U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, former head of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation and retired archbishop of San Francisco and Portland, Ore., died Sept. 26 in Rome. He was 83.
Pope Francis presided over the rite of commendation during the cardinal’s Funeral Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Sept. 27.
When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, he named then-Archbishop Levada to replace him as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican agency charged with protecting and promoting the Church’s teachings on faith and morals. It was the first time a U.S. prelate had headed the congregation, and Cardinal Levada served in that position until 2012.
Before his Vatican appointment, he had served as archbishop of San Francisco since 1995; archbishop of Portland, Oregon, 1986-95, and an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, 1983-86.
For decades, he was a frequent collaborator with the Vatican and with the future Pope Benedict. He was a doctrinal congregation staff member from 1976 to 1982 and was a bishop-member of the congregation beginning in 2000. In the 1980s, he worked with then-Cardinal Ratzinger as one of a small group of bishops appointed to write the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Cardinal Levada was a key figure in the Church’s efforts to eliminate priestly sexual abuse. He headed the Vatican agency that oversaw the handling of priestly sexual abuse cases; in 2002, he was a member of the U.S.-Vatican commission that made final revisions to the sex abuse norms in the United States, which laid out a strict policy on priestly sex abuse and provided for removal from ministry or laicization of priests.
Born in Long Beach, Calif., he did seminary studies in California and then was sent to Rome’s Pontifical North American College, earning a doctorate in theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. He was ordained a priest in St. Peter’s Basilica in 1961.
He returned to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and worked as an associate pastor, teacher and campus ministry chaplain. In 1976, he returned to Rome as a staff official of the doctrinal congregation. During his six years of service there, he continued teaching theology part-time at Gregorian University.
He returned to California in 1982 and was named secretary of the California Catholic Conference, a public policy agency of the state’s bishops. He was named an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles in 1983 and was ordained a bishop in March of that year.
Pope Benedict elevated him to cardinal in 2006.—CNS