The man set to become the next archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco was arrested Saturday in San Diego on suspicion of drunken driving as he was taking his elderly mother home after having dinner with friends.
Oakland Diocese Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, 56, was headed along San Diego State University’s southern edge when he encountered a sobriety checkpoint, said Officer Mark McCullough. Cordileone was amiable but appeared intoxicated and was arrested at 12:26 a.m., McCullough said.
The bishop was released from jail shortly before noon after posting $2,500 bail. He is scheduled to be arraigned on the misdemeanor charge on Oct. 9.
Cordileone issued a contrite statement Monday, saying he “was found to be over the California legal blood alcohol level.”
“I apologize for my error in judgment and feel shame for the disgrace I have brought upon the Church and myself,” the bishop said. “I will repay my debt to society and I ask forgiveness from my family and my friends and co-workers at the Diocese of Oakland and the Archdiocese of San Francisco.”
Cordileone said he had been visiting friends with his 88-year-old mother and was driving her to her residence near the university after a meal together.
“I pray that God, in His inscrutable wisdom, will bring some good out of this,” he wrote.
The area where he was arrested has a large number of fraternity and sorority houses, and police routinely run checkpoints on weekends. McCullough said 10 others were arrested at the same checkpoint that night.
“He was very calm, somewhat apologetic at the time,” said the officer, who ran the checkpoint that morning. “He said he’d been drinking. But he wasn’t a stumbling, falling-down drunk.”
The archbishop-designee’s driving record is clean except for one ticket he got on Dec. 23 for failure to stop at a stop sign, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. If convicted of this latest offense, he could be sentenced to three years’ probation, a fine of $1,800, two days in jail and sobriety counseling.
A DUI conviction alone, however, does not appear to be enough to disqualify Cordileone from carrying on with his current job or his next one.
“There’s no canonical reason for him to not continue as archbishop,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a visiting scholar at Santa Clara University, a Catholic university run by Jesuits.
Over the decades, other bishops have been arrested on DUI charges, but many had other criminal charges at play as well. Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien of the Diocese of Phoenix was convicted in 2004 of leaving the scene of a fatal accident. He resigned.
The most comparable example to Cordileone might be that of St. Paul and Minneapolis Archbishop John Roach, who pleaded guilty to a drunken driving charge in 1985. Like Cordileone, Roach was contrite.
Clergy ‘in shock’
Clergy in the Diocese of Oakland were stunned.
“We’re all kind of in shock about that, actually,” said the Rev. Jayson Landeza, associate pastor at St. Felicitas Church in San Leandro, who has known Cordileone for seven years. “It’s sad. My heart goes out to him. He’s a good man. I’m in his corner for whatever he needs.”
Cordileone has been bishop of Oakland since 2009 and was named in July by the Vatican to take his new archbishop post on Oct. 4.
He has deep roots in San Diego. He was born there, studied at the St. Francis Seminary there, and served as an official for many years in its diocese. Cordileone was appointed auxiliary bishop of San Diego in 2002, was ordained a bishop later that year, and then was appointed bishop of Oakland by Pope Benedict XVI.
Support for Prop. 8
The bishop was a leader in the successful campaign in 2008 to pass Proposition 8, the California initiative banning same-sex marriage.
He told The Chronicle when his appointment was announced that he didn’t mind being a conservative voice in the liberal Bay Area, but that he was “kind of frustrated” that his opposition to same-sex marriage drew heavy notice.
Cordileone’s gay critics said they hope his arrest will make the Vatican think twice about his role.
“You’d think they’d want to appoint someone who more closely represents the Bay Area as archbishop, but instead they pick this off-the-charts, right-wing guy,” said attorney David Waggoner, former president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club. “Maybe they should consider withdrawing the appointment.”
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