Vatican Cardinal in Charge of Priest Abuse Has His Own History

William Cardinal Levada, Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and former Archbishop of San Francisco by way of Portland, is the one responsible for handling priests accused of sexual abuse. Levada is the prelate who succeeded Pope Benedict XVI (formerly Cardinal Ratzinger) at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. When the Pope named Levada to replace him, Levada was no stranger to the new Pope. When the Pope was Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Levada worked for some time in Rome under the tutelage of Ratzinger. This was prior to Levada’s appointment as archbishop of Portland and then San Francisco. Levada was no stranger to sex abuse cases in both archdioceses. Of course, we could say that about most of the bishops in the United States. What makes Levada’s tenure in San Francisco interesting is what renowned journalist Jason Berry unearthed and published recently in Politics Daily. According to Berry, Levada was successfully sued by a priest Jon Conley. Prior to being ordained a Catholic priest, Conley was an assistant US attorney in Michigan. In 1997, Conley called the police after witnessing a fellow priest, Gregory Aylward, making sexual overtures toward a 14 year old boy in the rectory. Before Conley went to the police, he met with an auxiliary bishop in San Francisco (Levada was unavailable) who told him that “we usually keep these things in-house”. As a former US attorney, Conley knew that it was wrong to not contact the police so he contacted the San Mateo District Attorney’s office. According to Berry, “A chancery priest told Conley not to say “pedophile” or mention the accusations to anyone. The boy quit his rectory job. Conley met the family. The mother wept, saying she just couldn’t force her son to testify about Aylward’s advances, which had been going on for months. When Conley met with Archbishop Levada and a chancery monsignor, he knew the archdiocese was closing the wagons around Aylward.
When I interviewed Conley in 2005 for San Francisco Magazine, he told me that Levada used the word “calumny” when discussing the accusations against Aylward. Since a monsignor was also present, taking notes, Conley pulled out a tape recorder to avoid being set up as a scapegoat. “You don’t trust me?” said Levada. Ordered to turn off the tape recorder, Conley refused, he said. “I’m placing you on administrative leave,” said Levada. “Think about obedience.”
They met again privately, no tape recorder; Levada wanted Conley to undergo psychological evaluation. Conley refused. When a news article on Conley’s forced leave broke in The San Francisco Examiner, an archdiocesan statement said: “The archdiocese investigation determined that the wrestling incident was inappropriate and of poor judgment, but nothing sexual in nature. … The archdiocese instructed [Conley] to report the incident to civil authorities, and strongly supports the reporting of all incidents of suspected child abuse or neglect. It was [Conley’s] behavior subsequent to the reporting which was unacceptable.”
Instead of protecting children and removing a pedophile priest, Levada chose to attack the messenger. Conley was persona non grata. In this instance, there’s no way Levada can claim ignorance. He’d worked closely with Ratzinger at the CDF on these abuse cases. He KNEW better. And yet there’s more. In 1985 when Fr. Tom Doyle, Fr. Michael Petersen, and F. Ray Mouton told the US conference of bishops that the problem of priest sex abuse was a mounting problem that would cost the church billions of dollars, Boston’s Cardinal Law asked Levada to meet with the three and discuss their concerns.
For all these reasons and many, many more, Cardinal Levada is the last person who should be in charge of priest sex abuse cases. He’s part of the problem and can’t possibly be part of the solution.