The Archbishop Apologizes
Robert P. Imbelli October 17, 2007 - 7:23am
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 an associate professor of theology at Boston College.