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The Archbishop Apologizes

Column by Archbishop George H. Niederauer, to be published Oct. 19th in Catholic San Francisco:

A recent event that greatly concerns me needs some additional explanation -- and with it an apology. On Sunday, October 7, 2007, I celebrated Mass at Most Holy Redeemer Parish here in San Francisco, during my first visit there. The congregation was devout and the liturgy was celebrated with reverence. I noticed no demonstration, no protest, no disruption of the Eucharist.

At Communion time, toward the end of the line, two strangely dressed persons came to receive Communion. As I recall one of them wore a large flowered hat or garland. I did not recognize either of them as wearing mock religious garb.

Afterward it was made clear to me that these two people were members of the organization "Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence," who have long made a practice of mocking the Catholic Church in general and religious women in particular. My predecessors, Cardinal William Levada and Archbishop John Quinn, have both denounced this group's abuse of sacred things many times in the past. Only last year, I instructed the Administrator of Most Holy Redeemer Parish to cancel the group's use of the hall on the parish grounds, once I became aware of it.

In the year and a half since I arrived in San Francisco, there have been several instances of offensive attacks on Catholic faith and devotional life. Only two weeks ago Catholic San Francisco carried my remarks condemning the derisive use of the image of the Last Supper on a poster printed by another local group.

Although I had often seen photographs of members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, I had never encountered them in person until October 7th. I did not recognize who these people were when they approached me.

After the event, I realized that they were members of this particular organization and that giving them Holy Communion had been a mistake.

I apologize to the Catholics of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and to Catholics at large for doing so.

The manner of dress and public comportment of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is deeply offensive to women religious and to the witness of holiness and Christian service that women religious have offered to the Church and to the world for centuries. The citizens of San Francisco have ample reason to be grateful to women religious for their unfailing support of those most in need, and to be deeply offended when that service is belittled so outrageously and offensively.

Someone who dresses in a mock religious habit to attend Mass does so to make a point. If people dress in a manner clearly intended to mock what we hold sacred, they place themselves in an objective situation in which it is not appropriate for them to receive Holy Communion, much less for a minister of the Church to give the Sacrament to them.

Therefore I conclude that the presence of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at the Mass on October 7th was intended as a provocative gesture. In that moment I failed to recognize it as such, and for that, as I have said, I must apologize

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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The pressure from Team Diogenes apparently worked. It's a shame they didn't accept his apology, or even take it in good faith.

I don't get it. If they were reverent in Mass, and not obviously protesting, and not obviously members of a protest group, what did he do wrong? How do you tell eccentric people from protesters in a city where not everyone dresses from the Brooks Brothers and Talbots catalogs? I feel sorry for the parish.

I was there. The 2 SPI were very well behaved, fully participated in the mass, quietly went to communion, each whispered something to the Abp (I am Catholic?), received the host (no, they didn't secret it away for some later black mass) and then went to their seats and finished with the mass.Let's face it: the Abp's statement implies that he would have denied them communion simply based on who they ARE, not anything the DID. Their membership in the SPI appears to be cause enough to vilify them. As a gay man I know that feeling too well.The Abp will never be able to effectively visit MHR again. The wing nuts will be out in full force looking for any zits that he might have and any vindictive SPI would show up, knowing full well the trouble they could cause him.His apology cuts off his nose to spite his face. Too sad.

JImmy:I know nothing about this group but my understanding is that they regularly publicly mock (with full intention) Catholic rtituals, etc.I don't know if that was the intention of these two individuals or not but If I were a parishoner there (with my young daughter) I would be uneasy with two men calling themselves sisters and dressing the same at a Catholic mass.Note I have no problem with gay men reading, serving and ministering in the Church at all.But I think the call is to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.I think setting appropriate boundaries, on behalf of the community, with this group (and the various 'right wing' groups) and these peoples is completely appropriate and should have happened a long time ago.

According to SPI's own Web site, Most Holy Redeemer had a Bingo agreement with the "Sisters," at which funds were raised for community charities and the church.The "Sisters" are pretty bitchy about this in their news at in their news release, but I think the parish has its own side of the story, which Jimmy Mac can probably better speak to than me.The "Sisters" have spun the story a bit, it seems to me.That said, I can't really figure out what the apology is all about if the individuals in question have not been excommunicated, or if members of that group have not been told to consider themselves excommunicated.What it boils down to is that the bishop is apologizing for SPI because they satirize nuns (though I see what the "Sisters" are doing as more self-satirizing in a campy way).Which leaves the question: Is it now a sin to satirize nuns?Are those people who've done Sister's Late Night Catechism now out? How about anybody who's been in "Nunsense"? Muriel Spark for writing "The Abbess of Crewe" (though Muriel is now dead)? And that actress who played The Penguin in "The Blues Brothers"?

I was glad to see Joe Komonchak post earlier about Niederauer's talk on Flannery O'Connor, to give a sense of who I think the archbishop is, at heart, before all this inanity overwhelmed him. No one emerges from this looking very good, and perhaps it is a cautionary tale about the perils of making altar-rail decisions about denying communion.

By the way, Bob Imbelli--You posted this news without comment. What is your take on the affair?

Too many questions in this whole sorry episode, and scandals where the Uncle Di crowd might not want to gaze.Why was a non-parishioner videotaping this Mass? Was there an expectation that something scandalous was afoot? The behavior is too much like paparazzi.Grant is too right that this apology has failed, at least in ameliorating the crowd that was demanding the archbishop's head. The Culture of Death may have been dodged, but the Culture of Complaint is alive and well in conservative Catholicism.The scandal St Blog's would prefer not to address is the namecalling, calumny, and anger directed at the archbishop and the SPI. It is possible to protest and make a reasonable case for the view that this incident was disturbing to some Catholics. Too many complainers have gone too far in giving offense themselves. Even the more calm and disdainful bloggers have been caught up in this scandal by giving free space to detractors in their comboxes. The bloggers in question are not that much different from the politicians who want to preserve freedom of choice for a choice they themselves would not make.Overall, the Church has lost credibility everywhere and rank-and-file Catholics come off looking like boobs. So to speak.

When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why is your teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?"Matthew 9:11

Jimmy Mac,Do the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence routinely receive communion in your parish, or was this an unusual occurrence?

Dear Jean Raber,The bishop says that they are mocking nuns at Mass! I have never seen Nunsense taking place during Mass. Perhaps it is a sin to mock religious (or anyone) during Mass.

Mark 1:4-5John (the) Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. Matthew 21:31-32And Jesus said to them, "Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.There is a difference between approaching Christ and his Church in a spirit of repentance and one of defiance.

Sean,To add some of the surrounding verses from Fr. Martin's quote above from Matthew:10 While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples.11 The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"12 He heard this and said, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. 13 Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' I did not come to call the righteous but sinners."Jesus doesn't say, "I don't eat with sinners and tax collectors! They are FORMER sinners and tax collectors now!"I think it is important to note what was meant by "sinners and tax collector" in the Gospels. I don't have my reference books with me since I am at the office, but I believe these quotes from a website I found get it about right:**********The sinners who are grouped with the tax collectors were not ordinary sinners. The Pharisees along with others could readily admit that everyone is, after all, a sinner and in need of God's mercy and forgiveness. But the sinners associated with tax collectors were in a special class. These were people who deliberately and persistently transgressed the requirements of the law. Included in this group would be money-lenders who charged interest on loans advanced to fellow Jews. This was a clear violation of the law of God stated in Leviticus 25:36-38.**********Here is another interesting excerpt from further on:**********Now, if Jesus had fellowship with tax collectors and sinners in order to preach to them, the Pharisees would not have fussed. After all, who would have objected that tax collectors and sinners were forsaking their sinful lifestyle, making restitution, and seeking a life of righteousness? The Pharisees believed that God offered forgiveness when sinners repented. They could even rejoice that a wretched sinner saw the light and was converted from a life of debauchery.But what infuriated the Pharisees was that Jesus was not explicitly or directly asking tax collectors and sinners to do any of this. Some of them no doubt did repent, such as Levi (Luke 5:28). But Jesus seems to have accepted them as they were and was freely having dinner with them without requiring that they first clean up their lives.**********See for the entire essay.Also, Jesus seems constantly to have been preaching to groups in which there were people challenging him and trying to trap him. If he was trying to restrict his audience, there are numerous stories in the Gospels showing that he failed. (Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar? Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? What should we do with this woman caught in adultery?) And as I pointed out in another thread, two of the first to receive communion were Peter, who was about to deny Jesus, and Judas, who was about to betray him.However, true as all of the above may be, this doesn't settle the issue. It depends on answering this question: In what way does the Catholic Church represent Jesus now? Every Catholic would acknowledge that all men and women are sinners. So it is uncontroversial when the "ordinary" sinners show up in a Catholic church. What about people who are sinners in the same sense as "sinners and tax collectors" in the New Testament? How should the Church deal with them? As Jesus did in his lifetime? It is a question about which I don't believe I've ever seen a good discussion.

