In a significant departure for the archdiocese of San Francisco, the Holy Father today named Bishop Salvatore Cordileone as the ninth archbishop of the archdiocese of San Francisco. Bishop Cordileone succeeds Archbishop George Niederauer, who was appointed in 2005. The event has truly been described as “a bombshell.” Best known as the chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage, His Excellency will shepherd the Church at ground zero of the “culture war.”

Noted Vatican watcher Rocco Palmo reported at 3AM California time today:

For the better part of the last four months, the machinery of the archdiocese that — at least, under normal circumstances — many US bishops consider the nation’s most daunting assignment has quietly prepared its 450,000 members for a transition at the top. Yet while the pontiff’s selection of the ninth archbishop of San Francisco had almost universally been expected by late June, an apparent delay was explained by credible reports of a back room Roman “fight” over the state and direction of the famously progressive local church.

Now, finally, the dust has cleared… and even for a city well-accustomed to seismic activity, the ecclesial Richter Scale both by the Bay and well beyond is about to record a right whopper…. After a half-century of occupants accused by conservatives of soft-pedaling church teaching in favor of a more conciliatory approach toward constituencies ranging from gays and lesbians to Nancy Pelosi — a group of prelates among which the recently-retired chief guardian of church doctrine, Cardinal William Levada, was not exempt from sometimes stinging criticism — the move delivers the long-desired “Holy Grail” of the American Catholic Right firmly into the faction’s hands, in the form of a prelate already known widely both for his forcefulness and a stringent doctrinal cred almost unequaled among his confreres on the national bench.

For liberal Catholics, meanwhile, the appointment is likely to be received as something akin to the city’s Great Earthquake of 1906, or even more apocalyptic events. In a nutshell, an appointment of this dramatic, potentially explosive nature is enough to make even last year’s blockbuster move in the States — likewise Rome’s final US move of the annual work-cycle — seem almost mild by comparison.

The appointment of Bishop Cordileone represents a significant departure from recent appointments in the archdiocese of San Francisco. Recent elevations to the local hierarchy– Archbishop George Niederauer, and Auxiliary Bishops William Justice and Robert McElroy–all seemed to have come from within a circle close to Cardinal William Levada. That is not the case with Bishop Cordileone. The selection indicates a recognition, at the highest levels of the Vatican, of the dangerous drift of the Archdiocese in recent years. Instances of that drift have been reported regularly in CalCatholic. They include Catholic Charities of San Francisco’s “gay adoptions” fiasco of 2006; the creation of parishes where homosexuality is openly celebrated, notably San Francisco’s Most Holy Redeemer; the loss of Catholic identity and outright anti-Catholic teaching at the (Jesuit) University of San Francisco; not to mention (as Palmo notes) the ongoing tolerance of misstatements of Catholic teaching by the city’s Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.

The archdiocese of San Francisco covers three counties, San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin. While there is a strong pro-Catholic and pro-family movement, exemplified by the Walk for Life West Coast, San Francisco itself is well known for its activist homosexual political structure and anti-Catholic attitude. Some of those attitudes are even found in parishes and certainly in the (Jesuit) University of San Francisco. In 2008, more than 80% of San Francisco voters supported Barack Obama. San Francisco also has the fewest number of children of any comparable city in the United States.