On Friday, the Vatican announced that Oakland Bishop Salvatore Cordileone would become the archbishop of San Francisco, succeeding Archbishop George Niederauer who hit retirement age last year. Cordileone is notable for his work with immigrants, his canon law expertise, his work on the traditional Latin Mass and his leadership in the bishops' national effort to defend the traditional definition of marriage. So in an era where roughly 65% of all news must be pegged to something dealing with homosexuality, you will not be surprised by the headlines:
The reader who sent in these headlines wrote, "You get the point." And yes, we get the point. (Have you ever noticed that people on one side of an issue get called staunch but if they take a mirror opposite position, they're not called staunch?) It's really all that matters these days, right? Of course, Cordileone's support of traditional marriage laws is exactly what you'd focus on in a headline, too, right? What I hoped for, however, was a bit more information in the body of the stories on Cordileone and his work. Whispers in Loggia, for instance, emphasized the same-sex marriage issues while also giving tons of other information about Cordileone and the San Francisco archdiocese.
The Associated Press story tells us nothing about Cordileone other than his views on same-sex marriage. And the tone of the piece is what I'd call "seething." We're told he "was instrumental in devising an initiative to strip same-sex couples of the right to wed in California and then raising Catholic dollars to qualify it for the ballot." The only outsider quoted in the piece is the president of the Human Rights Campaign.
Or how about this odd lede from the Mercury News:
SAN FRANCISCO -- Oakland Bishop Rev. Salvatore Cordileone -- an active opponent of gay marriage -- will become the archbishop of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Counties, it was announced Friday, prompting disappointment by same-sex marriage activists and delight from their opponents.
Isn't polarization fun? At least the News expands beyond same-sex marriage. Can someone explain to me why the word "but" is here in the middle of this paragraph?:
Cordileone is known as a theologically conservative bishop faithful to the Catholic orthodoxy. He supports abolishing the death penalty but called on Catholics to vote for an initiative on the November ballot that requires parental consent for minors seeking an abortion.
That makes no sense to me. It reads like "He supports a Catholic position on one issue but then he supported Catholic teaching on another issue." We also get a wider range of critics weighing in on this story. It's not just people who support redefining marriage but also Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Readers noted that the San Francisco Chronicle's initial story (at the same url) was barebones, to understate wildly. But it got fleshed out late that night.
And I think this lede says it all:
The Vatican on Friday named a prominent religious official who has been a leader in the fight against same-sex marriage as San Francisco's new archbishop, the latest in a string of conservatives to lead Catholics in one of the country's most liberal areas.
Salvatore Cordileone, 56, organized religious leaders and helped raise significant sums of money to get Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative that banned same-sex marriage in California, on the ballot and spoke forcefully in support of it. He is also chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
In his first statements after the Vatican's announcement, Cordileone, the current bishop of Oakland, touched on a range of topics, from cultural diversity to immigration reform. But reporters barraged him with questions about same-sex marriage. His response was resolute.
"Marriage is the union of a man and a woman, because children can only come about with the embrace of a man and a woman together," he said. "I don't see how that's discriminatory against anyone."
It might still focus on same-sex marriage but it's less angry than the other reports. And it fully admits straight up at the top that the single-minded obsession on same-sex marriage comes from reporters, not Cordileone. (And it's so much better than this sister story in the Chronicle, which I believe is supposed to be straight news and not opinion.)
I mean, it's still the Chronicle, which means you get a really weak quote from a supporter of traditional marriage laws followed by a thoughtful quote from an opponent of same. But then this:
Cordileone said he wouldn't shy away from the struggle of being a conservative voice in a liberal area, but it left him perturbed that marriage would be so much of a focus of his appointment.
"To be honest, I'm kind of frustrated," he said. "I wish I didn't have to expend so much time and energy on something that should be self-evident.
"But this is the high-profile issue," he said. "It's a foundational issue. For whatever God's reason, it's the issue he's given us at this point in history, so I'm not going to run from it."
Then we learn a lot about how Cordileone's predecessor was also pivotal in California's support for retaining the definition of marriage as a heterosexual institution. We get the obligatory quote from the Rev. Thomas Reese talking about marriage laws. That makes sense since the Georgetown University prof was probably the closest priest available for comment. Ha.
But the story includes other tidbits, such as that Cordileone delivered a speech in both English and Spanish just hours after he was named as well as why that's important given the demographics of the area. He'll be the first fluent Spanish-speaking archbishop there since Joseph Sadoc Alemany was named archbishop in 1853. We learn about which dioceses he will oversee. And we get some nice background about his extensive ties to San Francisco. Also, I was glad that the story picked up on the significance of his installation date, which is how the story ends:
Cordileone will be installed Oct. 4, the feast day for St. Francis of Assisi, for whom San Francisco is named.
If you're going to focus extensively on same-sex marriage, it's nice to be somewhat transparent about who is driving the focus. But it's also true that while journalists seem to believe that support for same-sex marriage is the most important doctrinal test any citizen must pass, there is actually much more to a person than his or her belief in retaining a definition of marriage as a conjugal union of husband and wife or opposition to same definition. And for Catholics in California, even if that is an important issue, there are many other issues of importance. Let's hope that the media calm down a bit in their drive to politicize everything or make everything about same-sex marriage and open up their range of interest just a tad.