B16's "Bombshell By the Bay" -- Marriage Chief Cordileone to Rock San Francisco
Depending on how one looks at things, this Friday morning brings either the most courageously bold -- or stunningly brazen -- American appointment in the seven-year reign of Pope Benedict XVI.
For the better part of the last four months, the machinery of the archdiocese that -- at least, under normal circumstances -- many US bishops consider the nation's most daunting episcopal assignment has quietly prepared its 450,000 members for a transition at the top. Yet while the pontiff's selection of the ninth archbishop of San Francisco had almost universally been expected by late June, an apparent delay was explained by credible reports of a backroom Roman "fight" over the state and direction of the famously progressive local church in the capital city of American liberalism.
Now, finally, the dust has cleared... and even for a city well-accustomed to seismic activity, the ecclesial Richter Scale both by the Bay and well beyond is about to record a right whopper.
A "major announcement on the future of the archdiocese" already set for 10am local time at St Mary's Cathedral, at Roman Noon the pontiff named Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, 56 -- the San Diego-born head of the neighboring Oakland church since 2009, and lead hand behind the US bishops' national effort to defend the traditional definition of marriage -- to succeed Archbishop George Niederauer, who reached the retirement age of 75 in June 2011.
After a half-century of occupants accused by conservatives of soft-pedaling church teaching in favor of a more conciliatory approach toward constituencies ranging from gays and lesbians to Nancy Pelosi -- a group of prelates among which even the recently-retired lead guardian of church doctrine, Cardinal William Levada, was not exempt from stinging criticism -- the move delivers the long-desired "Holy Grail" of the American Catholic Right firmly into the faction's hands, in the form of a prelate already known widely both for his forcefulness and a stringent doctrinal cred almost unequaled among his confreres on the national bench.
For liberal Catholics, meanwhile, the appointment is likely to be received as something akin to the city's Great Earthquake of 1906, or even more apocalyptic events. In a nutshell, an appointment of this dramatic, potentially explosive nature is enough to make even last year's blockbuster move in the States -- likewise a final US move of the Curia's annual work-cycle -- appear almost mild by comparison.
Either way, as the onetime lawyer at the Vatican's "supreme court" (his surname Italian for "lion heart") crosses the Bay Bridge with a mandate to reshape the House of Quinn with his own distinctive style and emphases over a tenure that could well extend over two decades, it seems pretty safe to say that, this morning, progressive Catholicism on these shores has a new leading bete noire -- and one who'll be around and kicking for quite some time, at that.
With the appointment, Cordileone becomes the youngest non-Hispanic among the 33 American archbishops; Gustavo García-Siller -- the Mexican-born archbishop of San Antonio -- turns 56 in December.
The next-youngest Anglo metropolitan, Oklahoma City's Paul Coakley, turned 57 last month. With Cordileone now included, the trio are the only Stateside archbishops younger than 60.
Four months after the marriage vote's successful outcome, Cordileone was dispatched north to Oakland -- a prominent progressive diocese in its own right -- following the return of Allen Vigneron to the archbishopric of his native Detroit. The East Bay move would launch a conspicuous trend of Rome's turning to standout prelates from the church's "orthodox" wing to fill diocesan openings in Northern California. A year later, Bishop Robert Vasa would be transferred to Santa Rosa, yet only today has the thread reached its ultimate consummation with the all-important metropolitan nod.
His latest column having focused on the more Left-friendly topic of immigration reform, Cordileone's San Fran suit comes bolstered by a fluency in Spanish -- a key asset to serve a local church whose Latino population has grown considerably enough of late that the archdiocese recently launched a Spanish-language newspaper.
In his charge until today, the trained canonist -- likewise a firm supporter of the pre-Conciliar Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite -- made further waves on the charged issue of homosexuality in the church with a call earlier this year for a national ministry association for Catholic gays and lesbians based in his diocese to sign oaths of "personal integrity" in response to a list of concerns that, according to published reports, included a passage in the group's materials that lamented the "negative language" of church documents on same-sex activity, and its use of the terms "gay" and "lesbian."
In response, the Berkeley-based Catholic Association for Gay and Lesbian Ministries (CALGM) refused to make the profession the now-archbishop sought.
Under normal circumstances, the notion of a staunch conservative being sent into a flagship bastion of liberal American Catholicism would quickly be brushed aside. Given the pattern of recent moves in California's Northern province, however, prominent sources did anything but discount a serious outbreak of springtime buzz that placed Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix -- another onetime Vatican staffer with a penchant for stirring the pot -- in the mix for the San Fran post. In the end, even if the choice ultimately fell to a younger and even more forthright pick, keeping with recent trends of an appointment process gone increasingly unpredictable in its final stages, the later indicators pointing toward a "bombshell" nominee to oversee the Bay's main fold panned out nonetheless.
