Scandal In San Francisco – A Measured Response

Somehow I missed it when it originally happened, but thanks to my Brother in Law, I got up to speed rather quickly.

I got home last night from taking my daughter to Volleyball practice to find my wife in an animated discussion on the phone, wildly gesticulating at the TV which was set to the Fox News Channel. I had only seconds before she handed me the phone saying “It’s Mark – you’ve got to hear this!” before she stormed out of the room.

What followed was 45 minutes on the phone with my outraged brother in law while his outraged sister paced around the house, listening to my side of the conversation. In the end, the waters were calmed and everyone appeared to be satisfied with my words, although I’m really not sure how I managed it.

What drove them both to outrage – and absolutely rightfully so – was a news report by Bill O’Reilly showing individuals dressed as “mock” nuns and priests receiving communion from the Archbishop of San Francisco, George Niederauer at a mass this past Sunday.

To say that I was flabbergasted and totally caught off guard and unprepared is an understatement of biblical proportions!
Somehow I was given the task of trying to explain all of this without any real data as to what happened to whom and when and come up with some answer as to the “why” in order to satisfy both my dear wife and her brother. My brother in law was to the point, as his sister often is, of “storming the Bastille” in outrage, wondering how we can “get Rome to stop this” and how “Satan could get into the Church like this.” It was into this maelstrom that I walked and from where I began.
I’ve since read up on the incident and fortunately it seems I pretty much got the grasp of it and assumed much of the details correctly. It seems that the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence”, a notorious militant homosexual organization, “raided” (for lack of a better term) a mass celebrated by the Archbishop at Most Holy Redeemer parish in San Francisco this past Sunday (October 12th 2007.) Some of these people – in full costume and regalia – presented themselves for communion (to the Archbishop personally of course) and – God save us – the Archbishop gave it to them, all of which was caught on tape.

The blasphemy and in-your-face behavior was indeed outrageous and most definitely prone to provoke anger in anyone who loves the Sacrament and the Church. But like any good medic, the first thing I tried to do was to staunch the bleeding so most of my first words were designed to calm him down but as we moved forward, I began to try and get him to use his rational senses along with his emotional ones and to properly direct his outrage. It seems the Holy Spirit had a clear message he wanted me to articulate, which I’m sort of quantifying and analyzing in this blog posting.
The climate I tend to sense these days is a rather disturbing one and it seems to have entered into too much of the arena of criticism, and that is that Mark’s first reaction was to “go nuclear” on the Bishop for his actions in giving them communion. What I tried to impart to him instead is an urging for him to redirect his understandable anger and venom to those who perpetrated this “grave sin” -such was primarily on the part of the MILITANTS who presented themselves – it is they who committed the grave blasphemy and sacrilege here.

This is not to say that the Bishop didn’t screw up – he certainly did BUT he publicly apologized in print for doing so immediately afterwards – it seems he was blindsided at the time and didn’t know or understand who they were.  (A very distinct possibility I mentioned to Mark – turns out I was right.) There he was, within the setting of the mass, with no way of understanding who these people were or their agenda – if he didn’t know them ahead of time, there’s no real way he could be informed once mass was underway.  (Yes, I know people could have told him, etc, etc, etc, but who would have the guts to do such a thing during mass? Lots of potential woulda-coulda-shoulda’s here to go around. In any event, it was apparently quite the sneak attack.)

The Bishop is the one where the authority and responsibility rests regarding his diocese of course and make no mistake these militants darn well knew that – their attack (for that’s what it was) was premeditated, strategically planned and executed precisely for effect.

