Archbishop Cordileone vs. Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

By strongly condemning the growing anti-Catholicism around us, Archbishop Cordileone also rebukes the tepid response of many Catholic leaders and ordinary Catholics to this evil.

Pentecostal fire still burns brightly in San Francisco.  

It blazes from the episcopal throne of Archbishop Cordileone, most recently in his exceptional editorial in the Wall Street Journal. He trumpets a sanguine defense of the Church, so unusual for his kind. But it is not the first time he has broken ranks with the greater number of his episcopal confreres (the Pelosi affair comes to mind).  

Not to put too fine a point on it, but with studied prudence and a marked fidelity to the duty of a Successor to the Apostles he has governed the See of San Francisco with the steadiness of St. Cyprian or St. Denis. With the Apostolic persistence of St. Athanasius, the meticulous scholarship of Aquinas, and the sonority of Bossuet he boldly inserts the voice of Mother Church into the ears of a diseased secularism.

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In that bracing editorial for the Wall Street Journal, he calmly called to task the Los Angeles Dodgers’ recent decision to give a “community hero” award to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who are, in the Archbishop’s words, “a group that perversely dresses up as nuns while encouraging lewd and sacrilegious behavior.” Cordileone names this appalling gesture for what it is: “the latest example of mainstreaming derision of the Catholic Faith.”

These are the kinds of episcopal words that make Catholic hearts race. His temperate, albeit firm, tone sunders the decades-long inertia that seems to have entrapped much of Catholic officialdom. Cordileone’s words are like Kafka’s axe, when the existentialist novelist wrote in another context, “the purpose of the novel is to take an axe to the frozen sea inside us.” Cordileone wields not the novel’s axe but the Church’s.

San Francisco’s archbishop precedes those words by reciting a long list of anti-Catholic bigotry in America’s past, among them:

  • In 1834, a frenzied mob attacked and burned to the ground a convent of Ursuline nuns outside of Boston. The act was the culmination of years of anti-Catholic preaching and aggression toward the Church’s property. None of the firemen present intervened, and some reportedly joined the riot.
  • Later that century, the Know Nothing party emerged to suppress the rights of German and Irish Catholic immigrants, fearful of a Catholic conspiracy to take over the country.
  • Not long after that, the Ku Klux Klan began to terrorize black Americans, Catholics, and Jews. In 1921, an enraged Klansman fatally shot Fr. James Coyle after the priest celebrated the wedding of the gunman’s Catholic-convert daughter to a Puerto Rican man. The killer was acquitted at trial by a Klan-filled jury at a trial presided over by a Klansman judge.

The archbishop then reminds his audience that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reports that “at least 260 incidents”—attacks on Church property—“have occurred across 43 states and the District of Columbia since May 2020.” He continues, 

Catholics in the San Francisco area have weathered our share of attacks in October 2020, protesters trespassed on to the property of Mission San Rafael carrying paint, tools and rope with the intention of desecrating and destroying a beloved statue of Saint Junipero Serra. Five perpetrators were later charged with felony vandalism.

All these facts have been reported and, for the most part, forgotten. Little known was that on May 25th, the Marin County district attorney’s office decided to resolve the case through “an innovative restorative justice solution” reducing the charges to a misdemeanor if the defendants were willing to say “I am sorry” and pay an unspecified sum toward restitution. The archbishop concludes, “worse yet, officers from the San Rafael Police Department saw the crime in real time and decided to “‘observe the demonstration and not intervene’ for fear of escalation.”

With rare clarity of mind and even rarer common sense for these times, Cordileone summarizes, 

history teaches that when we don’t treat religiously or racially motivated crime seriously, we will see more and more worse aggression. Already we are witnessing what such laxity has wrought across America. Transgender activists on social media have threatened heinous violence against Christian “transphobes” who don’t subscribe to their ideology.

Bravo, Archbishop Cordileone!

He brings to mind the stirring words of St. John Chrysostom:

Let us then come back from that altar like lions breathing out fire, thus becoming terrifying to the devil, and remaining mindful of our Head and of the love which He has shown us.

One wonders why similar outrage was not expressed by ordinary Catholics across the country. If such acts were committed against Muslims or Jews there would have been howls of indignation. And rightly so. Why have Catholics been mute to such attacks on their Holy Religion? Could it be that they no longer consider their Religion holy? Could it be that a half-century of diluting Catholic identity has taken its toll? Could we be harvesting the fruits of decades of pulpits and Catholic schools teaching that nothing defines Catholics except a treacly “God loves you” catechesis?  

For most Catholics, the rich content of the Faith has been leveled to a saccharine do-goodism that stands for nothing. Catholic doctrine is as unknown to most Catholics as the Bhagavad Gita. For most Catholics, the rich content of the Faith has been leveled to a saccharine do-goodism that stands for nothing.Tweet This

Moreover, our once mighty Catholic university/college system has been transformed into a reliable feed for the Woke Left. Their classrooms have been turned over to a steady diet of anti-Catholic grievance at best and hearty draughts of transgressive Catholic theology at worst. Such students would have no reason to defend their religion. Likely, we would find them leaping upon the bandwagon that Archbishop Cordileone deftly decries.

Aside from all of this, there is the scandalous silence of a good part of the American hierarchy to such anti-Catholic bigotry. Catholics have long been taught to obey their leaders. I suppose they do. 

What is a Catholic to think when so many of their leaders have been mired in hopeless deadlock over such an obvious issue as entrance of pro-abort politicians to the Holy Eucharist. Or the muddled problem of admitting divorced and remarried Catholics to Holy Communion? Or the generally deafening quiet on the burning issue of transgenderism and the nature of Christian Marriage between a man and woman?

Catholics are not fools. They learn by silence, or near silence. No surprise that many Catholics reading Archbishop Cordileone’s intellectually coherent words might believe them to be harsh or overwrought. Such remarks are déclassé to the newly-minted Catholics of a redressed religion of accommodation rather than doctrine.

An example of this attenuated Catholicism is the one that Cordileone cites in his editorial. Of course, he reports the incident with exquisite charity and cultivated Romanitas. With all that, he does report it. To the disgrace of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ award to the anti-Catholic group, the Archbishop of Los Angeles “has asked us to respond to the outrage in a deeply Christian fashion: namely, ridding any resentment in our hearts and reaching out to our communities’ Catholic sisters.” Now, now. Isn’t that kind of pusillanimity tantamount to watching an old lady being mugged and responding by taking out your rosary? We love the Rosary, but the situation calls for much more.

Cordileone responds to such a thin response with a thoroughly measured priestliness, “That’s important, but faithful Catholics would also do well to warn their political leaders from becoming modern Know Nothings.”  

A perfect riposte.

It is time for trumpets, not whispers. The time for détente has ended.

Cordileone has set the match to the rotting timbers of a post-Vatican II “kneeling before the world.”

Other lit matches must follow.

Author

  • Fr. John A. Perricone

    Fr. John A. Perricone, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor of philosophy at Iona University in New Rochelle, New York. His articles have appeared in St. John’s Law Review, The Latin Mass, New Oxford Review and The Journal of Catholic Legal Studies. He can be reached at www.fatherperricone.com.

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