Catholic marriage chief Cordileone sent to San Francisco

On Friday, the Vatican announced that Oakland Bishop Salvatore Cordileone would become the archbishop of San Francisco, succeeding Archbishop George Niederauer who hit retirement age last year.

Cordileone is notable for his work with immigrants, his canon law expertise, his work on the traditional Latin Mass and his leadership in the bishops’ national effort to defend the traditional definition of marriage. So in an era where roughly 65% of all news must be pegged to something dealing with homosexuality, you will not be surprised by the headlines:

Gay marriage ban supporter named SF archbishop

New SF Archbishop is Staunch Same-Sex Marriage Opponent

Oakland bishop, noted Prop. 8 supporter, named archbishop of San Francisco

Vatican’s controversial choice for new SF Archbishiop introduced

Same-sex marriage opponent named SF archbishop

The reader who sent in these headlines wrote, “You get the point.” And yes, we get the point. (Have you ever noticed that people on one side of an issue get called staunch but if they take a mirror opposite position, they’re not called staunch?) It’s really all that matters these days, right? Of course, Cordileone’s support of traditional marriage laws is exactly what you’d focus on in a headline, too, right? What I hoped for, however, was a bit more information in the body of the stories on Cordileone and his work. Whispers in Loggia, for instance, emphasized the same-sex marriage issues while also giving tons of other information about Cordileone and the San Francisco archdiocese.

The Associated Press story tells us nothing about Cordileone other than his views on same-sex marriage. And the tone of the piece is what I’d call “seething.” We’re told he “was instrumental in devising an initiative to strip same-sex couples of the right to wed in California and then raising Catholic dollars to qualify it for the ballot.” The only outsider quoted in the piece is the president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Or how about this odd lede from the Mercury News:

SAN FRANCISCO — Oakland Bishop Rev. Salvatore Cordileone — an active opponent of gay marriage — will become the archbishop of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Counties, it was announced Friday, prompting disappointment by same-sex marriage activists and delight from their opponents.

Isn’t polarization fun? At least the News expands beyond same-sex marriage. Can someone explain to me why the word “but” is here in the middle of this paragraph?:

Cordileone is known as a theologically conservative bishop faithful to the Catholic orthodoxy. He supports abolishing the death penalty but called on Catholics to vote for an initiative on the November ballot that requires parental consent for minors seeking an abortion.

That makes no sense to me. It reads like “He supports a Catholic position on one issue but then he supported Catholic teaching on another issue.” We also get a wider range of critics weighing in on this story. It’s not just people who support redefining marriage but also Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Readers noted that the San Francisco Chronicle‘s initial story (at the same url) was barebones, to understate wildly. But it got fleshed out late that night.

And I think this lede says it all:

The Vatican on Friday named a prominent religious official who has been a leader in the fight against same-sex marriage as San Francisco’s new archbishop, the latest in a string of conservatives to lead Catholics in one of the country’s most liberal areas.

Salvatore Cordileone, 56, organized religious leaders and helped raise significant sums of money to get Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative that banned same-sex marriage in California, on the ballot and spoke forcefully in support of it. He is also chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

In his first statements after the Vatican’s announcement, Cordileone, the current bishop of Oakland, touched on a range of topics, from cultural diversity to immigration reform. But reporters barraged him with questions about same-sex marriage. His response was resolute.

“Marriage is the union of a man and a woman, because children can only come about with the embrace of a man and a woman together,” he said. “I don’t see how that’s discriminatory against anyone.”

It might still focus on same-sex marriage but it’s less angry than the other reports. And it fully admits straight up at the top that the single-minded obsession on same-sex marriage comes from reporters, not Cordileone. (And it’s so much better than this sister story in the Chronicle, which I believe is supposed to be straight news and not opinion.)

I mean, it’s still the Chronicle, which means you get a really weak quote from a supporter of traditional marriage laws followed by a thoughtful quote from an opponent of same. But then this:

Cordileone said he wouldn’t shy away from the struggle of being a conservative voice in a liberal area, but it left him perturbed that marriage would be so much of a focus of his appointment.

