Round-up of Controversies Surrounding Cordileone's Installation

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone was installed as the new archbishop of San Francisco earlier this month amid a storm of controversies surrounding his policies, his behavior, and the installation ceremony itself.

Since the announcement of his appointment, many Catholics have been concerned that Cordileone’s history of work against marriage equality would make him unqualified to lead the church in a city with such a large and active LGBT population.   Cordileone is known as the “godfather of Prop 8,” the ballot initiative which reversed marriage equality in California.  In addition, he serves as the chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.  Cordileone also directed the board members of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry (which is housed in his former diocese of Oakland, California) to take a loyalty oath to the magisterium, which they refused to do.

Brian Cahill, a former director of San Francisco’s Catholic Charities organization, wrote an op-ed offering some advice to the new archbishop, which we hope Cordileone will heed:

“His apparent obliviousness to the disrespect felt by many gay and lesbian Catholics is disturbing. His continued insistence that same-sex marriage is unjust to children ignores the reality of the 70,000 children placed in the California foster care system by the abuse and neglect of their heterosexual parents, and ignores that the only significant cohort of adoptive parents for the most vulnerable of these children are gay and lesbian couples who want to form a family. His recent statement that Catholic gay and lesbian couples should not be allowed to receive Communion is distressing.

“Hopefully, he will not surround himself only with orthodox thinkers, but rather listen to a variety of points of view from his priests and parishioners. He could consult with retired Archbishop John Quinn, who led Catholic Charities in developing the first AIDS services in San Francisco, and who also might help him understand how to manage the tension between church teaching and how the church can fulfill its mission in a pluralistic society.

“He could speak with the Rev. Tony McGuire, one of our great senior priests and the pastor who made Most Holy Redeemer parish such a welcoming community for gays and lesbians in the 1980s. We should hope he will be a frequent visitor at Sunday Mass at Most Holy Redeemer, where he not only will experience beautiful liturgy and music, but a prayerful and worshipping community and the tangible presence of God.”

Just a few weeks before his installation, Cordileone was arrested for failing a sobriety test while driving in San Diego.  During his installation, he made reference to this incident in a lighthearted fashion, according to The Chicago Tribune:
“Following his installation as the religious leader of more than 500,000 Catholics in the largely gay-friendly Bay Area, Cordileone, 56, delivered a sermon and spoke about his recent arrest after failing a sobriety test at a police checkpoint.
” ‘God has always had a way of putting me in my place,’ he said. ‘With the last episode in my life, God has outdone Himself.’ “
Less public at the installation itself was another controversy which came to light only after the ceremony had ended.  San Francisco’s Episcopal Bishop Marc Andrus, who is a supporter of marriage equality, had been invited to the event. Earlier in September, Andrus had written a letter to local Episcopalians stating that he was looking forward to working with Cordileone, but that Andrus intended to remain firm in his support for marriage equality.  At the installation, Andrus was never seated for the ceremony and left standing in a waiting area until he decided to leave.
dotCommonweal blogger Rita Ferrone examines the possibility that Andrus may have been the victim of a simple error:
“Now, admittedly there were a lot of people at this event, and big events always include opportunities for underlings to flub things up. If the failure to seat Bishop Andrus was actually a snafu that happened at the installation, with no offense intended, what would you expect to happen next? I would expect Cordileone to call up Andrus the very next day and say I’m sorry; I regret this happened; please forgive this lapse of etiquette; it was all due to some confusion and truly it was not an intentional slight. I would then let the press know that we had made amends, and invite him to another public event soon, so that it could be seen that the Catholic leader of the Archdiocese of San Francisco respects leaders of other, long-established religious bodies. They are our dialogue partners and local collaborators in building the Kingdom, after all.”
Since Cordileone has yet to issue such an apology, Ferrone has drawn her own conclusion:

“Reluctantly, I am coming to believe that the slight must have been intentional.

“This is shameful, if so. Some have suggested that the letter Andrus wrote to the members of the Episcopal Church of his diocese caused offense to Cordileone and therefore it was right not to admit him. A more puerile argument can hardly be imagined. Andrus was an invited guest. He did not crash the party. If his letter was so egregious, he ought to have been asked not to come, rather than left standing at the door when he arrived.

“What sort of a leader has been appointed to the Catholic see of San Francisco? What sort of bishop cares so little for ecumenism and public relations that he would sit quiet while all this unfolds?”

In an interview before his installation, Cordileone had commented that people involved in a lesbian and gay relationship should not receive communion.  Chuck Colbert of The Bay Area Reporter elicited reaction to this comment from Catholic LGBT advocates:
” ‘Bishop Cordileone’s statement that lesbian and gay couples in relationships should not receive communion is a major pastoral blunder on many levels,’ said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an LGBT-positive Catholic organization, based outside of Washington, D.C.

