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SAN FRANCISCO, 15 APRIL 2013 — On 27 July 2012, Pope Benedict XVI appointed San Diego native Salvatore J. Cordileone, the 56-year-old Bishop of Oakland, as the new Archbishop of the influential Archdiocese of San Francisco. The appointment was controversial and viewed by many as a deliberately provocative gesture, cheering the Vatican’s conservative old guard and Benedict’s forces of doctrinal reaction who yearn for a smaller and "purer" Church, and clenching a menacing fist in the faces of a more expansive, liberal, tolerant flock of San Francisco communicants, which still reminisces about the warmer, breezier, more welcoming days of John XXIII and Vatican II. Cordileone had curried favor in Benedict’s Vatican and made his ecclesiastical name by strenuously condemning homosexual behavior and championing the cause of traditional opposite-sex marriage and, with equal vehemence and unusually (for a Roman bishop) conspicuous political action, opposing all same-sex marriage. His evident comfort in the glare of cultural combat made him the logical choice as Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, which maintains an active lobbying office in Washington and has engaged in effective infighting for the Defense of Marriage Act; DOMA cleanses from all federal law any definition of marriage that might include a same-sex couple lawfully married under the law of their state of residence and ensures that no legally married same-sex couple can receive any federal benefit intended only for married persons. From his lobbying offices in Washington and his Cathedral in San Francisco, Cordileone has become the Church’s Field Marshall in its invigorated offensive against homosexuality and same-sex marriage in the Americas, an operation thought to be necessary to bolster the Church’s crumbling defenses against charges of widespread male pedophilia, sexual abuse, and obstruction of civil and criminal justice, a scandal that inconveniently moved into the College of Cardinals just as the Church’s aristocracy gathered in the Sistine Chapel before Michelangelo’s Last Judgment to select a new Bishop of Rome. Cordileone successfully backed, with his own voice and money, California’s Mormon-inspired and Mormon-funded Proposition 8, a referendum which overturned a decision of the California Supreme Court recognizing same-sex marriage and which newly enshrined in the California Constitution a more restrictive definition of marriage as between one man and one woman; the United States Supreme Court last month took up a challenge to Proposition 8 under the United States Constitution’s equal protection clause.

Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone

Cordileone’s appointment as Archbishop became no less controversial when The Right Reverend Marc Handley Andrus, Episcopal Bishop of California seated at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco’s most prominent and revered religious institution, authored a pastoral letter to his own diocese which was interpreted to criticize, albeit obliquely, the Archbishop’s polarizing positions and extravagant rhetoric. The unusual contention between San Francisco’s religious heavyweights came to a head when Andrus, dutifully attending the Archbishop’s installation mass on Cordileone’s new turf at The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, was, by Andrus’s account, detained in a basement room by Cordileone’s staff and not permitted to take his seat in the Sanctuary for the ceremony; Andrus left the Cathedral without ever having been acknowledged by Cordileone or seated for the ceremonial mass. 

Interest in Cordileone’s colorful style of politico-religious leadership also waxed when Cordileone, with his mother in the car, was arrested after midnight for drunk driving investigation near the campus of San Diego State University, spent the night in San Diego County Jail, was released on bond the next day, and pleaded guilty to reckless driving (a plea deal routinely offered to first-time DUI offenders in California); Cordileone later addressed the incident with witty nonchalance and a jocular apology, saying that God had "outdone himself" on the night of his arrest. Even as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints seemed to signal the possibility of a relaxation of its insistence on absolute and universal illegality of same-sex unions, Cordileone, with organized fanfare, again took to the boards in Washington on 26 March 2013 to walk in the March for Marriage and to address an excited rally of anti-gay demonstrators outside the United States Supreme Court on the morning of oral argument of the Proposition 8 challenge, exhorting the throng to keep the faith in opposite-sex marriage and apparently urging the creation and recognition of a new legal right – the personal right of a child to a mother and father joined in an opposite-sex marriage. Cordileone is not demure or retiring – he has included in his ecclesiastical coat of arms the image of a fierce golden lion carrying a blood-red heart in its front claws, a symbol derived from the coat of arms of Richard I (the Lionhearted), warlike third son of Henry II, who defeated Saladin at Arsuf in the Third Crusade late in the twelfth century.  Cordileone’s crusade is not against near-eastern Arab Muslims, however, but against American homosexuals and a culture he thinks is drifting toward indulgent treatment and legal recognition of committed same-sex relationships. Richard Lionheart failed to capture Jerusalem. It remains to be seen if Cordileone can deliver Washington, and America, from a rising tide of sexual tolerance and an expanding definition of equal protection of the law.

This letter to Archbishop Cordileone is from a practicing attorney in San Francisco who has followed and analyzed Cordileone’s public comments on marriage since his installation as Archbishop. Edward F. Mitchell holds an A. B. degree from Yale College and a J. D. degree from Boston College Law School. He is experienced in federal Constitutional litigation and appeals of Constitutional questions in the federal judicial system, and has successfully briefed and argued appeals in the United States Courts of Appeals for the Ninth and Tenth Circuits. 

