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Cardinal Compromise Strikes Again

When William Levada was elevated from Bishop of Portland (Ore.) to Archbishop of San Francisco in 1995, he came with a “reputation as an assertive protector of church orthodoxy,” according to Dean Murphy of The New York Times (May 14, 2005). When he left San Francisco 10 years later, elevated to Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and made a Cardinal by Pope Benedict, he was known as “a ‘middle-of-the-road’ American ecumenist with a proven reputation for compromise,” according to John Vennari in Catholic Family News (June 2005), and, more pointedly, as a “notorious compromiser and cover-up artist,” according to Christopher Ferrara in The Remnant (June 15, 2005).

Levada’s moment of truth as Archbishop of San Francisco came in 1996 when city lawmakers passed an ordinance requiring all firms that do business with the city to provide benefits to their employees’ “domestic partners,” a measure that sought to force the recognition of same-sex “partnerships” as equivalent to marriage. Archbishop Levada’s San Francisco Catholic Charities risked losing the reported $5 million a year worth of city monies it was receiving at the time if it refused to comply with the ordinance. Archbishop Levada was put on the hot seat, and the “assertive protector” melted down into a “notorious compromiser.”

Initially, Archbishop Levada balked at the law. But not for reasons one would have imagined. According to Our Sunday Visitor (March 9, 1997), Archbishop Levada “criticized the new city ordinance for specifying domestic partners as eligible for benefits but excluding any of the employee’s blood relatives for this coverage.” Archbishop Levada said at a press conference: “To force a church to adopt a policy on the basis of activity which is contrary to its moral code is the heart of this problem. I am in favor of increasing benefits, especially health coverage, for anyone…. I would welcome the opportunity to work with city officials to overcome what I believe is a national shame, the fact that so many Americans have no health coverage at all.” Would Archbishop Levada fight the ordinance that, in his own words, “asks church agencies to change their internal church policies by making domestic partner­ships…equivalent to marriage”? Or would he throw his support behind the ordinance because, as he waxed, “I can be counted on to raise my voice in support of universal health coverage nationally and locally”?

What did Archbishop Levada do? He “brokered a compromise,” wrote Phil Lawler, then-Editor of The Catholic World Report (June 2005), “allowing employees of Church-related groups to designate any individual — a parent, sibling, friend, or indeed a homosexual lover — as the recipient of benefits that had previously been reserved for spouses.” Archbishop Levada said in his press conference, “If it is a question of benefits, why should not blood relatives, or an elderly person or a child who lives in the same household enjoy those same benefits [now offered to homosexual partners]?” But was it merely a question of benefits?

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