From there I went into the subjects of the presumption of proper disposition of a communicant when they present themselves, as well as the duty to avoid scandal, and how the refusal at the time with no preparation or ability to react may lead to greater scandal than the reception would bring – all of which was designed to give possible reasoning as to why someone would have done such a thing as distribute communion to such individuals. I did not defend the accuracy or inaccuracy of any of these possible reasons other than to say there is great controversy and disagreement among the US Bishops over this issue and has been for some time. I spoke of Archbishop Burke and his courageous stance in the 2004 election and beyond, but also pointed out many equally good bishops consider that response to have been “too much.”
I also spoke of how a similar and ongoing controversy of the Rainbow Sash Movement and how they have before, and continue to, attempt to disrupt communion in similar ways on Pentecost. Most places are now prepared for their theatrics and they are usually  refused communion now – particularly by Cardinal George in Chicago – although such events often descend into chaos and some other bishops elsewhere – Cardinal Mahoney in Los Angeles for example – faced with such possibilities do not refuse them.

It is understandable that a Bishop would wish to avoid such disruptions in mass, but looking back, and now in the clear light of day with all the facts in hand – Archbishop Niederauer clearly messed up.
But the main point I want to make here is that he realized what he did almost immediately and promptly DID THE RIGHT THING AND APOLOGIZED, so in my book, any further criticism of him on this incident would be out of line. I suspect, he’ll be more informed and READY when this ATTACK occurs again (and be assured that sooner or later it will.)
I think the real thrust of this blog post, even though I am not satisfied with how I explained it to Mark now that I’ve thought further about it, is the following. We all need to remember that Christ – by definition of his Godhood and omnipotence – cannot himself be personally harmed by his reception by these apparent grave sinners. (I said it to Mark as “Christ needs no defense from us” which is REALLY misphrased – I wouldn’t say it at all that way again, although Mark tended to focus in on it and take comfort from it. I was shooting from the hip and it seemed the gun got away from me a little.)

My reason for pointing this out is not to say we should not defend the sacrament, but more to say that by doing that we often never go any further than that, and that’s the real tragedy here. While this first natural response is commendable in that it shows our love for him, we must fight to see the real attack here – that as one on the Church herself and the person of the Archbishop. THAT’s what we miss too often here, and THAT’s exactly what the attackers are counting on.

If we remember only the Sacramental attack, we fall right into the trap the militants set for us – THEY WILL HAVE DIVIDED US and by their sins they have directed our anger and pressure against the Archbishop and the Church instead of where it belongs – at them, the perpetrators themselves. They KNOW we will go right to defence the Sacrament and by doing so they also know that blame, anger and venom will fall straight on the shepherd himself.  They will have attacked out head and attempted to undermine our faith in him as leader, and in so doing, attempt to engineer a public opinion storm that will rob him of credibility – and by extension that of the entire institution of the Church. You see, they cannot abide the existence of such a large, visible, respected and ACTIVE institution as the Catholic Church that dares to promote that the lifestyle which they wish to lead is not proper or moral. To destroy its credibility is to destroy its criticism of them. THAT’s who attacked us and that’s who needs to be our focus.

They’ve inserted a deadly virus of blame and finger pointing and accusations and outrage into the Catholic Arena and that they’re counting on eating us alive from inside. THAT’s where Satan is in all this. They see it as a win-win scenario: The Archbishop refuses them, they make a stink and take the high ground of being “persecuted” or they are allowed to receive and undermine the teachings and the authority of the Church.

But all of this works ONLY if we cooperate with them by reacting as they expect us to do!

(Slight aside here: Mark was hitting hard that Satan himself was receiving communion himself as these militants. I had to remind him that such is not possible, although the grave sin that these people displayed may undoubtedly have him as designer, it was the people themselves who were the sole perpetrators.)

In my opinion we all took a sucker punch on the chin as a Church through this incident, but believe you me, forewarned is now forearmed for the future. We must be aware of these blatant attacks on the Church and stand united with our Bishops, keep them informed and stand with them ready to defend the faith.

For if we were to fail in that duty, then the militants would truly have won.


  1. Deacon

    I am most appreciative of the kind words. I have many good and holy friends who seem to be so eager to jump on our leaders if they stumble in the slightest manner and to paint them as unfaithful or worse. I think we should work first to understand and correct charitably (but clearly) and remember that being Christian means living the life Christ gave us even when things are tough – especially then.

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