Catholic bishops, in Baltimore, elect advocates for immigrants
The nation’s Catholic bishops embraced both tradition and change Tuesday when they elected as their top officials a pair of prelates who lead two of the most diverse — and most heavily Hispanic — archdioceses in the United States.
More than 200 voting members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in Baltimore this week for their annual fall assembly, elected Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo their president and Archbishop Jose H. Gomez their vice president.
DiNardo is archbishop of GalvestonHouston, Texas, which has 1.6 million members, about 50 percent of them Hispanic. Gomez is archbishop of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest Catholic diocese with 5 million members, more than 70 percent of them Hispanic.
The election of DiNardo, known for his background as a parish priest in southwestern Pennsylvania, his participation in numerous committees and his fluency in multiple languages, came as no surprise. As current vice president of the conference, he was considered a lock for the top job, and he captured enough votes on the first ballot — 113 — to gain the required simple majority.
The choice of Gomez, 65, a native of Mexico who is known as a gentle pastor and advocate for immigrants to the United States — here with legal documentation or otherwise — was less predictable.
After two votes failed to yield a simple majority for any candidate, he squared off against Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans — seen as a more middle-ofthe-road choice — and won the office by 24 votes, 105-81.
DiNardo’s election is in keeping with long-standing tradition: Since 1956, every vice president but one who stood for election was elevated to president. He’ll begin a three-year term when the assembly adjourns Thursday.
Hispanics have long been the fastestgrowing segment of the Catholic Church in the United States — at 30.5 million, they constitute about 44 percent of the church’s members.
The bishops are weighing their options as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to assume power in January.
Trump’s promises to deport 2 million to 3 million immigrants who are in the country without legal documentation and have committed crimes, build a wall along the southern border and bar Muslims from entering the United States will likely place him on a collision course with the church. The bishops have made clear they view refugees and immigrants from a pastoral, not a political, perspective, welcoming them as a matter of religious duty.
Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori saw the elections of DiNardo and Gomez as “very significant.”
“We’re recognizing the growing Hispanic presence and influence in the church, and I’m very pleased that we’re embracing and acknowledging our future,” Lori said.
“Are we also saying to the incoming administration that we’re concerned about the plights of immigrants and refugees? You bet.”
Lori said he and most of his fellow bishops were as surprised as anyone at Trump’s victory last week, and questions about his policies have been a major theme at the assembly.
DiNardo and Gomez sat side by side at a news conference after their election Tuesday. Because Trump has never held office, they said, they were uncertain how to engage the new administration on issues important to the church.
Both advocated prayer to help heal a church that was as divided as the general electorate by the rancorous presidential campaign.