St. Francis' Crib Sheet
A couple weeks later, Frazier knocked The Greatest to the canvas.
Well, now, Rock can tell you that everybody's talkin' bout George Niederauer. And what will happen is anyone's guess.
The nom du jour for Sodom by the Sea is the 69 year-old bishop of Salt Lake City, a fellow Angeleno and classmate of Levada's. The roots of the spec are manifold, but the people on the ground are focusing on speaking gigs in San Francisco that Levada asked Niederauer to take on after his departure.
This same strategy was tried in St. Louis during the last vacancy. Tom Doran preached the Red Mass there in late 2003, with the widespread assumption that it was an "audition" for the bishop of Rockford (a canonist par excellence) before the cream of the archdiocese's laity.
Long story short, Doran flopped and another eminent canonist got the pallium.
A colleague of mine has been gung-ho on Niederauer since early on, but I'd urge some pause from everybody getting a little too eager to say that the Really Big Appointment Show is a wrap.
First off, a Niederauer appointment to San Fran would continue one precedent while breaking another. Remember that, even in appointments like these where the "normal" process is circumvented (and, for the first time in ages, The Pro has nothing to do with it), precedent is a formidable element that is maintained -- that is, except when it's caused some kind of disaster.
From the appointment of John Quinn, then-archbishop of Oklahoma City, to the Bay in 1977, the precedent in place has provided for someone already of metropolitan status to go to San Francisco. It's a distinction shared only with Chicago, which has been the second archdiocese for each of its occupants since Cardinal Stritch in 1939. That trend narrows the pool significantly and excludes Salt Lake, which is a suffragan of SF.
At the same time, Niederauer landed Salt Lake when his predecessor, William Weigand, was transferred to Sacramento. And we all know that when one bishop is transferred out of a diocese, it usually happens again -- what I call the "Feeder See Theory." (Camden, Helena, Portland, Belleville all serve as examples.)
Now, the church knows it's not going to convert the Mormons, but to write Utah off as an episcopal stepping-stone isn't necessarily the smartest thing in the world to do, either.
And, third, even those happy at Levada's appointment to CDF acknowledge that there is some significant recovery to be done on abuse outreach. An element uncovered in the Orange documents raises a troubling flag:
[In 1987], George Niederauer, Andersen's spiritual director at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo and now bishop of Salt Lake City, wrote to Luis A. Cardenas, an Orange County Superior Court judge at the time, and pleaded for leniency.
Andersen "might well have misjudged what was appropriate physical expression especially given the atmosphere of adult-child contacts in our society at present," wrote Niederauer, adding that the boys might have misconstrued "wrestling" or "horse play" as sexual abuse.
Um, if we're getting into a semantic battle about wrestling, that's cringe-inducing.
So that's where things stand, at least as I've heard them -- the odd mumble about Harvey's American return still slips out from time to time, also.
As a cardinal once said, "Who knows? It might even be true." What is true is that this is the American nod in which a Pope will most heavily invest himself since the Civil War of 2000, when the Romans and the Americans almost took up arms against each other in the battle for New York. It wasn't pretty.
But I still have a deep feeling that the road on this one wends its way through Vegas....