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CURRENT ISSUE:  May 23, 2005VOL. 43, NO. 11Oakland, CA

Archbishop Levada to leave S.F. for key post in the Vatican

Pope Benedict XVI on May 13 appointed Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco to the pope's former job as guardian of the Catholic faith, making the leader of San Francisco's Catholics the highest-ranking American ever to serve at the Vatican.

Archbishop Levada, 68, was named prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a post that the former Cardinal Ratzinger himself held for nearly a quarter century until his election as pope on April 19.

In his new post, Archbishop Levada will be responsible for overseeing all aspects of Church teaching. His portfolio covers some of the Church's most sensitive issues, including sexually abusive priests.

Oakland Bishop Allen Vigneron expressed joy at the appointment and said, “We know first hand of Archbishop Levada's great devotion to the Gospel of Christ and his zeal in making known all the saving truths of our faith.”

Retired Oakland Bishop John Cummins noted Archbishop Levada's theological and pastoral experience, his friendship with Pope Benedict and the challenges he will face in his new post. “Friendship will provide strength, support and assurance from Pope Benedict XVI,” he said.

Church observers say the choice of Archbishop Levada -- a veteran of the Church's institutions and well-versed in social trends confronting the Church - is a sign that Pope Benedict intends to steer a traditional course while also engaging the larger world.

Archbishop Levada, who has served in San Francisco since 1995, worked as a staff member at the congregation from 1976 to 1982. Since 2002 he has been one of four archbishops to hold membership in the congregation.

With the job, he will almost certainly be named a cardinal, but will be known as “pro-prefect” until he receives a cardinal's red hat.

Archbishop Levada emerged as a top contender for the job after he became the first U.S. prelate to have a private audience with the new pope. The two men have known each other for nearly 25 years, since they were both at the congregation in the early 1980s.

Brian Saint-Paul, editor of Crisis magazine, said Pope Benedict and Archbishop Levada are on “the same page” in dealing with controversy, preferring to “persuade” before turning to discipline.

“Pope Benedict trusts this man, and he knows better than anyone else what is involved in heading up this congregation,” Saint-Paul said. “He believes that Archbishop Levada is fully equipped to do that work.”

Bill May, chairman of the San Francisco group, Catholics for the Common Good, said the archbishop has displayed courage in speaking out on Church doctrine. He has “presided over a see where the Church is deeply opposed and is frequently openly mocked and abused,” May said, but “he has shown that he is willing and able to put himself at risk when public opinion is against him.”

May praised the archbishop for speaking out against gay marriage when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom issued marriage licenses to homosexual couples and for leading a walk against abortion this past January.

He has also shown that he can be pragmatic and open. “Archbishop Levada is conservative in his approach to theological issues, but he seems to take care to explain his own positions carefully and without rancor,” said Father Richard McBrien of the University of Notre Dame.

In 1997, Archbishop Levada brokered an agreement with the city of San Francisco after a new law would have forced Catholic Charities to provide benefits to domestic partners. He persuaded the city to change the law so employees of church agencies could designate any legal member of the household as beneficiary.

During the 2004 presidential campaign he took a moderate stance on the issue of politicians who support abortion rights, saying that politicians have a “complex and difficult task” and he would not deny communion to abortion rights supporters until he could “listen to their concerns” and help them examine Catholic teaching.

He has also wrestled with the clergy sexual abuse crisis, serving on the U.S.-Vatican commission that made final revisions to norms governing cases of priestly sexual abuse, and in San Francisco he has been faced with more than 70 cases of clergy sexual abuse and settlements that have forced cuts in archdiocesan staff.

He also helped update the Catechism of the Catholic Church and chairs the U.S. bishops' doctrine committee.

Archbishop Levada will inherit a staff of about 40 people who will oversee as much discipline as doctrine. The office has jurisdiction over marriage annulments, sins of the clergy, all abuse cases, and any case that appears to violate the teachings of the Church.

He was born June 15, 1936, in Long Beach, studied at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo and at the North American College and the Gregorian University in Rome, where he earned a doctorate in theology. He was ordained at St. Peter's Basilica as a priest of the Archdiocese of
Los Angeles in 1961.

In Los Angeles he worked as associate pastor, teacher and campus ministry chaplain, and in 1982 became secretary of the California Catholic Conference. He was made auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles in 1983 and became Archbishop of Portland, Ore., in 1983. He came to San Francisco in 1995.

(Barbara Erickson, associate editor of The Catholic Voice, and Peggy Polk of Religion New Services' Rome bureau contributed to this report.)

Archbishop Levada meets the press after his appointment to Rome.
REUTERS/Lou Dematteis

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