Today Pope Francis accepted the retirement resignation of Los Angeles auxiliary bishop Jerry Wilkerson, and announced the appointment of three new auxiliaries for the archdiocese -- Monsignors Joseph V. Brennan and David G. O’Connell of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and Father Robert Barron of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
In a press conference at the Cathedral this morning, Archbishop José Gomez said “This is a wonderful day for me personally and for the archdiocese of Los Angeles,” and praised his new auxiliary bishops as men who will help serve the Church’s mission to “share the love of God and the message of the love of Christ.”
Bishop-elect David G. O’Connell, 61, originally from County Cork, Ireland, was ordained a priest of the archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1979 and has been serving in parishes in South L.A. for over 25 years. Gomez called him “a leader on issues like immigration reform, education, unemployment, housing, violence and finding alternatives for young people in gangs. I know him to be a man of peace who knows how to bring people together in community to find common solutions and common answers.”
Of his appointment, O’Connell said “You know, I can walk around the streets of South L.A. and have done so for many years, where there’s violence and shootings, and I don’t feel the slightest bit of anxiety. But I come in here today and I’m shaking in my boots.”
O’Connell said he was “very humbled and touched very deeply by the fact that somehow or other Pope Francis saw my profile and has named me to the auxiliary here in Los Angeles.” In earlier comments in the Tidings he said “I do believe what’s really important is for us to be out in the neighborhoods, to be out with the people. That’s how we can change South L.A. is to be out there and work with the people in the neighborhoods. I’ve always loved them. I’ve always loved being in these parishes.”
Bishop-elect Joseph V. Brennan, 61, has been vicar general and moderator of the Curia under Archbishop Gomez since 2012. Archbishop Gomez said he “has the heart of a pastor. He leads a simple lifestyle and he would like nothing more than to be a parish priest in a small parish serving the people.” (At which point he turned to Brennan and Brennan nodded vigorously in agreement.)
In his own comments, Brennan spoke of his gratitude and also a sense of being “even perplexed by this call.” Earlier in the day in the L.A. Catholic newspaper The Tidings, Brennan said finding out “was like a punch in the stomach. I had an immediate gut reaction that my life was going to be very different. We make our plans, but God has other ideas.”
At the press conference Brennan noted that on the day he received word of his appointment, the first reading was from Amos, the young inexperienced shepherd sent by God despite his lack of experience to be the prophet to the sophisticated people of the north. “It’s a comfort,” said Brennan, “to know that He calls us no matter what. I’m not qualified, I don’t have the credentials, but I’m here, and I’m here for a reason.” Bishop went on to offer further comments not only in Spanish (as did all three) and Italian, but briefly in Tagalog and Japanese.
In introducing Bishop-elect Robert Barron, 55, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the current rector of Chicago’s Mundelein Seminary, Gomez kidded “No more hats and gloves and snow shovels.” Noting Barron’s global Word on Fire media ministry, Gomez said “I think God has sent him to the right place, the media capitol of the world.”
In his remarks Barron said that Chicago’s late Cardinal Francis George taught him “the central importance of evangelizing the culture, bringing the power of Christ to the arenas of politics, law, the arts, higher education, media and entertainment.” Reflecting on his appointment to Los Angeles, Barron said “I cannot imagine a more exciting field for this kind of endeavor than Los Angeles, one of the truly great cultural capitals of the world.”
Barron also reflected on the practice of the faith in the U.S. “I believe the most significant challenge facing the Catholic Church today is the attrition of our own people,” said Barron, and called the ever-lessing number of Catholics who practice their faith “contrary to the fathers of Vatican II”. “If the Church loses its faith, who will speak?”, asked Barron. “Woe to me if I do not evangelize.”
Asked later to comment on his approach to culture, Barron said he tried to “lead more positively”, “to look out to the popular culture and find the points of contact with the faith. It’s a hopeful way to engage that part of the culture.”
Archbishop Gomez also thanked retiring auxiliary bishop Jerry Wilkerson, who has served in the archdiocese as priest and bishop for fifty years. “We are very very grateful for the things he’s done for the People of God in the archdiocese of Los Angeles.”
In a brief Q&A, Archbishop Gomez responded to questions about immigration reform, saying “Our concern is obviously the dignity of the human person and the unity of the family. It’s really sad that it has become just a political issue; it is an issue of humanity. Immigrants, as I have said many times, are men and women and children, people, just like us.” “We are totally committed,” said Archbishop Gomez, “to total immigration reform.”
Los Angeles’ newest bishops will join current Los Angeles auxiliaries Bishops Edward Clark, Thomas Curry, Oscar Solis and Andrew Salazar. Their ordinations will occur sometime this fall.