In San Francisco, Proposition 8 backer to head Catholic Church
That September, the San Diego City Council was poised to join a friend-of-the-court brief in support of legalizing same-sex marriage in California. Cordileone — who grew up in San Diego and was its auxiliary bishop at the time — wrote a heartfelt letter to the lawmakers:
"We believe that marriage, by its very definition, can exist only between a man and a woman," Cordileone wrote. "Moreover, study after study — not to mention common sense — show that children fare better in life when raised in a home with a loving father and mother in a stable, committed relationship."
Society and its governing bodies should do everything in their power to "encourage healthy and stable marriages," he added, while treating "persons with same-sex attraction" with "respect, compassion and sensitivity."
The council voted to act in support of gay marriage. But Mayor Jerry Sanders, who had been expected to veto the measure, called a last-minute news conference. Facing reporters, he choked up. One of his daughters is gay, he said. He could not tell her that she did not have the right to wed.
A few weeks later, a small group of traditional-marriage backers gathered in a San Diego living room to strategize about how to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot in case the state Supreme Court overturned Proposition 22, which ultimately it did.
Charles LiMandri, president and counsel of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, said that at the time, the Catholic Church "was not plugged in. Cordileone was the first to step up to the plate. That's why his career has skyrocketed."
Cordileone attended that first meeting and helped raise more than $1 million for the anti-gay marriage effort. He personally contributed $13,000. But perhaps more important, Cordileone reached out to conservative denominations to bring them into what he has described as the most important battle they would ever face.
LiMandri recalled how the bishop rallied more than 150 pastors at Skyline Church, an evangelical megachurch in La Mesa. "The ship is sinking," he told them. "That ship is Western civilization. We all have to pull together. We have to bail out water and keep that ship afloat."
In October 2008, just weeks before election day, polls showed Proposition 8 was in trouble. Campaign manager Frank Schubert sent out a panicked email to the measure's inner circle. Subject line: Code Blue for Marriage.
"I felt that marriage was in cardiac arrest, and this was the moment it needed to be saved," said Schubert, who believes Proposition 8 would have lost without Cordileone. "He called the next day, he had a donor ... prepared to give a million dollars. He helped arrange that. That gift was pivotal in winning the campaign."
Cordileone was appointed to head the high-profile Diocese of San Francisco by Benedict — who, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, drafted a key 1986 letter that outlined Catholic doctrine about homosexuality.
"Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin," Ratzinger wrote, "it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder."
That teaching, Cordileone said, still holds.
Asked whether it was possible to be a gay man or a lesbian and a practicing Catholic embraced by the church, his answer was adamant: "Certainly." The key, he said, is chastity, the same challenge faced by any single Catholic.
"Maybe it's the particular way God is calling them to holiness," Cordileone said. "It takes a lot of hard work and spiritual discipline. Certainly our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters need to be supported in living out their call to holiness."
Ernest Camisa is spokesman for Dignity/San Francisco, a group of LGBT Catholics who used to hold Mass in Catholic churches. Not long after the Ratzinger letter, the group was forced to move off church property. Today, Dignity holds services once a week at Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church.