SF Archbishop Under Fire for Serving Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

San Francisco’s top Catholic official, Archbishop George Niederauer, is under fire from Catholic leaders because two Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence received communion from him on October 7 at the Holy Redeemer Church in the Castro.

CommunionThe service was videotaped and posted on the internet, where it caught the attention of Bill O’Reilly, who was happy to fan the flames.

O’Reilly wrote: “Last Sunday, at the Catholic Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, Archbishop George Niederauer was celebrating mass. As part of that ritual, holy communion is given to Catholics by the celebrants. Two gay militants in bizarre dress took communion from the archbishop in an attempt to mock the mass and the man. — The people who did this are members of a militant homosexual group that runs around San Francisco dressed as nuns. All city officials are aware of the group because in the past they have publicly demeaned Christianity. The Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, has refused to comment. The District Attorney, Kamala Harris, says she is waiting for a complaint to be filed. The Catholic Church says it will do its own investigation and doesn’t want the police involved at this point. The archbishop has apologized, saying he’s embarrassed and sorry he gave communion to people committing sacrilege.”

NiederauerNow, Niederauer has written a letter of apology to “Catholics of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and to Catholics at large” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

It reads, in part: “At Communion time, toward the end of the line, two strangely dressed persons came to receive Communion. As I recall, one of them wore a large flowered hat or garland. These two people have long made a practice of mocking the Catholic Church in general and religious women in particular. Someone who dresses in a mock religious habit to attend Mass does so to make a point (that) was intended as a provocative gesture.”

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom responded: “This debate really is about San Francisco values. The Bill O’Reillys of the world are threatened by San Francisco because we value diversity, universal health care and civil rights for all. They will exploit any controversy to attack our values.”

More on the Sisters here.


  1. Wesley says

    A complaint filed and police investigation? Wait. What? Over a SoPI getting communion? Am I missing something that wasn’t in this story, because that seems a bit of an over reaction.

    Really people, look at the source of this….Bill O??? Come on, he’s just another miserable white guy who will say anything to continue to keep himself (in his mind) relevant and in the news, much like Man Coulter. So why pay them any acknowledgment?

  2. davefromtampa says

    “Two strangely dressed men wearing clown makeup…” Hey, I represent that remark. How funny to have them get communion while the bishop just looks at them. The christianistas will be off the wall with this one but who cares.

  3. John says

    I’m Protestant and not Catholic, and I’m offended (and trust me, I’m not easily offended). There is a time a place for everything, and that certainly wasn’t the appropriate scene for a protest. They certainly aren’t taking the moral high ground.

  4. Satan says

    Whatever JOHN. I’m offended that people follow crappy fiction such as a the bible. How about you go buy yourself a slave since God condones it.

  5. John says

    John, I’m sorry that you’re credulous and superstitious. Religion is a poison and needs to be mocked so we, as humans, can finally move past silly superstitions and myths.

  6. Ted B. (Charging Rhino) says

    To outraged Catholics everywhere, lighten-up…

    Gay militants? Considering the large charitable contributions by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to the San Francisco gay and straight community, just embrace them as your crazy-aunt in a habit who lives in the attic. Are they really that much-worse than Uncle Morty who dresses-up in a Shriners’ fez, vest and baggy pants while doing good works and raising money for sick children’s care?


  7. Becks07 says

    I am with Satan on this one (yikes!)…the Catholic Church is the ENEMY. They are possessed of billions and billions of dollars and they own the minds of nearly a billion people. They will not stop — indeed, have not stopped — at telling those billion that being gay in action will deny them heaven.

    To me, those are fighting words. So every day, in every way — I say stick it to em in the eyeballs.

    Candidly, I think the SOPI schtick is rather passe and old-school obvious, although I acknowlege and praise them for the money and time they give to GBLTQ (aka gobble-tee-kew) issues.

    But in this case, I can only holler: You go, Sister!

    Fuck the cults.

  8. Gregg says

    JOHN – the Catholic church uses the superstition of communion to keep people coming back to church. A church which institutionally says we as gay people are wrong and immoral. Why should they get immunity simply because it’s “mass”? They deem something off-limits what simultaneously condemning us. Why should we play by their rules?

    The superstition of Mass shouldn’t keep protests from occurring.

  9. Rey says

    If the Catholic Church had their druthers, they’d refuse communion to people who are simply friends of gay people.

    This is nothing new. The Catholic Church is an abomination and an insult to the idea of a Higher Power in our lives.

  10. i'm puking says

    The Sisters of Whatever make me sick. The gay commuinity does NOT need this. Sure they mock christianity… but the way i see it, they mock us too. We manage to take 2 steps forward and then these idiots take us 2 steps back. it’s sickening.

