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Catholic Church Wants Ban on Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Easter Anniversary Party

BY Conrad Goeringer

Archdiocese In San Francisco Wants Celebration Permit Revoked

They’re wild, outrageous and funny. They’re camp. And Roman Catholic officials consider them obscene, even blasphemous.

Angry Catholics in San Francisco, encouraged by church leaders and laity groups, are demanding that the Board of Supervisors withdraw a permit to allow a group of street performers and gay drag queens who dress in nuns’ habits or other religious garb, to hold a festival on Castro Street on April 4. At a hearing earlier this month, the Supervisors unanimously voted to overturn an early decision made by the municipal Traffic department to deny a street closure request for the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence because of parking and traffic concerns. [monthly special]

But last Friday, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese newspaper came out with an editorial denouncing the Sisters, and comparing the anniversary party to “neo-Nazis” celebrating on the Jewish holiday of Passover. The April 4 weekend happens to be Easter, a major Christian holy day which commemorates the alleged resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Maurice Healy, a spokesman for the San Francisco Roman Catholic Archdiocese, denounced the decision to close a public street and permit activities by a group that “mocks the Catholic Church.” Healy added that the Supervisor’s vote to overturn the earlier ban “shows extraordinary insensitivity to people of all faiths ... This group has garnered a reputation for outrageous behavior by mocking religious life, ridicule of Catholic institutions and profane references to sacred liturgies.”

In addition to wild street theatrics, the Sisters also conduct social outreach programs for the poor, homeless and sick. The group’s web site ( includes a history of the organization, and discusses its penchant for social protest as well. During a protest of the Three Mile Island incident in March, 1980 for instance, the Sisters performed their “Rosary in Time of Nuclear Peril.” They later staged a disco benefit on behalf of gay Cuban refugees, and have distributed safe sex information throughout the area. A member of the Order, Sister Boom Boom, ran under the “Nun of the Above” ticket in one Supervisors election in San Francisco.

The group also was on hand when Pope John Paul II visited the area in 1987, and conducted a “full-on” exorcism in Union Square. Their protest of the papal visit was specifically cited by Catholic authorities in Friday’s newspaper editorial.

San Francisco Archbishop William Levada has been out of town, and according to the S.F. Examiner newspaper, is due back next Wednesday. Diocese spokesman Healey said that a formal protest from the Archbishop “may come.” The group Catholics for Truth and Justice distributed literature about the Castro Street closing at masses on Sunday. The commentary charged that “only the Catholic Church could be the target of such officially sanctioned ridicule, deliberately scheduled so as to add insult to injury...”

In the meantime, Supervisors have been flooded with phone calls, letters and faxes denouncing the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and demanding revocation of the permit. Some of the calls to city hall called for a total ban on the Sisters’ festivities, while others took a middle-ground position. One woman sent e-mail to a Supervisors declaring, “My friends, family and I are very opposed to the street party on Easter Sunday. We respect all the diversity in the city and request the street party date to be moved to another time.” Another caller, though, warned: “Somebody needs the backbone to stand up to this because if the KKK were parading here, that would be stopped.” Still another person asked Supervisor Gavin Newsom, “Would the supervisors let a group called ’The Niggers’ perform in black face, mocking the blacks in the Western Addition? Why this blatant exception against Catholics?”

According to today’s San Francisco Chronicle, it was Supervisor Amos Brown, also a local Baptist pastor, who was receiving the most flak. The paper noted that many of the calls were “from people who say a man of God should never have supported a group that mocked the pope during his 1987 visit.” Brown reportedly received more than 100 phone calls about the matter. The Chronicle added that Brown was specifically mentioned in the Archdiocese newspaper article about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence celebration; readers were urged to contact him and urge that he change his position regarding the permit.

Supervisors appear to be defending their decision, however. Board member Tom Ammiano who is gay and a Roman Catholic says, “Aside from the First Amendment issues, I do support the nuns. It’s a free speech issue -- that’s what I mean about separation of church and state...”

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