When They Want Blood …

… they won’t always settle for an apology.

I was noticing the commentary at the Closed Cafeteria yesterday on Bishop Niederauer giving Communion to two people dressed in mockery of traditional religious habits. For this, the archbishop has been named “apostate” and “false shepherd” and “coward” and “rotten joke” and a member of a “mafia.”

A CC correspondent sends in the archbishop’s apology. A portion:

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.

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.

Something akin to stunned silence follows. Comment #4 offers some good advice, but I tend to doubt it will be easy to swallow that elephant in the room. Naturally the very next comment is critical because the archbishop didn’t review what all the protesters already know. Apology deemed “partial” for catechetical fault. Whatever.

This post isn’t about people who approach Communion unworthily. That topic has been well-covered and I have nothing substantive to add. More than anything else, this post is really more about the Culture of Complaint as it has infected Catholicism. Which isn’t to say that people don’t have good reasons to complain. They bring their video cams to liturgy with the purpose of catching wrongdoers. Others criticize name-callers. Bishops screw up. Nobody gets it right. Somebody must be blamed.

One characteristic of the Culture of Complaint is that the ends justify the means. Don’t read me wrong: the ends are indeed very good things to which to aspire. We all share a high regard for the ends: a more peaceable, moral society with the good guys and bad guys getting what’s coming to them. I’ve always thought that’s more of an agenda for the life to come, but being a dreamer is okay with me.

Where the dream goes nightmarish is when people with self-recognized good intentions give themselves permission to do just about anything to make a point. Sort of like dressing up in rainbow colors to receive Communion. Or call a bishop a “rotten joke” to express the “power of the blog.”

I’m curious about the San Jose-based outing organization sending a person with a video cam to a Mass. What’s that about? Was trouble expected? Or is that just part of the modus operandi? How many liturgies do they record before they find something? A priest friend of mine, newly appointed to a parish, was once videotaped from the choir loft. Needless to say, it wasn’t part of a warm welcome for the guy. I wonder how a priest would react to a non-parishioner recording on the premises.

The blogosphere will be congratulating itself on a job well done, no doubt. You can bet that we won’t see 60-post apology threads, however.

I think this is less about the “power of the blog” than a 21st century expression of what happens when people talk and gossip about the way things bother them. Complainers have an easier time of it these days: just go to the internet and surf the ten blogs who think like you do. Everybody else is an apostate to complain about.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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14 Responses to When They Want Blood …

  1. John Heavrin says:


    No, Todd, nobody wants blood.

    Some of the rhetoric is irresponsible; is the alternative to say nothing about the grotesquely irresponsible behavior of Archbishop Niederauer in enabling such brazen mockery of the Holy Mass, the holy habit, and the Blessed Sacrament? These were flamboyantly uniformed members of an organization of, the description seems apt, apostates, whose motto is (another direct mockery, this time of Holy Scripture), “Go and sin some more.” Archbishop Niederauer implies in his statement that, had he recognized these people for what they so obviously were, he wouldn’t have given them Holy Communion. His Excellency didn’t recognize them? Does His Excellency require a printed sign, perhaps? How large should the letters be? I suppose the “nuns” will be deeply disappointed to find out that they hadn’t been recognized, that being the seeming point of the whole routine.

    Frankly, it’s hard to believe that Archbishop Niederauer could appear and offer Mass at a well-known parish with a well-known identity and not “recognize” members of a well-known group associated with said well-known parish.

    Nobody wants “blood.” What is wanted is leadership, and apostleship; a bishop who will “recognize” scandal for what it is, and combat it, not enable it.

    I hope the Blessed Sacrament, the Holy Mass, and the holy habit will not be mocked again at this parish, and that the hearts of the members of this group will be moved to self-denial rather than (yet another mockery), “perpetual indulgence.”

    This sort of scandal will and has to be called out and fought; if those responsible for doing so can’t even “recognize” it, others will.

    You can condemn what you call a “Culture of Complaint” all you like; the alternative seems to be silence, and therefore acquiescence. No thanks.

  2. talmida says:

    Without expressing judgment on the state of anyone’s soul, I find it interesting that although every blog mentions their mockery of the catholic church, nobody mentions that the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are a charitable organization that raises money and awareness for AIDS prevention and care, and that ministers to the marginalized.

