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New LA archdiocese leader on Japan, challenges

March 12, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The new leader of the Los Angeles Roman Catholic archdiocese is expressing his concern about the earthquake in Japan.

That's one of the issues Archbishop Jose Gomez talked about in his first interview since taking the position.

After a week leading the largest Roman Catholic archdiocese in the United States, Gomez says he sees enthusiasm in Southern California and challenges.

"What I see in the people is a lot of faith," Gomez said.

An early challenge comes with the Japan earthquake.

"Obviously like we did in other places like Haiti, Chile, we are always trying to support them as much as we can," he said.

Gomez takes over after a tumultuous time in the archdiocese. It's plagued by accusations of child abuse by priests and had lawsuits that eventually resulted in a $660 million settlement with about 500 victims.

"It was wrong and we are very sorry for that," Gomez said.

Even as he retires, many are angry at his predecessor Cardinal Roger Mahony for allegedly transferring accused priests to other parishes and refusing to release files on child abuse cases. Gomez says his challenge is to regain trust in the church.

"That's my message to them, that we are very, very sorry for what happened," Gomez said. "It's a tragedy. The abuse of children should never happen anywhere, and even less in the church."

Gomez was born in Mexico and it's not a coincidence he takes over an archdiocese with 5 million Catholics, about 70 percent of them are Hispanic. He supports immigration reform.

"People have the right to move, the right to work and provide for their families," he said. "Also, countries have the right to protect their borders ? Postponing it is not a real solution."

He said Southern California traffic is a bit overwhelming, but he's getting used to it. And he's received a warm welcome.

"People are so welcoming and nice and open," he said. "They have so much faith, it's just a wonderful blessing for me to be here in Los Angeles."