In a move certain to be seen as provocative by some, the Vatican named a new San Francisco archbishop who is renowned for his support of immigrants but infamous for his role in the success of California’s same-sex marriage ban.
With his new position announced Friday at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Oakland Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, 56, will officially take the helm of the San Francisco Archdiocese in October. The church focused on Cordileone’s pro-immigrant credentials and his well-documented support of Latino communities during his time lending leadership to impoverished migrant parishes in Southern California.
But gay rights advocates expressed concern about his instrumental role in opposing certain LGBT issues, including his chairmanship of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Asked at a Friday news conference about his support for Proposition 8 in 2008, Cordileone stressed that the church remains open to LGBT individuals.
“We need to learn, continue to learn, how to be welcoming — let them know that we love them and we want to help them, and that our stand for marriage is not against anyone, but it’s because we believe this is foundational for the good of our society,” Cordileone said.
Openly gay Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who was raised Catholic, said while he’s heartened that Cordileone wants to keep the church open to LGBT people, his statement still represents a difficult divide between some congregations and church leaders.
“But it’s possible that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel here,” Ammiano said. “There’s a chance that the hierarchy will recognize this disconnect between their congregation and the kind of decisions that come down from the Vatican. They have the potential here for a very, very committed population of Catholics who happen to be LGBT, but their issues need to be included.”
Gay clergy members said they were not surprised by the Vatican’s choice. Retired Episcopal Bishop Otis Charles, widely considered the first openly gay Christian bishop, was set to speak at a Catholic Advent service last Christmas in the Castro district until his participation was nixed at the last minute by outgoing Archbishop George Niederauer.
“It’s difficult for those who are gay within the Roman Catholic Church to live with that kind of statement, knowing that underneath it is a sense there is something about you that is less than acceptable,” Charles said. “But there are those who believe that this particular point in history is similar to that of the Reformation. There are all kinds of changes at work, and how they will eventually sort themselves out is yet to be seen.”
Cordileone — commonly known as “Bishop Sal” — will oversee 91 parish churches with membership of 500,000 Catholics in San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin counties. According to the archdiocese, he is fluent in Spanish, plays the saxophone and enjoys jazz, baseball and football.
He will replace Niederauer, who has served as archbishop since 2005 and announced last year amid health problems that he would resign from the post.