“To be honest, I’m kind of frustrated,” he said. “I wish I didn’t have to expend so much time and energy on something that should be self-evident.

“But this is the high-profile issue,” he said. “It’s a foundational issue. For whatever God’s reason, it’s the issue he’s given us at this point in history, so I’m not going to run from it.”

Then we learn a lot about how Cordileone’s predecessor was also pivotal in California’s support for retaining the definition of marriage as a heterosexual institution. We get the obligatory quote from the Rev. Thomas Reese talking about marriage laws. That makes sense since the Georgetown University prof was probably the closest priest available for comment. Ha.

But the story includes other tidbits, such as that Cordileone delivered a speech in both English and Spanish just hours after he was named as well as why that’s important given the demographics of the area. He’ll be the first fluent Spanish-speaking archbishop there since Joseph Sadoc Alemany was named archbishop in 1853. We learn about which dioceses he will oversee. And we get some nice background about his extensive ties to San Francisco. Also, I was glad that the story picked up on the significance of his installation date, which is how the story ends:

Cordileone will be installed Oct. 4, the feast day for St. Francis of Assisi, for whom San Francisco is named.

If you’re going to focus extensively on same-sex marriage, it’s nice to be somewhat transparent about who is driving the focus. But it’s also true that while journalists seem to believe that support for same-sex marriage is the most important doctrinal test any citizen must pass, there is actually much more to a person than his or her belief in retaining a definition of marriage as a conjugal union of husband and wife or opposition to same definition. And for Catholics in California, even if that is an important issue, there are many other issues of importance. Let’s hope that the media calm down a bit in their drive to politicize everything or make everything about same-sex marriage and open up their range of interest just a tad.

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  • Ed Dougherty

    Ms. Hemingway,

    You are certainly correct in stating that many media members today see only the marriage aspect of religion when reporting on stories such as these.

    However, I would submit that if this is the case, then that is because religions do a poor/negligent job of publicizing the other aspects of the work they do. Since this is a Catholic story and I’m Catholic, we’ll use the USCCB as an example.

    I have no doubt of the fine work that Bishop Codileone does on issues such as immigration and the death penalty among what I’m sure are other issues, as well. And I am aware of the greater work done by my Church and the USCCB, as well. But to find the eveidence of this work, you have to be an enterprising laity, such as I am, to learn of it.

    Few Catholics know of this work because the USCCB really won’t talk about it or publicize it. Cardinal Dolan was more than happy to go on Bill OReilly about the HHS mandate but that was all he talked about. Granted, he can’t control what Fox does but he also can controld his message and asked that if he wouldn’t at least be allowed to mention these issues, then he wasn’t going on. But he wouldn’t do something like that and that is because to be a Catholic or a Christian today is to be a fighter in the culture wars. Period. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan? The death penalty? Economic inequality? Racial reconciliation? Nice subjects but they don’t speak out as strongly as they could because they just keep this advocacy to their websites (where, as I said, you need to know where to look). And they are able to do this because the average Catholic (and I dare say Christian today) is more than happy in this day and age to have Catholicism and Christianity be defined by what it is against rather than what it is for. And so long as enough Catholics/Christians are happy to have this be the narrative, then that’s the kind of reporting you’ll get.

    The USCCB says it constantly. Abortion and marriage are the foundational issues. Anything else is filler and the media follows that line.

    Thank you for considering my comment and I hope it is taken in the spirit intended.

  • The Old Bill

    The Chronicle’s sister piece by Joe Garofoli refers to the bishop’s upcoming ordination in SF. The Chronicle’s much better article by Matthai Kuruvila correctly calls it his installation.

    The but then informs me as much about the reporter’s views as the bishop’s. It is entirely consistent to be opposed to capital punishment and abortion. (It is also consistent to be opposed to the latter, but not the former.) So why is it surprising or controversial that Bp. Cordileone is opposed to both?

