On Friday, William J. Levada, former Archbishop of San Francisco, will become the first new Cardinal to be elevated by Pope Benedict XVI at a Vatican ceremony. Levada already has the Pontiff's old job maintaining Roman Catholic orthodoxy as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, making him the most influential U.S. prelate in history. He spoke with Time's Jeff Israely.
how will you feel when you get your red hat from the Pope? Of course, I'm honored. But you also want to make sure your hat is on straight.
Your new job places you in the top ranks of the Vatican hierarchy. Does the responsibility of your new office feel overwhelming? I can say that I'm past the deer-in-the-headlights phase. The biggest challenge now is the amount of reading not only of new material, but rereading documents and decisions taken by the Congregation.
how do you respond to the spread of violence in the name of another world religion, Islam? If a religious leader is preaching violence, he has mistaken his religion. Religion is about our vision and worship of God, and recognition that we are part of God's family. Violence cannot be a religious tenant. The Holy Father made an important declaration to Muslim leaders, that we need to hear them telling their people that God does not sanction violence.
The roman Catholic Church is akin to an absolute monarchy. should the Vatican be more democratic? The question presumes that there is not open discussion in the Vatican. The Pope expects us to give him our best insights. You must remember that, yes, this is a monarchy, but the monarch is elected.
is this Pope especially open to debate? Benedict introduced for the first time a "free discussion" period in the Synod of Bishops. We also adopted it in our meetings at the Congregation [for the Doctrine of the Faith], and the members appreciate it. The Congregation has members who are like a board of trustees, and I'm the equivalent of the chairman.
You raised the issue in the synod about whether politicians should be granted communion if they support policies counter to Church teachings. There are certain teachings that as Catholics we have to accept as part of Jesus' Gospel. When you see Catholic politicians who favor abortion rights ... you have to ask yourself how this person squares this with his personal faith. Catholic politicians need to take this seriously. Maybe they need to say I'm not able to practice my faith and be a public representative.
As doctrinal chief, can you explain the recent instruction on whether a gay man can become a priest? The document is very clear. It says a person with deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not suited for the priesthood. Somebody who comes to the seminary from a gay lifestyle cannot be a priest. But if you can show us after five or 10 years that you have been able to live a celibate life, it could be possible. But there would need to be spiritual and psychological evaluations.
Is ending the celibacy requirement the only real way to address the shortage of priests? In the Western church [as opposed to the Eastern rite church], celibacy is a discipline from the invitation of Christ to "follow me." He is the model. But we also need to be more creative about finding new ways to get men to step forward to the priesthood. There should be a greater sharing of priests from places that have many, to places that have fewer.
as a bishop, you had to deal with cases of sex abuse by priests. Now you are final arbiter on some of the more difficult cases from around the world. My experience in
the dioceses gives me a firsthand perspective from direct contact with the people affected by these cases. You learn the details of what has happened, and how cases can differ from one to another. We have to keep our eye on what justice requires.
When Papa Ratzinger welcomed you to the new job, did he have any advice on how to handle such a responsibility? No [laughs]. He just smiled, and said:
"Go to it."