  11. David says

    I’d agree religion of all types has been perverted into politics, but in it’s simplest form, I do see its merits. Bare bones of many religions is love, and I like love.

    Stupid people with stupid agendas warp this to make it hateful and that sucks a lot.

    But on the plus side, I am OBSESSED with Christian art and iconography. I think it’s beautiful. Sans the homo hating, of course.

  12. Paul says

    Jesus, what is wrong with these people—meaning the fired-up commenters here? Who gives a crap, or would think to agree with Bill O’Reilly?? The two Sisters presented themselves for communion. Anyone who presents themselves for communion can receive it. They did nothing offensive. They even emailed the church thanking them for being inclusive. They’re Catholics, you know. Men who wear makeup can be religious.

    Many of the Sisters don’t even dress as nuns, just as whatever seems funny that day. Live and let live, and stop worrying about what the “gay community” needs. Trust me, nothing that comes out of San Francisco is going to affect or surprise anyone elsewhere. And no one here cares.

    Most Holy Redeemer gets in trouble for hosting drag AIDS benefits, too. Fuck the people who complain. Charity comes in many forms. And you can’t help but laugh when that uptight prig calls the archbishop a “Judas Priest.” Plus, he was acting like Castro Street Fair is like Folsom Street Fair. Umm, it’s not. It’s a low-key, heavily commercial event. No public sex or flogging. I even took my dog.

  13. says

    It just seems like the Fundies are lookiung for any reasoin anywhere any time to be offended and this is the latest one. Quit feeding the troll by making a scandal out of nothing is what I say.

  14. ChildRapingPriests says

    It is I who is OFFENDED by catholocism and its evil ideology. Does this mean I have to call my lawyers??? The Vatican claims homosexuality is evil while at the same time covers up thousands of child rape cases and reassigns priests and where is the outrage by those same catholic groups? Shame on those of you here who are defending the religious nuts. The “body of Christ” handed to them? Literally? What a disgusting death cult!

  15. Gitai says

    You know, maybe they should worry less about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and more about the actual Catholic nuns who are losing the building where they live and help the community because of the child abuse settlement.

  16. says

    I believe giving communing to the sisters was a Godly act. Apologizing for it was a political act. The Catholic church likes to use communion as a weapon, denying it as it suits them. WWJD? I don’t know, but I seriously doubt if Jesus would deny communion because of how someone is dressed.

  17. Daniel says

    The Sisters do a lot of great work raising funds for various charities and just making life more fun in general. That this could become a big brouhaha is just another example of opinion TV out of control.

  18. says

    I believe the Archbishop does what Jesus would have done. He shared the sacred meal with all who came, without judging, condemning, or excluding based on outward appearances…

    And then he blew it by apologizing.

  19. says

    Ironically, the incident took place on the day of the Castro Street Fair (which has had a great deal of input from SOPI over the years), and at Most Holy Redeemer, a gay-inclusive Catholic Church IN THE CASTRO. It’s not as if the Sisters took communion at St. Mary’s Cathedral in the Western Addition or St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome(but, oh, to be a fly on those walls if ever an event occured).

    The story was on the front page of today’s SF Chronicle, with the headline “Wafer Madness”, by the by.

    Fuck Bill O’Reilly with the LA Raiders.

  20. Adam says

    Since this took place in a Catholic Church, one should defer to the rules set out by the Catholic Church. Catholic theology denies a person taking the host if he/she is aware of the presence of unrepented mortal sin (which includes the use or propogation of contraception). So, technically, the sisters should not have recieved communion…but neither should most people who do recieve communion in most Catholic Churches to begin with.

    Any involvement of “authorities” and police outside the realm of the religious is absolutely unnecessary and a waste of tax dollars. If the Bishop did not know what the sisters were or who they represented (which is difficult to believe if he’s the archbishop of the SF diocese), I would say that it was probably an unfair thing for the sisters to do to him…in essence putting him in a position to break his vows unknowingly. If, however, he did know who and what they were and gave them the host anyway, that was his decision as archbishop with all the secondary effects of that falling to him.

    As for all the religion bashing going on…we must fight for the freedom of all to worship or not worship as they please or no freedom will exist for any of us, that includes those we don’t agree with.

  21. Leland Frances says

    I loathe “the Sisters” as I do anyone who exploits the gay community for attention and/or money. Their many “charitable acts” are themselves merely accessories to their raison d’etre—ego-gratifying attention—that came AFTER their creation not first.

    BUT take no prisoners critic that I am, I pride myself on being as objective as possible and while their drag IS also a political statement, a kind of protest, the way O’Reilly is exploiting this is—BIG surprise—totally dishonest and homohating.