    The tone of so much of the coverage is that opposition redefining marriage is out of touch and unpopular. But did not Prop 8 pass? (That does not prove its rightness or wrongness, merely that it is not out of touch and unpopular.) It is out of touch and unpopular in newsrooms.

    San Francisco is “one of the hearts of the gay liberation story,” said Michael Harank, 59, a lifelong Catholic who founded an independent Catholic agency in Oakland for homeless people with HIV. “He may be pastoral, but his work as one of the financial fathers and creators of Prop. 8 is clearly a slap in the face to the gay community.”

    Pardon me for noticing, but the gay community has not been shy about slapping the Church’s face. (Nor has the press.) Given its doctrine, whom is the Church supposed to choose as archbishop? BTW, it is entirely consistent with Church teaching to minister to and care for gay people and people with AIDS. Think Mother Theresa.

    We learn that 40% of the diocese’s Catholics are Latino and he is the first archbishop in SF since 1853 who is fluent in Spanish. The hand that slaps also reaches out.

  • Chris Bolinger

    It reads like “He supports a Catholic position on one issue but then he supported Catholic teaching on another issue.”

    Translation: We agree with his (and the RCC’s) position on the first issue but disagree with his (and the RCC’s) position on the second issue.

  • Mollie


    I think that’s the only way the “but” makes sense, actually.

  • Heather

    We get the obligatory quote from the Rev. Thomas Reese talking about marriage laws. That makes sense since the Georgetown University prof was probably the closest priest available for comment. Ha.


  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    We learn about which dioceses he will oversee.

    No we don’t, Mollie. The media got this very wrong. He will only oversee the Archdiocese of San Francisco. The other dioceses in the Province of San Francisco — Santa Rosa, Oakland, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, etc. — are overseen by their own bishops. Cordileone will have no more authority over them than he does as Bishop of Oakland. He will call and conduct occasional provincial meetings, but that’s about it. He’ll have more than enough problems with taking care of SF without having to deal with everyone else.

    And Ed Dougherty, it’s not entirely the bishops’ fault for this focus. The media love the “Let’s see you and him fight” scenario so they can report on some fighting. These pages have discussed before the great need the bishops have for decent PR. But that’s not solely what’s driving this singular focus on same-sex “marriage” — witness Chick-fil-A. No, the media have their agenda and they’re pushing it. For them, Archbishop Cordileone is the one-dimensional bishop.

  • Martha

    “He supports abolishing the death penalty but called on Catholics to vote for an initiative on the November ballot that requires parental consent for minors seeking an abortion.”

    The “but” is because the lines are supposed to be drawn between two positions which stack up neatly as follows:

    On the right – the ‘bitter clingers’ – guns, God and religion. Republicans to a man (women should stay in the kitchen, preferably barefoot, pregnant, in proper wifely submission) who support the death penalty for littering, are anti-abortion rights and believe gays should be burned at the stake. Also, literal six days of 24 hours each creationism and public prayer should be taught in all schools and scientists – particularly those who advocate for the theory of evolution to be taught in school biology classes – should also be burned at the stake (on the slow days when there are no gays to be immolated). Poor people should be left to die if they are too lazy to make enough money to pay for their health insurance, the border between the U.S.A. and Mexico should be sealed off by an iron wall, and the Soldier in Team Fortress 2 is lacking in appropriate levels of patriotism. Certain Catholics fit in here more or less, with added anti-contraception policies (including wanting people to die of AIDS in Africa) and some minor weirdo obsessions of their own.

    On the left – reasonable, normal, ordinary people who vote Democrat, are lovingly tolerant, are anti-death penalty, pro-reproductive justice, pro-marriage equality, and are just plain nice, sensible, right-thinking folks. Certain Catholics fit in here (like the LCWR, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden and others) because they know that the American people love democracy and freedom of choice, and those old white men in the Vatican are not the bosses of them, as well as social justice teachings.

