CHICAGO (AP) – The archbishop poised to take over the highest Vatican post ever held by an American defended Thursday the traditional secrecy surrounding church business in Rome.

Archbishop William Levada, the recently appointed guardian of Roman Catholic doctrine, said any expectations he would bring American-style transparency to his new post were misguided. He said revealing details of pending investigations could hurt the reputation of those under scrutiny.

“The work is served by having it done in a confidential manner,” Levada said in an interview while attending a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Until it’s ready to be given to the public, it’s not public.”

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Levada last month to lead the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, filling the job the pontiff held for nearly 24 years.

Levada, most recently the archbishop of San Francisco, is a longtime friend of Benedict’s, yet the American prelate said he never thought the pope would choose him. He described his appointment as “stunning” and “breathtaking” and “wonderful” news for the American church after three years of the clergy sex abuse crisis.

In his new position, Levada will review abuse allegations against priests worldwide and either take action against the accused clergy or refer the case back to local bishops. He plans to begin work in Rome in August.

He said he was not offering his opinion in talks at this week’s bishops’ meeting, where church leaders are considering proposed revisions to their discipline policy for abusive priests. A vote on any changes is expected Friday.

Levada said weighing in on the issue would be “inappropriate” considering his new role. All revisions must receive Vatican approval.

He said he felt a tension between Catholic teaching on forgiveness and the American policy barring offenders permanently from any church work. However, he was quick to say that he saw the necessity for this approach.

“That is not retribution in the minds of us bishops,” Levada said. “It’s a part of keeping faith with the people we serve.”

AP-ES-06-16-05 2217EDT

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