San Francisco’s Archbishop Says Dialogue with LGBT People Can “Tenderize” Us

January 15, 2014

There has been much talk about Pope Francis’ re-framing of LGBT issues in the church,  often spoken about with the hope that the new pontiff will usher in a new era of dialogue in this area.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

One of the more hopeful signs of such a possibility came last month from one of the most outspoken critics of marriage equality in the U.S. Catholic hiearchy.   San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who also serves as the chair of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference Sub-Committee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, gave an interview with public radio’s KQED station in the Bay Area, in which he expressed how important it is to dialogue with lesbian and gay people.

In the interview, he talked about having conversations with gay and lesbian Catholics at Most Holy Redeemer parish, in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood.  The reporter who conducted the interview blogged about the encounter:

“ ‘When we don’t interact with each other, we can make decisions or get images based on stereotypes – that happens on both sides,’ the archbishop said.

“When asked what he’s learned from those interactions, Cordileone said he’s come to understand how gay people have ‘suffered.’

“ ‘They’ve been disowned by their families,’ he said. ‘They’ve been harmed and they want to come to a place that will accept them for who they are. And affirm them. So it tenderizes us.’ “

You can watch the entire interview below or by clicking here:

Although the reporter speculates that Cordileone is only using softer rhetoric,  I think that the change is significant.   A year ago, we would not have heard such a phrase as “tenderizes us” coming from this prelate who is known as a staunch conservative culture warrior.  The fact that he acknowledge that a personal encounter can affect one’s attitude is indeed significant.  I think it also indicates that he realized he has not been as tender as he could have tried to be.

Bay Area Reporter article about Pope Francis’ recent decision to remove a Vatican cardinal from an influential post touched on Cordileone’s remarks in the KQED interview:

“Michael Poma, parish business manager at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in the Castro, confirmed that the archbishop twice attended the parish’s Wednesday night suppers, which is an outreach to the neighborhood’s homeless LGBT community. The soup kitchen is located underneath the parish sanctuary in Ellard Hall.

” ‘His first visit was September 18,’ Poma said in an email. ‘The visit went well as I saw it. I found him to be eager to work and happy to be there to meet people. I felt at ease enough to joke with him and tease him about not getting enough of a good thing when he came back the second time. All in all, I liked him and I feel he really liked what we’re doing here at Most Holy Redeemer.’ “

The article also quotes Dignity/San Francisco’s secretary, Ernest Camisa, who also saw some good coming from Cordileone’s remarks:

“. . . Camisa applauded Cordileone’s newfound empathy – ‘being tenderized by the reality of the people and the circumstances that he finds himself in,’ Camisa explained.

” ‘I hope in the end [Cordileone] will see that what he stood for in past years was unreasonable and heartless,’ added Camisa.”

Such steps may not be the more positive ones for which many of us still hope, and work, and pray, but I think these small moves forward still need to be noticed as indications that some things, like the attitudes and perceptions of bishops, are indeed changing in the Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Round-up of Controversies Surrounding Cordileone’s Installation

October 28, 2012

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone was installed as the new archbishop of San Francisco earlier this month amid a storm of controversies surrounding his policies, his behavior, and the installation ceremony itself.

Since the announcement of his appointment, many Catholics have been concerned that Cordileone’s history of work against marriage equality would make him unqualified to lead the church in a city with such a large and active LGBT population.   Cordileone is known as the “godfather of Prop 8,” the ballot initiative which reversed marriage equality in California.  In addition, he serves as the chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.  Cordileone also directed the board members of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry (which is housed in his former diocese of Oakland, California) to take a loyalty oath to the magisterium, which they refused to do.

Brian Cahill, a former director of San Francisco’s Catholic Charities organization, wrote an op-ed offering some advice to the new archbishop, which we hope Cordileone will heed:

“His apparent obliviousness to the disrespect felt by many gay and lesbian Catholics is disturbing. His continued insistence that same-sex marriage is unjust to children ignores the reality of the 70,000 children placed in the California foster care system by the abuse and neglect of their heterosexual parents, and ignores that the only significant cohort of adoptive parents for the most vulnerable of these children are gay and lesbian couples who want to form a family. His recent statement that Catholic gay and lesbian couples should not be allowed to receive Communion is distressing.

“Hopefully, he will not surround himself only with orthodox thinkers, but rather listen to a variety of points of view from his priests and parishioners. He could consult with retired Archbishop John Quinn, who led Catholic Charities in developing the first AIDS services in San Francisco, and who also might help him understand how to manage the tension between church teaching and how the church can fulfill its mission in a pluralistic society.