    When you get someone who exemplifies the fact that the Catholic Church has positions that don’t fit neatly into political categories of conservative versus liberal, but can be criticised by one group for being too left-wing (generally but not exclusively on economic policies) and by another for being too right-wing (generally but not exclusively on sexual morality), then it confuses the poor journalists who didn’t get this covered in their handy bullet-list press release!

  • Martha

    Yes, I love that the “San Francisco Chronicle” could find no priest nearer than the opposite side of the country (Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. versus San Francisco being something like 2,000 miles apart) to give them a quote on the new archbishop. Nobody from his old diocese willing to say a word about him? Honestly?

    Maybe the U.S.C.C.B. should go crazy and buy a mobile phone for at least one priest in each diocese so they could give a comment to the local press, so that poor Fr. Reese can get on with teaching his classes and not be constantly hauled out to talk to the media? (After all, it can’t be the fault of keen investigative reporters and sharp-eyed newshounds that they never talk to anyone else, can it?)

  • Ed Dougherty

    Hi Thomas,

    Well, then, it’ll be up to the USCCB and Archbishop Cordileone to find better ways to communicate, per the post you linked, won’t it?

    Hi Martha,

    You’d be surprised how much your caracatures (sadly) are all too true of religious persons these days.

  • John Penta

    That presumes, Martha, that Fr. Reese actually teaches classes.

    Given just *how* available he is, I strongly suspect: A. He’s a professor in name only, basically; B. He doesn’t regularly teach actual classes.

    Which is why I raise my eyebrows at a lot of the superstar “academics” the media trots out. Some…Many, I’d wager, actually…probably haven’t taught actual (particularly undergraduate) classes in years. If all they do is write books and give quotes to the media, is it really fair to call em academics?

  • Joe Murray

    I think the media coverage of Bishop Cordileone reflects the biases and agenda of those who write for the various secular news media. Much like the Catholic Media they cover what their readers may be interested in, and their editors are supportive of. The author appears to want to have us to live in a perfect world of journalism, which we don’t. All of us are frail human beings and that includes the author.

    The coverage of Archbishop elect Cordileone reflects I think the tipping of the scales. The promotion of intolerance regardless of the source is no longer acceptable currency in the secular press. The religious press are free to present their side of the story. However, trying to claim balance with reason and facts in the promotion of bigotry is not grounded in reality.

    The Catholic Hierarchy is quickly becoming irrelevant in any public discussion on the issue of human/sexual/gender rights.

    The promotion of bigotry against LGBT people is no longer acceptable in the secular media like it appears to be in religious media. I wonder why the author is not calling for the same balance in religious media as the individual is calling for in the secular media.

  • Charles Collins

    If that fact that the new bishop is “anti-gay marriage” is news, perhaps they could have suggested some other bishops who might have been chosen who were “pro-gay marriage”.

    It seems that the headlines could have been used for anyone who would have been appointed to the post – and therefore is not actually news.

  • Rathje

    Mr. Dougherty,

    Are you saying that if a reporter fails to discover important work and policy stances that an important local church is doing and taking, it is the church’s fault, and the reporter should be given a pass?

  • sari

    With the exception an article from Atlanta, all the linked articles are from the CA Bay area or nearby Silicon Valley (Mercury News). San Francisco’s unique demographics, the unusual concentration of GLBTQ people in one geographical area, drive the headlines and the newspapers’ slant. Same-sex marriage is a HUGE issue for this community, more than just am abstract liberal cause for members of the MSM. As my ancestors evaluated every change in light of “is it good for the Jews”, so, too, I suspect, will the GLBTQ community assess the new Archbishop’s positions to determine which will affect them directly. This is the biggie; the rest are important, but will effect other people.

