by Chuck Colbert
San Francisco, here he comes: A new spiritual leader for the Catholic archdiocese that spans the city, Marin, and San Mateo counties and is home to 1.7 million people, 25 percent of whom are Catholic.
But just how to throw down the welcome mat for Archbishop-elect Salvatore Cordileone, also known as the "Godfather of Proposition 8" – the state's same-sex marriage ban – is a matter of perspective for activists, LGBT Catholics, elected officials, and a priest based in San Francisco's most celebrated gay parish.
The Reverend Brian Costello, pastor of the Castro's Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, said he intends to extend "the warmest welcome possible," going so far as to invite Cordileone not only "here for one of our Sunday Masses so he can celebrate with the community," but also to join with parishioners for a reception after Mass in the church's social hall.
Cordileone needs to experience "what a wonderful community MHR" is, said Costello, who will attend the archbishop's installation at St. Mary's Cathedral at 2 p.m. today (Thursday, October 4).
"I'm hoping he will accept my invitation and come to greet and meet my parishioners," said Costello during a telephone interview this week.
Gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener voiced agreement with a getting-to-know-us approach. By that he said, "Get to know real, live LGBT people and families and people with kids and see first hand their lives are impacted by things like Prop 8."
But said Wiener, whose district includes the Castro, "What [Cordileone] has done around Prop 8 and LGBT civil rights has been very hurtful to the community" and is entirely "gratuitous and unnecessary."
"The Catholic Church does a lot of amazing work," Wiener said. "I don't understand why it needs to keep battling [against] LGBT civil rights."
District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague, who is bisexual and was raised a Latina Catholic, was more pointed. She called the Vatican's appointment of Cordileone "a sign of insensitivity" and a "slap in the face," especially his assignment to a city so "identified with gay liberation, home of Harvey Milk, Cleve Jones, and the rest of those legends," she said during a telephone interview.
Still, Olague voiced support for "some folks from the queer community who want to hopefully get him to show more compassion than he has shown in the past around issues pertinent to our community."
Cordileone is no ordinary same-sex marriage detractor. For more than a year now, he has been chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
Last year he told the National Catholic Register that same-sex marriage was "a very serious social experiment that will have dire consequences."
In defense of traditional marriage, Cordileone has compared same-sex marriage to polygamy.
More recently, Cordileone told the Los Angeles Times that gays and lesbians who are in sexual relationships of any kind should not receive the Eucharist.
"If we misuse the gift of sexuality, we're going to suffer the consequences," he said, according to the Times ' story. "I firmly believe we are suffering the consequences."
And in an in-depth interview with KCBS radio Cordileone suggested the communion ban would also apply to advocates of same-sex marriage.
Oddly enough, the interview aired on August 27, just two days after he was arrested in San Diego on drunken driving charges. The archbishop-elect is due in court on that matter Tuesday, October 9.
When pressed on the air about the extent to which the faithful can "disagree" with church teaching and "still be considered a practicing Catholic and take the sacraments," Cordileone said, "Some issues are defined as faith and matters of the natural moral law, such as marriage."
Issues such as immigration are more nuanced, he suggested.
"But a matter that is clear from the natural moral law, 'Yes,' all Catholics must believe that to be properly disposed to receive the sacrament, that would include the marriage teaching," Cordileone explained.
"Natural law? What's that?" snapped Billy Bradford, a spokesman for the LGBT activist group GetEqual, calling into question the role of natural law theory and its applicability to secular politics and law.
"My message and that of Marriage Equality USA and GetEqual [to Cordileone] is to stop demonizing gay couples and gay families," he said in a phone interview. "There is nothing wrong with us."
Bradford said protesters will be outside St. Mary's Cathedral from 1 to 4 p.m. during the installation service on Thursday.
"We are not treated equally in our state due to – not completely but in large measure – Cordileone and the work he did," said Bradford.
For its part, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence held a noon press conference on Wednesday to "officially denounce the installation" of Cordileone, calling on politicians and civic leaders to boycott it.
"He does not reflect San Francisco values. He has overstepped his bounds getting involved in secular politics," said a news release from the Sisters, a group of drag nuns.
Meanwhile, for LGBT Catholics, Cordileone's call to refrain from receiving communion has prompted different reactions.
"Bishop Cordileone's statement that lesbian and gay couples in relationships should not receive communion is a major pastoral blunder on many levels," said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an LGBT-positive Catholic organization, based outside of Washington, D.C.
"First and foremost, the decision to approach communion is one made by the individual communicant, not a local bishop. If a person's conscience is clear to receive communion, he or she should do so," explained DeBernardo in an email.
"More importantly, for Bishop Cordileone to make such a statement, even before he has arrived in the archdiocese, shows an impersonal disregard for the people that he has been directed to serve. If Bishop Cordileone wants to lead Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, an area with a large LGBT population, the first lesson he needs to learn is to listen before he speaks," said DeBernardo.
Cordileone's call for Catholics not in agreement with church teaching to abstain from the Eucharist is not new. Other prelates have called on pro-choice Catholic lawmakers to do the same.
For that reason in part, "I am not bothered that he expressed his opinion about who should participate in the Eucharist. That is part of his job as a bishop," said Eugene McMullan, a gay man who attends Mass at Most Holy Redeemer.
"Non-Catholics might think he is about to impose awful restrictions on us, as bishops used to do. That is unlikely," explained McMullan, who is also a lead organizer of the advocacy group Catholics for Marriage Equality in California.
Ernest Camisa, a spokesman for and secretary of Dignity/San Francisco, a group for LGBT Catholics, voiced a different point of view.
"It sounds like the ultimate rejection," he said in a phone interview, referring to any denial by church pastors of communion for same-sex couples and advocates of marriage equality.
For his part, Costello said that he is taking a wait-and-see attitude.
"I'd be surprised if he did that," Costello said, referring to the possibility of Cordileone banning Catholics who disagree with him on same-sex marriage from the Eucharist.
"I have not heard that from [Cordileone], to be quite honest. Some are pushing that. I want to hear from the horse's mouth," explained Costello.
"I'll do the best I can. It's a bit of a juggling act here," added Costello. "If he decides on that, then we'll sit and talk. If he insists, then I will follow what he wants me to do."
Openly gay District 9 Supervisor David Campos voiced hope that the new archbishop comes to see "San Francisco is a very accepting place."
"We certainly keep open the possibility of his coming around on a number of issues facing our community," Campos said in a phone interview. "We are a city that believes in equal rights and that means the right of people to marry the person they love."
There is a difference, Campos said, between Cordileone holding "a different perspective on same-sex marriage, which we believe strongly, and actually engaging in a campaign to deprive people of that right."
A practicing Catholic "to some extent," Campos said, "My view of the life of Jesus Christ" is that he is an accepting individual." Asked if Cordileone's stated caution against receiving the Eucharist would deter him, Campos said, "No. I would go to communion."
None of the three openly LGBT supervisors said they would be attending Cordileone's installation. Moreover, Olague said that her schedule permitting, she would join the protesters.