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Pope Eyes Conservative Archbishop of San Francisco for top Vatican Post

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Pope Eyes San Francisco's Bishop for Post

Associated Press Writer

May 11, 2005

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI is sounding out top Vatican cardinals on filling his old job as the chief guardian of the Vatican's conservative doctrine and one of the candidates is San Francisco's archbishop, but no decision has been made, a Vatican official said Wednesday.

Time magazine reported Tuesday that Benedict already had asked Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco, a doctrinal expert, if he were interested in leading the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and that Levada had accepted.

But the weekly couched its report by quoting an unidentified senior Vatican official as saying that if Levada isn't appointed, "it means somebody got to (the pope) and convinced him to change his mind."

The pope caught the media's attention when he met privately with Levada on May 3, and the archbishop's strong credentials for the post fueled speculation he was a leading candidate.

Benedict and Levada are old friends, and Levada is one of five bishops serving on the congregation, one of the most powerful Vatican offices, with its task of ensuring the church's teachings are followed.

Benedict, also a theologian, led the congregation from 1981 until his election as pontiff last month.

Benedict has been meeting almost daily with his No. 2 at the congregation, Monsignor Angelo Amato -- cited by some as another possible candidate -- and in recent days has met nearly all the major heads of top Vatican offices to sound them out on potential candidates, the Vatican official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he didn't believe the pope had yet reached a decision.

Last week, The Oregonian newspaper and Religion News Service reported on Benedict's meeting with Levada and speculation that he was a contender for the job.

But Maurice Healy, spokesman for the San Francisco diocese, dismissed the speculation as rumor, saying last week that the meeting was just a "courtesy call." Calls to the archdiocese went unanswered Wednesday.

Levada, 68 and a conservative, has been archbishop of San Francisco since 1995; before that he was archbishop of another largely liberal city, Portland, Ore.

He has spoken out on some pressing doctrinal concerns, voicing opposition to same-sex marriages and saying priests should ask bishops for guidance on whether to refuse a Catholic politician communion if the politician supports abortion rights.

The U.S. churchman earned a doctorate in sacred theology at Rome's prestigious Pontifical Gregorian University and taught theology both there and in the United States. Currently he chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' committee on doctrine.

Levada joined the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1976 and served for six years, leaving shortly after Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as the pope previously was known, took over as prefect in 1981. He returned as one of the bishops on the congregation in 2000.

Levada helped draft the Catechism of the Catholic Church -- essentially the handbook on everything you need to believe to be a Catholic, and one of the major accomplishments of Pope John Paul II's papacy.

He also is expert on the authority of the pope as head of the Roman Catholic Church and has been involved with efforts aimed at Episcopalian-Roman Catholic dialogue in the United States.

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