VATICAN CITY -- Cardinal William Levada and Francis George, both former Portland archbishops, have not minced words in the days preceding the conclave to replace Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
Levada said the church needs to choose a younger cardinal to counter the years of a stiff Benedict who lacked the charm of predecessor Pope John Paul. George said the new pope must have "zero tolerance" for child abuse.
Those two and several other U.S. bishops have spoken candidly with the media while in Rome for the conclave, to the point the Vatican issued a news blackout Wednesday.
Levada retired in 2012 after spending six years as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's orthodoxy watchdog, which also defrocked pedophile priests.
He was archbishop in Portland from 1986 to 1995, then left for the same job in San Francisco. In those two positions, he kept some accused molesters in the church and failed to share some allegations with police or parishioners.
Levada also played a key role in several church sex-abuse reforms while serving as an archbishop. Levada drew a sharp divide between gay men and pedophile priests.
"By nature homosexuality is a not a predatory activity, it is a sexual activity that the Catholic church does not condone," he said. By contrast, he said pedophile priests are violating the sanctity and purity of young people.
Levada said bureaucratic reforms at the Vatican will require a lot of attention from the next pope. He said he'll be looking for a candidate with deep faith, someone who has shown leadership and has language skills. He said youth is also a factor, and he extinguished any rumors that the next pope might be from the U.S.
"I don't know what the Las Vegas oddsmakers are saying today," he said, "but I don't think it's likely that we would see an American pope. It would be an additional complexity for an American pope to have to deal with the perception that some of his decisions might be perceived to be dictated by American governmental policy."
Levada also said he respects Pope Benedict's decision to withhold findings from an investigation into Vatican leaks to cardinals voting on his successor.
"If his judgment is that there's nothing in that report that's necessary for the cardinals then I think we can rely on that," he said. "Pope Benedict is a man of very good judgment."
Levada, whose Vatican job was held by the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI, said in all his years of service, he never anticipated being called to a conclave.
"Never. Never," he said. "It's very challenging. It's pretty exciting."
Cardinal Levada’s ideal candidate would be energetic, with the charisma of Pope John Paul, something he said Benedict lacked.
“Probably I will tend toward looking for a younger man who still has better energies, at least for a while, to really to be able to give himself completely to this,” he told KCBS in San Francisco.
The Vatican said 103 of the 115 voting-age cardinals attended the inaugural session of the pre-conclave meetings last week, at which cardinals organize the election process, discuss the problems of the church and get to know one another before voting.
"I would imagine that as we move along there will be questioning of cardinals involved in the governing of the Curia to see what they think has to be changed, and in that context anything can come up," said Cardinal Francis George.
George was appointed archbishop in Portland in 1996. Though his tenure was brief, his resolve led a major court ruling in favor of the Catholic Church when an appeals court determined a Lane County jailer illegally taped a confession between an inmate and a priest.
A stunning revelation surfaced just before that meeting. Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien admitted that his "sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal" and he resigned.
The Vatican and cardinals attending the session said the O'Brien case didn't come up during formal or informal conversations.
"It's a tragic moment for him," George said.
At a briefing discussing the priorities for the future pontificate, George said the next pope will have to follow canon law and keep priests who molested children out of parishes.
"He obviously has to accept the universal code of the church which is zero tolerance for anyone who has ever abused a minor child and therefore may not remain in public ministry in the church," George said. "That has to be accepted. I don't think that will be a problem."