David,My point had nothing to do with whether one is a former sinner. Thank goodness, because I am full up and current on my sinner's membership card. Certainly the tax collectors and prostitutes that entered the Kingdom had repented. Throughout the Gospel Christ calls on everyone to repent. To change. To turn from sin. How can one repent when one not only does not believe something is sin, but positively celebrates his sin as good. I hope people realize the irony of using the "sinners and tax collecters" scriptural reference like this. It is like saying - "Look here you narrow-minded judgemental jerk, Christ said not to judge others!"We are all Pharisees, just as we are all sinners and tax collectors.

In the spirit of the Gospel, it's not too late for the AB to extend an invitation to dialogue with the SPIs, especially the two "sisters" who were at Mass that day and received communion. We (and he) must remember that Most Holy Redeemer Catholic parish is a unique outreach to a unique community of Christ's followers. If I lived in The City, I would not at all be offended by bikers in chains, SPIs, and other "characters" joining me in worship of the One True God and receiving his "have-not" Son in the eucharist. This would most certainly be gospel Catholicism in action!Let's not forget another episode in Jesus' life (one I've mentioned elsewhere) when the Canaanite woman approached Jesus and asked him to heal her daughter. Canaanites, of course, were despised by the Jewish religious leaders and teachers of the law. Jesus, teasing her to test her faith in God, replied that he did not come to give food to dogs, i.e., folks like her. And, with great faith, this woman responded that even dogs eat the scraps that fall from the master's table. And Jesus told her that her daughter would be OK.When I see AB Raymond Burke, for instance, I do not see a Christ-like individual. I see a self-righteous, sanctimonious, arrogant, and legalistic individual who needs desperately to go back to the seminary and learn the gospel message. Apparently his earlier training failed him, and he now fails the People of God. What a shame! What a pity!To the AB in The City, invite the two guys for lunch, shoot the breeze, and don't be afraid to join the rest of us Catholics in being able to laugh at ourselves. Let's not waste this magnificent opportunity for dialogue with the GLBT community!!!

Another thought:I doubt Jesus would even recognize his followers today: fancy liturgies (in dead foreign tongues, no less), a big old HQ in Rome (and a city-state, at that), and all sorts of ecclesial condemnations of folks who are somehow "different" from the mainstream.Would he turn over the tables of the postcard vendors, rosary and statue sellers? If he signed onto a reactionary blog and shared the Good News of our salvation, would he be cut off? If he appeared in contemporary attire --- coveralls, chambray work shirt, scruffy shoes, beard and moustache, etc. --- on a streetcorner or in front of a cathedral, would he be shunned or (even worse) ridiculed? What would Jesus experience? How might we behave?

I realize this is a progressive lot on this blog, but is there no one who found these two individual's behavior, in using the mass and Eucharist to make a point even a little troubling?I hope most have actually seen the tape of the actual event - or were there of course - but I should be clear to anyone who is honest with themselves that the bizarre attire was not just a fashion statement. They were trying to make a point, obviously. What if they had shown up dressed like Adolph Hitler and Herman Goering? Or does it just not matter?

"I hope people realize the irony of using the "sinners and tax collecters" scriptural reference like this. It is like saying - "Look here you narrow-minded judgemental jerk, Christ said not to judge others!"Sean,Were you saying that just to me? Or also to Fr. James Martin, SJ? :-)If you didn't read my whole message, including the linked article, I don't blame you, because it was far too long, but I believe you have entirely missed the point. Everyone is a sinner, and in fact many of the great saints called themselves miserable sinners. But they (and you) fall into quite a different category from the people the Pharisees were referring to as "sinners and tax collectors" in the Gospels. And Jesus was quite clearly acknowledging he associated with them.It would be interesting to know exactly what Jesus meant by "entering the Kingdom."There's more to be said on this, but not now.

It seems to me that if someone was there with a camera they were hoping that the Abp would create a fuss thus giving them a really great shot at a video that could be used to embarrass somebody. It didn't happpen, nobody was embarrassed and now every which side is trying to recreate the embarrassment that they didn't get for free the first time. Here's what I think: If I were the Abp I'd be p***ed off at all sides and I wouldn't apologize to anybody because I didn't do anything wrong. Whatever wrong he did was totally unintentional. What if they had been real nuns? Wouldn't that have been nice? Then he would looked like the kind of clod who asks women if they are pregnant or just fat. (Are you for real? because most nuns who look like as ugly and sexless as you do are just playing dress up.) Those who think the Abp needs to apologize and those who wanted to embarrass the Abp deserve each other and will, in fact, get the punishment they deserve by being placed in the same circle of hell for eternity.Well, something like that. Seriously, these folks feed off of each other. The one needs to prove that the culture is going to hell and the other needs to prove that the Church is a bigoted cesspool. What would they do without each other?

Joseph:Let's not waste this magnificent opportunity for dialogue with the GLBT community!!!Dialogue requires MUTUAL respect, clarity and setting out appropriate boundaries on BOTH sides. For mature, reasonable, and MEANINGFUL dialogue this needs to be negotiated and discussed in advance.I for one have no sympathy for this group. Nor do I believe that they deserve any sympathy and support.To be perfectly frank (in the spirit of dialogue), I find such behaviour offensive and so the first point of dialogue I would want with this group is for them to explain to me how this kind of dress and manner can be intended to be anything BUT offensive.If they are coming from a good spirit, we will know because unless they dress like that daily, then there is some kind of other agenda at work.I am sorry if I offend but the uncritical approach of people here really leaves me shaking my head.....I just don't think most of the people here are keeping it real.

Enlightening and inspiring to hear the words of Jesus referred to. Smashing

"For mature, reasonable, and MEANINGFUL dialogue this needs to be negotiated and discussed in advance."No. It requires nothing more than calling the other party and inviting them over for lunch. Nothing formal. Nothing fancy. Just simple hospitality --- something very much emphasized by Jesus in the gospels. Breaking bread. Shooting the breeze. No haranging, no pontificating. Giving by listening (for feelings, not words). Asking open-ended questions. Getting to know one another. Making a sincere effort to walk in the other person's shoes.No agendas. No discussions in advance (hey, we're not talkin' diplomatic relations here, for cryin' out loud).And no negotiating!!!

"There is a difference between approaching Christ and his Church in a spirit of repentance and one of defiance."Yes. And how does this truth relate to the matter under discussion?"What if they had shown up dressed like Adolph Hitler and Herman Goering? Or does it just not matter?"It does not matter. Christ reached out to everyone. At my last place of VA employment, the HR office (at our 2-division medical center) was located at the older site that housed long-term care patients with psychiatric and neuropsychiatric problems. You know: guys with tongues hanging out of their mouths and salivating all over themselves, other fellas talking to themselves, fellas sitting forlornly in the hallways, etc. O, and we had a Catholic chapel where the Blessed Sacrament was in the tabernacle 24/7. And some of these guys would go to Mass and receive communion.God can take care of himself (and us --- if we but just allow him). I don't think our full-time Jesuit chaplain imposed a dress code on these "odd balls." He no doubt saw them as children of God and was not about to judge their worthiness to receive the eucharist.Thank God.