  • Ed Dougherty

    Not necessarily, Rahtje. My main point is that religious bodies, if they wish to be known for things other than just being sides in the culture war, have to be proactive in making their works and views known that might be outside of the culture war. In my opinion, this is something that the USCCB hasn’t been very good at doing and it is one (of many) factors driving the Cathoilc (and other churches) lower memberships.

  • AuthenticBioethics

    I have to say that I expected the MSM to focus on the new Archbishop’s stance pretty much to the exclusion of everything else. And they did not disappoint.

    But as a rather traditional Catholic, I am also very much interested in that dimension of the appointment. I bet, however, that I took the news rather differently than the MSM did.

  • Will

    And last I heard, there was no “Archbishop of San Mateo Country” or “Archbishop of Marin County”.

    Come on, nobody would call Bloomberg “Mayor of New York and Brooklyn and Queens Boroughs”.

  • Martha

    John, but how can the poor man ever teach a class? Hauled out of class/his nice warm bed at all hours of the day or night (what’s the time difference between the east and west coasts?) to give snap answers on all kinds of Catholic-related matters from “Does the Pope have a big hammer to hit the nuns over the head with?” to “What is Cardinal Dolan’s favourite sock colour?” because he is the only Roman Catholic priest in the entire United States that the papers have a contact number for – sure, how could anyone stand up to that kind of pressure?

  • Ann Rodgers

    Father Tom Reese happens to be a native of that region of California,and his brother is also a Jesuit priest who remains in northern California. Father Tom spent a year teaching at Santa Clara University — in the Diocese of San Jose but just down Highway 101 from San Francisco — within the past five years. He knows a lot about the state and the region. As such, he’s a perfectly reasonable phone call for a reporter.
    Also, in response to Ed Dougherty: The USCCB regularly sends out statements to the news media on everything from immigration to the farm bill. I receive several each week. They are only too happy to talk about those topics. It’s my colleagues in the news media who generally choose to follow up only on gay marriage.

  • Mollie

    Here’s a release from the USCCB today. It backs up what Ann is saying.

  • Martha

    Sure, Ann, but the only priest quoted in the entire story was Fr. Reese who seems to be the only priest ever quoted in these stories. No quote from any priest in the Archbishop-elect’s old diocese, who might have shed some light on what his pastoral style was like? No priest in the archdiocese and what their expectations and hopes about him were? Nobody else?

  • Maureen

    They could have even called people from his bishop-ing in San Diego or from his old parishes.

    Cordileone seems to be a good fixer. He’s got a fair grasp of traditional Catholicism, without being mad at the rest of the Catholic world.

    And considering how Archbishop Levada got treated by SF — and he was a nice conciliatory guy — I don’t see why they’re surprised to be getting a younger, more definite kind of bishop this time.

  • MJBubba

    At least the SF Chronicle included some good quotes from Bishop Cordileone.

  • Ed Dougherty

    Hi Ms. Hemingway and Ms. Rodgers,

    Ms. Hemngway, that’s a terrific document from the USCCB that you’ve posted. Now, what good does it do if you, Ms. Rodgers and myself are the only ones who see it? Who’s going to go on cable news (as much as I hate cable news) and explain it to the masses? Who from the USCCB is going to have the state conferences explain this to those Catholics who aren’t even aware of the range of issues?

    Posting articles such as these requires a lot of futher legwork from the USCCB.

  • Joe Murray

    I am truly sorry that my opinion on this matter is being censored by the powers that be. This is an example of fairness being a one way road when it comes to religious media.

    God bess.

  • Mollie

    Just read our commenting policy and you’ll see that we keep a pretty strict focus. We aim to discuss mainstream (nor religious) media coverage of religion news. Comments that are off-topic may be deleted.
    The mgmt.

  • Joe Murray

    My opinion according to your note on it, was hidden because of space limitations. Your readers are obviously reading it with 3 supporting my view and 27 opposed.

    How am I off topic? I am commenting on Archbishop elect Cordileone’s media coverage in terms of balance. Surely you can come up with a better response for your censorship.

