New York Times
May 14, 2005
ROME, May 13 - Pope Benedict XVI named an American archbishop the guardian of church doctrine on Friday, and said he would speed up the process to make his popular predecessor, John Paul II, a saint.
For 24 years, until he was elected pope last month, Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, held the doctrinal job, which rules on what the church allows and does not, and is thus one of the most powerful and contentious posts in the church.
On Friday he named William J. Levada, 68, archbishop of San Francisco, to be his successor.
Archbishop Levada (pronounced leh-VAY-dah), a friend of Benedict's who worked with him over many years, is the first American to lead the body, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and becomes the highest-ranking American ever at the Vatican.
Colleagues describe him as a conservative who is fair and broad-minded, a man who brings both previous experience in the doctrinal office and 22 years as a bishop in the United States. He is also a theologian who has staunchly defended church teaching on many of the social issues confronting the church, including abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia and the role of women.
As the leader of the church in two liberal cities, he often found himself at odds with the prevailing political climate. In Portland, Ore., he helped lead the fight against a statewide initiative that legalized assisted suicide, which ultimately passed. In San Francisco, he opposed allowing gay couples to get marriage licenses, but did not put himself or the church at the forefront of the battle.
In his new job, he will also be responsible for reviewing all reports of sexual abuse involving priests that are forwarded from bishops around the world.
However, he has come under criticism from a victims' support group, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, for failing to remove accused priests from active ministry in San Francisco, and for keeping church documents about accused priests secret.
In a news conference on Friday in San Francisco, Archbishop Levada said his experience with the sex scandals, which has deeply wounded the church in America, may have been one reason Benedict chose him.
"He did not mention that to me, but I know that is a very, very strong concern of his," Archbishop Levada said. "It seems logical to me that one of the considerations he would make would be my familiarity with the situation in the United States."
Since Benedict was chosen April 19 to be the 265th pope, he has given few clues to his concrete program - and at 78 years old, he has said he does not expect his to be a long papacy. His public appearances have been largely ceremonial, his statements more spiritual than programmatic, his appointments mostly renaming officials from John Paul's papacy.
So the double-barreled announcements on Friday marked the most significant public day in his reign so far, looking both forward to the shape of his papacy and tying up unfinished business around his predecessor that is likely to be well received among Catholics.
"And now I have a very joyous piece of news for you," Benedict said at the Basilica of St. John Lateran during a meeting with clerics.
He then read a letter, signed May 9, in which he asked the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Josť Saraiva Martins, to waive the usual five-year waiting period between the time of a person's death and when the process for beatification, a key step toward canonization, can begin. The Italian priests, who embraced the Polish pope as one of their own, cheered.
John Paul had waived that five-year period once: for Mother Teresa, who died in 1997.
After John Paul II died on April 2 at age 84, an estimated three million people thronged to Rome in the six days leading up to his funeral, many holding signs demanding "Santo subito!" or "Sainthood now!" Some cardinals took up the cause, and there have been various reports of possible miracles attributed to John Paul, a requirement for being proclaimed a saint.
Benedict made the announcement on the anniversary of the assassination attempt against John Paul II in St. Peter's Square in 1981. During his 26-year papacy, John Paul elevated 483 people to sainthood, more than all his predecessors combined, though the official canonization process did not begin until the 17th century. The five-year delay before beatification is intended to allow a less emotional appraisal of a candidate's life. Church experts say, at any rate, that it will take years for John Paul to be canonized because of the requisite long investigation of his life and the miracles attributed to him. Only three popes have been canonized in the last 900 years.
Archbishop Levada said at his news conference that he assumed he had been chosen for the job based on his experience working in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Benedict and Archbishop Levada are friendly enough that in 1999 Benedict, then a cardinal, visited San Francisco. The future pope was "happy as a clam" to be a simple tourist, the archbishop recently told The San Francisco Chronicle.
"No doubt his choice of me is in part due to my familiarity with the work of the congregation over the years," he told reporters on Friday.
"This choice is also a tribute to the church in the United States," the archbishop said, "and a recognition of our important contribution to the work of the universal church."
In 2003, Archbishop Levada issued a broad apology to sexual abuse victims, in which he cited his own failures. "I may have unconsciously been uneasy or afraid to look at the scars caused by sexual abuse so closely," he said.
The Survivors Network accused Archbishop Levada on Friday of failing to remove six priests with the Salesian order from ministry in a San Francisco parish, even though all of them are the targets of sexual abuse lawsuits.
James A. Jenkins, a clinical psychologist in Kensington, Calif., who was appointed by Archbishop Levada in 2001 to serve on his board reviewing such allegations, said he quit three years later. He said he told Archbishop Levada that the board was not independent of his control.
"I think they wanted to manipulate us into coming to certain decisions, and I no longer felt that I could remain a member of the committee and keep my personal and professional integrity intact," Mr. Jenkins said in an interview on Friday.
But Bishop Donald W. Wuerl of Pittsburgh, who has known Archbishop Levada since 1979, praised the appointment, saying the archbishop would bring to the job "the experience of having lived through how this has impacted the church in the United States."
"We are going to find a person informed and sympathetic to the issues in the church and our country," he said in a telephone interview. "I would certainly include the victims. I would start with the victims."
Archbishop Levada said at the news conference that he would formally resign from his post in San Francisco on Aug. 17, the 10th anniversary of his appointment there.
The job of chairman, or prefect, of a Vatican congregation is generally held by a cardinal, and Benedict is expected to elevate Archbishop Levada to that position when he announces a new round of cardinals, probably later this year.
While Cardinal Ratzinger became over the years the most influential aide to John Paul II - and cardinals said they chose him as a man who could easily take over the job - most experts say it is unlikely anyone from America, considered by many in the Vatican as already powerful enough, could become pope.