Suppose the "Sisters" were torn. Suppose they former Catholics, who protested the Church, but in the middle of the mass, celebrated with great reverence by the gay community in the Church, they were moved by the presence of God, who loves them too.I guess their behavior means more to me than their dress.

Here's a link to the local SF newspaper which offers a full account of the story. San Francisco's reputation as a somewhat lefty town, some Catholic parishes in the city are quite conservative others like the Holy Redeemer church welcome the gay community. Sunday was also the day of the Castro street fair which is a big deal for the neighborhood. Some folks dress up and of course the"Sisters" would be in the middle of it all.

There are two women in our parish who rotuinely come to Mass affecting great reverence, wearing elaborate head coverings, and recite the Old Rite to themselves during the liturgy, in Latin, kneeling and genuflecting on a schedule that does not correspond to the rest of the congregation, nor that of the priest.Then they approach for communion, taking the last few steps, Fatima-like, on their knees. They are making a statement, qite obviously, and defying the norms, quite blatantly. Should they too be denied communion?

Joseph:This board seems to be like other Catholic boards (only it is progressively leaning). It is all about acceptance for OUR side. It is always THEM that is the problem. A sampling of the quotes:The pressure from Team Diogenes apparently worked.the Culture of Complaint is alive and well in conservative Catholicism.So those who express concern must be right wing conservatives, etc., etc.? And of course those right wing Catholics are not included in the biblical quote from james martin, sj I agree with you about the feelings and not words but it is hard to communicate the nuance of feelings on an internet board. But I feel like I will not be accepted here because maybe my progressive credentials (i.e. core values) may not be as strong as others. I guess at core I am somewhat conservative and on this board I feel like that is not okay. I dont feel safe or heard. I feel like anything I say is going to be dismissed because I dont hang around in a university clique (or am perceived as conservative or maybe a hick or something...). I feel nervous around "sisters" like this (that is not a judgement that is a feeling).When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why is your teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?"I liked the gloss from David but I am then forced to ask would this same trajectory not apply to George Bush and Dick Cheney. What if Jesus hung out with the neo-cons and don Rumsfeld. Not asking that they repent for tax policy or in their choices as far as stabilizing oil prices go.Is there some kind of common (Holy) spirit that unites us all or is it all just politics. I dont like politics at mass (right or left). I dont like the tone of some first things articles either.So I go back to the issuewhere are spaces for dialogue?

More about Matthew 9:9-13 . . .The following verse [Matthew 9:12] gives the whole keynote of the NT--that what is demanded of the would-be entrant into the Kingdom is faith, loyal trust. There is no demand for a prior conversion of life and conduct, and entrance into the Kingdom is not a reward for moral rectitude.Matthew, Anchor Bible Volume 26, W. F. Albright and C.S. Mann, p. 106

Every version of the film I have seen has had superimposed on it. I assume they did the filming. If you go to their website, they seem to be trying to document every instance where the Catholic Church has had non-hostile contact with gay people.The incident is causing such a stir because a lot of people have visceral responses to gay men and to cross-dressing. If the Gospels had said Jesus associated with homosexuals rather than prostitutes, we would probably have a lot fewer Christians today. Sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes are one thing, and can even be romanticized.. But homosexuals are in a class by themselves and bring the word "abomination" to mind (although, strangely, shrimp and lobster generally do not).

As often, I think the initial post (in this case the Archbishop's own Statement, to be printed in the newspaper of the Archdiocese)seems to get overlaid with our various "takes."I would let him speak for himself and respect (if not necessarily agree with) the considered discernment of someone, who in other situations, we are apt to applaud:"Someone who dresses in a mock religious habit to attend Mass does so to make a point. If people dress in a manner clearly intended to mock what we hold sacred, they place themselves in an objective situation in which it is not appropriate for them to receive Holy Communion, much less for a minister of the Church to give the Sacrament to them.Therefore I conclude that the presence of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at the Mass on October 7th was intended as a provocative gesture. In that moment I failed to recognize it as such, and for that, as I have said, I must apologize."What does Ignatius of Loyola say about giving the "best reading" to something we may not instinctively agree with?

As a left-wing, progressive bad Catholic, I agree that Sean has a point.Mas isn't the place to "act up," if that's what the Sisters were doing.I also agree that those of us outside the situation may not read all the nuances right. Some people can be provocative just by showing up and looking at you. And then, if you respond, they play victim. I've got relatives like that. Scores of 'em.By the same token, if you're looking for bad behavior, you'll eventually find it and construe it that way. I thought the subject of the bishop's apology was, "I know you were there and I know what you were doing.'Which may or may not be the case. No way to tell which was which here.

David G,As to the women in your parish, it would be improper to refuse them Communion if for no other reason the GIRM itself says it is improper to refuse them Communion.David N,My statement about sinners and tax collectors was not aimed at any one in particular. My point was that it is used very often wrongly in two ways. First is that we talk about sinners without wanting to talk about sin. Certainly Christ accepts everyone and loves everyone, but he wants us to turn from sin - he says so time and again. Conversations about incidents like this cannot be just about "What Would Jesus Do?" They are also about what do we do as Christians to help each other to Christ. When we casually ignore instances where people mock the Church and by extension mock Christ, when we ignore sin and wave it off with "Jesus loves them," we do nothing to help the sinner or ourselves to Christ.The second way this argument is misused is, as I said, ironically as a way to judge others as sinners.As to your other point about Matthew 9:12, I suggest you read further to verse 17. Repentance is not about seeking a reward for moral rectitude, it is about becoming new, changing in heart and will.

"When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why is your teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?"I liked the gloss from David but I am then forced to ask would this same trajectory not apply to George Bush and Dick Cheney. What if Jesus hung out with the neo-cons and don Rumsfeld."The commenter above makes a good point. If the folks around here want to feel the full impact of Matthew 9:11, it's insufficient to imagine a present-day Jesus eating with people that you don't really think are sinners at all. You have to imagine Jesus consorting with the people that you hate and think the worst sinners of all -- perhaps that's Diogenes of Catholic World News; perhaps that's Dick Cheney; perhaps that's Newt Gingrich; perhaps that's Father Neuhaus of First Things. Also, the claim above that Jesus didn't ask the sinners to repent seems entirely bogus. Sure, the story in Matthew 9 ends with Jesus saying, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." But if you read the rest of the Gospels -- Luke, for example -- you will see that Jesus said, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners TO REPENTANCE." (Luke 5). Indeed, if you keep reading, Luke 15 tells the story of the Pharisees criticizing Jesus once again for eating with tax collectors and sinners, and Jesus responds with the story of the shepherd, the 99 good sheep, and the 1 lost sheep that needs to be found (which he compares to a "sinner who repents").

Jean,Some readers of dotCommonweal may be familiar with La Gran Scena Opera Company or Les Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo, both are all-male (and without a doubt predominantly gay) companies that perform sometimes outrageous spoofs of well known operas and ballets. I would say they are quite similar in many ways to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. No opera or ballet fan who saw performances by one of these companies, which can sometimes be merciless in their satire, would even imagine that they were truly denigrating opera and ballet.There are also, of course, significant differences between the SPI and these two companies. But anyway, some of the sensibilities are the same and are probably quite foreign to people who have no experience with this kind of thing. The offense taken by many at the SPI is undoubtedly way out of proportion to whatever offense is intended.Many gay people (including many of the "sisters," I am sure) have a love-hate relationship with the Church, and I wouldn't be so quick to assume that the two who attended mass were operating from the hate side. One of the news reports I read had the following:**********Dorsey [a parishioner at Most Holy Redeemer] said he was impressed by an e-mail sent to the general mailbox of Most Holy Redeemer after the Mass.Sister Delta Goodhand, one of the two who received communion from Niederauer, wrote: "Just a quick note to recognize the wonderful mass yesterday at your Church. Your entire congregation was so welcoming and it was great to be able to participate. You are a wonderfully inclusive Church."**********If Sister Delta Goodhand was sincere in writing that message, I wonder what she is thinking now?