Perhaps it's a telling sign of Burke's perceived high clout in Benedict's Vatican that the San Fran nod is the second major appointment in just three days to bear a clear link to the Wisconsin-born top jurist, now one of three American cardinals to hold a seat on the powerful Congregation for Bishops, which recommends choices for vacancies to the Pope. The other was the pontiff's Tuesday selection of Bishop Philip Tartaglia to lead his home archdiocese of Glasgow; Burke served as a co-consecrator at the Scot's episcopal ordination in 2005.
Within hours of his appointment, the likewise outspoken Glaswegian sparked a firestorm with the airing of a comment he made earlier this year that the recent death of an openly-gay parliamentarian at 44 could have been owed to the man's sexuality.
After a quick apology, the incoming head of the largest Scottish diocese was slated to meet with the politico's partner. The appointment came as the devolved Scottish executive pressed forward on its intent to legalize same-sex marriage north of the English border -- a proposal that, Tartaglia reportedly said in a TV interview on his appointment, he "could see [him]self going to jail" over, "if [he] spoke out" against it.
Back by the Bay, meanwhile, per the norms of the canons Archbishop-elect Cordileone must be installed in the modern landmark known by locals as "St Mary Maytag" within two months of this morning's announcement. In the meanwhile, the Golden Gate nominee is to spend at least part of the coming weekend to the north of the Bay Area, where he's scheduled to celebrate a Tridentine Mass on Sunday at the annual summer conference of the Napa Institute -- a think-tank of prominent American Catholic conservatives.
While San Francisco's three-county Catholic population now ranks smaller than most of the Golden State's dozen-plus dioceses -- including Oakland and San Jose, now the nation's tenth-largest city, whose territory was broken off from the San Fran church in 1981 -- the cultural status "The City" holds in American life has traditionally rendered the heads of the 150 year-old archdiocese as leading figures in the national church.
Notably, today's move is Benedict's second placement of the lead prelate behind a key American Catholic policy push into the helm of a historically influential, albeit mid-sized archdiocese in recent months, after the March appointment of William Lori -- chair of the bench's new arm dedicated to religious liberty -- as archbishop of Baltimore, the nation's oldest local church. The nod likewise continues what's now a half-century tradition of Southern Californians being sent to occupy the state's senior metropolitan seat.
According to the San Francisco Chancery's preliminary Appointment Day plans, today's presser (10am Pacific/1pm Eastern) will be livestreamed over the web.
Suffice it to say, buckle up.
SVILUPPO: According to early word from One Peter Yorke Way, Cordileone's installation as archbishop is slated for 4 October -- St Francis' Day, the city's patronal feast.
In an early statement released by the archdiocese, Niederauer -- the first US archbishop named by Benedict following his 2005 election -- said that “I am pleased to welcome Archbishop-elect Cordileone and to assure him of our prayers, loyalty, support and cooperation, as well as our friendship and affection.”
No lines from the archbishop-elect were included in the day's opening release.
In their shared retirement, Niederauer and Levada -- seminary classmates and best friends for almost six decades before becoming predecessor and successor -- have planned to keep their primary residence on the grounds of the archdiocesan seminary, the Sulpician-run St Patrick's in Menlo Park.
...and, below, Cordileone's prepared statement in English:
I am humbled by the confidence that Pope Benedict XVI has placed in me by entrusting to me the pastoral care of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. As the old saying goes, “God writes straight with crooked lines,” and I trust that, even with my limitations and shortcomings, God’s will is being accomplished in the midst of this unexpected call in my service to the Church.As prominent local reactions go, meanwhile, a not unexpected response to the move came from the scion of one of the city's top political families -- the openly-gay California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano -- who told the San Francisco Chronicle that he'd be "willing to talk turkey" with Cordileone, but only "if there is ever a change in attitude there."
I am and will always remain grateful to the priests and people of the Diocese of Oakland who welcomed me with such gracious hospitality immediately upon my arrival in the Diocese. I regret that my time among them as the pastor of that local Church was so brief. The East Bay is a place rich in diversity and cultural and spiritual vibrancy, and I was so looking forward to continuing to build on these resources with so many of my valued collaborators by tapping into the creative energy that has always characterized the Diocese of Oakland. To all of the wonderful priests and priestly people of the Oakland Diocese, please know that I love you and will continue to hold you in prayer and remain grateful for all you have taught me about what it takes to be a leader in the Church today.
At the same time, I look forward to assuming my new pastoral responsibilities with and for the priests and people of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. I wish to thank Archbishop Niederauer in particular for the support he has always shown me from the day of the announcement of my appointment to Oakland, and especially now in my transition as his successor. The Church of San Francisco has a tremendous legacy of Catholic ministries and participation in the local community for serving the common good. While assuming the pastoral care of a local Church as its bishop is always a daunting challenge, I am encouraged by the history we have to build upon and take confidence that, with much prayer and hard work, and with the grace of God, we will, together, be able to further the New Evangelization in this corner of the world we call home.
"This isn't a marriage made in heaven," Ammiano said.