New archbishop could learn from San Francisco 

It is hard not to view the Vatican’s appointment of Oakland Bishop Salvatore Cordileone as archbishop of the Archdiocese of San Francisco as a slap in the face of many city residents.

True, the 56-year-old’s pro-immigration stance and support of Hispanic communities during his tenure among migrant parishes in Southern California deserve credit. “Bishop Sal,” as he’s been called, speaks Spanish and has served as a parish priest in Calexico, just across the border from Mexico, where his parishioners struggled to make a living.

But Cordileone has worked to deny the rights of other Californians. As an auxiliary bishop in San Diego, he led a team of lay Catholic businessmen in conceiving and organizing the campaign for Proposition 8 — the state amendment to strip away the California marital rights of same-sex couples.

Cordileone’s work helped the campaign take off: He found its first major donor, brought in the team that would lead the signature-gathering effort, and worked with evangelical churches to coordinate the campaign’s message. He spent the last few months of 2008 working hard to make sure voters stripped away the rights of thousands of Californians.

His appointment to San Francisco comes at a time when the Vatican is moving to reassert its authority over wayward American Catholic institutions — reminding lay Catholics that when the pope says contraception and abortion are wrong, he means it.

Catholic institutions have played a critical role in the effort to challenge President Barack Obama’s mandate that health care plans must include affordable access to contraception. In April, the Vatican announced that three of its bishops would seize control of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the largest group of nuns in the United States. The Vatican declared the nuns had spent too much time working on issues of poverty, at the expense of advocating against abortion and birth control. The Vatican’s “doctrinal assessment” argued that too many nuns had been challenging official dogma on issues such as whether women could be priests — or, as the report put it, stressing “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Cordileone is a leading figure in this Vatican attack on liberal Catholics. In 2006, he led an unsuccessful effort to place the use of contraception on a list of sins so great that those who committed them would be denied the sacrament of communion. It’s probably good for Cordileone that this effort was repulsed, because its enforcement would likely tear the church apart.

When policy positions such as these are contemplated, San Francisco’s new archbishop looks a lot like a throwback to the Catholic Church’s darker ages.

At a news conference last week, Cordileone was asked about these past efforts, and how he intends to speak to the gay people he had insulted so deeply.

“We need to learn,” Cordileone said. “Continue to learn, how to be welcoming — let them know that we love them and we want to help them.”

Local gay men and lesbians, and supporters of marriage equality, may understandably feel they have already had enough such help. We can only now hope that San Francisco’s new archbishop heeds his own words — and continues to learn.

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