That line could have come from King George VI played by Colin Firth in The King’s Speech. The archbishop thought he was going to tell the king how to run his business, in this case using a speech therapist without proper credentials to help him prepare for his coronation. The king with the speech defect put the archbishop in his place. So comes now Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles who wants Catholics to “let their faith form their political decisions” before they vote this year. Gomez plans to write a series of essays on the principles that should guide Catholics in this year’s elections. “We have important obligations as citizens. But we have to carry out those obligations always in light of our duty to God,” the archbishop directed. Of course, Gomez gets to define that duty.
Almost simultaneously, the Pew Center reported that support among Catholics for President Obama’s re-election has ballooned to at least 54 percent compared to 39 percent for Mitt Romney. Obama’s rise among Catholic voters came even though Romney picked Paul Ryan, a Catholic with movie star looks, as his running mate. Since almost 70 percent of HispanicLatinos support Obama, it would seem that as many or more HispanicLatino Catholics support Obama. HispanicLatinos and the rest of the Catholic electorate will help hand Obama and Catholic Vice President Joe Biden score a one-sided victory in California in November.
The juxtaposition of the Gomez and Pew stories, of course, is tellingly serious, rising to contradiction. It shows again how far off course the Catholic hierarchy has moved to align itself with a political party that assails HispanicLatinos – the very population that forms so much of its foundational future. From the Republican party has spewed the most hateful rhetoric aimed at HispanicLatinos in decades. And Republican party operatives are actively, openly supporting efforts to suppress the rights of HispanicLatinos to vote in November. Against this evidence, is someone like Gomez to be taken seriously?
Whatever nonsense Gomez confects as to why HispanicLatinos should vote against their own interests demonstrates the growing animosity aimed at the Church and the even larger apathy sweeping its pews. Thankfully, the HispanicLatino population is more centered than the right-wing ideology the Church is espousing today. It would be appalling if Gomez – in effect the most senior HispanicLatino prelate in the country given the size of his archdiocese and the inordinate influence of California on the national scene – were to embark on some anti-Mormon jihad. It is not out of the question. It seems he like most bishops today is clueless. They do not realize they no longer live in the day when Cardinals Spellman of New York or Cushing of Boston did wield real political power derived from how Catholics viewed the Church in a far different era. Sadly, bishops today are mere managers of increasingly smaller wedges of a niche market – a fate they have brought on themselves and the rest of us.
The nation’s political discourse today centers around economic divisions that harken back to another century when the Church actively supported the social, economic and political rise of Irish, Italian and German Catholics in the United States. In those days, the Church stood with workers and unions striving for social justice. Bishops and priests helped organize and lead strikes. They made sure people voted. What part of the aspirations of HispanicLatinos in American society today does Gomez and his fellow right-wing episcopals not understand? Formerly the archbishop of San Antonio, Gomez is expected by church observers to be made a cardinal soon. Sigh.
Thankfully, the social maturation of the HispanicLatino continues apace with the rest of America. Thankfully, more and more HispanicLatinos, like most Americans, are no longer interested in religious litmus tests or surrendering their minds to others. Almost always inclusive, HispanicLatinos are becoming more tolerant despite their conservative, judgmental origins — framed by the same Church they now hold at arm’s length. Still, HispanicLatinos are not out of the woods yet. They need leaders who can frame a philosophical way to progress into the future. Gomez and an increasingly conservative set of Catholic bishops are attempting to lead them backwards.
When George VI conquers his fears and delivers in The King’s Speech, the archbishop played by Derek Jacobi is left speechless. I doubt Gomez will have that effect on anyone.
Jesse Treviño is former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.