The pope on Tuesday named Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio, Texas, to take over the Los Angeles archdiocese when its current archbishop retires.
The appointment of the Mexican-born Gomez as coadjutor for Los Angeles puts him in line to become the highest-ranking Latino in the American Catholic hierarchy.
Archbishop Gomez, 58, is a priest of the conservative Opus Dei order.
Cardinal Roger Mahony, who has been dogged by the clergy abuse scandal during his quarter-century tenure in Los Angeles, turns 75 next February. Under church rules, bishops submit their resignation at age 75.
Pope Benedict XVI can decide to keep him on the job longer, but the appointment of Archbishop Gomez as coadjutor indicates Pope Benedict wants a smooth transition to a new leader for the largest diocese in the United States.
Archbishop Gomez will have to oversee the fallout from the clerical abuse scandal that came to light during Cardinal Mahony’s tenure.
In 2007, Cardinal Mahony agreed to a record-setting $660 million settlement with more than 500 alleged victims of clergy abuse.
A federal grand jury is also investigating how the Archdiocese of Los Angeles handled claims of abuse, and has subpoenaed several witnesses, including a former Los Angeles priest convicted of child molestation and a monsignor who served as vicar for clergy under Cardinal Mahony.
Cardinal Mahony’s attorney has said the cardinal, the longest-serving in the U.S. since the Second Vatican Council, is not a target of the investigation.
Archbishop Gomez was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and studied theology at the University of Navarra in Spain. He was ordained an Opus Dei priest in 1978 and worked in the Houston-Galveston area and in Denver before being named archbishop of San Antonio in 2004.
In the future, the pope would likely name Archbishop Gomez a cardinal, given that Los Angeles is such a large and important archdiocese and the leader there has traditionally been a cardinal.