Gay Catholics Mixed on Cordileone
Gay Catholics in the Bay Area and elsewhere offered mixed reactions to the Vatican’s announcement that Oakland Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone has been named the new archbishop of San Francisco.
The blog Whispers in the Loggia first broke the news stateside of Cordileone’s appointment, playing up Pope Benedict XVI’s "courageously bold - or stunningly brazen - American appointment" of a "lead hand behind the U.S. bishops’ national effort to defend the traditional definition of marriage."
It’s a jarring juxtaposition: A visible and outspoken Catholic bishop who opposes same-sex marriage installed as archbishop of arguably the nation’s gayest city.
"This is a clear slap in the face to the local community," said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a national LGBT Catholic advocacy organization.
"Bishop Cordileone has proven himself to be an anti-gay activist, who encourages and promotes discrimination against LGBT people," Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. "The appointment sends a chilling message that, in the eyes of the hierarchy, same-sex relationships are not worthy of equal dignity and respect."
"It’s a sad day for the Catholic Church," said Jim Salt, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Catholics United, a nonpartisan, nonprofit social justice Catholic advocacy group.
Cordileone’s new assignment "affirms a trend that has been in ascendance for 20 years now, which is that [the late pope] John Paul II’s ’Yes’ men are increasingly rising to positions of power; and it’s resulting in a more rigid ideological expression of the faith, less about being an inspiration to the culture and more about applying a rigid orthodoxy to all things Catholic," said Salt.
Closer to home, one reaction was even more pointed.
"This was a great gift for Oakland," said Kara Speltz, Catholic chair of Soulforce, an LGBT advocacy organization. In referring to Cordileone’s departure, she added, "My condolences to San Francisco. But I am so glad that he is out of here. He’s vying to be one of the worst bishops in the country."
In his new position, Cordileone will oversee the Diocese of Oakland, along with several other California cities. He is set to be installed October 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, for whom San Francisco is named.
While some LGBT Catholics, gay rights leaders, and allies reacted sharply to Archbishop-designate Cordileone’s appointment, other responses were more nuanced, conciliatory, and hopeful.
An upbeat statement from Dignity/San Francisco, a chapter of the national organization, extended a "welcome" to Cordileone. "We long for unity and collegiality within our church," said Ernest Camisa, chapter secretary and local spokesman.
"Catholics believe that God works in mysterious ways," he added. "Perhaps the spirit will work through his appointment to accomplish a change of heart, or at least allow members of our church with differing perspective to enter into a new dialogue."
The Reverend Brain Costello, pastor of Most Holy Redeemer parish in the Castro, is in agreement with Camisa’s approach.
"Let’s take a wait and see attitude," he said over the telephone. "I am inviting [Cordileone] to celebrate Mass here and get to know the community."
Costello, who has known the archbishop-designate for some time, also said that Cordileone "will listen."
"We need to open up a dialogue with Bishop Sal," said Costello. "Not to change people’s minds." Rather, "so that people have a better understanding of the other side’s point of view."
There is little doubt where Cordileone stands on marriage equality.
During a July 27 press conference that was live streamed from St. Mary’s Cathedral, Cordileone, 56, spoke to the challenges and strengths of San Francisco archdiocese, in response to reporters’ queries.
Traditional marriage, he said, is a "foundational good. One of the challenges [here], including all through the West, is the erosion of family life, the break-up of families, children growing up without their parents, especially their fathers."
"Children deserve to have a mother and a father. We need to do everything to strengthen marriage. It’s the greatest good we could do for children," said Cordileone.
Pressed further by reporters he explained, "Cultural challenges revolve around family life. Essentially it comes down to our understanding of the human person, the purpose of human sexuality, and how God calls us to live, and how he calls us to love."
"What that means," he explained, is that there are "philosophical and foundational issues that manifest themselves in the cultural issues we face today."
During the Proposition 8 campaign, Cordileone, then based in San Diego, cut a high public profile, leading the charge for the same-sex marriage ban and raising significant sums of money ($1.5 million) to ensure the constitutional amendment would appear on the ballot. Prop 8, which voters passed four years ago, bans same-sex marriage.
More recently, Cordileone raised eyebrows when he asked the Berkeley-based Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministries to sign oaths of "personal integrity," a request CALGM’s leadership has refused.
