SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – The former Archbishop of San Francisco, William Levada, was among the cardinals in Vatican City Thursday preparing to be locked inside the Sistine Chapel for the conclave to choose the successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

Cardinal Levada’s ideal candidate would be energetic, with the charisma of Pope John Paul, something he said Benedict lacked.

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“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 said.

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Levada said it is unlikely the new leader of the Catholic Church will be American, despite speculation that Cardinal Marc Oulette of Canada or a cardinal from Latin America might find favor at the College of Cardinals.

Levada is the first cardinal with Bay Area ties ever to have a say in choosing a new pope, a responsibility the 76-year-old, now himself retired to St. Patricks’s Seminary in Menlo Park, never expected to have.

After overseeing the Archdiocese of San Francisco for ten years, Benedict named Levada to succeed him as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.

“I watched him learn how to be pope,” Levada said, reflecting on Benedict’s legacy.

“His gifts were more intellectual and not being so comfortable on the stage.”

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The Vatican will start the conclave early under new rules adopted because Pope Benedict announced his retirement rather than serving until his death. He officially stepped down on Thursday.

Normally the church allows 15 to 20 days in order for the cardinals to arrive in Rome.

Churches in San Jose rang their bells 85 times at 11 a.m. as Benedict officially stepped down on Thursday, and special masses were held at churches throughout the Bay Area.

Sergio Vasquez, the campus minister at Stuart Hall High School in San Francisco, brought his students to St. Mary’s Cathedral be part of the historic celebration.

He believes the new pope will have to confront the sex abuse scandal head on if the church is ever to attract and retain a new generation of followers.

“There are significant credibility issues,” Vasquez said.

“For a pope to be aware of those dynamics, to be able to engage controversy from a faith perspective, from a theological perspective, and from a social perspective, that’s going to be the test.”

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