Jose Gomez

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Assessing san antonio Archbishop Jose Gomez's clout, his former boss Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput says enthusiastically, "He gets listened to in the state of Texas and in the U.S. Bishops' Conference. He gets listened to in Rome. And I think he'll be listened to by the Federal Government when it comes to immigration law." Last year, Gomez was a humble auxiliary bishop working for Chaput in Denver. But in December, Pope John Paul II leapfrogged the low-key 53-year-old over hundreds of diocesan bishops into the San Antonio, Texas, seat—and the center of American Catholicism's future. Hispanics make up 39% of the U.S. church. By 2020, they may be a majority, say church officials. And Gomez is the nation's only Latino archbishop.

Born in Monterrey, Mexico, Gomez enjoys an excellent relationship with the powerful bishop of Mexico City and is a natural conversation partner for legislators toiling over immigration riddles. A long affiliation with the conservative teaching group Opus Dei guarantees him the Vatican's doctrinal confidence and a support and information network leading high up in Rome. Yet despite his orthodoxy, Gomez is a natural conciliator admired for uniting rich and poor and Anglo and Hispanic Catholics behind Denver's Centro Juan Diego, a hybrid Latino religious-instruction and social-services center hailed as a national model.

For years, there has been talk that a Pope might make a Hispanic Cardinal in the American South, but Gomez's predecessor in San Antonio, a logical seat for the honor, was too theologically independent for Roman tastes. Gomez is much more in synch.