VATICAN CITY (CBS / AP) — The Washington Post has called Cardinal William Levada of San Francisco one of the most influential people involved in the selection of the next pope. And for his part, Levada has not minced words in the days leading up to Tuesday’s conclave to replace Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

He 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.

Levada is among several cardinals who have spoken candidly with the media while in Rome preparing for the conclave, to the point that the Vatican issued a news blackout late last week.

>> Pope Watch 2013: Latest Papal News

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 San Francisco prior to accepting the Vatican post.

He also played a key role in several church sex-abuse reforms while serving as an archbishop – and has drawn 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 explained, 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.”

Levada, as a first-timer to the process, said some of his colleagues in the college of cardinals have given him an idea of what to expect.

“I think it is a prayerful atmosphere,” he said. “No campaigning. It is forbidden to campaign there. You can’t put yourself forward.”

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 Radio recently.

(Copyright 2013 CBS San Francisco & the Associated Press. All rights reserved.)