SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — 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.
He was one of the early engineers of California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in 2008, and since 2011 has chaired the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ subcommittee charged with opposing efforts to legalize gay unions.
Several members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a performing arts troupe of men dressed in nuns’ habits, showed up to highlight Cordileone’s connection to the “dogma of bullying” they said the same-sex marriage ban represents.
“Silly Sally, you have no power here!” they chanted.
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 acknowledged his comments might sound anachronistic or “countercultural,” particularly to the young. But he told bishops to not back down in the face of “powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage.”
“Sexual differences cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage,” he said.
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.”
Cordileone’s arrest came after he was stopped at a police checkpoint near San Diego State University. His mother and a visiting priest from Germany were with him in the car he was driving. He said at the time that he had consumed some alcohol while having dinner with friends then decided to drive his mother home.
He is scheduled to appear in court on the misdemeanor charge on Tuesday.
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