Archbishop George Niederauer, the eighth archbishop of San Francisco and a leader in the contentious 2008 battle to pass Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage in California, has died.

Archbishop Niederauer died Tuesday of lung disease at Nazareth House, a Catholic senior care facility in San Rafael, at the age of 80.

“Religious leaders have the constitutional right to speak out on issues of public policy,” Archbishop Niederauer wrote a month after the closely fought measure passed on a 52-to-48 percent vote. “Catholic bishops have a responsibility to teach the faith, and our beliefs about marriage and family are part of this faith.”

The archbishop, praised by colleagues for his devotion, service and spirituality, spoke boldly at the time of his 2005 appointment in support of gay priests and disputed allegations that gay priests were a cause of sexual abuse of minors by priests.

Archbishop Niederauer, formerly the bishop of Salt Lake City, was a native of Los Angeles, where he attended Catholic elementary school.

As a student at St. Anthony High School in Long Beach, he met 14-year-old William Levada, the future San Francisco archbishop and cardinal, who remained his lifelong friend.

Archbishop Niederauer studied briefly at Stanford University before receiving a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo (Ventura County), a bachelor’s degree in theology from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., a master’s degree in English literature from Loyola University in Los Angeles and a doctorate in English literature from the University of Southern California.

In 1995, he was ordained bishop of Salt Lake City, where he served until being appointed archbishop of San Francisco in 2005, succeeding Levada in the post. Archbishop Niederauer retired in 2012, a year after undergoing emergency heart bypass surgery. He was succeeded by current Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, another fervent backer of Prop. 8. In his retirement, Archbishop Niederauer devoted himself to conducting retreats and counseling for fellow clergy.

A Mass of Christian burial will be held May 12 at 11 a.m. at St. Mary’s Cathedral, 1111 Gough St., San Francisco.

Full story at SF Gate.