Friday, April 6, 2012

SF Archdiocese, SFPD Foil Anti-Catholics

On April 4, we reported on the planned action against San Francisco’s Mission Dolores Church by members of Occupy SF, ACT-UP, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The group’s release read, in part:

 “The march will link the issues of gentrification and lack of affordable housing faced by people with HIV/AIDS and our communities today by starting at Wells Fargo, a major profiteer of the housing crisis. The march will continue to the steps of Mission Dolores Church, marking Good Friday and protesting the Catholic Church's continued role of condemning people to die of AIDS globally and repression of sexual freedom and health here at home-- by blocking access to condoms, and restricting access to reproductive health and abortion. Ashes of those who died during the epidemic in SF will be placed on the steps of Dolores Church….Its 25 years since we started ACT UP and the Catholic Church is still to blame.”

But good communication between the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the San Francisco Police Department queered the deal. The group had said they planned to arrive at the church at 5:30 PM. By 5PM there were already at least 15 officers from the SFPD standing in front of the Mission Dolores Basilica and the Old Mission, built in 1776, which is immediately adjacent to the south. Police had installed crowd control barriers in the gutters to prevent protesters from reaching the sidewalk. The barricades prevented the anti-Catholics from their stated aim: to place the ashes of a man who died from AIDS on the Church stairs.

At 5:10 PM a squad of about 8-10 police motorcycles appeared on the northbound lane of Dolores Street, and the chants of about 80 anti-Catholics became audible “(bleep) the Church.” The anti-Catholics were led by three or four apparent members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The group crossed Dolores Street’ grassy median strip, and moved to the southbound lane, in front of the Mission Basilica.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence offered their standard list of grievances against the church: abortion, contraception, child abuse, the opposition to same-sex adoptions, and Archbishop Niederauer’s defense of natural marriage. George Wesolek, Director of Public Policy for the Archdiocese of San Francisco was there to observe the event. He said that it was interesting that the anti-Catholics should have chosen the Mission Basilica for this particular display. Wesolek reminded us that during the trip of Blessed John Paul II to San Francisco in 1987 he had visited the Mission Basilica. It was the Mission Basilica where the Holy Father gave his special blessing to 62 people suffering from AIDS.  It was the Mission Basilica where the Holy Father embraced 4 year-old Brendan O’Rourke, a little boy suffering from the disease. Photographs of the embrace (above) drew worldwide attention. Wesolek said  “At that time many people treated AIDS patients like lepers. People thought it was something you could catch easily…. John Paul’s show of compassion opened up the arms of compassion of the world.” Brendan passed away from the disease in 1990.

It might thus seem ironic that the anti-Catholics thus chose the Mission Basilica, but more likely it was simple ignorance. As they were “eulogizing” the man whose ashes they were scattering, a victim of AIDS, one of the speakers pointed out that the deceased was an “in your face” type. The speaker said that the deceased had attended a San Francisco “Pride Parade” with a sign reading “I like to (perform oral/anal contact on men).” The quote is cleaned up for publication. The crowd laughed at this—they thought it was funny. They were apparently unable to see any connection between such behaviors and the man’s untimely death.

As they prepared to scatter his ashes, I was the only man in the crowd to remove his hat (or, in the case of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, headdresses) out of respect for the dead. They threw the ashes over the crowd control barriers, toward the stairs of the Mission Basilica, but San Francisco’s normal late afternoon wind immediately dispersed them in all directions.

By 5:36 PM, the protest was over. The anti-Catholics marched west on 16th Street, towards the Castro District, chanting “(Bleep) the Church, we don’t need ‘em, all we want is total freedom.”

At 6:30PM both the Old Mission and the Basilica celebrated their regularly scheduled Good Friday liturgies, in Spanish at the Basilica, in English at the Old Mission.

Posted by Gibbons J. Cooney

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