“He could speak with the Rev. Tony McGuire, one of our great senior priests and the pastor who made Most Holy Redeemer parish such a welcoming community for gays and lesbians in the 1980s. We should hope he will be a frequent visitor at Sunday Mass at Most Holy Redeemer, where he not only will experience beautiful liturgy and music, but a prayerful and worshipping community and the tangible presence of God.”

Just a few weeks before his installation, Cordileone was arrested for failing a sobriety test while driving in San Diego.  During his installation, he made reference to this incident in a lighthearted fashion, according to The Chicago Tribune:
“Following his installation as the religious leader of more than 500,000 Catholics in the largely gay-friendly Bay Area, Cordileone, 56, delivered a sermon and spoke about his recent arrest after failing a sobriety test at a police checkpoint.
” ‘God has always had a way of putting me in my place,’ he said. ‘With the last episode in my life, God has outdone Himself.’ “
Less public at the installation itself was another controversy which came to light only after the ceremony had ended.  San Francisco’s Episcopal Bishop Marc Andrus, who is a supporter of marriage equality, had been invited to the event. Earlier in September, Andrus had written a letter to local Episcopalians stating that he was looking forward to working with Cordileone, but that Andrus intended to remain firm in his support for marriage equality.  At the installation, Andrus was never seated for the ceremony and left standing in a waiting area until he decided to leave.
dotCommonweal blogger Rita Ferrone examines the possibility that Andrus may have been the victim of a simple error:
“Now, admittedly there were a lot of people at this event, and big events always include opportunities for underlings to flub things up. If the failure to seat Bishop Andrus was actually a snafu that happened at the installation, with no offense intended, what would you expect to happen next? I would expect Cordileone to call up Andrus the very next day and say I’m sorry; I regret this happened; please forgive this lapse of etiquette; it was all due to some confusion and truly it was not an intentional slight. I would then let the press know that we had made amends, and invite him to another public event soon, so that it could be seen that the Catholic leader of the Archdiocese of San Francisco respects leaders of other, long-established religious bodies. They are our dialogue partners and local collaborators in building the Kingdom, after all.”
Since Cordileone has yet to issue such an apology, Ferrone has drawn her own conclusion:

“Reluctantly, I am coming to believe that the slight must have been intentional.

“This is shameful, if so. Some have suggested that the letter Andrus wrote to the members of the Episcopal Church of his diocese caused offense to Cordileone and therefore it was right not to admit him. A more puerile argument can hardly be imagined. Andrus was an invited guest. He did not crash the party. If his letter was so egregious, he ought to have been asked not to come, rather than left standing at the door when he arrived.

“What sort of a leader has been appointed to the Catholic see of San Francisco? What sort of bishop cares so little for ecumenism and public relations that he would sit quiet while all this unfolds?”

In an interview before his installation, Cordileone had commented that people involved in a lesbian and gay relationship should not receive communion.  Chuck Colbert of The Bay Area Reporter elicited reaction to this comment from Catholic LGBT advocates:
” ‘Bishop Cordileone’s statement that lesbian and gay couples in relationships should not receive communion is a major pastoral blunder on many levels,’ said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an LGBT-positive Catholic organization, based outside of Washington, D.C.

” ‘First and foremost, the decision to approach communion is one made by the individual communicant, not a local bishop. If a person’s conscience is clear to receive communion, he or she should do so,’ explained DeBernardo in an email.

” ‘More importantly, for Bishop Cordileone to make such a statement, even before he has arrived in the archdiocese, shows an impersonal disregard for the people that he has been directed to serve. If Bishop Cordileone wants to lead Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, an area with a large LGBT population, the first lesson he needs to learn is to listen before he speaks,’ said DeBernardo.

“Cordileone’s call for Catholics not in agreement with church teaching to abstain from the Eucharist is not new. Other prelates have called on pro-choice Catholic lawmakers to do the same.

For that reason in part, ‘I am not bothered that he expressed his opinion about who should participate in the Eucharist. That is part of his job as a bishop,’ said Eugene McMullan, a gay man who attends Mass at Most Holy Redeemer.

” ‘Non-Catholics might think he is about to impose awful restrictions on us, as bishops used to do. That is unlikely,’ explained McMullan, who is also a lead organizer of the advocacy group Catholics for Marriage Equality in California.

“Ernest Camisa, a spokesman for and secretary of Dignity/San Francisco, a group for LGBT Catholics, voiced a different point of view.

