SAN FRANCISCO – When he gave Communion to “two strangely dressed persons” Oct. 7 at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in San Francisco, Archbishop George H. Niederauer said he did not realize they were members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a group that has “long made a practice of mocking the Catholic Church.”
In a column for the Oct. 19 issue of Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper, that was made public the evening of Oct. 11, the San Francisco archbishop said he had never met members of the group that describes itself as “a leading-edge order of queer nuns” and “did not recognize who these people were when they approached me.”
“I did not recognize either of them as wearing mock religious garb,” he added.
“After the event, I realized that they were members of this particular organization and that giving them holy Communion had been a mistake,” said Archbishop Niederauer, who has headed the archdiocese since February 2006. “I apologize to the Catholics of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and to Catholics at large for doing so.”
The archbishop said there had been “no protest, no demonstration, no disruption” during the Oct. 7 Mass at Most Holy Redeemer. “The congregation was devout and the liturgy was celebrated with reverence.”
Nevertheless, “someone who dresses in a mock religious habit to attend Mass does so to make a point,” he said. “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 Oct. 7 was intended as a provocative gesture,” the San Francisco prelate said. “In that moment I failed to recognize it as such and for that, as I have said, I must apologize.”
Archbishop Niederauer said the dress and behavior 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,” he said.
Archbishop Niederauer also noted in his column that last year he had instructed the administrator of Most Holy Redeemer Parish to stop allowing the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to use the hall on the parish grounds.
Although the two men who received Communion from the archbishop had not come forward as of Oct. 12, a letter to Archbishop Niederauer and the parish from a person identified as “Sister Mary Timothy Simplicity” named the two as “Sister Delta Goodhand” and “Sister maeJoy B. withU.”
In a “meet the sisters” section of the Web site of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, “Sister Delta” said he went to a Catholic high school and “(I) acknowledge and am hurt by the oppression, travesties and weaknesses of the leadership of the Catholic Church that have been perpetuated throughout history.”
“However, having grown up in the faith, received many sacraments, seen the true faith of devout Catholics and witnessed the absolute presence of the Holy Spirit, I am proud to be Catholic,” he added.
In his letter, “Sister Mary Timothy” said he too had been raised Catholic. Thanking Archbishop Niederauer and the parish for “opening your hearts and minds to my sisters,” he added, “Knowing your actions of respect, joy and inclusiveness (has) melted a large portion of the pain, anger and sorrow I long ago grew up with.”