Vatican Elevates Levada to Cardinal
New Doctrine Chief Is Now Eligible to Vote for Next Pope

By Julian Guthrie
San Francisco Chronicle
February 23, 2006

San Francisco's former archbishop, William Levada, was named a cardinal on Wednesday, making the California native eligible to vote to select the next pope and increasing the chance that he could one day lead the Roman Catholic Church.

Levada was the seventh archbishop of San Francisco and the first in the 153-year history of the archdiocese to be elevated to cardinal. He left San Francisco in August to run the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the highest position any American has ever held in the Vatican.

Levada, 69, was among 15 new cardinals from around the globe named this week by Pope Benedict XVI. His elevation to the elite group was expected, as the highest offices at the Vatican are run by cardinals; it becomes official at a solemn Mass in Rome on March 24.

When Levada left San Francisco in August, San Francisco lawyer Angela Alioto was appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom to lead a delegation to attend the anticipated installation. Alioto had expected the Mass to take place in February.

"I've been crying all morning," said Alioto, who will be in trial in March.

Her son, Joseph Alioto Veronese, will now lead the 21-person interfaith delegation.

"Levada is just fantastic," Alioto said. "He is a real character. He makes me smile. We went to a lot of Giants games together."

German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger held Levada's current job as the church's top arbiter on questions of faith and morals before his election in April as pope. Levada and the pope have a friendship that spans more than two decades.

"The fact that Ratzinger made Levada his successor doesn't mean that he's tapping him now as the next person who could be pope," said the Rev. Jim Bretzke, chairman of the theology department at the University of San Francisco.

Bretzke, who as a member of a San Francisco priests council met monthly with Levada, said the role of cardinal has changed little over the past century. Cardinals, who wear elaborate red hats called birettas, attend important functions on behalf of the pope. The cardinals' highest honor is the super-secretive selection of pope.

After the March 24 ceremony, called a consistory, the College of Cardinals will have 193 members, of whom 120 will be under the age of 80, making them eligible to vote to select Benedict's successor. Fifteen will be Americans.

Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley was the other American named cardinal by Pope Benedict on Wednesday. His appointment also was expected, as he is head of a major U.S. diocese.

"My dad always wanted a cardinal from San Francisco, and now we've finally got one," said Alioto, a former San Francisco supervisor whose late father, Joseph Alioto, was a two-term mayor.

San Francisco's new archbishop, George Niederauer, installed last week in a ceremony led by Levada, said, "This news is a wonderful recognition from the Holy Father of Archbishop Levada's great gifts."

Levada, who was San Francisco's archbishop for 10 years, had his critics. Priest abuse victims and their advocates said Levada did more to protect abusive priests than to help victims.

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of, an online archive of clergy sex abuse cases, said Levada and O'Malley were "keepers of secrets."

"The pope picked two Americans who are vigorous enforcers of conservative church doctrine and who will maintain the high levels of secrecy essential to being a cardinal," Barrett Doyle said. "On March 24, they will kneel before the pope and say an oath in which they promise never to reveal anything that would bring harm or dishonor to the church."

Linda Pieczynski, the spokeswoman for Call to Action, a national lay Catholic group that advocates for the rights of gays, women and priests to marry, said she was disappointed by the pope's choices.

"Levada wasn't exactly rushing to disclose the names of perpetrators and reach out to victims, and now he's being honored by the Vatican," she said. "We see this as business as usual."

Other prelates named cardinals are archbishops from Venezuela, South Korea, France, Spain, the Philippines, China and Poland.

E-mail Julian Guthrie at


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.