Sean and Stuart,I would love to see a New Testament scholar weigh in here, since I am admittedly an amateur, and since the passages we are discussing really need to be interpreted in the context of the entire New Testament. Certainly I would not argue Jesus was inviting sinners into the Kingdom without expectations of what they would become. But I do think one thing is clear, and that is that Jesus did not hesitate to associate with extremely disreputable people on what seems to have been a friendly basis, and apparently without preconditions. I do agree with Sean about the question "What would Jesus do?" I don't think it has ever clarified anything for me. The questions in my mind are the following: What did Jesus do? And how is the Church supposed to represent Jesus? And DOES the Church actually represent Jesus, or does it sometimes represent 2000 years of attempted (and flawed) elaboration on the message of Jesus?I do have one technical question about "sinners" in the New Testament. Some of my references translate "sinners" as nonobservant Jews. When Jesus spoke of repentance, was he calling on nonobservant Jews to become observant Jews? And if so, what does that call to repentance mean to gentiles?

David Nickol, I didn't assume anything about the "Sisters," just said that provocation by attendance might be one construction. Sorry if I didn't make that clear.There is as much self-satire in camp as there is social satire. The Trockadero asks us to have a laugh at opera as well as those doing the satirizing. The whole effect is humorous on the outside, a bit sad and world-weary underneath. (Not sure if that fits in with Sontag's famous camp article, but that's what I see, and I realize some people don't find it humorous.)Camp isn't, I think, compatible with the solemnity of the Mass.But were the individuals at Mass trying to camp it up? I don't know. I wasn't there. I don't know the context. The bishop obviously thought so.

Sean Hannaway: So if the ladies at Mass at my parish should not be denied communion, then you are agreeing that the two SPI "ladies" should not be denied communion?Bob Imbelli--Thanks for dipping your toe back in, but I wish you would reveal your hand more clearly. By posting this you set off a large stink bomb, but then you walked away! Not fair. Please, just a couple of declarative sentences that do not all end in a question mark...Note to George D: I would hope you would remain. Even if this blog tilts in a "progressive" direction, lefties are as prone to disagreeing among themselves as with the "right."

On a VOTF blog this morning, another eyewitness report on the event, attesting there was no bad behaviour at the Mass.It struck me that:-there's a lot of motive judging going on here, drien by perceptions around hot button issues.-like the Moderate/Progressive thread below and the new thread introduced by Cathy today, there is little hope of finding a center in today's Church.-Clearly in the culture wars, folk will try (instead of dialogue) to bamboozle others to their point of view.It's just like the world of politics...

David,The two situations are very different., so no, I don't agree. According to the GIRM -"The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing. Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel. Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm."

Let me chime in with my endorsement of the Archbishop's apology and his characterization of the "sisters." While it is true that many conservative Catholics like Diogenes and others have smeared and defamed the Archbishop for his role in the whole debacle, they are absolutely justified in being offended and taking offense. Jimmy Mac, your parish is obviously completely out of control and afflicted with a kind of gay solipsism when the "sisters" are an acceptable presence in the eucharist. Intervention in the parish is, in my opinion absolutely necessary and completely warranted. At a minimum, anyone who shows up in mock nun attire during the liturgy should be asked to leave and not permitted entrance in the Church until they have returned with proper and decent attire. Elsewhere on the internets, someone made the apt analogy between the "sisters" and a group of white frat boys creating a blackfaced minstrel show for charity.

Also elsewhere on the Internets, a few selected comments have been reprinted/sneered at on the conservative blog, The Cafeteria Is Closed:, I am also interested to know what you meant when you said you disagreed with the archbishop--aspects of his apology? His having given Communion to the "sisters"?Also worth asking: who are these self-appointed "orthodoxy" police? Who runs Quamdiu Domine? Who funds it? They've anonymized their registered URL, so you can't find out anything about them through the usual public channels. Why so secretive? Were their operatives participating in the Mass while filming the "sisters"?

Having seen this film of the event find it difficult to believe the archbishop is being entirely honest when he says, "I did not recognize either of them as wearing mock religious garb." I have no idea what the one in the multicolored headdress was supposed to be. But the other one was quite obviously dressed as nun.

I'm uncomfortable spreading that kind of video, but in this case I suppose it's necessary to see what's going on.I strongly disagree with David Nickol. The outfits are so outlandish that they obscure what they're attempting to mock. The headdress? The makeup? They look like clowns, or Halloween-ish vampires, more than anything else. Did you see how the archbishop responded when the first "sister" approached him (the one in the ridiculous hat)? He looks stunned, then gives a blessing, then says something (apparently he asked the "sister" whether he's Catholic), *then* gives him Communion. So I think it's rather unfair to accuse the archbishop of being dishonest. Imagine being in his shoes. How startling that must have been.

Grant(1) Yes, those self-styled smearers of the Archbishop as well as those who, in other places, fantasized about throwing the "sisters" down the church stairs or otherwise beating the crap out of them, are a disgrace, even more disgraceful than the sisters in certain respects. Thomas Merton's comment about how those who consider themselves to be moral and upstanding members of society often are the perpetrators of the most appalling evils comes to mind.(2) Yes, the scandalmongerers over MHR and the usual outrages are tedious Gladys Kravitz-esque tattle-talers.(3) However, MHR is not in much of a position to complain about any moral snooping by these tattle-talers, since the welcoming of the "sisters" by the parish (and the "sister's activities at the mass) were public and out in the open. There was no expectation of privacy at that Sunday mass whatsoever. The tattle-talers weren't engaging in a "sting" operation. The parish was fair game.

Another piece of the puzzle. An article I found mentions that the St. Joseph's Men Society was involved in the filming at Most Holy Redeemer. To quote:**********Anthony Gonzales of St. Joseph's Men Society, one of the groups which filmed the Archbishop giving the 'sisters' Communion, told that he was pleased with the apology. Gonzales, who will be discussing the matter on Fox's O'Reilly Factor tonight, added, however, that "The Archbishop has a history of "mistakes" especially where homosexuality is concerned." ********** Their site ( is unreachable at the moment, but there is cached material on Google, and the site featured articles such as the following**********How the Sodomites Have Manipulated the Novus OrdoLoyola Marymount University Invites Pro-Euthanasia Freemasonic Judge to Lecture at Law SchoolJesuits of California Province continue to demonstrate that they are, in fact, Anti-Catholic!Typical Modernist/Stalinist MoveVatican Poised to Betray Persecuted Chinese CatholicsCommunion in the Hand is a SacrilegeGays In Seminary Investigated: Whitewash ContinuesShameless Sodomites Celebrate Despite Warning from GodBishop Patrick McGrath Uses Abortion "Bubble" Laws to Protect Himself Against Rosary Praying Catholics[From their mission statement]We are sick and tired of feminine men and sodomites putting themselves into positions of authority as priests and even bishops pretending to be the exemplars of our Faith: THEY ARE NOT!**********One begins to have more sympathy for the archbishop, with enemies like this. I do find it difficult to believe that he didn't realize Sister Delta Goodhand was wearing something that was supposed to be a nun's habit, but enough people are picking on him at the moment, so I will try and give him the benefit of the doubt.I predict the next development will be that men in mock nun's habits will be barred from receiving communion, following which there will be some embarrassing incidents in which REAL nuns are mistakenly believed to be fake nuns and are denied communion.

In the giant sunglasses and the whiteface? Come on. That doesn't look like any habit I've ever seen. It looks like someone who doesn't know jack about religious habits tried to ape one with a table-linens set from Monkey Wards. I wonder where the St. Joseph's Men got their ideas about Niederauer's "mistakes" regarding homosexuality...

