The incoming bishop for the Catholic church in Las Vegas said supporting immigrants and advocating for gun control will be among his top priorities in promoting an agenda of “compassion and care.”
“I can see the need for ongoing healing and pastoral presence in Las Vegas,” said Bishop George Leo Thomas, who takes over May 15 for retiring Bishop Joseph Pepe. “I’ve always tried to keep my feet on the ground and tend to our communities in need.”
Thomas, 67, will be the third bishop in the 23-year history of the Diocese of Las Vegas when he steps in for Pepe, 75, who has served as its leading clergy member since 2001.
With Pepe at the helm, the diocese grew nearly threefold as the valley’s population swelled. There are an estimated 750,000 Catholics in the diocese, which covers Clark, Nye, Lincoln and Esmeralda counties.
Thomas, who was born and raised in Montana, has served as the Bishop of the Diocese of Helena, Mont., for the last 14 years. Now, he’ll head one of the most diverse and immigrant-heavy diocese congregations in the United States.
Thomas lauded the work of Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and pledged to expand its outreach to refugees, immigrants and those most in need. “A lot of that will come because the church is so deeply committed,” he said.
Pepe said Thomas, a longtime friend who has also worked in the prison ministry, was the right person for the job. “He knows how to reach people of different pastoral needs,” Pepe said.
Thomas said he supports protecting immigrants in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and restricting firearm sales, though he did not go into details.
Referring to the Oct. 1 mass shooting on the Strip, he said, “We need to have a meaningful voice because of the suffering that has been here in your front yard. I’m hoping and praying this is a time for new dialogue.”