Archbishop George Niederauer and Archbishop-designate Salvatore J. Cordileone — the eighth and ninth archbishops of San Francisco – are pictured July 27 at St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco.
dennis callahan//Catholic San Francisco
First steps: Getting connected
Three days after the announcement of his appointment in San Francisco, Archbishop-designate Salvatore J. Cordileone sat down in his Oakland office overlooking Lake Merritt with members of The Voice staff: Mike Brown, Catholic Voice associate publisher; Albert C. Pacciorini, editor; and Michele Jurich, associate editor/staff writer, for an interview.
You've come full circle, to your family's roots in San Francisco. Beyond same-sex marriage and homosexuality, there are other issues there — immigration, social justice, homelessness, poverty. Have you given some thought about where you might spend some focus, or is it too early?
I think it's too early to say. I need to get a better lay of the land there. Certainly immigration is one. I know San Francisco is a sanctuary city so that's an issue of major concern in the city and is something the wider community can connect better on, Catholics and other.
How will you go about getting "the lay of the land"?
I will do something similar to what I did here in terms of getting out into the parishes, meeting with different departments of the chancery, getting to know who they are and their work and meeting with priests in small groups.
I'll have to judge it after I get there because I think there will be some ongoing responsibilities here in Oakland to ease a transition here even after I take over in San Francisco. In terms of the practical demands on my schedule, I'll have to adjust as I go along.
As the metropolitan, do you have some say over what happens in the dioceses in your care?
The metropolitan does not have jurisdiction inside the suffragan dioceses of the province. He takes a leadership role in terms of coordinating pastoral and canonical issues that affect the whole province, everything from a decision to convene a council, which we're not thinking of, just to give a canonical example, to deciding what the amount should be for a Mass offering. A lot of it is more practical: We need to coordinate priests coming from other countries and helping them to inculturate here and helping our communities prepare to welcome priests coming from abroad.
Recently San Francisco has made a major effort in Latino ministry, including naming a vicar for Latino ministry. Do you have any sense if that will continue?
It's been very recently brought to my attention that there's a very large Spanish-speaking population in the archdiocese, more, I was told, than most people think. I'm looking forward to getting to know the Spanish-speaking community. I'll work together with others on plans to how to best address their pastoral needs.
The Walk for Life has always had your support, and now it's going to run through your backyard — is there any sense of your increased participation in that effort and other life issues?
Certainly, obviously, I'll continue to support that. I've been present every year for the past several years and obviously will continue to be so. Again, it's another pastoral planning matter to educate our people on what respect for human life and dignity really involves.
What's one thing you'd like the people in San Francisco to know about you?
I'm not a single-issue person. I advocate the consistent ethic of life.
You've only been here a couple of years. Do you have some favorite memories?
There would be a lot of things. The earlier memories would be of how the priests organized themselves in small groups for lunches and dinners so we could get to know each other, and how welcoming and hospitable the priests and people have been during my parish visits. The India trip certainly will be memorable. That was a great opportunity to be with priests of our diocese and some lay people, too, who were part of that.
How many parish visitations have you done?
Can you reflect on your time with the people of the Diocese of Oakland?
There's still a lot of potential left here that we can tap into. The timing of this is very unfortunate because I feel pretty integrated in the diocese, in the sense I know who is who. There are a lot of big things we have to do, addressing the capital needs is one of them. I think we can do it. I was looking forward to it — it's going to take a lot of hard work — but I was looking forward to making a dent in that. It's a very vibrant church. The people are very involved in their parishes and in the wider community. I think if we can just get us all working together and with the common vision we can accomplish even more.
Have you given some thought as to how to harness that potential, or light a spark under it?
My approach has been to let people to get to know me as widely as possible. That's why those weekend-long parish visits. I would try to be as present as possible in the diocese, with different groups, movements and organizations. It's important for people to feel a personal connection to their bishop. Ultimately, though, it's the priests and the parishes that will make it happen. I'm hoping that if they see my face and know who I am, and the priests feel my support, and the people feel connected to their priests, it builds up more of a sense of solidarity to be able to tap that potential.
Any advice for your successor?
The advice I'd give to anyone: Get to know the diocese. Get to know the priests. What I just said, there's a lot of potential in the diocese. Learn how to tap into that.
You have shown leadership in the greater Oakland community, in programs that are planned to address youth violence. A gang prevention program has been presented to parents and young people in some of our parishes already.
I was grateful to OPD that reached out to us, and I was very happy to cooperate. I knew the priests would be very willing to do this, especially in the parishes that are most affected by gang violence. That's another issue that was on my docket, to try to come up with a strategic plan for addressing that. People have suggested this idea to me. I guess that's something for my successor to pursue.
What are the challenges of leading the Diocese of Oakland?
I think the culture here in the East Bay — I'll figure out what it's like on the other side of the Bay now — is very politicized. People tend to see things in terms of liberal/conservative. In terms of educating our people on the faith, it's to try to help them to see things through more of a spiritual or Catholic lens. Again: the consistent ethic of life. We affirm human life and dignity at every stage and in every condition. We're going to fall on both ends of the political spectrum. We can't decide our position on issues by politics, but by what affirms human dignity. Then try to work with people, if they have political view of life, still, if they're with us on the issue, we can connect with them to do something about it.
Believing the teaching of the church and teaching the teaching of the church is not something that's liberal or conservative — it's something that's Catholic. The diocese has always been characterized by this creative, innovative energy. Tapping into potential, coming up with strategies on how we can teach what the church teaches and helping form people with the virtue they need to live out the church teaching, that's where that creative energy the diocese has can be directed.