Los Angeles Archbishop: Undocumented immigrants should be given access to the American dream

Jim Avila, Richard Coolidge, and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

Power Players

When the Catholic Church takes a political position, it typically falls on the conservative side of the spectrum, ranging from issues such as abortion to same-sex marriage. But that's not the case on immigration.

As the Archbishop of Los Angeles, José Gomez represents the largest archdiocese in the United States--a significant percentage of whom are Hispanic--and tells ABC's Senior National Correspondent Jim Avila in an exclusive interview that the 10-12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States deserve the opportunity to obtain full citizenship.

"We have to give them the opportunity if they want to be citizens," says Gomez, who also serves as the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration. "If…they don't have the opportunity, then we will create a permanent underclass in our society, which is not fair, and it's not the American way."

In offering a pathway to full citizenship for this illegal immigrant population, Gomez says the United States would be living up to its basic founding principles.

"It recognizes what this country is all about: the respect for the human person, freedom, equality, the pursuit of happiness,” says Gomez. “Those basic principles that the foundation of this country of this country are going to be real."

On the subject of the new pope, Gomez says the American continents, and especially the Latino community, are celebrating Pope Francis' ascension.

"Having somebody from Latin America that can understand your culture, and your traditions, and the way that you worship, and the way you relate to each other I think is going to be a big encouragement for Catholics in the whole continent, and especially for Latinos," says Gomez.

He asserts that Pope Francis' Latino and Jesuit origins will make him a different kind of pope--one who is closer to the people.

"I think his Jesuit training, his love for the poor, his care for the poor and the way that he can deal with situations, will make him more pastoral, more close to the people," says Gomez.

With Pope Francis now in place, Gomez is looking ahead to the work that awaits the changing Church, and points to the sexual abuse scandal as a "huge, horrible tragedy in the life of the Church" that demands continued attention.

"We have to try, we have been trying to minister to the victims of sexual abuse and do all we can, and we continue to help them in the process of healing," says Gomez.

As the Church continues to work on rebuilding the damaged relationships of trust between the priesthood and the Catholic community, Gomez points to priesthood candidate screening programs and a commitment to spiritual ministry as protective measures against future scandals.

For more of this special Good Friday interview with Archbishop Gomez, check out this episode of Power Players.

ABC's Eric Wray, Alexandra Dukakis, and Serena Marshall contributed to this episode.