Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, 59, has served as archbishop of San Francisco since 2012. The archdiocese is home to 90 parishes, 248 diocesan priests, and 450,000 Catholics. It has a rich tradition dating back to California’s Gold Rush days, and is notable for its cool climate, windy bay, progressive politics, and diverse immigrant groups.
Archbishop Cordileone is originally from San Diego, and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of San Diego in 1982. Twenty years later he was ordained an auxiliary bishop, and served as the bishop of Oakland from 2009 to 2012.
An unapologetic defender of Church teaching, he has drawn the ire of the Left, particularly for his advocacy of the traditional definition of marriage. In 2015, he was the target of an intense media campaign seeking his removal from his post, including a full-page advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle placed by self-described “committed Catholics inspired by Vatican II” calling on the Holy Father to remove him. The effort to oust him was countered by a campaign of support by many Catholics, and included a public rally and picnic in a San Francisco park last May.
Archbishop Cordileone recently spoke with CWR.
CWR: The San Francisco archdiocese is much more diverse than many people may realize.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone: Diversity is the key word. Some people have a monolithic view of San Francisco. But it is, in fact, very diverse in terms of ethnicities, cultures, and socio-economic groups. It comes home to me when I do my parish visits, meeting with parishioners and visiting schools.
It brings many blessings, but challenges, as many in our community are immigrants. It is often a challenge for those immigrant groups to make ends meet.
CWR: San Francisco is also home to some beautiful church art and architecture.
Archbishop Cordileone: We have many beautiful, inspiring works of art. One church that I have been particularly struck by is Ss. Peter and Paul in North Beach, to which I have a personal connection—my father was baptized there. It is a beautiful church, and has a magnificent icon of Christ above the altar.
St. Mary’s Cathedral is a good example of our modern architecture. It has a wonderful transcendence, and some impressive bronze images of Mary. Many of our parishes have beautiful stained glass windows. Our seminary chapel is also quite beautiful.
CWR: What have been some of your priorities since coming to the archdiocese?
Archbishop Cordileone: When I arrived, I tried not to bring too many well-defined, set priorities, other than the timeless Church priorities such as catechesis, liturgy, and evangelization. That said, three things come to mind, two of which were decided upon before I arrived.
The first was to develop a ministry to young adults, of which there are many in the archdiocese. We created an office of young adult ministry which is separate from youth ministry.
The second area of concern was marriage, as we’d seen a steep decline in couples marrying within the Church. We wanted to find ways of being more encouraging, welcoming, and accessible to couples, so we established a separate office of marriage and family life under a single director.
And a third priority I’ve been promoting since I came is developing a spirituality of stewardship. When people hear the word stewardship, they think of fundraising or responsible administration of resources. But it’s much more than this; I preach on it when I do parish visits.
A steward is the servant to whom the Master entrusts His goods. He expects the steward to be responsible with those goods, and bring about their increase. Everything we have is a gift of God, and we have to recognize this by being good stewards of our time, talent, and treasure.
It goes beyond that. As Pope Francis reminds us in his recent encyclical, we have to have good stewardship of our Earth. We have to be good stewards of our bodies, and realize that they are meant to be used according to God’s plan.
Understood properly, stewardship ties all these elements together. We work with the pastors of five parishes who have volunteered to work toward becoming stewardship parishes to implement this spirituality of stewardship in their parishes, which begins with commitment Sundays. We ask people to begin with a commitment to time in prayer, adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, and involvements of time in their parishes. Pretty far down the line we talk to them about sharing their treasure.
CWR: How is the archdiocese doing for vocations to the priesthood and religious life?
Archbishop Cordileone: We’re doing well, but we could be doing better. We should be doing better. I find that young people who present themselves for vocations have a great love for God and the Church, and have a desire to serve. I’ve been impressed by the level of maturity of our seminarians.
Some who come to us have family issues to overcome, or suffer from a lack of catechesis. They have some catch-up work to do. We need people who are seeking the truth, and have a love for learning.
Our challenge is that we need more. If we had triple the number of seminarians, we’d be in a good situation.
Let me return to stewardship, as it is tied to vocations. Successful stewardship is not just a process that takes a few years; it is multi-generational. It has to go way beyond my time in San Francisco. We are working with a firm that has been working for some years with leaders in the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas. Wichita has a program that started in the 1970s; they have been very successful, and are a model for the country.
