US bishops' conference elects first Hispanic vice president

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles smiles Nov. 15 after he was elected vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops during the annual fall general assembly of the USCCB in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
This article appears in the USCCB Fall 2016 feature series. View the full series.

Baltimore — Electing a president and vice president from regions with high immigrant populations, the U.S. bishops' conference could be seen to be doubling down on the pledge to stand with immigrants and refugees.

Meeting in Baltimore this morning for the fall annual meeting, the U.S. bishops elected Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Texas, to serve as president for the next three years and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles as vice president for a three-year term.

DiNardo's election was expected. He had been elected vice president three years ago, and by tradition the vice president is elected president. He won with 113 votes, 55 percent of votes cast, on the first ballot.

It took three votes to elect a vice president. Gomez had the plurality of votes in the first two ballots and won with a simple majority on the third ballot with 133 votes. Second place in the three votes was Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans.

Gomez, born in Mexico, is a naturalized U.S. citizen. He is the first Hispanic to be elected vice president of the conference, which will mark its 100th anniversary next year. If precedent holds, Gomez would, in three years, become the first Hispanic president of the bishops' conference.

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Yesterday, the bishops approved a statement directed to the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump that said, "We will work to promote humane policies that protect refugee and immigrants' inherent dignity, keep families together, and honor and respect the laws of this nation."

Building a wall on the U.S. southern border to control the flow of immigration and deporting people here without legal documents were major themes in Trump's campaign. As president-elect he reiterated those pledges, telling the news program "60 Minutes" Nov. 13 that he would immediately deport 2 million to 3 million undocumented immigrants who "have criminal records" after his inauguration next January.

Two days after Trump won the election, Gomez called for mercy and an end to deportations as he led religious leaders in an interfaith prayer service for peace, solidarity and unity at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

"In this country, we need to start building bridges and bringing people together," he said according to a report by Catholic News Service. "We need to reach out to those who are hurting. Now is the time to build unity and heal communities, through our love for our neighbor and our care for those in need. That's what tonight is about. Not politics. It's about people."

Gomez and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti organized the prayer service as a sign of unity and solidarity amid the uncertainty and fear that has followed the Nov. 8 elections. The archbishop drew particular attention to immigrant communities.

During his campaign, Trump vowed to undo what he called President Barack Obama's "overreaching" executive orders on immigration. In November 2014, Obama took executive action to implement a program for parents of citizen children — the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program, or DAPA — and to expand the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

At a press conference Monday, Nov. 14 in Baltimore, Gomez described the atmosphere in his archdiocese as "obviously of fear." People, he said, "are nervous. They don't know what to make of it [Trump's election]. It is a challenge for them."

Families, he said, are especially concerned that they will be split up. He also noted that while Los Angeles has a large of number of Latinos, many of whom immigrants, it also has a large number immigrants from a diverse number of countries, including China, the Philippines, and African nations.

Gomez said that he helped organize the prayer service on Nov. 10 "to give people a sign of hope."

During the meeting, the bishops also voted for new chairmen of five committees. A candidate needed at least 100 votes to be elected chair:

  • Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, Pa., was elected chair of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs with 115 votes.
  • Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles was elected chair of Evangelization and Catechesis with 122 votes.
  • Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services was elected chair of International Justice and Peace with 127 votes.
  • Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland, Maine, was elected chair of Canonical Affairs and Church Governance with 111 votes.
  • Bishop Timothy Doherty of Lafayette, Ind., was elected chair of Protection of Children and Young People with 128 votes.

Elected to the board of Catholic Relief Services, the international relief and development agency of the bishops' conference, were three members: Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, Bishop Gregory Parkes of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., and Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee.

Gomez was slated to assume chairmanship of the bishops’ Committee on Migration, a position he cannot hold as vice president. The bishops voted in the afternoon for a replacement and chose Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin as the new chairman. 

[Dennis Coday is NCR editor. His email address is dcoday@ncronline.org. Reports from Catholic News Service are included in this article.]


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