San Francisco archbishop-elect charged with drunken driving

Published August 27, 2012

| Associated Press

The Roman Catholic archbishop-elect of San Francisco apologized Monday for his weekend arrest on suspicion of drunken driving, behavior that he termed an "error in judgment" and which legal experts said was unlikely to derail his promotion.

The Rev. Salvatore Cordileone said in a statement issued by his office that he was driving home from a dinner with friends in San Diego with his mother early Saturday when he was pulled over at a DUI checkpoint near San Diego State University. He said a sobriety test showed his blood alcohol level to be above the legal limit, although he did not say by how much.

"I apologize for my error in judgment and feel shame for the disgrace I have brought upon the Church and myself," he said. "I pray that God, in His inscrutable wisdom, will bring some good out of this."

Cordileone, 56, currently serves as bishop of Oakland and is scheduled to be installed as San Francisco archbishop on Oct. 4, five days before his first court date. Pope Benedict XVI selected him last month to replace Archbishop George Niederauer, who is retiring in October.

Detective Gary Hassen, a San Diego police spokesman, said Cordileone was stopped around 12:30 a.m. on the outskirts of the San Diego State campus, a residential area of modest houses, apartment buildings and restaurants where college students mix with the general population.

He was booked into San Diego County jail two hours later and then released at 11:59 a.m. Saturday on $2,500 bond, sheriff's records show. The San Diego city attorney's office, which prosecutes misdemeanor DUI offenses, said it had not received a report on the arrest.

Canon law experts said a criminal charge would not automatically prompt a delay in Cordileone's installation as archbishop, which is scheduled to take place at St. Mary's Cathedral on the feast day of San Francisco's patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi.

Because Catholic bishops are answerable only to the pope, any potential discipline would have to come from the Vatican, said Michael Ritty, a canon lawyer in private practice in upstate New York.

"If there was anything, it would be handled in Rome, most likely by the Congregation for Bishops. Depending on the question or type of criminal charge, it might go directly to the Pope or as directly as you can get," Ritty said.

Cordileone is a native of San Diego, where he was ordained as a priest in 1982. He has been bishop of Oakland for a little more than three years, and before that, he served as an auxiliary bishop in San Diego.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, predicted that Cordileone's arrest, while embarrassing, would only draw a response from Rome if it appeared he had a serious substance abuse problem that prevented him from carrying out the archbishop's duties.

"The bottom line is there is no real requirement that he resign," Reese said. "If he is an out-of-control alcoholic who can't function, that would be an issue, but obviously he has been the bishop of Oakland all these years and he seems to be able to function. Nobody knows if he has a drinking problem or was one fraction over the (blood alcohol) limit."

Noting that forgiveness is an integral part of the Catholic faith, Reese recalled the 1985 DUI arrest of the late Minneapolis-St. Paul Archbishop John Roach, who pleaded guilty and served two days in jail but remained popular in the post for another decade.

Cordileone will have to "explain this to people, and depending on what he does and how it's perceived, we'll see how it goes" he said. "It could make him more human."

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