Photos: Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone


By Edward F. Mitchell

The Most Reverend Salvatore J. Cordileone, Archbishop
Archdiocese of San Francisco
The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption
One Peter Yorke Way
San Francisco, California  94109

Dear Archbishop Cordileone:

Since your appointment last summer by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI as Archbishop of San Francisco, I have been following your opinions and public statements about a number of issues, including same-sex marriage. I confess to being confused and puzzled by some of your publicly-expressed views. I know that you hold a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy from the University of San Diego and a doctoral degree in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, so I am sure that public reports of your opinions are superficial and fleeting glimpses of much deeper and broader thought about the tradition and history of marriage; the nature, morality, and ethics of marital commitment; and civil law and policy concerning the definition and regulation of marriage. I write to you with the hope that you might shed some light on, and reduce my bewilderment about, some of your recent publicly-reported comments concerning marriage. My questions are not rhetorical – I have been searching for answers to them, and would be grateful for your comments on these subjects.


1. You have expressed the view that heterosexual marriage is natural and that homosexual marriage is unnatural, and that homosexual marriage therefore should, on this ground, be prohibited. In this you are, of course, not alone, but one wonders what you mean by this. If by "natural" we mean "occurring in nature," then homosexuality and homosexual partnering are in fact, natural, if only in the sense that they occur with some frequency in nature, and that this form of sexuality and the social partnering that sometimes accompanies it seem to recur in roughly the same percentage of populations over time and in various parts of the world.

If by "natural," however, we mean "predominant" or "usual," then, of course, homosexuality is unnatural, but only in the limited respect that this form of sexuality is less common than heterosexuality. Such "minority status," however, would not seem to explain why the minority disposition/practice should be prohibited. For example, I descend in part from Celts and I have red hair and my skin is freckled – I have been acutely aware since childhood that this is a "minority" appearance, but I have no doubt that you would not prohibit me from marrying because of it, any more than you would prohibit the marriage of Italians or Spaniards because they happen to have rich, glossy, black hair and dark brown eyes; at least I hope you should not object, because this would prevent most marriage in Catholic Ireland, and put at future risk the physical beauty of the people of the Italian and Iberian peninsulas.

If it is true that the ordinariness or rarity of something does not in itself render it either natural or unnatural, what exactly do you mean when you say that homosexual marriage should be prohibited because of its "unnaturalness"? What are the ideas and/or values that come together to form the notion of a marriage "against nature," and by what logic is this concept then said to inhere in a same-sex marriage? Turning from the particular to the universal (that is, from the particular of the "unnaturalness" of same-sex marriage to the universal category of things that are "unnatural"), what are the attributes/properties of unnaturalness, in the general case, that cause you to place same-sex marriage in this category, and under what system(s) of thought? It is difficult without some explication to know which (if any) among the many conceptions of nature found or invented in the history of philosophy and theology would insist upon the unnaturalness of same-sex marriage, and whether and why such systems should guide us now and in the current context.


2. There is, of course, the popular idea that the Bible condemns homosexuality and that we should, on this ground alone, condemn it ourselves, which, it is said by many, warrants a civil ban on same-sex marriage. Setting aside the question of the Bible’s general reliability as a report of the facts of cosmic origin, natural history, or human experience (as opposed to its obvious importance as a source of spiritual teaching and as a touchstone text for moral and spiritual contemplation), and therefore of the moral and ethical teachings based upon the Bible’s factual assertions, it would appear that you have selected homosexual acts (and homosexual marriage) as warranting special and exceptional condemnation. 

For example, we learn in Deuteronomy 22:20-21 that "[i]f . . . the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you"; and, we learn in Leviticus 11:9-12 that "all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you: They shall be even an abomination; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcasses in abomination." 

I feel confident that you do not favor the stoning to death of women who have pre-marital sex, and it seems fair to assume that at least some among the Catholic hierarchy partake, without offending the Church, in the eating of shrimp, lobster, mussels, or clams. Yet you are not crusading for a prohibition in the civil law against pre-marital sex, nor for enactment of criminal statutes against pre-marital sex prescribing the death penalty for women (only) who engage in it. 

Among the long list of abominations in the Old Testament, you do not crusade for the prohibition of all, or even many, of them, such as the prohibition against consumption of shellfish. One is left to ask: what is it about homosexual acts or same-sex marriage that so clearly distinguishes these phenomena as especially abhorrent and so worthy of your special attention? If the ban on same-sex marriage you seek is justified by the supposed Biblical injunction against homosexual acts, and if the eating of shellfish and homosexual acts are likewise each described in Bible passages as an abomination (detestable), why are they not categorized similarly in your hierarchy of moral/ethical wrongs?

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