Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Newsom's comments keep
Catholics in their seats


San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer, rear left, turns away from Mayor Gavin Newsom at the mayor's Interfaith Thanksgiving Prayer Breakfast last month. Photo: Bill Wilson
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Now Proposition 8 is even making breakfast tough to eat.

Comments made by Mayor Gavin Newsom about Prop 8 during his remarks at the 11th annual Mayor's Interfaith Thanksgiving Prayer Breakfast last month drew a standing ovation from "75 percent to 80 percent" of those in the room but kept Archbishop George Niederauer and Mormon representatives firmly in their seats.

Prop 8, which passed five weeks ago, eliminated same-sex marriage in California.

Newsom spoke "about his personal struggles and specifically about the Catholic Church and the Mormon Church," said openly gay Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who was at the breakfast and described the mayor's remarks as "emotional and eloquent."

Maurice Healy, spokesman for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, described Newsom's "unprepared remarks" as "an intemperate attack on those religions and people of faith who supported Proposition 8."

Niederauer issued his own response to Prop 8 December 1 [see story online].

The Reverend James DeLange, a retired Lutheran minister who chairs the San Francisco Interfaith Council, explained that Newsom's comments November 25 to a room of 400 guests representing eight city faith-based service agencies surprised him.

"What we thought the mayor was going to talk about was the recognition of these organizations," DeLange said. Instead, the mayor talked about his personal struggles reconciling his faith with his civic duty and with the Catholic and Mormon involvement in Prop 8.

Asked if the archbishop, who was seated next to Newsom, "turned his back on the mayor following the remarks," Healy responded, "[Your readers] should know also that the chair and vice chair of the San Francisco Interfaith Council subsequently apologized to Archbishop Niederauer for the conduct of the mayor."

DeLange confirmed a letter had been sent.

"What we said in our letter to the archbishop was that we regret that Mayor Newsom chose this occasion to express his anger at the Catholic Church and other religious people whom he perceives as instrumental in the passage of Proposition 8 in the November 4 election," DeLange said.

DeLange said copies of the letter, absent the words of regret to the archbishop, were sent to each of the program's presenters, which included Niederauer. DeLange said they were compelled to apologize specifically to the archbishop because, "It was obvious when the mayor got the standing ovation and the archbishop, priests, and two other bishops did not stand," that the archbishop was offended.

DeLange said the Mormon representatives also did not stand. The Mormons received no apology because they were not presenters at the event.

DeLange did not wish to call the mayor's comments inappropriate. And he said that prior to Newsom's comments, he saw the mayor and archbishop talking.

"It's true that the mayor spoke from the heart and expressed his disappointment in his church, which he still claims, and expressed what he has learned about social justice and public service he learned in the Catholic Church and through his education by the Jesuits. But I thought they were inappropriate for this occasion," DeLange said.

But according to attendees, DeLange's own comments that were made before the mayor spoke lent themselves to Newsom's remarks. According to a copy of DeLange's address, entitled "The Pulse of Religion in San Francisco," he said: "Those who protest against religion need to know that organized religion, its leaders, and its members are deeply divided on many issues. Just like non-believers are. In this contentious time, my hope is that organizations like the San Francisco Interfaith Council can provide a neutral space for a divided citizenry to come together and learn to respect each other and, where possible, agree to work on common problems."

Departure from theme

DeLange said this year's theme was "Feeding the Hungry."

"For example, 3,030,133 meals were served by these faith-based organizations this year," he said. "We anticipated that the mayor would speak to that."

Instead, Newsom spoke of the recent loss of his aunt, his devout Catholic upbringing, and the personal pain he has felt in the reconciliation of his faith with his duty to represent all San Franciscans equally.

"He spoke of how he really was struggling because of his belief in the separation of church and state," said Dufty, who added, "It's unusual for the mayor to speak as personally as he did that morning."

Other gay political leaders also were pleased with Newsom's comments.

"He said it beautifully, humbly, and said it in an appropriate tone," said state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who was sitting among the two tables of dignitaries at the front of the room. "Don't let anyone suggest that he did not capture the room, he did."

Leno was moved by the emotional tone of Newsom's words, which he said included the mayor's confession of the pain he felt when he was denied communion by the church at his swearing-in ceremony after his re-election because he is divorced.

"Among Gavin's comments in his presentation was the fact that as someone who's been divorced the church has the right to deny him communion, and he understands and must accept that," Leno said, but that the separation of church and state requires elected officials to protect the civil rights of every citizen "irrespective of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation."

According to Leno, "75 percent to 80 percent of the room" gave Newsom a "thunderous, standing ovation," which he believed was "a direct rebuke of what the archbishop has done in supporting Prop 8."

In his remarks, "The mayor said those who supported the initiative sought to deny rights to others. He did not give any respect for people holding religious beliefs about the nature of marriage," said Healy in an e-mail. "On the contrary, Mayor Newsom's rambling talk was offensive and insulting to Catholics and other people of faith who had sought to express their support for Proposition 8 from a view of marriage that was contrary to that held by the mayor."

Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard said, "The mayor respectfully declines to comment" on the incident.

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