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Posted November 16, 2005

An Interview with Archbishop Leveda
on his new role of following Pope Benedict



WHAT IS LIKE TO BE THE PREFECT OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH AFTER HAVING WORKED THERE FOR 20 YEARS?

It is a big change for someone who was a working official in the doctrinal section and who comes back as the prefect. I was unaware of all of the duties of the prefect and was happy to have someone else be prefect and take charge of the responsibilities for them but to come back as prefect! It certainly has helped me to have the knowledge, you might say, as an insider having worked here and have a feel for what the officials do, how they go about their tasks, how to include them in some of the results of what is the result of their tasks, all of that is of course part of the officials here in the Congregation are doing their work for that is to allow their Congregation that is the membership of the Congregation to get a good grasp of what the issue before them is, and to able to discuss it intelligently, to arrive at a decision and then to have that decision taken to the Holy Father for his approval, for his instruction to study it some more or whatever he might decide about it.

YOU DID WORK HERE AS A CURIAL OFFICIAL, YOU WERE THE ARCHBISHOP OF A RATHER LARGE ARCH DIOCESE IN CALIFORNIA, YOU WERE ALSO THE HEAD OF THE CALIFORNIA CATHOLIC CONFERENCE THAT OFTEN DEALS WITH LEGISLATIVE AND POLITICAL MATTERS IN THE STATE. THESE ARE VERY THREE DIFFERENT FIELDS AND ASPECTS OF WORK, HOW HAVE THEY HELPED YOU TO PREPARE FOR THIS NEW POSITION?

I suppose if you are paying attention to what you are doing and are engaged in it, which I can say I was, all of the principal works I have done as a priest over these past 43 years working in a parish, teaching in high schools, 6 years teaching in a seminary was wonderful theological work. I just did that prior to coming back here to serve as an official as you mentioned working in California Catholic Conference, getting a feel for the work of state government in all of the various questions and issues that intersect with the teachings and moral values of the Church. Even my work as the archbishop of Portland, before going over to San Francisco for the past ten years, I was the archbishop of the second oldest archdiocese in the us. Although they are neighbouring states they are quite diverse in their culture. The Northwest has had typically independent-minded citizenry and has had a low percentage of Catholics, in fact a low percentage of any particular faith. It is called the most un-churched state in the U.S. That was a new experience for me. In fact I learned a lot from it. So, I think I can bring from all these experiences, particularly from the last 10 years as archbishop of a major metropolitan centre of commerce, media in the U.S. as San Francisco is, I can bring a sense of the complex pastoral realities that a bishop faces.

YOU ARE THE FIRST AMERICAN TO THIS OFFICE. MANY PEOPLE WERE SURPRISED THAT AN AMERICAN WAS APPOINTED THE HEAD OF CDF. DO YOU THINK THERE IS ANY SIGNIFICANCE TO THIS?

My read on it was that the Pope wanted someone quickly into office as his successor, after all he was surprised to be elected to his office. He knew that if this congregation was left headless for a long period of time the work would not effectively go forward. They would also be waiting for the appointment of their new prefect and so forth. I think he wanted to find someone quickly. He found me because I was a member of the congregation, I had worked there before. I think that he felt that experience was something, that counted a lot for him. Basically thatís what he told me when he told me I was going to be his successor. I gasped. I told him that I was not the person for the position. He told me yes, I was. He gave his reasons. I suppose in another way - now that the congregation has responsibility for a new area of disciplinary matters. That the Motu Propio of John Paul II Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela has placed here in the Congregation. The responsibility for dealing with issues of sexual abuse of minors by priest, by clergy, given my experience of that, the explosion of that in the American scene over the past few years, my experience with that as both a local bishop and as a member of the mixed commission that was sent over by our conference to iron out some differences in our approach here with the Vatican. Those things may have said to him that it wouldnít be bad to have someone also who has this experience. Thatís my read of it anyway.

THE NORMS THAT WERE DECIDED A COUPLE YEARS AGO IN DALLAS HAVE BEEN RENEWED. IS IT WORKING?

