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
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
In addition to wild street theatrics, the Sisters also conduct social
outreach programs for the poor, homeless and sick. The group’s web
site (www.thesisters.org) 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
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