EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Archbishop Gomez: For All Human Rights, Right to Life Is the Foundation

President of US Bishops and Archbishop of Los Angeles Grants Wide-ranging Interview

Bishops Concens Rescue Plan
OneLife LA Archive Photo Prior to Pandemic - Courtesy of Archbishop Gomez's Twitter & OneLife LA

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles says the right to life is the foundation for all other human rights, and that without which, all other rights cannot be guaranteed.

In an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with Exaudi, the President of US Bishops (the USCCB) highlighted this, as he recalled Pope Francis’ appeal for life, among numerous exhortations, in his Feb. 8 annual address to ambassadors to the Holy See.

In the interview, the American prelate not only reflects on building a culture of life, but on the Pontiff’s appeals for freedom of worship. The California Archbishop, discussing his firsthand experience with attempted violations of religious freedom in his state, calls it a ‘fundamental right,’ and reasserts the urgent need for fraternity, detailing what this concretely looks like.

Moreover, Archbishop Gomez reflects on living meaningfully, and without losing hope, this second Lent amid a pandemic, and addresses division among American Catholics and how to work toward unity despite differences.

Here is Exaudi‘s Deborah Castellano Lubov’s conversation with Archbishop Gomez:


EXAUDI: Your Excellency, faithful have just begun their second Lent during this pandemic. What in your opinion is the best way to live this Lent meaningfully amid such challenging times?

Archbishop Gomez: Here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, we are reflecting this Lent on the theme of “Trust in the Lord.”  I think all of us understand that this pandemic has shaken people’s faith. Although things are getting better little by little across the country with the vaccines, the pandemic has created spiritual and emotional wounds that we have not yet even begun to see.

For nearly a year now, people haven’t been able to work, or go to school, or even go to church; still many people can’t even see their families. Many have been ill themselves or lost loved ones. The hardest thing for me during these months is to know that so many people have been prevented from being with their loved ones as they were sick and dying.

And for many people, this has been a trial, a severe test of their faith. We are hearing this challenge in our ministries: How could God allow this to happen? Has God forgotten his love for us?

These are deep questions that people are feeling, so I think it is important in this moment for us to proclaim this beautiful truth about God’s providence and to help our brothers and sisters learn to trust in God again.

EXAUDI: How concretely can this be done?

Archbishop Gomez: We need to help our brothers and sisters to understand that God’s plan for creation is a plan of love, and that God is always working out his loving purposes in history and in the soul of every person. It is imperative for us to help them to see that the world is in the gentle hands of our loving Father, and that even in hardship and sorrow, our Father’s designs are for love, and he hears our prayers and guides our lives.

It is essential we proclaim this beautiful truth of God’s love, not only by our words, but more by our actions. We all need to widen the circle of love around us — beginning with the way we love and treat one another in our families and homes. And our circle of love must always be growing. Real love means always moving beyond our narrow concerns, and opening ourselves to the needs of others. By our own love — by how we serve our neighbors, by how we care for one another, especially the weak and vulnerable — each of us can help our neighbors to know and trust in God’s love in this challenging moment.  These are all good themes for us to reflect on during this second Lent under a pandemic.

EXAUDI: Recently, Pope Francis received the diplomatic corps of the Holy See and affirmed that “the spiritual and moral dimensions of the human person are not less important than physical health.” Up until what point, in your opinion, can a State limit freedom of worship for motives tied to the pandemic? 

Archbishop Gomez: The Holy Father’s leadership during this pandemic has been inspiring. And he is right that the pandemic has exposed a crisis of the human person. In our societies across the West, we are losing the truth that the human person is a creature of body and soul, that we are created for relationships with one another and our Creator, and that we have a destiny that is transcendent, that goes beyond our physical life on this earth.

This pandemic has forced us to confront the truth that human life is precious and fragile, that sickness and death are a part of life. But we cannot forget that our health as human beings is more than simply “bare life,” more than just having health in our bodies.

In terms of the social controls and limits on worship put in place by governments, it’s important to remember that Pope Francis and the bishops around the world did not close down our churches and schools because the government told us to. We closed our churches out of love for the souls entrusted to our care, especially the elderly and vulnerable. We have all cooperated with reasonable efforts made by our civil authorities to slow the spread of the virus, which is deadly.

EXAUDI: Yes, indeed…

Archbishop Gomez: But it is also true, that right now we are seeing, throughout our society, the deep human costs of well-intentioned measures that were taken to preserve human life — including extreme social isolation, economic shutdown, and the halting of religious services.

The human suffering and mental illness caused by these measures is another reflection of the truth that human beings have a transcendent spirit that must be nourished for their own health and for the well-being of society. We need to care for our souls, as much as we care for our bodies.

EXAUDI: On this theme, in California, an important court case was won defending freedom of worship. The Supreme Court ruled against a ban that would have prevented most indoor worship. Why was this win so significant, also for the future?

Archbishop Gomez: As I said, the Catholic Church in California has supported and cooperated with public officials’ efforts to contain the spread of this deadly disease, including closing our schools and suspending public worship. We took these steps, not because the government issued an order, but because our God is love and he calls us to love for our neighbors. That means working for the common good and protecting the sanctity and dignity of human life, taking special care for the poor and elderly, the sick and vulnerable.