Wichita is a diocese with people who are happy and proud to be Catholic. They have thousands of volunteers. They, for example, run a dining room that serves 2,000 meals to the poor each day, and it is staffed entirely by parishioners. Their Catholic schools do not charge tuition.
They have a diocese of 110,000 Catholics, and have 50 seminarians. This is a very high proportion, as compared to other places.
CWR: One of San Francisco’s oldest schools, St. Mary’s in Chinatown, just announced it is closing. San Francisco is one of the country’s most expensive cities in which to live. What impact has this had on your parishes and schools in the city?
Archbishop Cordileone: This has been the perennial issue, affordable housing. People are moving out of the city, changing its complexion. As the technology sector moves into the city, a number of communities formerly occupied by ethnic groups have been re-gentrified. Families move, and that makes for challenges.
However, there are neighborhoods with many Catholic families, particularly in the Filipino and Hispanic communities. They have the population base, but often are lower income, so the challenge becomes making Catholic school affordable.
CWR: In 2015, you and the archdiocese were the target of a wide range of negative stories in the press. What do you think was behind this negative coverage?
Archbishop Cordileone: I didn’t realize that, due to the decline in catechesis, certain basic concepts are no longer widely understood. I presumed, for example, that everyone understood the basic distinction between an act and a person. But they did not. So, they thought if I condemned an act, I was condemning people. This is a misunderstanding.
There was a difficulty having a rational conversation in the midst of hyper-emotional venting. As hard as I tried to get the message across and tried to find consensus, nothing seemed to get through because of this misunderstanding.
Things have since calmed down. Our negotiators worked with teachers on a contract that came up with language that was acceptable to both sides. [Ed. The archdiocese negotiated a labor contract with teachers about wages and services. It also included language describing the mission of Catholic education and teachers, which became a point of controversy.]
CWR: You’ve also received a lot of support from faithful Catholics.
Archbishop Cordileone: Yes, I have a stack of letters two feet high I have yet to go through.
CWR: What kind of support would you like to receive from the rank-and-file Catholic in the pew who supports what you’re doing in San Francisco?
Archbishop Cordileone: Learn to be an advocate for our understanding of the common good. Become well educated in the issues in the debate, and understand your bishop’s thinking on the issue. Evangelize in your sector of influence, but do so by becoming well-informed.
Letters of support are welcome. Offer your expertise, and become involved in stewardship. Assist the work of your bishop or priest in the parish.
CWR: What were your thoughts on the two synods on the family in Rome, and what do you hope the Holy Father’s final document on the synods includes?
Archbishop Cordileone: I hope it will not give too much focus to issues featured in cultures in Western Europe and North America. There was a lot of emphasis on these issues in the media coverage.
One pressing issue that I hope gets more attention involves families separated by migration. It affects many people throughout the world. There is also the problem of domestic violence.
CWR: We’re in the midst of a colorful political season. When you look for candidates to support for public office, what issues do you think are most important?
Archbishop Cordileone: One thing I find most frustrating, even infuriating, is the separation between economic, moral, and foreign policy issues. I just read an article quoting a leading Republican legislator in California. He suggested that a way to revive the Republican Party in the state was by moving away from social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, and instead focusing on economic issues such as housing or bringing back middle-class jobs.
What could be a greater quality of life issue than a child growing up without a mother and father? It is a problem when our political leaders fail to see that there is an interconnection between the social issues and economic issues, as both our current Holy Father and Pope Benedict have reminded us.
I also read of another group of legislators who visited a shelter for homeless mothers getting their lives together after involvement with such things as drugs. They visited the women and saw the rooms where the children slept, but the question on my mind was, “Where are the fathers?” We’ve known about the effects of fatherless homes for more than 50 years; in 1965, the Moynihan report talked about its effects on the African-American community. One of the leading indicators of poverty is broken families.
CWR: Has this assignment in San Francisco been particularly difficult for you—was it what you expected to encounter, have you found it rewarding?
Archbishop Cordileone: All of the above. It has been a challenging assignment, as the cultural issues are deeply ingrained and make it challenging for the Church. But it is also a place of great promise.
When the fortune-seekers arrived for the California Gold Rush, there was rampant moral and physical disease in the community. The archbishop at the time brought in different orders of men and women religious to help him. The Church has been right on the ground serving the community ever since. It has a strong institutional presence, with lots of influences, but it also faces great challenges.