  • Mollie

    I’m sorry. I thought you must have written one of the comments I did censor/delete from this thread.
    In fact, you wrote a comment that merely has been “disliked” by readers.
    And while it’s no fun to see that people dislike one’s comment, I wouldn’t worry too much about the “censorship” — we’ve found that the “hidden due to low rating” comments are our most read. Everyone wants to know what was said that was so disliked.

  • Dave

    Mollie, “defense of traditional marriage” is a current code phrase for “opponent of gay marriage.” To object to the media providing the decode for readers is silly.

  • Douglas Lewis

    Dave, no, it’s not. It’s a defense of traditiional marriage against whoever and whatever attacks it. At the moment, the main attacks come from proponents of homosexual marriage. As Cordileone says, ‘it’s the issue [God's] given us at this point in history.’ If people who engaged in other sexual practices the Church disapprvoes of were to attack the institution of marriage, a defense would be mounted against them as well.

  • Joe Murray


    Thank you for that explanation, and I accept it as reasonable.

    However, censorship in the religious press does exist. Some here want To hold the secular press to a higher standard than the religious press I think that is a bit unreasonable.

    Now if you want to have a mature discussion you must be open to reason, and not propaganda over reason. My point is that all of us are frail human beings trying to make sense out this rapidly changing world. As Catholics I think we have to continuously be challenged on what the faith really is. Is Truth only to found in certainty, or can truth also be found in the challenge?

  • John Pack Lambert

    The but connecting opposition to the death penalty and abortion makes even less sense since the classic attack on pro-lifers is “they care about the unborn but will allow the state to murder people through capital punishment.”

    Of course, the analogy is flawed. However here we see it is often false. I guess the but makes sense if you assume that having a child is some sort of virtual death penalty for a minor female. Even if we ignore the adoption option, this is a disturbing bait and switch tactic at the very best.

    Lastly, I would say that the coverage of the marriage issue ignores the view that those who favor the preservation of man/woman marriage hold. To them this is an issue of the intrinsic definition of marriage and the preservation of social goods that will be lost if the term is deprived of its current limits. Redefining marriage will change the institution for all people.

  • John Pack Lambert

    I think Old Bill in noticing that Cordileone is fluent in Spanish is hitting something. If 40% of the diocese in Latino, and another good portion is almost certainly Filipino and Vietnamese, the “life-long” 50-plus Euro-American Catholics who embrace liberal ideas are probably a minority in the diocese, and will be a more pronounced minority in the near future.

    The fate of the Catholic Church in the US will be among the Latino and Asian immigrants and their descendants, not among the Euro-Americans who in general do not any more number as many in the next generation.

    Even among Euro-Americans, those who still identify with Catholicism in the group under 50 will tend to not have much desire to embrace the philosophies of liberalism and its attempts to mock and undermine the teachings of the Church.

  • Singing Mum

    Cheers, Mollie, and especially for that final sentence. Bp. Cordileone was a great inspiration to me and my family when he was with us in San Diego. We got to know him fairly well as an interesting, thoughtful man of deep prayer and active concern for the weaker members of society. He was always busy helping people of all walks of life on several fronts. After the recession hit in ’08, he even helped me find a job for my struggling family, without me even asking him to! So it drives me a little nuts to constantly read the media fixation with redefining marriage. There is a lot more depth to Bp. Cordileone, his history and future plans.

    If people are waiting for someone to validate their sex life regardless of
    Christian teaching, he’s not the man. Bp. Cordileone is a steady champion of the gospel, nothing less!

  • Joe Murray

    As I understand it this whole discussion was focused on the issue of balanced coverage of Bishop Cordileone in the media. I posted my opinion on the matter which was focused on that balanced/unbalanced coverage. However, my response was disliked by some here so the response was hidden.

    Now we have individuals beating their chest about abortion and that is not off topic. In my opinion, fairness and reasonableness is not the strong suite in this discussion. I think that is part of our human frailty being the playground bully.