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Pope names Mexican-born Gomez to take over in LA

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[April 20, 2010]  VATICAN CITY (AP) -- The pope on Tuesday named Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio, Texas, to take over the Los Angeles archdiocese when its current archbishop retires.

HardwareThe appointment of the Mexican-born Gomez as coadjutor for Los Angeles puts him in line to become the highest-ranking Latino in the American Catholic hierarchy and the first Latino Cardinal in the U.S.

Gomez, 58, is a priest of the conservative Opus Dei order.

Cardinal Roger Mahony, who has been dogged by the clergy abuse scandal during his quarter-century tenure in Los Angeles, turns 75 next February. Under church rules, bishops submit their resignation at age 75.

Pope Benedict XVI can decide whether to keep him on the job longer. But the appointment of Gomez as coadjutor indicates Benedict wanted a smooth transition to a new leader for the nation's largest diocese.

Gomez will have to oversee the fallout from the abuse scandal that came to light during Mahony's tenure.

In 2007, Mahony agreed to a record-setting $660 million settlement with more than 500 alleged victims of clergy abuse.

A federal grand jury is also investigating how the Archdiocese of Los Angeles handled claims of abuse, and has subpoenaed several witnesses, including a former Los Angeles priest convicted of child molestation and a monsignor who served as vicar for clergy under Mahony.

Mahony's attorney has said the cardinal, the longest-serving U.S. cardinal since the Second Vatican Council, is not a target of the investigation.

Mahony said he and his bishops would work closely with Gomez until early 2011, when Gomez takes over the archdiocese, which counts more than five million members, 70 percent of them Hispanic.

"I welcome Archbishop Gomez to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles with enthusiasm and personal excitement," Mahony said in a statement.

Gomez said he was grateful for the appointment and the trust that the Vatican's nuncio had in him.

"I will try with all my strength to earn that trust," he said in a statement.

Mahony was to introduce Gomez at a press conference later Tuesday in Los Angeles' cathedral.

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Gomez was born in Monterrey, Mexico and studied theology at the University of Navarra in Spain. He was ordained an Opus priest in 1978 and worked in the Houston-Galveston area and in Denver before being named archbishop of San Antonio in 2004.

At a future concistory, the pope will likely name Gomez a cardinal, given that Los Angeles is such a large and important archdiocese whose leader has traditionally worn a red hat.

Hispanics are the fastest-growing group in the American Catholic church. Latinos comprised 32 percent of all U.S. Catholics in 2008 compared to 20 percent in 1990, according to the American Religious Identification Survey from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

There are currently 65 million Catholics in the U.S.

Benedict acknowledged the importance of the growing Hispanic Catholic community when he named Archbishop Daniel N. DiNardo of the heavily Latino Galveston-Houston archdiocese a prince of the church in 2007.

"This just recognizes the reality on the ground that the center of gravity of U.S. Catholicism is moving to the South and West and is becoming increasingly Hispanic," said David Gibson, a Catholic author who covers religion for

[Associated Press; By NICOLE WINFIELD]

Associated Press writer Rachel Zoll contributed from New York.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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