Who is allowed to go to church? Who is permitted to attend mass and receive the sacraments? Who are we to make that judgment of others?
It seems there are a few folks in California who feel they have the power to make these kinds of decisions. This news story, if you can call it that, is floating around out there in some biased sources, but so far I haven’t been able find a reputable media outlet that is willing to create and report a balanced account of the events at Most Holy Redeemer Church, San Francisco. I suppose I should mention that Bill O’Reilly mentioned it on Fox News.
Here’s the story as near as I can piece it together. It seems that two members of the activist/charity group known as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence attended the 10:00am Mass at MHRC on October 7, 2007. The Sisters are not a legitimate religious organization, nor are they an extension of the Roman Catholic Church. I should also add that the sisters are also not women.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence appear to do two things judging from their website and the scant few news articles I can find. They raise money to fund their grant program. The grants are awarded to small under-funded non-profit organizations that serve the LGBT community.
Since our founding in 1979, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have raised and distributed over a million dollars to non-profit organizations that serve the queer and sex positive community. Each year, we raise thousands more. The next time you see a Sister with a collection bucket, drop a couple of bucks in. The money goes right back to the community.
Historically, The Sisters have given grants to under-funded, smaller organizations and projects providing direct services to our communities. The majority of these organizations and projects receive little, if any, government or main-stream funding and may be in the early stages of development. Our grants are typically $250 to $1,000.
We are especially attracted to progressive projects that promote wellness, identity, tolerance and diversity within our communities. We have a vision that encompasses diverse communities and groups that have a common interest in human rights, people of every gender, gender identity, race, class, age and sexual orientation.
The second mission they perform appears to be calling the church to some kind of responsibility for the ways in which they have traditionally treated gay and lesbian people. The history section of the sisters’ website is a long list of gay positive fund-raising, and political/social activism, including criticism of the Catholic church.
So back to our story: two Sisters attend mass, and of all the scandalous things they could do, they go forward for communion! Archbishop George H. Niederauer was the celebrant for this particular mass. The video I have seen of the service shows the 2 men, dressed in nun’s habits with brightly colored additions, and white face makeup, approach the Archbishop for communion. The Archbishop does not appear surprised by their appearance and serves them the Eucharist. Now is a good time to note that no one else in the congregation appears disturbed by the appearance of the men in drag, posing as nuns.
Accusations have been flying about as to the intentions and motivations of the 2 men, who are members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Some say they were there to mock the church. Others say they were there to protest, but the subject of the protest is somewhat vague. A few are claiming that the men “invaded” the church with the intention of disrupting the mass. It’s clear from the video that none of those things were accomplished. So perhaps, none of them were intended.
The Archbishop claims he had no idea that these two were members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. He even issued an apology explaining his version of the events of the morning. I agree that it is difficult to believe that Archbishop Niederauer did not know these men were part of the group that mocks and criticizes the church. Yet, I’m not sure denying them communion is the answer. Whom did Jesus turn away?
So now it becomes a matter of determining the legitimacy of the individuals worthy of receiving communion. Will we require priests to quickly scan parishioners for appropriate attire and make an on-the-spot decision as to the whether an individual will receive communion? Should people be turned away from the Eucharist based on their ability to dress appropriately for a worship service? How about their ability to resist temptation? Will we turn people away from Christ because they didn’t follow all the tenets of the faith, thus causing them to be in less than full communion with the church? Where is the line? Can a person be divorced, but not at fault in the divorce, and continue to receive the sacraments? Can someone disagree with the church’s teachings about birth control, or abortion, or confession, and still be deemed worthy of taking communion? Again, I have to wonder how Jesus would have handled the situation. I know of his anger as he flipped the tables in the synagogue, but I also know of his penchant for hanging out with the most despicable, depraved members of his community.
As if I haven’t been stating my own opinion here, I want to add just a bit more of it. I don’t know that I support every aspect of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. They are “out there” pushing the envelope. I think I’d be uncomfortable doing what they do. However, I’m glad they do it. It takes someone out in the front-lines, pushing the envelope to achieve something great for civil rights, social change, political change. The Sisters are doing that. Because of their actions, we all benefit. In the back of my mind, do I think there was an agenda in the actions of these two men that Sunday morning? I sure do! Is it worthy of the verbal crucifixion that’s taking place in certain media outlets? Absolutely not!