SAN FRANCISCO — Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone was installed Oct. 4 as the ninth archbishop of San Francisco during a solemn and subdued ceremony that drew more than 40 episcopal leaders and 250 local clergy.
Outside the cathedral, a small group of protesters known as the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence” — men dressed as women religious — marked the occasion with media interviews attacking the new archbishop’s strong public opposition to same-sex “marriage,” while a much larger group of about 100 well-wishers, organized by the Neocatechumenal Way, celebrated his arrival with signs applauding his stand.
But while news reports highlighted the controversy stirred up by the Vatican’s appointment of a prominent leader of the 2008 Proposition 8 effort to bar a redefinition of marriage under state law, the city’s archbishop focused on the task of rebuilding the faith in a low-key homily that set aside hot-button issues.
‘Francis, Rebuild My House’
The installation was held on a fitting day in the liturgical calendar: the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of San Francisco.
Archbishop Cordileone pointed to the saint’s holiness and efforts to reform a Church in disarray as an example for all local Catholics to emulate.
“‘Francis, rebuild my house.’ These words which our Lord spoke to St. Francis from the cross in the Church of San Damiano are certainly well known to us. And repair that little dilapidated structure he did, zealously and within a short time. He did not build a new one, but he repaired an old one; he did not tear out the foundation, but he built upon it,” said Archbishop Cordileone as he stood before the congregation in red-and-gold vestments.
“St. Francis’ time was one of spiritual unrest. … There was also a need for the reform of the clergy, who had become self-indulgent and too absorbed with worldly things. Francis’ response was as timeless as it was simple: He focused on the universal call to holiness,” the archbishop said.
Then, reflecting on the challenges in his own life, Archbishop Cordileone added that any reform of the Church must begin with personal conversion, and he repeated his earlier apology for his Aug. 25 DUI arrest during a visit to his hometown. The apology was leavened with some rueful observations.
“I know in my own life God has always had a way of putting me in my place — little and sometimes big ways of reminding me of my need to depend upon him and to attend to the work of my own rebuilding from within,” he said.
“I would say, though, that, with this latest episode in my life, God has outdone himself.”
The archbishop had been slated to appear in a San Diego court on the misdemeanor charge next week, but The Associated Press reported that, on Oct. 1, he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of reckless driving.
George Wesolek, a spokesman for the San Francisco Archdiocese, confirmed that report, but said he had not received any further details.
The arrest was an uncharacteristic stumble for a fast-rising Catholic leader and the nation’s second-youngest archbishop. Born in San Diego in 1956 and ordained there in 1982, he was named an auxiliary bishop of San Diego in 2002, and then, after the passage of Proposition 8, he was appointed to lead the Oakland Diocese.
However, Archbishop Cordileone said he was touched and inspired by the flood of messages he received since his arrest from well-wishers of many religious and political affiliations. That good will, he suggested, offered hope for further collaboration in local efforts to advance the common good.
A Mixed Welcome
Ongoing controversy fueled by his appointment, however, suggested that the prelate would continue to face hostility from an array of city leaders angered by his role in the Prop. 8 effort.
Earlier this week, Marc Andrus, the Episcopal bishop of California, wrote an open letter that welcomed Catholics “who may find themselves less at home with Salvatore Cordileone’s installation” into his faith community.
On the day before the installation, Brian Cahill, the former director of Catholic Charities for the archdiocese, fired his own shot across the bow of the city's new Catholic leader, publishing an editorial that attacked the archbishop's opposition to adoption of children by same-sex couples.
"He can continue to be the aggressive, outspoken leader of the American Catholic bishops in their effort to prevent civil gay marriage, or he can be the shepherd of his flock. He can't be both, and if he tries, he will fail," charged Cahill.
However, in striking contrast, the array of Catholic leaders present at the installation Mass provided a clear show of support for the embattled archbishop.
Archbishop Carlo Vigano, the U.S. apostolic nuncio, was joined by three former leaders of the San Francisco Archdiocese, Archbishop John Quinn, Cardinal William Levada, the recently retired prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Archbishop George Niederauer, who has served as the archdiocese’s apostolic administrator following the appointment of then-Bishop Cordileone of Oakland, Calif. They were joined by 40 bishops from California and across the world.