” ‘First and foremost, the decision to approach communion is one made by the individual communicant, not a local bishop. If a person’s conscience is clear to receive communion, he or she should do so,’ explained DeBernardo in an email.

” ‘More importantly, for Bishop Cordileone to make such a statement, even before he has arrived in the archdiocese, shows an impersonal disregard for the people that he has been directed to serve. If Bishop Cordileone wants to lead Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, an area with a large LGBT population, the first lesson he needs to learn is to listen before he speaks,’ said DeBernardo.

“Cordileone’s call for Catholics not in agreement with church teaching to abstain from the Eucharist is not new. Other prelates have called on pro-choice Catholic lawmakers to do the same.

For that reason in part, ‘I am not bothered that he expressed his opinion about who should participate in the Eucharist. That is part of his job as a bishop,’ said Eugene McMullan, a gay man who attends Mass at Most Holy Redeemer.

” ‘Non-Catholics might think he is about to impose awful restrictions on us, as bishops used to do. That is unlikely,’ explained McMullan, who is also a lead organizer of the advocacy group Catholics for Marriage Equality in California.

“Ernest Camisa, a spokesman for and secretary of Dignity/San Francisco, a group for LGBT Catholics, voiced a different point of view.

” ‘It sounds like the ultimate rejection,’ he said in a phone interview, referring to any denial by church pastors of communion for same-sex couples and advocates of marriage equality.”

Archbishop Cordileone has a huge job in front of him.  In a city that is defined by two historic bridges–the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge–his first order of business should be to become a bridge himself by reaching out to those who feel alienated and by listening to the faith stories of LGBT Catholics.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

7 replies
  1. Tim MacGeorge
    Tim MacGeorge says:

    Thanks for the post, Frank. My one comment about Mr. Cahill’s editorial is his use of the word “orthodox” in the sentence, “Hopefully, he will not surround himself only with orthodox thinkers, but rather listen to a variety of points of view from his priests and parishioners.” By definition, “orthodox” means “right belief,” and so I disagree with Mr. Cahill in that the archbishop should surround himself with those whose belief is right, correct, on target. As it happens, many of us believe that the positions on same-sex marriage espoused by many who hold current episcopal offices (including Benedict XVI) are, in fact, un-orthodox. That is, their positions are not right, not correct, not on target with what one would come to if fully and faithfully listening to the Gospel of Jesus.

  2. Dr Jerry Baumeister, PhD
    Dr Jerry Baumeister, PhD says:

    Once again the Pope and the curia have shown their disregard and disrespect for the people of God they are charged with protecting and guiding. All the protests, petitions and marches will not effect change in the church. The only thing that will have the Vatican take notice is…… money! Withhold financial support of the church and the Vatican will find ways to accommodate the advocates of marriage equality.

  3. duckman44625
    duckman44625 says:

    It is unfortunate but very predictable the hard-liner bishops like Cordileone will continue to be installed while other bishops…equally qualified but not in total submission to the current Papacy are passed over…ones who realize that inclusion is the Christian path, not shepherding with a rod. Benedict VI has made it known that it is better for the Church to be smaller but “true”…essentially casting out any souls who follow their sincere consciences. This not only contradicts Catholic teaching (as in the Catechism) but is very un-Christlike. Regretfully, I foresee a schism on the horizon with duly ordained bishops and priests. This then begs the question: what will be the TRUE which enforces man made laws (the Canon) or one which invokes the message of Christ “The Way”…of compasion, merrcy, forgiveness and unconditional love ? The Holy spirit will sort it out, of this I am confident.

  4. Kay Miller
    Kay Miller says:

    The Catholic church seems to be on the path to self-destruction. The only remnants of following Christ are the nuns and the few progressives left. I feel the church is leaving so many of us with little choice.

  5. pjnugent
    pjnugent says:

    Cordileone’s treatment of Bishop Andrus is simply rude and childlike. I am ashamed for our church.
    As to communion, Cordileone and his ilk see Eucharist as a reward for the folks who “behave” like good little followers. I don see anything like that in the story of Eucharist at the last supper. In fact, wasn’t Judas even included in that first Eucharistic meal?
    Our leadership has strayed so far from “The Way”.

  6. Linda Nicholson
    Linda Nicholson says:

    As each day passes, I am drawing more distant from my Church and its leaders and closer to Christ. I have made a decision to become more spiritually enlightened by reading the Bible, the writings of great spiritual leaders and saints and doing good works. I can no longer defend my Church and I know my personal quest will bring me closer to Christ’s message of love. There are still many fine priests and Bishops out there, but given the blindness and callousness of the Church in addressing many important, timely issues, we are to wonder where is their loving, compassionate Christ-like behavior? This attitude of inflexibility, non-inclusion and non-negotiability does not reflect Christ’s mandate of “love your neighbor as yourself.”


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