Cardinal Roger Mahony turned 75 on Sunday and, as church rules dictate, he turned over the reins of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, a flock of some 5 million that he has overseen for 25 years, to Archbishop Jose Gomez.
Gomez and Mahony presided jointly over symbolic ceremonies of transition of the day at downtown’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels during Masses celebrated in English and Spanish.
Gomez, 59, who was born in Mexico, became an American citizen while serving the Roman Catholic Church in Texas as a priest for the conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei, a group he says he no longer associates with.
He arrived in Los Angeles from San Antonio in May.
Gomez is the first archbishop of Mexican descent to head a North American archdiocese, though many of his flock have roots in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries.
In the ceremony following Mahony’s final homily as archbishop, the cardinal’s coat of arms was removed from above the archbishop’s chair, and Gomez’s was installed in its place.
Mahony then escorted the new leader to the throne and gave him his pastoral staff, the symbol of his role as chief shepherd of more than 5 million Catholics—of which about 70 percent are Hispanic—in the archdiocese’s coverage area of Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. It ranks as the nation’s most populous.
Mahony rose to bishop in Stockton in 1980 and was named archbishop of Los Angeles in 1985, becoming the first native Angeleno to hold the office. He was elevated to cardinal by Pope John Paul II on June 28, 1991.
After the church’s seat—the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana—was damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, Mahony spearheaded the construction of Our Lady of the Angels, which was dedicated on Sept. 2, 2002.
Gomez was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and studied accounting there before receiving a doctorate in theology at the University of Navarra in Spain.
He was the priest in residence at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in San Antonio from 1987 to 1999. As the archbishop in San Antonio, Gomez helped establish the Hispanic Seminary of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, which opened in 2000.
In 2001 he was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Denver. He also organized Denver’s Centro San Juan Diego for Family and Pastoral Care, a place for formation of lay leaders and a base to provide welcoming services to immigrants.
Although he championed social justice and Latino immigrant rights, Mahony’s legacy is tarnished by the sexual abuse scandal involving more than 500 victims and a record $660 million settlement. He also was accused of failing to report abusive priests to civil authorities and keeping them employed in parishes without informing parishioners.
Mahony will remain a cardinal for life. As such, he is among about 200 cardinals who, as a body, act somewhat like a congress for the Vatican, electing popes among other things.
When Gomez takes over he will become one of the most influential voices in Catholicism in North America. He currently serves as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, and has spoken in favor of immigration reform.
In a recent interview, Gomez said he would be an agent of continuity, not change. He said his highest priorities are evangelizing new Catholics and training additional priests. He supports efforts to give lay leaders a stronger role in the church.