Archbishop Vigano read the apostolic letter confirming the new archbishop’s appointment at an installation ceremony replete with traditional rituals in the modern St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Hispanics Gain Ground
The archdiocese comprises San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin counties, with an estimated 500,000 Catholics living within its boundaries. There are 416 priests, 90 deacons and 675 women religious. About 41% of local Catholics are of Latino descent, and the appointment of a new archbishop who is fluent in Spanish underscored the growing prominence of this ethnic group.
During an interview with the Register, auxiliary Bishop Thomas Daly of San Jose, Calif., a San Francisco native, acknowledged the heightened tensions between Catholic leaders and the city’s political leadership.
“The mayors of San Francisco used to greet the new archbishop at the train station,” said Bishop Daly, noting the sharp departure from that protocol in recent times. But he expressed his belief that Archbishop Cordileone would find a way to gain traction on a variety of fronts, including immigration reform.
As the former director of vocations for the San Francisco Archdiocese, from 2002-2011, Bishop Daly also pointed to a surge of “homegrown vocations.”
A decade ago, St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, which is owned by the archdiocese but operated by the Sulpician Order, earned notoriety after two administrators were separately removed from their posts and charged with sexual misconduct.
But Bishop Daly, who is on the board of the seminary, suggested that St. Patrick’s had turned a corner and was now full.
“St. Patrick’s Seminary in the last five years or so has drawn a stronger critical mass of young men who want to be Christian shepherds for the Church,” he said.
The new archbishop will also be in charge of numerous parishes and schools. The San Francisco Archdiocese includes 91 parishes, with 11 missions, 60 elementary schools and 14 high schools, thought some of these institutions are independnetly operated.
Maureen Huntington, the archdiocese’s superintendent of schools, told the Register that the new archbishop would not be faced with a budgetary crisis that required rapid school closings.
“I wouldn’t say our schools are on fire. Most are in good shape, in terms of enrollment and finances,” reported Huntington, who expressed the hope that the new archbishop will help shore up “inner-city schools that are vulnerable.”
The relative stability of archdiocesan schools points to the local Church’s legacy of institutional strength and cultural influence.
And despite the headlines, Vicki Evans, the respect-life coordinator in the archdiocesan Office of Public Policy and Social Concerns, suggested that the new shepherd could depend on local Catholics to help him renew the Church.
“During our last Walk for Life, we attracted 50,000 participants,” Evans told the Register.
But local believers are under relentless pressure to give way on issues like “abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and [the definition of] marriage,” Evans confirmed.
“If we don’t have somebody we can follow, there will be collateral damage. We will lose so many souls without a leader who is clear,” she said.
Appointment 'Makes Sense'
Mark Brumley, the president of the San Francisco-based Ignatius Press, the nation’s largest Catholic book publisher, welcomed the new appointment. “Archbishop Cordileone has a lot of experience effectively communicating the Church’s teaching in areas that are controversial, like marriage and family. It makes sense that the Holy Father would appoint someone like him to San Francisco,” he said.
Brumley suggested that recent Church leaders have struggled to find the right balance and tone as they address internal Church problems within an increasingly adversarial political environment.
“I don’t think Archbishop Cordileone is looking for a fight, but he will not avoid articulating clearly the Church’s teaching on marriage-and-life issues,” he predicted.
However, during his homily at his installation Mass, Archbishop Cordileone did not attempt to address the more incendiary social and political issues that have roiled the local Church in past decades.
Rather, his immediate focus was on strengthening the morale and spiritual resources of his clergy.
Imploring the congregation at the cathedral to take their cue from St. Francis, he told them to deepen their faith and to embrace the upcoming Year of Faith as an opportunity for spiritual renewal in their own lives and in that of their flocks.
Echoing Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Cordileone called on his priests to answer the “summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord.”
This renewal, he said, required a “fidelity” and “discipline” nourished by the abundant graces of the sacraments, Eucharistic adoration and regular recitation of the Rosary.
Everyone present, he suggested, should hold up as a model the sacrificial life of St. Francis, who received the stigmata that “certified complete conformity to the Lord.”
Then, he affirmed his commitment to his new flock and to an unpredictable future in his adopted city.
“By the grace of God, I hope to continue the good work you have built up here,” he said. “The path to holiness lies before us. Let us use the means placed at our disposal, so that, with his help, we may know the easy yoke of the eternal joy of him who has already won the victory for us, Jesus Christ.”
Joan Frawley Desmond, the Register’s senior editor, lives in Menlo Park, Calif.