The Vision of the Doctrinal Congregation's New Prefect

Vatican Radio Interviews Archbishop William Levada

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 6, 2005 ( What’s on the mind of the new prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith?

Vatican Radio found out Oct. 31 when it interviewed Archbishop William Levada, 69. Here is an adapted text of that interview.

Q: What is it like to be prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith after having worked there for 20 years?

Archbishop Levada: 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 there and having a feel for what the officials do, how they go about their tasks, how to include them in what are some of the results of their tasks. …

Q: You did work in the Vatican as a curial official. You were the archbishop of a rather large diocese in California. You were also the head of the California Catholic Conference, which often deals with legislative and political matters in the state. These are three very different fields and aspects of work. How have they helped you to prepare for this new position?

Archbishop Levada: 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, six 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 the 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. [There was also] my work as the archbishop of Portland [Oregon], before going over to San Francisco. For the past 10 years, I was the archbishop of the second oldest archdiocese in the U.S.

Although they are neighboring states, they are quite different in their culture. The Northwest has had typically independent-minded citizenry and has had a low percentage of Catholics, in fact a lower percentage than any other 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 center of commerce and media in the U.S. as San Francisco is. I can bring a sense of the complex pastoral realities that a bishop faces.

Q: You are the first American in this office. Many people were surprised that an American was appointed to the head of CDF. Do you think there is any significance in this?

Archbishop Levada: My read on it was that the Pope wanted someone quickly in this office as his successor; after all, he was surprised to be elected to the papacy.

He knew that if this congregation were left headless for a long period of time, the work would not go forward effectively. They would also be waiting for the appointment of a 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 he felt that experience was something that counted a lot for him.

Basically that’s what he said 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 I was. He gave his reasons.

[…] The congregation has responsibility for a new area of disciplinary matters, which the «motu propio» of John Paul II «Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela» has placed in the congregation. The responsibility for dealing with issues of sexual abuse of minors by priests, 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 with the Vatican — those things may have said to him that it wouldn’t be bad to have someone also who has this experience. That’s my read of it anyway.

Q: The norms that were decided a couple of years ago in Dallas have been renewed. Are they working?

Archbishop Levada: I would say yes, very much so. It is multi-pronged: 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.

The other is about issues such as the 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 should then conduct 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 experts 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.

State laws differ very much from state to state in the U.S. There is no one-size-fits-all vademecum draft that says how one is to respond to these allegations and particularly to the court cases that are introduced.

Currently there is an apostolic visitation of the seminaries which is under way 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 dioceses 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, it had to be done under so much duress, that there was such an explosion of news reports and so forth, that we were 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.

Q: We often hear, especially in the Western world, that people now say that they are spiritual, not religious. When describing the difference between the two, they often use the word doctrine, and when they do so, they don’t use it in a positive way. It tends to have many negative connotations. Why is that?

Archbishop Levada: Let me say in general, you raise the question as one that is a phenomenon that we look at the idea of spiritual versus the religious.

Let’s 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 constraints 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-à-vis God. […] There is a kind of popular sense in saying, «Oh well, I am trying to find something that is helping me to be better» — that’s 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 kind of relationship he wants to have with you, his creature.

There is a whole sense in which modern man is saying, «I don’t want to be a creature.» Religion is always going to involve a concrete challenge to us in terms of our relationship to God.

Q: We just finished a general meeting of the Synod of Bishops. What were your impressions of the synod?

Archbishop Levada: It was a very rich experience but it had its frustrating moments.

[…] When they [the bishops] arrived were told that they had to say what they wanted to say about the subject in 6 minutes. Now that is a very big challenge and especially for people who are used to talking for perhaps more. …

But it is a discipline that we all accepted. Some accepted it willingly and some didn’t prepare for it, and the microphone went off at 6 minutes and they were talking to the air. And so it was a kind of an effective procedure from that point of view.

The synod process, apart from all these interventions, was directed toward 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 discrete 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 represented things somebody had said — but they didn’t 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 […] some of those beautiful interventions and things like them should be included in the apostolic exhortation that our Holy Father will be writing over the next year, because they are truly inspiring. …

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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation