Amid heavy security and the splendor of his faith’s most sacred rites, the new Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco assumed office Thursday without referring to the distress his appointment has aroused in this gay-friendly city, but offering self-deprecating jokes about his recent drunken driving arrest.
Archbishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone, wearing gold and red robes with a matching miter, told an audience of more than 2,000 invited guests at his installation mass that he was grateful for the messages of support he had received from people of different religious and political viewpoints following the Aug. 25 arrest in his home town of San Diego.
“I know in my life God has always had a way of putting me in my place. I would say, though, that in the latest episode of my life God has outdone himself,” Cordileone said with a chuckle as he delivered his first homily as archbishop.
The 56-year-old priest, the second-youngest U.S. archbishop, went on to say he did not know “if it’s theologically correct to say God has a way of making himself known in this way,” and asked for the indulgence of other high-ranking church leaders in the audience.
The connection, he said, was that the compassion he was shown “in the wake of the regrettable mistake I made to drive after drinking” made him hopeful the Bay Area’s Catholic community has the tools it needs to be part of a broader rebuilding of the church.
As Cordileone spoke, about three dozen gay rights advocates gathered outside St. Mary’s Cathedral to protest his induction opposite a much larger group singing hymns of welcome for the new archbishop. Cordileone, who served as bishop of neighboring Oakland for the last three-and-a-half years, has a nationwide reputation as a fierce defender of the Catholic Church’s positions on homosexuality in general and same-sex marriage in particular.
Pope Benedict XVI’s selected Cordileone on July 27 to replace retiring Archbishop George Niederauer. Opposition to same-sex marriage has emerged as a principal theme of Benedict’s papacy. In March, he urged visiting U.S. bishops to beef up their teaching about the evils of premarital sex and cohabitation, and denounced what he called the “powerful” gay marriage lobby in America.
The pope told bishops to not back down in the face of “powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage.”
The appointment letter the pope wrote appointing Cordileone was led aloud at the installation mass. In it, Benedict said he appealed to the archbishop’s parishioners “to give you a warm welcome and to remain in communion with you.”
For his part, Cordileone mentioned marriage only obliquely during his homily. Thursday was the feast day of San Francisco’s patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi, and the archbishop said that St. Francis, too, lived during a time of spiritual unrest, “even to the point of denigrating marriage on the basis that it was purely a material reality.”
This being the historic center of the gay rights movement, protests were inevitable the moment that the Archdiocese of San Francisco announced that its new leader would be the single-most recognizable church leader to support Proposition 8, California’s 2008 same-sex marriage ban.
Archbishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone, formerly the bishop of Oakland, was installed Thursday at St. Mary’s Cathedral while dueling crowds gathered outside to show their support or disgust. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — an LGBT group that satirically dons the garb of Catholic nuns, along with heavy face makeup — were joined by others outside the church to call Cordileone “perhaps the most anti-gay Catholic official in the country.”
But there were at least as many well-wishers for the new archbishop, who also is renowned for his staunch support of immigrants during his time in Southern California. Catholics put up large welcome banners and formed a circle for hours to loudly sing religious songs, many of them in Spanish.
As activists used bullhorns to try to talk over the singers, supporters sang louder and hit bongo drums with more veracity. At times, the costumed nuns danced inside the music circle, waving anti-church signs deploring leaders for stances on marriage and priestly sex-abuse scandals.
Most of the focus remained on Cordileone, as the Sister of Perpetual Indulgence known as Zsa Zsa Glamour asked the crowd to repeat phrases such as, “The archbishop has no superpowers … the archbishop cannot raise the dead … the archbishop is not God, do not pretend he is.” Others held signs showing martini glasses and asking, “One for the road, Sal?” — a reference to Cordileone’s recent arrest on suspicion of drunken driving in San Diego, where he pleaded guilty to the offense Monday.
Asked to comment on the animosity, Catholic supporters mostly just kept singing.
“They’re here for their reason,” said supporter John Paul. “We’re here to support the archbishop.”