” ‘It sounds like the ultimate rejection,’ he said in a phone interview, referring to any denial by church pastors of communion for same-sex couples and advocates of marriage equality.”

Archbishop Cordileone has a huge job in front of him.  In a city that is defined by two historic bridges–the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge–his first order of business should be to become a bridge himself by reaching out to those who feel alienated and by listening to the faith stories of LGBT Catholics.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Drag Queens Prohibited at Most Holy Redeemer Parish

August 9, 2012

 

In what appears to be the new San Francisco archbishop’s first intervention at the city’s gay-friendly Most Holy Redeemer parish, drag queens will no longer be allowed to be part of a neighborhood organization’s fundraising dinner which has been held in the parish hall for several years.

B ay Area Reporter article reveals:

“For the past couple of years the Castro Country Club has held its event in the church’s social hall and had drag queens as entertainment.
 
“As a statement issued by the country club’s board of directors explained, the new no-drag-queen policy at the church is simply unacceptable.
 
” ‘The Castro Country Club had planned to hold our third annual Harvest Feast on October 20, 2012, at Most Holy Redeemer Church, where we have held this and other events in the past,’ the directors said in a statement.
 
“But that changed when the club was notified by the church last week that they would not be able to hold the dinner if any drag queens were part of the program, the board said.”
The Most Holy Redeemer pastor explained the reasons for the decision, noting that a new archbishop, Salvatore Cordileone, is now at the head of the San Francisco Archdiocese:

Fr. Brian Costello

“Most Holy Redeemer’s new pastor, the Reverend Brian Costello, confirmed over telephone on Monday, August 6, that drag queen performers and emcees are no longer permitted to participate in events at the church.

“Costello said that during a telephone conversation with a Castro Country Club representative, when the topic of drag queens came up, he told the person, ‘That is not going to work under the present circumstances.’

” ‘I said work with me. You can still have the dinner. You can have a regular emcee, but not drag queens on church property,’ Costello said.

“It seems the directive is the result of several factors.

” ‘I am the new pastor,’ Costello added. ‘There is a new archbishop. The archdiocese told me straight out, “No drag queens.” ‘ ‘”

Reactions from local and national organizations were critical of the decision to exclude drag performers:

” ‘It’s really ridiculous and discriminatory,’ said Zachary Davenport in a phone interview. ‘I mean it’s like, who’s next?’

“The drag queen ban is personal for Davenport, who, in drag as Laybelline has served as emcee for a variety of sobriety-related nonprofit events held at Most Holy Redeemer.

” ‘What constitutes drag?’ he said. ‘If we want to get funny, let’s talk about the priests. Hello.’ “

Dignity/San Francisco’s spokesperson was similarly angered:

” ‘This is an unfortunate development between Most Holy Redeemer and the Castro County Club,’ said Ernest L. Camisa, treasurer of the Dignity/SF chapter, speaking for the organization by e-mail and over the telephone.

” ‘It looks like the Archdiocese of San Francisco wants to protect its image by not condoning cross-dressers. By doing so they show that they care more for their image than they do for gay people trying to overcome alcohol addiction. Here the church looks like it values its own image more than it does human life. This is not Christian, but callous,’ Camisa said.”

Joe Murray of the Rainbow Sash Movement said:

“I think this is a very difficult and complex time for not only the pastor and the people of Holy Redeemer parish, but also for members of the drag community. All three groups are an example of ordinary people being called to do some extraordinary things for their neighbors. The pastor and parish of Most Holy Redeemer have to be very careful not to throw out the baby with the water in the name of homophobia. Jesus, not homophobia, should guide us in this matter.”

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo stated:

“Drag is a historically-based, time-honored entertainment tradition that has existed, at least, since classical times.

“Canceling this program without any explanation or substantial reason is simply caving into fear of reprisals from higher authorities. If the [Most Holy Redeemer] community has supported this event for years, there has obviously been a relationship that has developed between the sponsoring organization and the parish, and it would be great if the two groups could work together to find some resolution. Reconciliation is what any and every parish should be about. If the parish does not offer a substantial intervening reason, we can only assume that other forces have had influence.”

