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Amid the protests in American cities that followed the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by police, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, the president of the U.S. bishops conference, issued a statement. “It is true what Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, that riots are the language of the unheard,” Gomez wrote. “We should be doing a lot of listening right now. This time, we should not fail to hear what people are saying through their pain.”
It was a sensitive response, expressing compassion and a humble commitment to “listening” as the necessary first step toward a more just society. It bears no resemblance to the speech Gomez delivered to a Spanish conference earlier this month, a speech that left me wondering who on earth he’s been listening to.
That talk, a keynote address for a conference on “Political Correctness: Liberties in Danger,” was pre-taped and delivered in Spanish but shared as an English text by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. In it, Gomez explains that “new social justice movements” that function as “pseudo-religions” have been “unleashed” in American society, and demand resistance from Catholics.
Gomez says that “we should not be intimidated by these new religions of social justice and political identity,” but he sounds pretty intimidated. His first section is conspiratorial and riddled with anti-Semitic tropes, as he describes the rise of “an elite leadership class...that has little interest in religion and no real attachment to the nations they live in...which is in charge in corporations, governments, universities, the media, and in the cultural and professional establishments” and “wants to establish what we might call a global civilization.” Gomez is not building a specifically anti-Semitic argument—there’s nothing specific about his argument at all—but the rhetoric he chooses has a very ugly history, and its presence here is alarming.
“For years now,” Gomez continues, “there has been a deliberate effort in Europe and America to erase the Christian roots of society and to suppress any remaining Christian influences.” Where does this reactionary vision come from? Which people has Gomez been listening to? Certainly not Catholics who work with the Black Lives Matter movement, who could explain how standing up for the dignity of their neighbors is an expression of their faith. Not admirers of Dorothy Day, who would have stopped him from ludicrously suggesting that her example somehow validates his idea that “the ‘social justice’ story” is an atheistic “rival” to Christianity.