    I can count in minutes the accumulated time I’ve watched him, so maybe the BELLOWING he did about his on one of his shows is more typical than I imagine while his content is consistently vile. But as he looped the video of their receiving Communion over and over you’d think he was describing the famous disruptive protest by ACT UP at St. Patrick’s in NYC instead of two attention queens in purposely grotesque drag otherwise acting exactly as the others receiving the Host were. No protest signs, no shouting, no grabbing the Cup and running down Castro Street with it.

    Like most neo-fascists, O’Reilly likes to claim a permanent hard on for American freedoms, the Constitution, etc., but, typically, he wants the Sisters denied the very source of his own existence [and great financial wealth]—freedom of speech. What is the Mayor supposed to “do”? What crime does he want the DA to prosecute for? And, as a Jesuit theologian pointed out to the “SF Chronicle,” “the Sisters do not meet the criteria the church has for denying Communion. Over-accessorizing and poor taste in makeup is not an excommunicable offense.”

    The Archbishop’s initial reaction, giving them the Host, was the perfect example of “What Would Jesus Do.” His serpentine slither backward reminds one of another famous Catholic now in the news and running for President—Giuliani.

    For the record, in their earliest days, the Sisters did cross the line when they showed up en masse [pun intended] at a commencement or other such huge public event at the Jesuit University of San Francisco. Those of us not reared Catholic don’t realize, and some recovering Catholics forget, how many Catholics have positive memories of nuns and/or family members who are nuns and Les Soeurs barely escaped with their lives.

    The final question re O’Reilly is: where is Lee Harvey Oswald now that we need him?

    And, for what it’s worth or not, there have been floggings at the Castro Street Fair in years past.

  22. Leland Frances says

    Expansion for Adam, credentials unknown:

    “The general sacramental principle is that you don’t deny the sacrament to someone who requests it,” said the Rev. Jim Bretzke, professor of moral theology at University of San Francisco, a Jesuit Catholic university. “The second principle is that you cannot give communion to someone who has been excommunicated.”

    He said such people are designated “manifest public sinners” in canon law.

    “This is someone who violates in a serious way one of the Ten Commandments or one of the important laws of the Church,” he said. “While I can see Bill O’Reilly and others might be offended, the sisters do not meet the criteria the church has for denying Communion. Over-accessorizing and poor taste in makeup is not an excommunicable offense.”

    Bretzke added, “Even if these people were bizarrely dressed, the archbishop was following clear pastoral and canonical principles in giving them Communion. The default is, you give Holy Communion to one who presents himself.” -SF Chronicle, 10/17/07

    PS: Even the Chron’s token Repug columnist, Debra Saunders, who as often as not is a card carrying cunt, disagreed with O’Reilly on his show—and got shouted down by him for it—and in her column. BUT do NOT subscribe to the juvenile “just ignore him and he will go away” school of non-thought. O’Reilly is watched by millions of VOTERS who swallow his lies as eagerly as Ted Haggard swallowed Mike Jones’ cum.

  23. Mike says

    When an average Joe looks at these “sisters” does he see charity? No, he sees grotesque looking “drag queens”. Why are so many people supporting this mess when all they do is make the lot of us look bad? Charity, yes! But by dressing up as some ridiculous character off “Sesame Street live from Hades,” you kind of defeat the purpose and actually regress gay rights.
    I know that many will throw stones at me and call me boring but c’mon peeps, do you really want these people representing you?

  24. Paul says

    Great, Leland, so you loathe anyone who exploits the gay community to raise attention or money. So I guess that means you hate all AIDS fundraisers, SF street festivals, and Pride events? (Well actually I’m tired of Pride events, but…) You hate anyone—in drag or not—who brings attention to gay-related issues and tries to deliver charity? By extension, do you hate efforts that try to alleviate global poverty because it’s “cheap” to use pictures of starving Africans, and believe that simple facts will convince the ignorant hordes of the need for change and caring?

    My point: the only way to get people’s money is to get their attention. Approaches vary.

    Your insults of Debra Saunders are equally absurd. Yes she’s conservative—but she also provides rational, intelligent explanations for her opinions. I often don’t agree with them, but at least she’s concise. As for the millions of voters following O’Reilly, they’re already immune to voting differently—not to mention, I don’t see what elections are in peril from two SF queens receiving communion.

  25. Paul says

    Mike, pay less attention to the package and listen to the voice. However people want to look is their choice, and the outlandish ones certainly understand the repercussions of doing so. In high school and college in the 1980s I had varying colors of hair (blue, cranberry…), but also had a 4.0 GPA. Even still, a few years ago I also used to think the Sisters were a tad extreme—until I spoke with one of them. They are caring, intelligent people (many of whom have experienced a lot of pain) who want to make other people’s lives less painful. Period. Anyone intelligent learns young that people come in many forms, and that it’s no big deal. These guys did nothing disrespectful—makeup and feathers aren’t weapons.