    That doesn’t change their disrespect for the Church, but they are NOT a group whose GOAL is to mock catholicism, as is implied in many comments round the blogosphere.

    And although I cannot speak for the Abp in question, one of my parish priests told me that he doesn’t see most of what happens in the congregation – he may be facing us, but he is not looking at us, he is focused on the altar.

    I don’t know if that is the case here, but I would certainly give the Abp the benefit of the doubt that when the SPI member in drag presented himself for communion, it was the first time the Abp noticed him. Enough to fluster anyone!

    The thing is, if you’re not looking for trouble, often, you don’t see it.

  3. John Heavrin says:

    “…they are NOT a group whose GOAL is to mock catholicism, as is implied in many comments round the blogosphere…”

    Of course they are, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they would be insulted by your assertion to the contrary.

    “The thing is, if you’re not looking for trouble, often, you don’t see it.”

    Indeed; and in a leader and pastor of souls, such blindless is a grave defect. What sort of shepherd is blind to, or “flustered” by the wolf — especially in the wolf’s lair?

    Remember, “Go and sin some more.”

  4. John Heavrin says:

    By the way, for those who are under the impression that the mockery (to say the least) of the Roman Catholic Church is NOT the GOAL of this organization, with Todd’s permission, and with a caveat for the accuracy of wikipedia, I invite you to consider the following:


    I didn’t see any vocation figures, but all the publicity is probably helping the cause.

  5. Regardless of what people think of the bishop generally, it does certainly seem that his apology should be taken at face value and respected.

    Though in re Talmida’s comment: These folks may claim that they’re doing charity work as well, but given their “go and sin some more” slogan that would be along the lines of plague rats forming a group to fight the black death…

  6. John Heavrin says:

    Darwin, it’s good he apologized, and it’s unfortunate that the apology was necessary. It is a laudable effort indeed to attempt to take the apology at face value and to respect it; in a sense I do; in another sense, it beggars belief that, as he implies, he was unable to recognize members of an infamous group whose ground zero is the parish in which he was offering Mass, whose members seem devoted, above all, at all costs, to being recognized.

    The Archbishop did not say: I was not wrong to give these people Holy Communion. He also did not simply say: I was wrong and I’m sorry. He said: I didn’t recognize them, and if I had, I wouldn’t have given them Holy Communion. It’s good that he’s on record on the matter now; but, I’m sorry, two men processing forward in traditional sisters’ habit, beflowered and greasepainted white weren’t recognizable as members of this notorious group? They themselves would probably be disappointed to hear that they were unrecognized.

    But perhaps I am too harsh on the Archbishop…it’s sadly plausible that he hasn’t seen a traditional habit in so long he didn’t recognize it.

  7. talmida says:

    “Go and sin some more” would certainly be a scandalous slogan standing by itself.

    Funny, but I didn’t think it meant go and betray, steal, cheat, rape, torture, kill, hurt.

    I think it’s supposed to be humourous.

    As in: Our very essence is called objectively disordered by the Church. The physical expression of our desire for union with another human being is a sin.

    When they say “go and sin some more” maybe what they mean is “go and love some more?”
    “Go out and be who God made you?” That’s how I understood it, anyway.

    I don’t know. I am more amused than offended by this group. I admire the fact that they laugh at the institution that has hurt them. I find it amazing that they remain part of our Church, despite all the hurt we have caused homosexuals.

    No, I was not comfortable seeing them receive communion. But I remind myself that their sin is between them and God — as is mine. Regardless of what the Abp did at the mass, I think his apology dealt with it appropriately.

  8. John Heavrin says:

    “But I remind myself that their sin is between them and God — as is mine…”

    Is this true? One’s sins are one thing; devotion to the exhaltation and public exposition of one’s sinful lifestyle is another, I think. And, of course, I very much doubt that they would consider their behavior to be sinful; rather, sacramental, I’d wager. They seek public approval by the church; the Archbishop as much as gave it.

    Sorry, Talmida, but I think that when you publicly mock the Mass, the holy habit, and the Blessed Sacrament, Catholics are rightly offended, and have a right to say so, and have a right to speak out against those who would countenance it, and needn’t clam up about it for fear of being derided as “complainers”; and one would have have one’s head in the sand or some such hidden place in order to conclude that the matter is “between them and God.”

