place,” said Kathleen Grelich, a physical therapist who attended the mass for the first time. “It’s nice to merge that here.”

Named for the white lab coats worn by many in the medical profession, the service is held around the Feast of St. Luke, the patron saint of healers. Archbishop José Gomez urged attendees to bring “God’s love and care to every person and patient” they meet to heal the body and spirit. He called healthcare professionals “apostles of love.” …

Worshipers, some wearing white coats, stood with their hands cupped in front of them while the Archbishop performed the “blessing of the hands” to pray for their strength, skill, sensitivity and steadiness.

So what is missing?

At first, I was happy that this story contained very little, if any, political content. However, the more I thought about that hole in the story the more troubled I became.

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What do conservatives really think about Cardinal Mahony?

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Yes, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles will be in Rome and will vote in the process to select the next pope. In fact, as part of his social-media campaign against his critics, he plans to tweet whenever and wherever Vatican officials will let him get his hands on a keyboard.

Meanwhile, I am still following, with great interest, the mainstream media’s attempts to describe Mahony’s starring role in the North American Church and, especially, his approach to Catholic life and doctrine, which has for decades made him a figure of some controversy. Click here, for some background information related to this topic, especially the contrasting personalities of Mahony and current Archbishop Jose H. Gomez.

Both supporters and critics of Mahony would agree that, to understand the cardinal’s legacy, one has to wrestle with the history of the giant Religious Education Conference held in Los Angeles. Simply stated, it has long been a symbolic gathering of the progressive leaders of American Catholicism.

Thus, The New York Times dispatched a team to cover this year’s event. Here is some summary material from the resulting report to set the stage:

… This is a defining moment for Archbishop Gomez, who took over from Cardinal Mahony two years ago and is universally described as low-key and quiet, particularly compared with his predecessor. His public rebuke of Cardinal Mahony stunned observers not only for its content, but because the normally mild-mannered archbishop would react so swiftly and dramatically. …

Now, many see this as a first turn in the spotlight for Archbishop Gomez. Cardinal Mahony was known for marching in public rallies, cultivating allies in politics and Hollywood and an almost larger-than-life public persona. By contrast, Archbishop Gomez has only rarely appeared in the press over the last two years. He declined to be interviewed for this article and his staff declined to allow a reporter into the Religious Education Congress without an escort.

Once again, Mahony is described merely in terms of style, while Gomez receives both a style nod and, later on, an accurate theological label.

But here is the passage in this lengthy story that caught my eye:

Many here questioned whether Archbishop Gomez, a theological conservative shaped by his membership in the movement Opus Dei, would move quickly to undo Cardinal Mahony’s more liberal policies, like appointing women and lay people to powerful positions and supporting a robust AIDS ministry. But two years after taking the reins, he is often praised for not acting along ideological lines and has made changes only slowly. Last year, for example, he changed the name of the Office of Justice and Peace to the Office of Life, Justice and Peace. …

For many, Cardinal Mahony has long been a lightning rod in the church. He has deep wells of respect among Latinos, largely because of his role as a champion for immigrants. But traditionalists resent him for his liberal stances.

Now the key to this story is that the Times never appears to have actually interviewed any conservative Catholics in order to learn why they considered Mahony to be a liberal in the church. Instead, as is often the case, readers are given that reference to his “appointing women and lay people to powerful positions and supporting a robust AIDS ministry.”

Well, that’s interesting.

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What are the real differences between Mahony and Gomez?

Guess what? There are significant differences in the theological approaches and doctrinal convictions of Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez and his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony.

So, what are they?

It’s hard to tell, in a fascinating Los Angeles Times story that goes way, way out its way to argue that the differences that really matter are rooted in style and, you guessed it, politics. You can tell that right up front in the content of the magisterial double-deck headline:

Gomez, Mahony are a study in contrasts

Where his predecessor led labor rallies and took up worker rights, earning the nickname ‘Hollywood’ from a pope, Gomez has quietly promoted conservative voices and evangelization.

Trust me, the contents of the story are way better, are way more complex, than that tone-deaf headline. However, I think that headline does show you where the newspaper’s editors were coming from when they approved work on this important news feature story.

The surprising bottom line, however, is that Gomez — whose roots are in Opus Dei — has not turned out to be a rampaging monster out to destroy Mahony’s work as one of the heroes of progressive American Catholicism. Part of this, yes, is a matter of style. Yet the story also hints that the bottom line is clear for those who have eyes to see: Mahony was a political animal who was always seeking the media spotlight; Gomez thinks the best way to achieve Catholic goals is to quietly use Catholic means, year after year after year.

Thus, readers are told, right up top:

In more than two decades leading the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Cardinal Roger Mahony headlined immigration rallies, marched for worker rights and made national news by announcing he would defy a congressional bill he regarded as anti-immigrant.

But the man who replaced him in 2011 — Archbishop Jose Gomez — has shied away from such attention-getting actions. Instead, he plans to take 60 conservative Catholic business leaders on a spiritual pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City this fall in hopes of winning them over on immigration reform.

It’s a distinctly different style from that of Mahony, whom Pope John Paul II nicknamed “Hollywood” for his frequent media appearances.

In other words, both men are highly committed to helping immigrants, a crucial issue in America’s largest Catholic archdiocese — 4.5 million Roman Catholics in 120 cities in Southern California, with Latinos as 70 percent of the faithful. However, Gomez appears to be reaching out to Catholic leaders on these issues through worship and Catholic education, perhaps with few television cameras nearby.

Still, I think that this passage does raise an interesting journalistic question: Did someone in the Gomez camp say that the goal of the trip to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe was “winning” these business leaders “over on immigration reform”? Would Gomez state the goal in political, rather than spiritual terms? It’s hard to tell, since Gomez did not consent to be interviewed, which may or may not tell readers something about his view of the Times.

I found this passage especially interesting:

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