  26. Leland Frances says

    As your college GPA, Paul, apparently did nothing for your ability to “read with comprehension,” let me spell it out for you. Hold out your hand, Helen.

    I loathe anyone who exploits the gay community [or other issues] for attention and/or money FOR THEMSELVES primarily rather than the cause. And, having observed the Sisters up close from the first time they set high heel in the Castro, I quickly concluded that was their primary motivation. They’ve even gotten the SF Chronicle to accept a priori their claim that they’ve raised a million dollars for charity. Maybe they have. Hooray, but at what sociopolitical cost to the very people the dollars help? And the logical fallacy is that they needed to do the drag to raise a single dollar. Quick, notify the Red Cross and every other organization that raises money that freak shows would have their coffers overflowing.

    If makeup and feathers weren’t “weapons,” these ATTENTION deficit disorder queens would try something else. Are you too young to have noticed the escalation, as it were, of drag of such people as Lady Bunny. If her wings getting any bigger she’ll have to apply for license plates. They, like screaming louder, have one basic purpose—again, to get attention. I have no problem with that per se but when they go public and let people think that they represent all gays, then, as a gay man, I have a right to challenge that. Just as you would not want ME saying I speak for you.

    As for your own personal encounter with them, that’s nice but it does nothing to enlighten the thousands of insulted Catholics and homophobes generally. Nevertheless, I REPEAT, I have no particular problem with what they did at that Mass. WE were just unlucky that a camera was present, though, I bet you a thousand bucks Les Soeurs were thrilled.

  27. Leland Frances says

    Correction: If Lady Bunny’s wigs get any bigger she’ll have to apply for license plates.

  28. Mike says

    Paul, unfortunately makeup and feathers are weapons used against us in fundraising for the religious wrong and conservatives. They are also used against us in efforts to turn out conservative voters.
    I don’t have anything against the sisters at all. I am sure that most mean well and are good people. But if most gay guys went around dressing like them, we would have no poltical power or respect. They have a place in gay culture but to turn millions of Catholics against us is not a wise choice.

  29. Flamer sans Brains says

    The Sisters are the absolute definition of charity. These “ladies” tirelessley give of themselves for the betterment of the gay community. The way they cake themselves in greasepaint and gawdy gowns is an inspiration to those sitting on the sidelines thinking “what can I do to make this a better world?”
    Anyone who dares question their gay-perfection and commitment to making a spectacle of themselves is a self-loathing, right-wing, hate-monster. Praise the sisters!!!!!!!!

  30. mike says

    Jesus would have invited them to the table and have them share in the “agape”. The priest doth protest too much since he knew who they were. He gave them communion willingly and knowingly. Bill O’Reilly is an asshole. I watched that show and his “rant” was a marvel to behold: phony, contrived, and ragingly insincere. The sad thing is, O’Reilly will probably get even more ratings over this.

  31. Paul says

    There will always be freaks in the gay community. There will always be someone to take pictures of them. And some people will always hate us, no matter what we’re wearing.

    I just can’t imagine that anyone with a modicum of intelligence and the slightest exposure to modern media would ever think that all gay men dress like the Sisters or that they somehow represent all of us. People, even conservatives, generally understand that there’s a diversity of views and appearances in any social, ethnic, religious, or other group or organization.

  32. el polacko says

    apparently, the archbishop doesn’t know the rules of his own church. the only reason to deny someone communion is if they are in a state of unforgiven ‘mortal sin’. assuming that the sisters have not murdered anybody lately, there’s nothing for which to apologize. the sisters are catholics who presented themselves to receive communion.
    there’s no dress code.. nor was there any protest or provocation in their doing so.
    they thanked the archbishop for a beautiful service and thanked him for being inclusive.
    and i would wager that they have done more good works of charity that anyone else in that congregation. one of the worst things about these religious folk is that they don’t even know anything about their own religion !

  33. Daniel says

    Leland getting upset over someone trying to get attention. I haven’t laughed so much since Nancy Reagan told me not to take drugs.

    The Sisters are a great part of the gay community in San Francisco and have been for a very long time. They put on the first AIDS fundraiser and have continued to work since then. They don’t need to defend themselves to the likes of Leland–they are active in the community, they don’t just sit at home and type on websites.

  34. el polacko says

    .. as for the sisters’ make-up and dress which seem to send eveyone, str8 and gay, into a tizzy : this kind of gentle jostling of the conventions of the church go back to the middle ages. the church heirarchy took the ribbing good-naturedly, knowing that it served to humanize them and make the church more accessible to the common folk. all this modern ‘outrage’ is manufactured and ahistorical.

  35. Tex says

    It’s time we as a community focus on something meaningful, like Brittney custody battle, Lindsey’s rehab, or Ellens stolen puppy….