Grant,I am not contending that the archbishop thought Sister Delta Goodhand was a REAL nun. At the end of this month, there are going to be little pirates, ghosts, witches, angels, and vampires walking the streets expecting candy. I have never actually seen any REAL pirates, ghosts, witches, angels, or vampires, but I generally have no trouble figuring out what the little ones are supposed to be. The archbishop knew he was visiting a "gay parish" in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco. Under the circumstances, unless someone is not aquainted with the gay culture of San Francisco, if they see a man in a bizarre outfit even vaguely suggestive of a nun's habit, they her or she is not very good at putting two and two together if the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence don't come instantly to mind. In any case, I think he has done tremendous damage by apologizing. It seems from everything I read so far, there would have been a fuss even if an incident hadn't occurred. If he didn't intend to make a gesture to the gay community and have the courage to stand up to his critics, why did he go in the first place?

It's intersting to note that while almost everyone (including me) seems to be very critical of Archbishop Niederauer, he is getting kind words from at least one quarter:Our hearts go out to the parishioners of Most Holy Redeemer and to the Archbishop who have been unfairly stigmatized by these disingenuous campaigns for doing nothing more than following the welcoming teachings of Christ and administering Communion in keeping with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. . . .We extend our sincerest gratitude and affection to the parishioners of Most Holy Redeemer and hope that their new Archbishop continues to walk with them in service to the gospel of joy and justice.[from the press release, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence]

Context is important here: a. AB visits distinctly gay Catholic parish b. in a distinctly gay neighborhood c.. during the weekend coinciding with the Castro Street Fair.Such being the case, why would one NOT expect gays/lesbians/bisexuals/transgendered to wear distinct clothing at a communal celebration of the eucharist???Let's face it, the reactionaries/theocons were chafing at the bit to catch the AB at MHR. For these folks, ANY visit by a church official to MHR merely sanctions the "gay lifestyle." For the AB, it's a no-win situation: Don't visit MHR, and he's a bigot; go to MHR, and he's giving scandal "to the faithful."Jesus managed to scandalize the so-called "righteous," and he ended up paying for it with his life. The AB, on the other hand, faces only the sanctimonious crap that the Son of God had to endure in preaching the Good News.I hope Archbishop Niederauer will take his cue from the gospels in deciding what to do next. It can be a tough job working for Jesus!

Go press release from SPI.

Best overall take I've seen, via CNS: one think the St. Joseph's Men's Society ought to re-think their readiness for communion. Sean: You cite the GIRM to the effect: "The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing. Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel. Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm."So these ladies, as others, have been consulted, and persist. You deny them? Same deal.

I especially liked Niederauer's description of the blogosphere. David Nickol: My point is that the outfits were so outrageous that they didn't even resemble what they were attempting to lampoon. In other words: no, they look too absurd for a person to be expected to recognize them as "sisters" at first glance. But let's not give the SPI undue credit. They're having a laugh. Obviously.

Grant,I'm willing to give the archbishop the benefit of the doubt. But I am also willing to give the two "sisters" the benefit of the doubt. After all, they did not know they were going to be filmed and cause such a sensation. I don't know whether others ever attend mass at Most Holy Redeemer in unusual attire, but from everything I have read about the parish, I doubt that the "sisters" expected parishoners would be shocked or offended by their presence. And by all accounts, the only thing unusual about them was the way they were dressed. They were in no way disruptive.On the other hand, as some of the parishoners said, the presence of St. Joseph's Men, filming in Most Holy Redeemer without anyone's permission, clearly looking to make trouble, were behaving in a far more un-Christian manner than the "sisters." The SPI may be having a chuckle or two, but St. Joseph's Men are no doubt ecstatic over embarrassing the archbishop and forcing him into a situation in which he felt the need to apologize. They are far more of a threat to the Catholic Church than the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, in my opinion.

Really? Because at first you said you thought the archbishop wasn't being honest in his apology. And if the SPI are such gentle lambs, why do you think they dress so extravagantly and choose names like Sister Porn Again or Sistser Aura Lee Gifted? Not to cause a sensation? I think you're being naive. You don't think they're enjoying the attention? The press release could have been written by Andy Kaufman.

Grant,Defining "benefit of the doubt" as "a favorable judgment granted in the absence of full evidence," I am willing to give the archbishop the benefit of the doubt. It is an act of will on my part. I find his statement difficult to believe, but never having distributed communion myself, and not knowing how much attention he pays to gay culture in San Francisco, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I do not recall describing the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence as "gentle lambs." What I said was that I didn't believe the two "sisters" who attended mass expected to shock the parishoners by their presence or their outfits. Please note the following:Most Holy Redeemer, as a parish, has marched in the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence actually hosted bingo games at Most Holy Redeemer. Read an account here: Holy Redeemer also hosted the "unveiling of the 2008 Desperate Diva calendar." "Twelve famed drag queens. One pageant. BLOOD! This Saturday, gather in awe at Most Holy Redeemer in the Castro to witness the unveiling of the 2008 Desperate Diva calendar . . . ." shocked do you believe members of Most Holy Redeemer parish would be to see Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence??? Of COURSE the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence as a group are flamboyant, provocative, and outrageous. That's what they are all about. They are gay activists who feel they have legitimate complaints against the Catholic Chuch, and I dare say most gay people would agree. I did point out that while almost everyone else was hammering Niederauer, he was treated kindly in the SPI press release. I am sure most of the gay community is disappointed or angry about his apology, and one might have expected the SPI to be also. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't, or maybe they couldn't care less. But if their press release was merely carefully crafted to milk the situation for what they could get out of it, point out to me anybody else's statements in the whole brouhaha that aren't.Please note that I have not linked to any of the sites intent on slandering Most Holy Redeemer. The links above are bona fide announcements or news stories with no connections to the current controversies.It's fairly clear how you feel about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. How do you feel about St. Joseph's Men Society and Quamdiu Domine?

Let me simply state that this Catholic loathes all denigrations of religious sisters from whatever source. In my book, they are the true heroines of the American Church and jokes, plays, movies etc. that put them down, mock them, infantilize them, and so on are disgusting. They educated me and countless others from first grade through high school and for them and others like them, I have nothing but admiration. As for the SPI: I say they give a new meaning to the term "shameful."

David N.: Read my prior comments for my feelings on the groups you mention.

Lawrence,If you don't think this is unfair to ask: How do you feel about St. Joseph's Men Society and Quamdiu Domine? What would have happened if they hadn't filmed the mass at Most Holy Redeemer and posted the video on the Internet? Thanks.

