Column: LA’s best Catholic attacks ‘awakened’ culture and social justice movements

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Earlier this month, Jose H. Gomez, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, delivered a speech at a Catholic conference in Spain where he spoke verbally about “awakened” culture and social justice movements .

Called “Reflections on the Church and the New American Religions”, Gomez took on two of the right’s favorite whipped boys with the enthusiasm of a Tucker Carlson. He called such movements “deeply atheist… pseudo-religions” pushed onto the world by a “ruling elite class” that uses the media to eradicate Christianity.

Those damn elites, all of you!

The harsh speech played well with many Catholic conservatives. But it certainly didn’t elicit applause from one of LA’s more Catholic institutions.

It is said to be the Hippie Kitchen, an industrial building located on a ramp used by the Catholic worker in Los Angeles to prepare and distribute free meals. There is a good deal of religious iconography there: multiple images of the Virgin of Guadalupe. A giant fresco depicting a scruffy Jesus standing in the line of bread among the hungry. And then there’s the mural with an angel using her wings to block baton-wielding police officers as they attempt to disrupt a multicultural picnic.

Volunteer Alan Pulner, up front, kisses organizer Matt Harper at the end of his volunteer shift Tuesday at Hippie Kitchen on Skid Row.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

You will also find an LGBTQ flag on the outside with the word “Peace” on it. A sign above the entrance that read: “Stop the war!” Tax the rich! Serve the poor! Murals and posters denouncing police brutality, praising diversity, lambasting US imperialism.

Gomez’s speech “could have been written by a group of elite wealthy Catholics,” said David DeCosse, director of campus ethics programs at Jesuit University of Santa Clara. The 60-year-old is spending his fall sabbatical at the LA Catholic worker’s home in Boyle Heights. “This city is pulsating with energy for justice, and Gomez seems determined to judge, not to engage or listen.”

The lay Catholic movement practices the gospel like its late founder, Dorothy Day: a devotion to helping the poor and marginalized. She is on the way to canonization because of her revolutionary ways. But Day, who was arrested during protests for causes ranging from labor strikes to nuclear proliferation until her 70s, was equally well-liked for preying on disconnected church leaders.

Like Gomez.

He is a prelate, after all, who presided over an effort by the American bishops to attempt to deny the Eucharist to President Biden, a devout Catholic, because of his support for abortion rights.

Remind me: how many priests who abused children have been refused communion by the Catholic Church?

Gomez actually shouted Day in her fire and brimstone speech, claiming that she “had a strong feeling that before we can change the hearts of others, we have to change ourselves.”

His cope did not mention the quote attributed to Day on a poster at the LA Catholic Worker Soup Kitchen. It overlooked a collection of bulk containers filled with dried beans and bore the words “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this dirty and rotten system.”

    Matt Harper is the organizer of the Hippie Kitchen

Matt Harper is the organizer of the Hippie Kitchen, which feeds the hungry three times a week.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Nearby, Matt Harper has done everything from clean floors to stacking hotplates to leading a final prayer before the Catholic worker stops for the day (the final thought: “Peace without justice is a tyranny ”). He then sat down with other volunteers in a shaded dining room adorned with multicolored bougainvillea to wonder if their work even had a place in the Catholic Church today.

“Disappointment. Frustration. Hypocrisy,” said Harper, a 33-year-old Catholic cradle who matched the fashion of a warrior awake with his trucker hat, nose ring, and little gauges in each earlobe. He laughed. nervously, then continued. “As someone connected with the social justice movements in the city, I was embarrassed and worried about the collateral impact of the work. [the L.A. Catholic Worker has] been doing for 52 years.

Ann Boden, 66, handed out razors near the entrance to the property’s dining room.

“Jesus would have supported all of these movements,” said the Santa Clarita resident. Just believing in Christ isn’t everything. “You have to take care of people. If you don’t, you don’t do anything.

It seems that Gomez cannot see the rosary for the beads.

In a city with a housing calamity, an out of control sheriff, so much fear for the future, and where the COVID-19 pandemic is still killing people, the head of the largest Catholic diocese in the United States complains of ‘awakened’ culture . LA longs for a voice to guide us to a better place, someone with moral authority to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

As a Catholic myself who has covered a generation of church leaders who have covered pedophile priests, I have been waiting for a local prophetic voice in my faith that can follow Pope Francis’ lead and speak out against the growing inequalities in our country. time.

