Remembering Cardinal William Levada (1936-2019)
National Catholic Register, 26 September 2019
As the highest-ranking American in the history of the Roman Curia, and earlier as archbishop of San Francisco, the late cardinal had an outsize influence on the Church.
At the beginning of April 2005, the Catholic Church faced a difficult question: Who could possibly succeed Pope John Paul II? Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, previously thought too old, was elected, the most worthy available successor, even if he insisted that after the “great pope” he was only a “humble worker in the vineyard.” Humble but most formidable.
Who, then, would succeed Ratzinger as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)? That was in some ways an even more difficult question.
There was literally no candidate who could do what Cardinal Ratzinger had done. The most gifted bishop-theologian of his generation, Cardinal Ratzinger could not be replaced. There was speculation that the new pope, Benedict XVI, would reach into the same world of theological scholarship whence he came, but who?
When Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco was chosen as the new CDF prefect in May 2005, there was widespread surprise. He was astute, but not a scholarly academic. And he was an American! The highest-ranking American in the history of the Roman Curia, it would turn out, at a time when the prestige of the CDF — La Suprema as it was once known in Rome — was at its peak.
Benedict XVI had no need of a theological adviser at the CDF; he could handle that on his own. But his 24 years of service there made him aware of two critical priorities: the importance of the CDF in ensuring that the Roman Curia as a whole thought theologically and the priority of the CDF in dealing with sexual-abuse cases. Cardinal Levada could attend to both tasks.
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