Both actions and words characterize the prelate’s persona. Cordileone’s most famous sound bite is one he made comparing advocacy of same-sex marriage to a plot by "the evil one."
Most Holy Redeemer parishioner Matt Dorsey offered his thoughts about that comparison. Most people, including Catholics, "just roll their eyes," he said over the phone.
"I accepted a long time ago that the head of the Catholic Church is Jesus Christ. Popes, bishops, and cardinals don’t have much bearing on the spiritual life I have," said Dorsey, who is gay and an elected member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee.
Asked why he remains in the church, Dorsey said, "There are no accidental parishioners at Most Holy Redeemer" where the church welcomes and supports gays, lesbians, transgender people form all over the area.
"There is something special here. It reminds me of where I grew up," said Dorsey.
Another parishioner offered additional thoughts.
"I don’t foresee Cordileone’s appointment having much impact on LGBT and allied Catholics or Most Holy Redeemer," said Eugene McMullan. "We are well acquainted with the anti-gay strain of church teaching and this particular bishop’s involvement in anti-gay activism. He doesn’t like us, and consistently implies that our relationships harm children. He thinks we are in league with the evil one. What can you say to that?
"I would like to think he just doesn’t know us, but my scholarly training was in history and theology, not psychology. Perhaps he is homophobic; perhaps a careerist; perhaps a traditionalist who sincerely but naively hopes to turn back the clock," said McMullan who recently earned a doctoral degree in history from the Graduate Theological Union.
And yet, "it will be an adjustment to think of him as my bishop, said McMullan, who is a lead organizer of Catholics for Equality in California.
Non-Catholic gay clergy were upbeat in their view of a new San Francisco archbishop.
"I hope that his appointment will continue to open opportunities for dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the LGBT community," said the Reverend Tommy Dillon, the out rector of St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, located in the city’s Diamond Heights neighborhood.
While disagreeing with Cordileone’s views on marriage, Dillon said, "I’d encourage him to listen to our stories, to be part of our routines and table conversations, and to worship and pray with us, and especially to break bread with us."
"The church has long believed that marriage is a way in which God can be incarnated and made manifest in the world," Dillon explained. "I’d like [Cordileone] to meet the many faithful gay and lesbian families I know who are blessing the world with God’s presence by and through their relationships."
The Reverend Jim Mitulski, director of worship and campus pastor at the Pacific School of Religion, and pastor at New Spirit Community Church, also finds seeds of hope in the advent of Archbishop Cordileone.
"My dream is to find an issue we both care about passionately, say immigration," he said over the telephone, referring to the LGBT community and the archbishop. "Immigration is a critical issue of our time. In California, gay people have not distinguished themselves in solidarity on the issue of immigration. We have acted more like the dominant culture," he said.
Ordained in the Metropolitan Community Church, Mitulski, who was raised Catholic, also spoke of his experience in "theological dialogue" with Cordileone and other theologians.
Over the course of a year and a half, Mitulski said, he and other theologians asked Cordileone for two things. One, "please, don’t legislate legal and social policy from your church’s doctrine," Mitulski explained. And two, "think about the impact of your language on people."
"We got further with the second point than with the first," he said.
"The purpose of the dialogue was to see if we could find a way to talk about each other in public discourse that was more civilized," said Mitulski, explaining that the Cordileone did not want to be called a "bigot," while gay people told him they did not want to be called "morally disordered."
Also important to keep in mind, Mitulski said, Cordileone "is a very smart guy. He does listen, but he has a fundamentally different, pre-modern view about procreation and the role of men and women. His views on men and women are more at play here than issues of sexuality. He is clear in his convictions and it’s clear he is not going to change."
At the same time, gay Catholics in church ministry also see signs of encouragement. "CALGM remains in active dialogue with Archbishop-designate Cordileone," said Arthur Fitzmaurice, the group’s resource director. "We were encouraged last week when [Cordileone] said, ’We need to continue to learn how to be welcoming, to let [LGBT Catholics and their families]a know that we love them.’"
In his assessment, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo pointed out that because, "Bishop Cordileone’s record on LGBT issues has not been welcoming," he may well "have to learn to be more sensitive and pastoral" in San Francisco, "which has a large LGBT Catholic community and very active and organized groups and parishes of LGBT Catholics. The experience of working with such a vibrant and diverse community can help him grow personally and pastorally."