    Sin always has a communitarian character, does it not? A fashionable view in recent years, in any event. Certainly the attempt to deny that sin is sin, which is what these people are all about, in a public fashion, is a public matter, requiring a public response.

    The shepherd has a duty to combat such wolves, for he has a duty to protect the sheep entrusted to his care. Befuddlement, being flustered, and the like won’t cut it. Again, I am glad the Archbishop apologized and I hope that such behavior won’t again occur at that parish or anywhere in San Francisco.

  9. Todd:

    Despite that fact you seem to keep poking the bear, you have a lot of valid points on this one.

    That said, there are two points that are fair to mention:

    > One reason a lot of folks started videotaping Masses is because when they brought reports of bizarre behavior at Mass, their concerns were dismissed or minimized.

    > In the age of cameras in cell phones and other related devices, that video surfaces does not indicate someone came armed and ready; it may indicate the person whipped out a cell phone on the spur of the moment.

    I think the archbishop’s apology was appropriate and ought to be accepted. I think I would have handled it differently, had I been in his shoes. That said, I symphathize to some degree; the camera saw these “fellows” approach, but that doesn’t mean the Archbishop did. That buys him some understanding, but still . . .

  10. Pingback: Alternatives To The Culture Of Complaint « Catholic Sensibility

  11. Jimmy Mac says:

    I was at the Mass. MHR is my parish.
    The 2 SPIs did nothing untoward. They quietly participated in the Mass. At Communion they came up to the Abp and after receiving, each whispered something quickly to him. They then went back to their pews and finished the Mass. Afterwards they stuck around a bit, but did not attend the reception in the church basement.
    To expect the Abp to refuse Communion to them would be for him to assume that they were not eligible to do so. When that starts to happen, I expect people to be judged based on the possibility that they practice birth control, may have had an abortion, etc.
    What a load of crap. The Abp has come way down in my eyes. In my opinion he need not return to MHR anytime soon.

  12. Liam says:

    Well, this was all very predictable and unsurprising. It takes two to make the reception of Communion into a ritual of acceptance/non-acceptance. If one doesn’t want refusal of communion to become normative, one needs to re-frame one’s thinking about the dimension of the sacrament that has become perceived as acceptance.

    In this case, I can certainly sympathize with those who see the SPI’s in this context as closer in spirit to old time minstrels. Of course, there have long been considerable number of feminists who find certain or even most aspects of drag to be an exercise in misogynistic minstrely.

    In any event, camp humor is not a Catholic liturgical or sacramental value, so when it’s shoehorned into those contexts, no one should be surprised that offense will at some point be taken. It’s not mere fun – the point of the humor is rather different from mere fun; and that difference is consequential.

    Having witnessed episcopal liturgical ministrations in progressively inclined Catholic communities, I would recommend that people be prepared that no conflict will be elided, but rather heightened. That’s spiritually honest rather than adolescent – unfortunately, what often passes for a kind of irenicism in these communities masks a certain immaturity of expectations in that regard.

    Btw, I highly recommend Todd’s alternative praxis suggestions.

  13. Tony says:

    I just popped over to their website, “thesisters-dot-org” (no link for obvious reasons”.

    I thought an interesting link on their site was “thesisters.org/playfair.html” (not safe for work).

    Sure. These are altruistic AIDS activists.

    And after reading that site, please don’t talk to me about the state of the soul of a habit-wearing transvestite mocking the professed sisterhood.

    I think a couple of burly ushers should have taken each of the “sisters” and given him the bum’s rush out of the church.

    But I do agree with the commentary on the Abp’s apology. I will give him the benefit of the doubt. He does seem to have stuck a pin in the puffed up outrage.

    I’ll be interested to see how many of the sites that reviled the Abp will be printing the followup information.

  14. Darwin says:

    The problem, of course, is that given the parish the ushers probably don’t have a problem with this sort of thing.

    I’m not really sure what the appropriate pastoral solution is to a situation such as exists in parts of the SF diocese. I’m pretty sure that the more spectacular scorched earth policies favored by many of us at the more hard core orthodox end of the spectrum would cause (at least in the short term) rather more harm than good. But when a parish has, frankly, strayed so far from a truly Catholic approach to morals, doctrine and church institutions — I’m not sure if there’s a way to cure the cancer short of simply shutting down the parish and making sure that local alternates are sufficiently solid as to provide a safer home.

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