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San Francisco archbishop-elect apologizes for DUI

Published August 28, 2012 11:32 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

San Diego • The Roman Catholic archbishop-elect of San Francisco has apologized for his arrest on suspicion of drunken driving, behavior that he said brought "shame" and "disgrace" on himself and the church, though legal experts said was unlikely to derail his promotion.

The Rev. Salvatore Cordileone said in a statement issued Monday by his office that he was driving home from a dinner with friends in San Diego with his mother and a visiting priest friend early Saturday when he was pulled over at a DUI checkpoint near San Diego State University.

The statement said a sobriety test showed his blood-alcohol level to be above the legal limit, although Cordileone did not reveal by how much.

"I apologize for my error in judgment and feel shame for the disgrace I have brought upon the Church and myself," he said. "I pray that God, in His inscrutable wisdom, will bring some good out of this."

Cordileone, 56, currently serves as bishop of Oakland and is scheduled to be installed as San Francisco archbishop on Oct. 4, five days before his first court date.

Pope Benedict XVI selected him last month to replace Archbishop George Niederauer, who is retiring in October.

Cordileone was stopped around 12:30 a.m. on the outskirts of the campus, a residential area of modest houses, apartment buildings and restaurants where college students mix with the general population.

The archbishop-elect was booked into San Diego County jail two hours later then released at 11:59 a.m. Saturday on $2,500 bond, sheriff's records show. The San Diego city attorney's office, which prosecutes misdemeanor DUI offenses, said it had not received a report on the arrest.

Cordileone took a breath test that confirmed his blood alcohol content exceeded California's legal limit of 0.08 percent, said Officer Mark McCullough, who declined to say by how much.

"He was a driver that was obviously impaired but he was quite cordial and polite throughout," said McCullough, who was at the scene. "He was not a belligerent drunk at all ... There were no problems with him throughout the night.

Cordileone, one of 11 people arrested at the checkpoint that night, identified himself as a priest, said McCullough. An officer did an Internet search and learned he was archbishop-elect.

Canon law experts said a criminal charge would not automatically prompt a delay in Cordileone's installation as archbishop, which is scheduled to take place at St. Mary's Cathedral on Oct. 4, the feast day of San Francisco's patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi.

Because Catholic bishops are answerable only to the pope, any potential discipline would have to come from the Vatican, said Michael Ritty, a canon lawyer in private practice in upstate New York.

"If there was anything, it would be handled in Rome, most likely by the Congregation for Bishops. Depending on the question or type of criminal charge, it might go directly to the pope or as directly as you can get," Ritty said.

Cordileone is a native of San Diego, where he was ordained as a priest in 1982. He has been bishop of Oakland for a little more than three years, and before that, he served as an auxiliary bishop in San Diego.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, predicted that Cordileone's arrest, while embarrassing, would only draw a response from Rome if it appeared he had a serious substance abuse problem that prevented him from carrying out the archbishop duties.

"The bottom line is there is no real requirement that he resign," Reese said. "If he is an out-of-control alcoholic who can't function, that would be an issue, but obviously he has been the bishop of Oakland all these years and he seems to be able to function. Nobody knows if he has a drinking problem or was one fraction over the (blood alcohol) limit."

Noting that forgiveness is an integral part of the Catholic faith, Reese recalled the 1985 DUI arrest of the late Minneapolis-St. Paul Archbishop John Roach, who pleaded guilty and served two days in jail but remained popular in the post for another decade.

Cordileone will have to "explain this to people, and depending on what he does and how it's perceived, we'll see how it goes" he said. "It could make him more human."

While serving in San Diego four years ago, Cordileone was instrumental in devising an initiative to strip same-sex couples of the right to wed in California. He was part of a statewide network of clergy that promoted the measure, known as Proposition 8. Campaign finance records show he personally gave at least $6,000 to back the voter-approved ban.

Since last year, Cordileone has been chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

At a news conference last month, he said he thought the Roman Catholic Church had come a long way in addressing the issue of clergy sex abuse and reiterated his opposition to gay marriage.

"Marriage can only come about through the embrace of a man and a woman coming together," he said. "I don't see how that is discriminatory against anyone."

The archdiocese serves more than 400,000 Catholics in the city of San Francisco and Marin and San Mateo counties. In the post, Cordileone would oversee the bishops in Honolulu, Las Vegas, Oakland, Reno, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Jose, Santa Rosa and Stockton.