The Supreme Court rightly recognized that the state’s total ban on indoor worship services was not a reasonable response to the public health situation, especially since the state is allowing other large gatherings for secular purposes, such as for shopping. This decision was encouraging for us because it recognizes that freedom of worship is a basic human right. I think it also recognizes that religion and worship are essential to true human well-being and flourishing.

EXAUDI: Yes, religion and worship, done safely…

Archbishop Gomez: Our churches will continue to act with prudence and caution, following the guidance of public health authorities. Our people come to church wearing facial coverings and practicing social distancing. We have made changes to the way we worship and have implemented new sanitation measures. We are doing everything we can to ensure the health and safety of our people and our neighbors.

EXAUDI: In this same address to the ambassadors, the Pope made strong declarations for life, reminding “the value of life, of every individual human life and its dignity, at every moment of its earthly pilgrimage, from conception in the womb until its natural end.” He went as far as to lament how “painful it is, however, to note that under the pretext of guaranteeing presumed, subjective rights, a growing number of legal systems in our world seem to be moving away from their inalienable duty to protect human life at every one its phases.”  In front of the growing movements worldwide for abortion, even for instance in Poland, Argentina, which are always gaining more ground, are you worried? What sort of response do you believe is needed?

Archbishop Gomez: In the address that you are referring to, the Holy Father also said that if we do not protect the right to life for our weakest and most vulnerable brothers and sisters, we can never fully guarantee any other human rights. Thus, the right to life is the foundation of every right.

Abortion is not easy to talk about. It is emotional and the issues are complicated. But as Pope Francis says, we cannot stay silent when so many unborn lives are being cast aside through abortion.

EXAUDI: And how does one not stay silent?

Archbishop Gomez: We need to speak for every person in our society who cannot defend themselves. And prenatal human life is truly the most innocent and the most vulnerable in our society. We also need to keep working to build a society that sees new human life is not a burden but a beautiful gift.

That means helping women in crisis pregnancies, promoting adoption and foster care, and supporting children and strengthening marriages and families. All of this is what it means to build a culture of life.

EXAUDI: Concretely, your own Archdiocese continued its tradition of the annual OneLife LA. This year it was done virtually. Could you tell us a little more about this and the fruits you hope it has?

Archbishop Gomez: OneLife LA has always been more than an event. It is a vision, a movement, beyond simply being a procession and gathering that we hold once a year. What we’re trying to do with OneLife LA is to build a culture of conscience, compassion, and care. It is spiritual more than it is political. We believe that our God is a God of love, and we believe that He creates us to love and to be loved.

For us “OneLife” means promoting and protecting the sanctity and dignity of every human person, who is loved by God with a personal love. And we are seeing fruits, we are building partnerships in the community, bringing people together to address issues in a positive way.

EXAUDI: Fraternity is a recurring theme in Pope Francis’ teachings. The Holy Father also suggested to the ambassadors that we need fraternity against the pandemic as much as we need vaccines against it. How do you see this recommendation?

Archbishop Gomez: Again, the Pope’s teaching here is important. What’s happening in our societies, throughout the West, is that we have lost the truth and meaning of human life.

And what the Pope recognizes is that unless we believe that we have a Father in heaven, there is no necessary reason for us to treat one another as brothers and sisters here on earth. Without belief in a God who creates the human person in his image, we lose the basis for all the noble principles and goals that we have in our society. We have no solid foundation for our commitments to human dignity, freedom, equality, and fraternity.

In our response to the pandemic — and in every area of life — we do need more fraternity. And that comes from understanding that God is our Father and we are his children, and that he calls us to live together in love as brothers and sisters.

EXAUDI: When the Pope spoke to Catholic News Service for their centennial he lamented the polarization in the US Church, warning, “The path of division leads nowhere.” He encouraged: “Remember the prayer of Jesus, ‘That they may all be one’ — unity that is not uniformity, no. Unity with differences, but one heart. ‘I think this way, you think that. We can discuss it,’ but with the same heart.” As President of the US Bishops, how did you welcome the Holy Father’s words?

Archbishop Gomez: It is no secret that we are in a challenging moment in America. We see the obvious things ­— the polarization, the lack of charity and civility in how we talk about our differences. We see the struggles that our political leaders seem to have in working together and compromising for the common good.

And, yes, the distinction the Holy Father is making here is important. Unity does not mean that we have no differences. But it does mean that we understand our differences in light of what unites us. And what unites us is that we are children of God. That means we need to look at others as brothers and sisters. We need to listen with patience to those who disagree with us and we need to love our enemies and bless those who oppose us, and we need to treat others with the same compassion that we want for ourselves. None of us has all the answers. We need one another.

EXAUDI: Aware of this need for one another, even if there are disagreements, how can one work toward unity?

Archbishop Gomez: In our political life in America, we should also be united by a common commitment to the sacred purposes of our country — to be one nation under God, dedicated to the truth that all men and women are created equal; that every person has God-given rights, and that we are made to live in freedom and truth.

So we are praying for unity and peace in our country, and a new spirit of true patriotism. During the pandemic, the US bishops renewed the consecration of our country to the Blessed Virgin Mary, so we are especially praying for her intercession as our patroness and as the Queen of Peace and the Mirror of Justice.

EXAUDI: Thanks again for your time, Archbishop Gomez.

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