I fear that these comments may be rather confused and wide-ranging, seeing as that Im only now coming upon a long-lasting discussion. Nonetheless, I offer them for whatever they may be worth.I am not sure that I accept that the SPI are, in fact, mocking religious sisters, completely at least. This is an organization that devotes itself to communal outreach, works of charity, and service to those who, especially in the Catholic Church, are quite often the least among us. In other words, they are very much in keeping with the charitable tradition of religious sisters that Prof. Cunningham rightly lauds. They are admittedly very flamboyant, but that which is offensive to those of us in South Bend, Cincinnati, Atlanta or Dayton (the only places Ive lived) is often run of the mill in the Castro. This is why, to me, so few of the parishioners seem to have either noticed or been bothered by the presence of the sisters. I can assure you that would not be the case in my home parish in Kentucky! The names they assume for themselves are indeed provocative, but for what purpose? Could they not simply be taken to affirm the body and its goodness, which is often lost in much Catholic discourse, particularly based around sexual pleasure? Must something which transgresses our usual way of looking at things be doing so out of malevolent intent?I must confess that, even though I am a gay man, I do not understand or have much visceral sympathy for these sorts of displays. Too much Irish-German in me I guess. That being said, I also recognize that I do not really understand them either: theyve always been far off my personal radar screen. Thus, it seems to me that extreme caution is needed in judging the behaviors of people like this which we often do not understand properly. There is a very real cultural difference here. Particularly when it comes to religious dress, the effect that one intends when donning it is often ambiguous and camp/belittling is often present even when the wearer is unaware of it. Back in Northern Kentucky, I went to a high school graduation ceremony last year in which one newly-ordained priest was sitting on the dais in full cassock, a black cap, and something that I could only describe as a beret (not a biretta though). Everyone to whom Ive spoken who was present took it as an excellent display of clericalwell, silliness frankly. It was a hugely mocking display. The only problem was that the priest in question wasnt in on the joke. This is not to claim that SPIs dress is only accidentally provocative, far from it, only that that which seems so offensive to so many can appear as well in many other forms. Are we bothered by the gender-bending present? Is that, in itself, mockery? Havent we learned our lesson from Joan of Arc? There is deep ambiguity here. Of course the SPI are intending to provoke a response, but Im not sure that that response is as easily discerned as seems to be assumed in many of these comments. Indeed, if they were trying to be offensive at the liturgy, they were so bad at it that the Archbishop didnt even notice (and I suspect that these ladies are quite adept at provoking the responses they want). Despite everything, though, if it is still true that by their fruits you shall know them, it seems to me that it is the groups like the St. Josephs Men Society (and I wonder how much notions of manhood are bound up in their hostility) who are far more shameful in the Church today, demonstrating neither compassion nor charity. After all, the SPI, in many ways, is the Churchs own illegitimate child, needing perhaps extra compassion and dialogue, not hysterical condemnation.

A very good context, Andy, thanks. I'd also add, apropos of Larry Cunningham's understandable reaction, that one must also take into consideration the supposed "target" of such parody. I imagine many nuns are offended by the SPI. But many sisters I know think they are a hoot, and indeed it is interesting that these "ladies" have chosen to portray nuns who are rightly revered as the caring, nurturing and prophetic presence of the church in the United States. "Perpetual Indulgence"? Perhaps not. But there's more there than meets the eye. In a manner of speaking.

He's still at it: the last graf, which seems to me a direct response to Jim Martin's comment on this thread (about seven or eight from the top). Interesting.

I see the thread is still active.I would like to offer another analysis. I think that the SPI are in fact a group of people who have what is referred to in psychiatric language as "Borderline Personality Disorder".While that diagnostic criteria is controversial and certainly ambiguous (as many diagnoses in fact are), they would qualify. (people need to simply look up BPD)They would qualify also in terms of their ability (that is Personality Disordered people) to "split" and create chaos and disorder wherever they go. If you have ever met someone who has BPD then you know EXACTLY what is meant.But, they are supported by upper middle class people and so will not be subjected to the medical gaze as other Borderline Personality Disordered people are.However, the fact of the matter is that these people need help, and I suspect that cross dressing is the least of their problems.The Church can help them most by (yes creating a welcoming environment as MRH does) BUT also by drawing appropirate boundaries in terms of acceptable conduct in liturgy and then ensuring that there are consequences when those boundaries are pushed. That is what grown up mature leadership is all about. BTW could they dress that way at Yale University graduation ceremony or while teaching at any of the number of colleges and universities where tacit "support" for them would most likely be found? I am positive that the answer is no. The call is to be as wise as serpents (and that includes understanding some of the psychological dynamics at play here) and as innocent as doves (that includes not judging).It is in that spirit that I say this group is sick. And they know they are sick. And they are looking for someone to help them. I am not saying that they are bad but they are sick and seriously, seriously sick.

The Church is a hospital for sinners, George D. If you are a Catholic, then you're as sick as the rest of us. If not, I'd suggest keeping your amateur diagnosis to yourself.

GeorgeAs one who would have been considered similarly sick until scarcely 30 years ago (and perhaps youd still consider me so, I dont know), I have a few issues with your comments. What, exactly, makes these people (who Im assuming youve never met) sick? The chaos and disorder that they create wherever they go seems a statement to me lacking anything like empirical justification. First of all, the chaos was not created in this instance by them. It was created by various groups of self-styled orthodox groups. Had they not been looking for a fight, then none of this would have occurred and the liturgy at MHR would have concluded with reverence, devotion and no further discussion of the matter. Are you aware of some instances where they cause unwarranted disruption that I am not?I also fail to see what Yales graduation policies have to do with the reception of anyone at the table of He who dined with tax collectors and sinners, much less people who dressed funny.I am thus very much in the dark as to why these people, who do a great deal of good in the Castro community, are seriously, seriously sick.

Apologies for the poor proofing

SPI and BPDSisters of Perpetual Indulgence have history of charity, activismMeredith May, Chronicle Staff WriterWednesday, October 17, 2007The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence started in 1979 as one of the first charities supporting San Francisco's gay community and has since spread to more than 600 sisters in eight countries.Mixing street theater, drag-queen elegance and community fundraising, the men of the Sisterhood support AIDS organizations, help combat hate crimes and, as they put it, "promote universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt.""We are part of the modern gay rights movement," said Sister Kitty Catalyst of San Francisco. "We are not ashamed of our differences, we are proud of them."Calling themselves 21st century nuns, the sisters have raised more than $1 million in San Francisco alone and have benefited such groups as the Breast Cancer Network, Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic and the Gay Games. The Sisters bring meals to the infirm and fund alternative proms for queer youth.When the AIDS epidemic hit San Francisco in the early 1980s, the Sisters were among the first to act, distributing pamphlets that coined the term "safe sex" and visiting bathhouses to promote condom use. The Sisters helped organize the first AIDS Candlelight Vigil, which has now become an international event, and one of the Sisters created the rainbow flag, which is now the defining symbol of the gay rights movement.Castro Halloween, called off this year due to unruly crowds, was safely managed by the Sisters from 1990 to 1995. Today they host an annual children's Halloween party with performances and costume prizes so youngsters can have a safe holiday in the Castro. Easter Sunday is a high holy day for the Sisters, but their celebration, which includes a "Hunky Jesus Contest" in Dolores Park, has been called blasphemous by some Catholics. In 1999, the Archdiocese argued unsuccessfully that the Sisters should move their 20th anniversary party to a different day.That same year, the Sisters were invited to be grand marshals at Reno's first Gay Pride Parade, but were blocked when then-Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn denied the parade on the grounds the Sisters would offend Catholics.DSM-IV CRITERIA FOR DIAGNOSIS OF BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER (Any five out of the following)1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment such as lying, stealing, temper tantrums, etc. [Not including suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5] 2. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation. 3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self. 4. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., promiscuous sex, eating disorders, binge eating, substance abuse, reckless driving, overspending, stealing). [Again, not including suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5] 5. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, threats, or self-mutilating behavior. 6. Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days). 7. Chronic feelings of emptiness, worthlessness. 8. Inappropriate anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights). 9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms

Having just returned from a four-day meeting of the Anglican-Catholic Dialogue (without time for e-mail access), I was surprised to see the thread still continuing.Amongst the items was the following from David Gibson:"Bob Imbelli--Thanks for dipping your toe back in, but I wish you would reveal your hand more clearly. By posting this you set off a large stink bomb, but then you walked away! Not fair. Please, just a couple of declarative sentences that do not all end in a question mark."Now it may be Italian sensitivity, but I find the tone of that remark to be bullying ... and not for the first time.Further, the characterization of the original post is offensive.Evidently the "stink" did not deter David from numerous comments. He is free to comment. Allow others the freedom to comment or not as they think suitable.

