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U.S. cardinal, former head of Vatican’s doctrine-enforcing arm, is charged with drunken driving

Cardinal William Levada gestures during a media conference on Feb. 25, 2013, at St. Patrick’s Seminary and University in Menlo Park, Calif. (Ben Margot/AP)

One of the Catholic Church’s most senior U.S. leaders, who recently led the Vatican’s doctrine-enforcing arm, was arrested and charged with drunken driving after police said his car was swerving about midnight on a Hawaii highway.

Cardinal William Levada, 79, was stopped late Thursday in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Monday. Levada, who was archbishop of San Francisco from 1995 to 2005, was charged with driving under the influence and released from custody after posting $500 bail, the Tribune-Herald reported.

Michael Brown, spokesman of the San Francisco archdiocese, sent this statement Tuesday to the Post: “I regret my error in judgment. I intend to continue fully cooperate with the authorities.”

From May 2005 until 2012 the California native was the prefect, or head, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was created in the 1500s to defend Catholicism from heresy. Today, according to the Vatican’s Web site, its role is to “promote and safeguard the doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world.” Levada was appointed to the position by Pope Benedict XVI.

Brown declined to answer questions about Levada’s activities that night, saying only that he was “on vacation with priest friends.” He has a court date of Sept. 24 and is required to appear.

The Tribune-Herald quoted an unnamed police spokeswoman as saying Levada was pulled over after a Kona patrol officer saw his car swerve while he was driving northbound on Queen Kaahumanu Highway north of Kealakehe Parkway. He was alone in the car at the time, the spokeswoman said. She declined to release Levada’s blood alcohol content to the Tribune-Herald, but a 0.08 blood alcohol level is the threshold for legal intoxication while driving in Hawaii.

Brown wrote to the Post that if the incident was simply “a lapse in judgement, the matter would probably be considered less serious. If the matter seemed to indicate a more serious problem, this would be treated more seriously.  This would be true at all employee levels.”

Asked if Levada is struggling with addiction, Brown e-mailed the Post that “I couldn’t say how or whether someone feels challenged about something or anything.”

San Francisco’s current archbishop, Salvatore Joseph Cordileone, pleaded guilty in 2012 to alcohol-related reckless driving and was given three years of probation.

Asked if the archdiocese, considering the two arrests, had any statements or programs planned, Brown said no. The archdiocese’s Web page doesn’t mention the arrest.

When Cordileone was installed as archbishop, less than two months after his arrest, he joked to the crowd: “I know in my life God has always had a way of putting me in my place. I would say, though, that in the latest episode of my life God has outdone himself,” the Associated Press reported in 2012.

“The current archbishop.. responded years ago,” Brown wrote the Post. “No need for us to do anything additionally on this topic.”

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