Instead, we have Archbishop Gomez.

    Volunteers distribute lunch on a ramp.

Volunteers David DeCosse, left, and Alan Pulner hand out the Hippie Kitchen lunch on the skate row.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

“I’m furious,” Megan Ramsey said. She walked the sidewalk next to the hippie kitchen pumping hand sanitizer to anyone who entered. “It pushes back the youngest, it goes against the state of mind of many. It was so over there.

While conservative Catholics unsurprisingly praised Gomez’s words, an online petition demanding he apologize to black Catholics has garnered 13,000 signatures. His sin: believing that the millions of people who demonstrated in the wake of George Floyd’s murder were in fact the evil movements he decried “entirely unleashed in our society”.

A spokesperson for the archdiocese said the archbishop was unavailable for an interview because he was attending the biannual meeting of the United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference, of which he is president. Gomez continued his remarks on the culture war at the conference’s opening public session on November 16, saying the United States was losing a national narrative “rooted in a biblical worldview and values. of our Judeo-Christian heritage “.

Bishop José H. Gomez

The Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose H. Gomez, attends a press conference Tuesday in Baltimore.

(Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

Gomez made no qualms about his conservative leanings, very much in the mold of his predecessor, Cardinal James Francis McIntyre, who ruled the Archdiocese of LA in the 1960s and was so reactionary that he chased a group of nuns for being so damn liberal. He publicly defended St. Junípero Serra, the Franciscan missionary who created the California mission system, which modern history now regards as abusive colonization.

The Archbishop has also lectured outside the Napa Institute, a conservative organization funded by wealthy Catholics who have spent the past decade creating a shadow Catholic society in opposition to Pope Francis, whom they consider too liberal. By the way, their annual conference features wine, multi-course dinners, and cigar tastings – because, you know, Jesus was apparently a man of fine tastes. It’s not like Jesus telling the rich they won’t go to Heaven, or praising the poor or peacemakers on a hill, instead of the luxury resorts where the Napa Institute holds its evenings.

But Gomez’s policy stands against a Catholic LA where social activism is ingrained in its DNA. Priests have marched for decades in rallies for immigrant rights and against war alongside protesters who often carry images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, among other saints. This country’s racial calculation sparked renewed interest in Saint-Martin de Porres, the first black saint of the Americas.

(Pope Francis, by the way, called social justice activists “social poets” and “collective Samaritans” in an October speech while taking the time to denigrate “the economic elites, who so often sell superficial ideologies that ignore the real dilemmas of humanity.” “)

These movements “are a spiritually strong space – anyone who spends time with them can feel it,” Harper said. “My relationship with God improved with these movements. But because he refuses to commit, he will lose the faithful in them.

The Loyola High graduate and former college professor at schools across the archdiocese said Catholic worker volunteers last spoke in Gomez in 2018.

    Volunteer Jack Hastert works in the kitchen.

Volunteer Jack Hastert restocks a bread rack at the Hippie Kitchen.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

“The first thing he said to us was, ‘I’ve heard that your community still hasn’t got along well with us,’” recalls Harper. He and other volunteers left the reunion with what they believed was a commitment from Gomez to visit the hippie kitchen and walk with them.

Soon after, Gomez invited a Brazilian religious order to distribute free food on the skid. He has not responded to repeated requests from the Catholic Worker since.

“It just seems like a clear indication that we are not being considered,” said Kenneth Baldwin, 57, of Santa Monica. “Maybe we’re not the Catholic type he wants in his church.”

The Catholic Worker will continue, Gomez or not Gomez, since it is an autonomous group with no formal relationship with the Archdiocese of LA. But Rick Ley, 26, a resident of Mar Vista, who has volunteered with the Catholic Worker since 2017, hopes the Archbishop might consider he can learn from social activism.

“I understand what he is trying to say, but I also think that if we make such statements, we also need actions to speak,” he said. “Theology is important, but it’s easy to get caught up in it and become another faction. “

Meanwhile, the invitation to Gomez to visit the hippie kitchen of Catholic workers remains open.

“And if he’s happy to come,” Harper added, “I’d be happy to take him to a protest.”


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