Bob, lighten up, per favore! It's a blog, and I was just trying elicit clarification. Seriously, don't huff. Obviously you have the freedom not to comment. But I would say that posting something of this explosive nature and then not explaining your intent or opinion is a bit unfair, at the very least, especially as the thread wanders into volatile territory. We often speak volumes by what we don't say. Indeed, you have managed to avoid the topic--yet again! (But I am not bullying. We will move on to other topics now...) Alla prossima, Davide

Andy:"Are you aware of some instances where they cause unwarranted disruption that I am not?"Well I can infer from the AB's letter that they have caused unwarranged disruption in the past. This group has a history. The AB said "My predecessors, Cardinal William Levada and Archbishop John Quinn, have both denounced this group's abuse of sacred things many times in the past. Only last year, I instructed the Administrator of Most Holy Redeemer Parish to cancel the group's use of the hall on the parish grounds, once I became aware of it."1. So we know that this is a sustained pattern which has been raised as a concern in the past. I don't know whether those complaints were lodged by self styled orthodox grops, parishoners or who but it is clear that this issue has been raised many times before."First of all, the chaos was not created in this instance by them." According to the AB their presence was intended as a provocative gesture.Also, Jesus stated quite clearly at his trial that he had done NOTHING in secret. Whatever he did was plain for anyone to see and hear.I don't have a problem at all with MRH ministering to all manner of people and I would expect that we take people as they are sins and all. Certainly. Yes. Absolutely!!!!However, it is important that our sacred space be respected and what is holy must not be thrown before dogs."I also fail to see what Yales graduation policies have to do with the reception of anyone at the table of He who dined with tax collectors and sinners, much less people who dressed funny."Well my point there has to do with creating a space for reverence. I think that you would agree that mass is at least as worthy of respect as a graduation ceremony?However, even at mass I would not want to be a clothing police man or anything like that but a reasonable degree of modesty is not I think asking too much.

"I am thus very much in the dark as to why these people, who do a great deal of good in the Castro community, are seriously, seriously sick."Respect what we hold sacred and there is no issue.Raise issues and discuss differences around sexuality - certainly. Don't play games though. Games hurt.

"Don't play games though. Games hurt."George D,THE GAME: Gotcha!THE PLAYERS: St. Joseph's Men Society and Quamdiu Domine THE TARGETS: Archbishop Niederauer. Most Holy Redeemer, and the San Francisco Gay CommunityTHE WINNERS: St. Joseph's Men Society and Quamdiu Domine However sick or sane the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence may be, if you don't see that's what was the main event here, please review the whole situation one more time.

David:I see that side of it yes of course. But that is a different issue I think. That is an on-going internal discussion that needs to keep taking place. And it needs to be taking place within the broader context of the whole issue of the understanding of homosexuality in and by the Church. However, and this is the important point, at Jesus trial he said that he had done nothing in secret it was visible for all to see. Now THAT is a good model across the board. If the gay and gay friendly (Catholic) community cannot articulate a clear position to the broader gay community surrounding their core values, then they have lost their saltiness and credibility.Concretely that means that they should be deterring SPI from using the parish to stage agendas and be focal points for their blatantly anti-Catholic agenda, etc. The AB alluded to this pattern. It is a historical problem. MHR should have addressed this in a much better way.So, if we are going to examine this from that point of view I personally would put the blame on the leadership at MHR.Because at the end of the day, the strongest position any of us can have individually and that we should have as a community is that we have done nothing in secret - all is visible to see.Hey - we can go from there but when we begin from a space of transparency we are in a better position all around.Notwithstanding my opinions concerning their tactics, the SPI are nothing if not transparent. That doesn't mean we have to agree or break bread with them. Differences are okay and it is okay to say we have differences that preclude us from breaking bread.

David N.: Cui bono?

Grant,I am continuing to explore the website of the St. Joseph's Men Society (in Google's cache), and I came across this interesting tidbit, signed by Anthony Gonzales, president of St. Joseph's Men Society.**********PAUL VI's HOMOSEXUALITYI have heard this rumor for years. It is scandlous at best but if it is true then it explains much of what has happened in the Church the last 50 years. It should be stated here that Montini was working behind the back of Pius XII while he was Secretary of Stste. He had numerous clandestine meetings with the Communists and especially with the Russians. This, along with other factors, had him exiled from Vatican City. He was brought back by John XXIII. His collaboration with the Communists is not only a matter of concern but puts his entire pontificate in suspicion and incredulity. This man did more damage to the Church than any other man in history, including Arius and Martin Luther. That he was a practicing homosexual is not surprising. The disorder of his life was amazingly reflected in the disorder he brought to the Catholic Church. Anthony Gonzales **********It seems to me that when groups like St. Joseph's Men Society and Quamdiu Domine "expose" an archbishop and force him into making a public apology, they must be thrilled with what they have done and think they have won a victory. In the long run, I don't think they will have any significant impact on the Catholic Church, but certainly they have done damage to Archbishop Niederauer and Most Holy Redeemer. So they won the little game they were playing, but I doubt that any good at all will come out of it for anyone.

You don't think the SPI benefit?

Grant,No, I don't. I can imagine certain extreme circumstances in which the "sisters" might get public sympathy, but the people who are sickened by the idea of men who are gay (and who dress up in women's outfits to boot) are not going to be won over by this incident. People who already had sympathy for them will defend them, and people who were disgusted by them will continue to be disgusted by them. Now, if people would give serious consideration to the very thoughtful words of people like Andy Buechel, some good might come of all of this. But I don't have much hope.

Greetings from a smokey, dingy (but cheap) internet cafe n stanbul. Thats why it has taken me so long to chime in yet again. The keyboards are strange so you may see gobbledy-gook on your end.The 2 SPI that were at the Offensve Mass @ MHR were new to me (and have been a regular attender for 6 years). That doesnt mean that either or both hasn, attended out of mufti in the past. We regularly get more than our fair share of characters appearing for mass and communon. We are an urban parish and, as such, learned to expect appearances of the good, the bad, and the ugly. n other words, our doors are open and the fashion police are not regularly on duty.The typing has become too difficult so will let t go at this: the Abp has felt t necessary for giving communion to someone based on whom they were rather than anything they did. He did not refuse them at the time they presented themselves (they looked OK albeit odd) at the time but not odd enough to refuse out of hand. t was only when he was bombarded wth s**t from the wng nuts that he cut and ran.His shame, not MHRs.

David N.: The SPI went in full drag to draw attention to themselves--attention that has culminated in the best possible PR characterization for them: the appearance of being victims. SPI thrives on publicity--obviously. The notion that they haven't benefited from the dustup is absurd on its face. My point here is that at the end of the day, the opposition groups feed on each other's successes and failures. When the St. Joseph's League of Masculinity (or whatever) and the Q-Domine vigilantes get their wacky footage, the SPI get a piece of that pie. There's plenty of blame to go around, and we all ought to be able to acknowledge that.

GrantI hope Im not merely being argumentative, but I dont know if I can agree with your characterization of the SPI members in question as blameworthy. Yes, they went to Mass in drag, and this no doubt had a reason behind it. I dont know if its so much to call attention to themselves though, as to call attention to the fact that people like themselves (drag queens, gay, queer, whatever) exist. Hardly a radical statement in the Castro. Perhaps this is a critique of Catholic responses to them, perhaps not. But all I can say for certain about their presence is that it calls attention to their existence, nothing else, as Jimmy Mac says. It strikes me as similar to the Rainbow Sash people, who are notin my viewstaging any sort of protest other than saying Were real and were part of the creation made by the God we gather to worship here. If this is the extent of protest, and from the accounts I dont know what else we can say for certain they were trying to say, is this something improper for a celebration which has as its telos the bringing together of all creation in Christ?

Andy, Are you saying that you acknowledge their attending Mass in drag--dressed as bizarro nuns, *at Mass*--was for a reason but we simply can't know what it was? This isn't the neumenal realm. They are provocateurs. One needn't endorse their message--whatever it is--to acknowledge the simple fact that anytime they provoke a conflict the the subject of their satire, they benefit. One also needn't be a comedian to realize that they are laughing at this. I'm sure Sr. Aura Lee Gifted would agree.

