Pope Benedict XVI named San Francisco Archbishop William Levada as the Vatican's chief orthodoxy watchdog Friday, tapping an American conservative to fill one of the most powerful church offices, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Before his election as pope, Benedict held the office for more than 23 years, gaining a reputation as a hard-liner in defending church teaching.
Levada, a 68-year-old theologian, is the first American to hold the post, which is the highest position to be held by an American at the Vatican.
Levada joined the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1976 and served for six years, leaving shortly after when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger took over as prefect in 1981. He returned as one of the five bishops on the congregation in 2000.
Levada has served as archbishop of San Francisco since 1995; before that, he was archbishop of another largely liberal American city, Portland, Oregon.