I would say very much so. It is multi-pronged in which one part is to deal with those priests who have been shown to be guilty of abusing minors whether recently or even in the distant past. But the other issues about education of our communities, how to be sensitive to issues involving sexual abuse, how to know what they are, how to report them, to make priests sensitive to that, and their obligations to report allegations to the authorities both civil and church authorities, how the bishop then should comport himself in his outreach to the victim, to be fair, to make sure they are given a good hearing, to have a board that can assist him, a board of competent and expert people who bring various expertise to assist him in the discernment of the steps that should be taken, the validity of allegations, how to interact with the very difficult litigious aspects, the legal communities. The state laws differ very much from state to state in the U.S. There is no one size fits all vademecum draft to say how you are going to respond to these allegations and particularly to these court cases that are introduced. Currently there is an apostolic visitation of the seminaries which is underway that was asked for by the bishops of the U.S as an additional guarantee to people that we would have an objective point of reference to review the programs of the seminaries, admissions to seminaries. On the whole the bishops did not hesitate, even many of us who were challenged by a huge outlay of financial expense to satisfy claims sometimes ordered by courts, decided by juries, to make sure we put adequate resources into these programs, outreach to victims programs, support for legitimate claims for therapy and so forth. I would say that this program has been an extraordinarily successful response. And we even have a monitoring program to help the bishops in diocese with an outside independent audit procedure to evaluate their program to see if there are any weak points and then to make sure they are corrected. I really think that the program is just what needed to be done. I am sorry that with so many of my brother bishops that it had to be done under so much duress, that the explosion of news reports and so forth, that we are not more on top of this for a longer period of time in the past. It certainly has been a very effective program since it has been put into place.

WE OFTEN HEAR, ESPECIALLY IN THE WESTERN WORLD, THAT PEOPLE NOW SAY THEY ARE SPIRITUAL THEY ARE NOT RELIGIOUS. WHEN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO IS DESCRIBED THEY OFTEN USE THE WORD DOCTRINE AND WHEN THEY USE THE WORD THEY DONíT USE IT IN A POSITIVE WAY, IT TENDS TO CARRY MANY NEGATIVE CONNOTATIONS. WHY IS THAT?

Let me say in general, you raise the question as one that is a phenomena that we look at the idea of spiritual versus the religious. Letís take cannibalism for example. What is the spirituality of cannibalism? I would say eating is the doctrine. But is there really a spirituality of it and is it a good one? In other words is every spirituality, a spirituality of good? You know today is Halloween there are people who embrace a spirituality whose doctrine is witchcraft. They want to get in touch with a spiritual side but our tradition tells us that there are good spirits and evil spirits. There is good and bad in the spiritual as well as in the human corporeal realm, so spirituality without doctrine is an amorphous spirituality that can be anything I want to make it. People want to break out of what they consider are constrains and limits of those religions. So they say I am spiritual, not religious. But in effect a real spirituality has to involve religion because religion is about how you order your human life vis-ŗ-vis God. That spirituality, there is a kind of popular sense in saying, oh well, I am trying to find something that is helping me to be better thatís spirituality. But religion means that you are face to face with some options that you have to make about whether there is a God and what that God may be asking and what that kind of relationship he wants to have with you, his creature. There is a whole sense in which modern man is saying I donít want to be a creature. Religion is always going involve a concrete challenge to us in terms of our relationship to God.

WE JUST FINISHED A GENERAL MEETING OF THE SYNOD WHAT WERE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THE SYNOD?

It was a very rich experience but it has itsí frustrating moments. The intervention of each bishop - they call these bishops from every part of the world - and they are usually well-spoken, thoughtful persons, who when they arrive are told that they have to say what they want to say about this subject in 6 minutes. Now that is a very big challenge and especially for people who are used to talking for perhaps more than we should as bishops. But it is a discipline that we all accept, some accept it willingly and some donít prepare for it and the microphone goes off at 6 minutes and they are talking to the air and so it is a kind of an effective procedure from that point of view. The synod process, apart from all these interventions, is directed towards two things the message, which we saw a couple of times, which we were able to make some comments on and the propositions which we only saw in discreet language groups and only at the end of the process did we see them and not have a chance to discuss them. I thought that the 50 propositions, some of them were quite good, they certainly represent things somebody had said. But I thought they didnít capture the very beautiful and inspiring interventions many bishops gave from their experience around the world. Cardinal Toppo, for example, one of the presidents of the synod from India, talked about the love of the Eucharist brought to his very low caste tribe and how the idea that Christ would come to abide with them, to be with them, to give himself to them, what that did for their own self-worth and how that transformed their culture. It was really a beautiful intervention. Well, there is nothing of that in the propositions but put some of those beautiful interventions and things like that into the work product that goes into apostolic exhortation that our Holy Father will be writing over the next year, because they are truly inspiring, very inspiring things were said. I was truly delighted to be there. I hope that my little thing, you know you have to pick one little thing, I picked that little thing about having more doctrinal content in the homilies that are given, so as to nourish our people, and to offer that to our priests, I think priests are looking for help. I think we can do better. It is going to take a lot of work. But I think we can help that situation, if the Holy Father agrees to it. I think he likes the idea.