Grant,If the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence had shown up at MHR, filmed themselves, and posted the film on the Internet, then I might be more in agreement with you. However, it seems clear to me that the St. Joeseph's Men Society went to MHR with their video cameras hoping to find something they could sensationalize, and they got lucky. If the "sisters" hadn't been there, we probably would have seen a film sensationalizing the very idea the the archbishop would give communion to homosexuals, no matter how conventional their appearance.As Jimmy Mack, who was there, reports: "The 2 SPI were very well behaved, fully participated in the mass, quietly went to communion, each whispered something to the Abp (I am Catholic?), received the host (no, they didn't secret it away for some later black mass) and then went to their seats and finished with the mass." This is consistent with the news reports. And as Andy Buechel so astutely commented, "Indeed, if they were trying to be offensive at the liturgy, they were so bad at it that the Archbishop didnt even notice (and I suspect that these ladies are quite adept at provoking the responses they want)." As I pointed out before, I don't know if the SPI ever attended mass at MHR, but they were no strangers, having hosted social events there for years. So, in my opinion, two people who were oddly dressed went to mass at perhaps the one parish in the United States where few if any would bat an eye at their strange outfits, and a group of outsiders, filming it without permission, made a national scandal out of it. The SPI did issue a press release which I know you didn't at all care for, but how many people read it? On the other hand, watch this video of a national news broadcast and tell me if you think the incident helped the SPI with anyone at all, except perhaps a small number of people who were already sympathetic to them. note that the "theologian" Anthony Gonzales--who asserts in the excerpt I posted above that Pope Paul VI was a practicing homosexual who did more harm to the Catholic Church than Martin Luther--doesn't bother to correct the impression given by Bill O'Reilly that the SPI filmed the event, when it was Gonzales's own organization who did the unauthorized filming and went after the publicity. Deplore the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence all you want, but I don't think it's accurate to hold them responsible for this incident.

The following are statements I could not have imagined myself making a week ago, but that just shows to go ya.Honestly Grant, if I were a drag queen and wanted to engage in religious, charitable work, and I had to consider what would be appropriate attire, the first thought that would pop in my head would be 'nun.' Not because I want to offend them, but because if you want to emulate charitable women, who better?Likewise, the attire worn to Mass wasn't selected specially for that occassion. I suspect it's the equivilant of their Sunday Best, which they probably wear also to AIDS rallies, charity work, the Halloween party they put on for kids, etc. It's their finery.Bizzaro? Absolutely. But welcome to the Castro.

Grant,In answer to your message to Andy, I have very little insight as to why some gay men (and indeed some straight men) want to dress up as women, and I don't think anybody has a deep understanding of it. I will acknowledge that it makes me uncomfortable, and I have very little understanding of why. I am trying to be tolerant here, because my first instinct is to be put off.Do we know whether the "sisters" dress up like that only when they want to be provocative? Or do they dress like that pretty much all the time? I suspect it's the latter, or if not, perhaps they dress like that when they want to get "dressed up"? I really don't know. Do you?It doesn't strike me as implausible that they got dressed up as they did with about as much thought as you probably give to putting on a suit and tie. These people think very differently than you. Don't make the mistake of imagining yourself in their place and coming up with reasons why YOU would attend mass in a nun's habit. I don't blame any Catholic who is offended by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, but I don't think either you or I really understand them, and until I do, I am trying to give them the benefit of the doubt, somewhat in the same way I am trying to give the archbishop the benefit of the doubt. The people who do not deserve the benefit of the doubt, in my opinion, are the St. Joseph's Men Society and Quamdiu Domine (although no doubt if we could see deep into their minds, we would see that they have "issues" too). It kind of surprises me that you seem more concerned with the SPI--who have very little chance of harming or affecting the Church--than with the extremist groups who are operating WITHIN the Church, who probably are getting lots of support from average Catholics, and who orchestrated this whole thing and successfully manipulated an archbishop.

I'm sure I'm well past chasing my own tail on this thread, but why stop now? David N.: I don't deplore the SPI. I just don't find them funny, and am not terribly impressed with their self-described and self-trumpeted "charitable work." As I've said before, this fandango could have been designed and executed by Andy Kaufman. They're goofing on us. But, just as a matter of logic, how does the fact that the SPI didn't have themselves filmed affect whether or not they have benefited from the dustup?Andy: Do the SPI primarily do "religious, charitable work"? I don't think so--not judging from the information on their Web site, anyway. And please, they are not emulating women religious. I wonder if they wear their Sunday best to work.

David N.: I'm not more concerned with the SPI. I'm simply floored that they're being portrayed as victims here. One doesn't need to know their minds to detect the joke. The names they choose for their drag personas ought to wake you up to the fact that what they do is in large part an exercise in mockery. Apparently you think one cannot criticize them, or at least name them, without also acknowledging the damage being done by fringe groups like the St. Joseph's Association of Manly Men (or whatever) and Avenue Q-Domine (or whatever). I found your interrogation of Larry Cunningham especially distasteful--it smells of a purity test. And finally, for now, what makes you think the St. Joseph's Men's Club and QED operates from "within the church" any more than SPI? I encourage people to read the Google-cached version of their Web site here:'s very disturbing.

Grant--Yeah, I think we're definitely at the 'agree to disagree' point here, but since I've really participated in one of these and am finding it surprisingly fun, why not.As far as the SPI being victims, I certainly don't see them that way. It also doesn't strike me that they see themselves that way either from their statements, but I'm not terribly familiar with Andy Kaufmann either (never even saw the movie!)As far as their charitable events, that I must admit, I'm confused on. The only thing on their site that isn't immediately about charity/outreach/community support (and it might still be) is their safe-sex guide. Other than that, the events for the next two months are benefits for Habitat for Humanity, some AIDS orgainzation I've never heard of, a Halloween party for Castro children, and another benefit for an unmentioned cause. Granted the religious element I said before is overstated, but they certainly see a spiritual connection. If it's not at least charitable, I do wonder about your standards of what consitutes such action.Finally, I haven't the slightest idea what they wear to work, it's an interesting question. I know some groups such as this really take these sorts of things as their work, to the point that no one knows their real names. If this is the case with SPI, I have no idea. But I also doubt that all those non-discrimination clauses businesses in San Fran have about gender identity and orientation are simply there for show.

Should read "NEVER really participated." I shouldn't be allowed to proof my own writing.

Grant,I wouldn't say the SPI are so much victims as simply irrelevant. I am convinced St. Joseph's Men Society and Quamdiu Domine would have used their film to "expose" the archbishop if everyone at Most Holy Redeemer had been dressed in suits and ties. "ARCHBISHOP DISTRIBUTES COMMUNION TO SODOMITES!"As for my "interrogation" of Lawrence Cunningham, my message to him was as follows:If you don't think this is unfair to ask: How do you feel about St. Joseph's Men Society and Quamdiu Domine? What would have happened if they hadn't filmed the mass at Most Holy Redeemer and posted the video on the Internet? I began with "if you don't think this is unfair to ask" precisely because he made a statement solely about the SPI, with no reference to the archbishop, or St. Joseph's Men Society, or Quamdiu Domine, and that seemed perfectly legitimate to me, so rather than trying to drag him into the main discussion, by saying something like, "Yes, but they are hardly the issue . . . Tell us what you think of . . . ." I had looked up Professor Cunningham here and taken a look at his books on Amazon (several of which I would like to have) and I was under the impression that I was being respectful.The St. Joseph's Men Society and Quamdiu Domine at least claim to be working within the Cathlic Church to "reform" it, and I have spent a lot of time Googling everyone involved in this incident and found, so far, only grumbling about their filming and publicizing the MHR incident and no analysis of what they actually stand for. Andrew Gonzales was acting as the spokesman for Catholicism on on the O'Reilly broadcast on Fox. But to be fair, every time there is a controversy involving Catholicism, the Today Show has Bill Donohue on to speak for Catholics, so it's not really fair to consider someone a Catholic spokesperson just because they play one on TV.

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