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of San Francisco acknowledged the difficulty of this decision:

“Reached by phone, George Wesolek, department head for communications and public policy for the archdiocese, said he was not in the policy conversation ‘loop.’ Nonetheless, Wesolek acknowledged, the situation is ‘difficult pastorally,’ particularly in ‘very divided and fractious church.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Hope for Dialogue and Understanding with New San Francisco Archbishop

August 2, 2012

Bishop Salvatore Cordileone

The  appointment of Oakland, California’s Bishop Salvatore Cordileone as Archbishop of San Francisco has prompted much commentary because of San Francisco’s large gay community and Cordileone’s track record of work against LGBT issues, particularly his plan for Proposition 8, the California ballot measure which repealed marriage equality. 

National Catholic Reporter columnist Jamie Manson notes that Cordileone’s appointment is indicative of a disturbing trend of episcopal appointments:

“It’s very likely Cordileone’s role as the ‘Father of Proposition 8′ landed him the position in Oakland, the role as chairman of the USCCB’s subcommittee on the defense of marriage and, ultimately, his elevation to Archbishop of San Francisco, a city in which 75 percent of the population voted against Prop 8.

“With this latest appointment, the Vatican solidifies its ‘pack mentality’ approach to promotions. Nowadays, a man earns his stripes and proves his loyalty to the hierarchy by attacking a group the hierarchy perceives as a threat to survival, even if the threat is based on nothing more than fear and paranoia.

“That paranoia, however, might also be giving way to delusion. I’m sure there are some within the Vatican and the laity who believe this appointment will demonstrate the Roman Catholic Church’s commitment to robust, uncompromising, ‘we’ll-show-them-who’s-boss’ leadership. But in reality, for the majority of Catholic laity in this country who support marriage equality, Cordileone’s promotion is only further, glaring evidence of the hierarchy’s deepening descent into meanness, spitefulness and pastoral insensitivity.”

An editorial in The San Francisco Examiner expresses hope that Cordileone might be able to soften his approach.  Te editorial begins by tracing Cordileone’s anti-gay involvement:

“It is hard not to view the Vatican’s appointment of Oakland Bishop Salvatore Cordileone as archbishop of the Archdiocese of San Francisco as a slap in the face of many city residents.

“True, the 56-year-old’s pro-immigration stance and support of Hispanic communities during his tenure among migrant parishes in Southern California deserve credit. ‘Bishop Sal,’ as he’s been called, speaks Spanish and has served as a parish priest in Calexico, just across the border from Mexico, where his parishioners struggled to make a living.

“But Cordileone has worked to deny the rights of other Californians. As an auxiliary bishop in San Diego, he led a team of lay Catholic businessmen in conceiving and organizing the campaign for Proposition 8 — the state amendment to strip away the California marital rights of same-sex couples.

“Cordileone’s work helped the campaign take off: He found its first major donor, brought in the team that would lead the signature-gathering effort, and worked with evangelical churches to coordinate the campaign’s message. He spent the last few months of 2008 working hard to make sure voters stripped away the rights of thousands of Californians.”

However, the editorial ends on a more hopeful note, similar to the one expressed by New Ways Ministry on this blog a few days ago:

“At a news conference last week, Cordileone was asked about these past efforts, and how he intends to speak to the gay people he had insulted so deeply.

“ ‘We need to learn,’ Cordileone said. ‘Continue to learn, how to be welcoming — let them know that we love them and we want to help them.’

“Local gay men and lesbians, and supporters of marriage equality, may understandably feel they have already had enough such help. We can only now hope that San Francisco’s new archbishop heeds his own words — and continues to learn.”

San Francisco Catholics concerned about LGBT issues stand ready to help Cordileone with his learning tasks.  In The Bay Area Reporter, two local pastoral leaders offered hope and suggestions for Cordileone’s continuing education:

” ‘We long for unity and collegiality within our church,’ said Ernest Camisa, [Dignity/San Francisco]chapter secretary and local spokesman.

” ‘Catholics believe that God works in mysterious ways,’ he added. ‘Perhaps the spirit will work through his appointment to accomplish a change of heart, or at least allow members of our church with differing perspective to enter into a new dialogue.’

“The Reverend Brain Costello, pastor of Most Holy Redeemer parish in the Castro, is in agreement with Camisa’s approach.

” ‘Let’s take a wait and see attitude'” he said over the telephone. ‘I am inviting [Cordileone] to celebrate Mass here and get to know the community.’

“Costello, who has known the archbishop-designate for some time, also said that Cordileone ‘will listen.’

” ‘We need to open up a dialogue with Bishop Sal,’ said Costello. ‘Not to change people’s minds.’ Rather, ‘so that people have a better understanding of the other side’s point of view.’ “

For the good of the church and for the LGBT community, let’s hope and pray that such efforts at dialogue succeed.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


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