Nuns, Bishops, and Athletes All Opine about L.A. Dodgers’ Catholic LGBTQ+ Controversy

The controversy involving the Los Angeles Dodgers’ decision to honor the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (SPI) for their charitable work has continued with seemingly everyone weighing in, from women religious to baseball players to bishops.

As Bondings 2.0 previously reported, the controversy erupted after anti-LGBTQ+ Catholic groups criticized the Dodgers for their plans to honor a local SPI chapter at the team’s Pride Night game this June, claiming SPI was an anti-Catholic group. The Dodgers then disinvited and later re-invited the SPI chapter amid a national back-and-forth discussion between proponents and opponents of LGBTQ+ equality. Ultimately, the Dodgers will now honor SPI members at Pride Night. The controversy is, however, far from settled, and below are some developments.

Catholic Sisters Respond

Last week, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, published an open letter on Bondings 2.0 commending the Dodgers for honoring SPI for its charitable efforts. Gramick wrote, in part, “The choice of clothing, even if offensive to some, can never trump the works of mercy.”

This letter prompted the National Catholic Reporter’s executive editor Heidi Schlumpf to ask other women religious how they felt about the controversy. Sr. Barbara Battista, justice promoter for the Sisters of Providence in St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana and vocal LGBTQ+ advocate, framed SPI as entertainment, commenting:

“My take on all this is ‘good for them. To my mind, it’s just bringing the Gospel to the marketplace. I have no trouble with that. . .[It could even be] a tribute to sisters and what we do. We live a life of service, and that’s what they do.”

Likewise, Sr. Nancy Corcoran, CSJ, who accompanies transgender people as part of her ministry, explained:

“‘Living in Missouri with the constant persecution of trans humans, I rejoice with the joy and healing craziness of the Sisters [of Perpetual Indulgence]. Their outfits are off putting and yet they challenge the desire of the few that wish all nuns need to be in habits.'”

However, Sr. Luisa Derouen, OP, a leader in transgender Catholic ministry, took an alternate position. Schlumpf reported:

“[Derouen] has always found drag shows to be demeaning to women, not entertaining.

“And she finds the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence personally insulting, especially given how actual Catholic sisters have often been at the forefront of supporting LGBTQ people. ‘Women religious have been, and continue to be, [their] best allies in the Catholic Church,’ Derouen said.

“The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence ‘do marvelous work. I don’t deny that at all,’ she said, but her voice cracked as she added, ‘But why do they do it at our expense? Why do they have to degrade my life to do it? To me, it feels like dragging my life in the mud. We don’t deserve that.'”

Schlumpf also included further comments from Gramick:

“Gramick told me that, despite her own offense at their use of garb that is personally meaningful to her, she tries to put herself in the (high-heeled) shoes of the group of drag queens. In the past, she has spoken to members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence on at least two occasions, and learned that many of them have been severely hurt by the institutional church.

“Some have been called vermin, told they are going to hell, been thrown out of the confessional or refused funerals, all because of who they are, Gramick said.

“‘This is their way of expressing their hurt,’ she said. ‘My discomfort is nothing compared to what some of these individuals have suffered.”

Conservatives Seek Boycott

Where Catholic sisters seek dialogue and understanding, several right wing Catholic figures and organizations persist in their attacks against the Dodgers, reported America. Criticism also came from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and of San Francisco, as well as the Diocese of Orange.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas condemned SPI’s work as “blasphemous,” noting that while the group has worked to support people with HIV/AIDS, “they now promote ideologies that have the effect of condoning sexual promiscuity, the behavior that was responsible for the spread of AIDS and the deaths of many individuals with same-sex attraction.”

Elsewhere, Bishop Robert Barron of Rochester-Winona, Minnesota, called SPI an “anti-Catholic hate group” and joined the right-wing group Catholic Vote in calling for a boycott of the Dodgers.

LGBTQ-Negative Athletes Weigh In

Three Major League Baseball players spoke against SPI being honored. Trevor Williams, a pitcher for the Washington Nationals who is Catholic, tweeted that the Dodgers are discriminating against Catholics. Two Dodgers players, Clayton Kershaw and Blake Treinen, were also critical. So far, no players have offered public statements supporting Pride celebrations.

Other Responses

 The controversy has prompted numerous commentaries in both faith-based and secular publications. Michael O’Loughlin, a gay Catholic journalist who has interviewed many sisters involved with AIDS ministry, wrote in America:

“The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, with their over-the-top costumes, are implicitly ridiculing these heroic women. It is not easy to separate their humor—some of which is undoubtedly motivated by religious trauma but some clearly by anti-religious bigotry—from the cruel ways Catholic sisters have too often been portrayed in popular culture. . .For the sisters I know, it would take more than a man in a silly costume telling bawdy jokes to offend them. Still, I cannot quite shake the feeling that the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are, at least in some ways, punching down.”

Kaya Oakes, a Catholic author and LGBTQ+ advocate, defended SPI’s members in Sojourners, noting Catholic norms around gender are not, in view of church history, all that settled. She writes:

“As a Catholic born and raised in the Bay Area, for me, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have always been a welcome sign of hard work, acceptance, and tolerance. In the ’90s, when Catholics largely turned their backs on people with AIDS, the Sisters rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Today, when queer kids turn up in the Bay Area having been rejected by their families and churches, the Sisters are there for them. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence marched with me and my friends at ACT UP rallies in the worst days of the AIDS epidemic; I once saw a Sister in full drag garb picking up trash in a park while rich techies tossed garbage onto the grass. . .

“It’s too soon to tell if this kerfuffle will push even more Catholics out of the church. But what it reveals about the lack of mercy many Catholics have in their hearts should be far more shocking than the sight of anyone dressed like an old-fashioned nun with a beard.”

What’s Next? 

The Dodgers have announced that, in addition to Pride Night, they will also hold a Christian Faith and Family Day later this summer, leaving most critics dissatisfied and reinforcing the false idea that being LGBTQ+ and being Christian are oppositional identities.

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, June 5, 2023

5 replies
  1. Robert E Nee
    Robert E Nee says:

    Too bad so many of our bishops & other folks waste so much energy on this innocuous event. How about working for banning assault weapons, supporting a welcoming immigration stance and the other corporal works of mercy (like the sisters do)!!!!

  2. Tom Rowan
    Tom Rowan says:

    This discussion lines up pro and con on either side of the divide concerning LGBQT and the Dodgers. SPI lived out their mission celebrating life being lived. Those supporting them celebrate life. Those speaking out against the Sisters and the LGBQT react from a place of condemnation rather than celebration. The divide is quite wide. A bridge across the divide may be possible with faith, hope, and love as shown by Jesus in his ministry.

  3. Rick in Los Angeles
    Rick in Los Angeles says:

    Maybe many LGBTQ,etc. couples should attend the faith and family night. Not as a protest or an action – but quietly and without fanfare, just to show how “normal” (not the best word) we are. When my husband comes up in conversation in my Catholic parish, I treat is nonchalantly. I believe we will only become “normalized” when WE stop looking at ourselves as “other.” – There is no “other” in Jesus’ eyes.

  4. Rosa Manriquez
    Rosa Manriquez says:

    Where was the support for US sisters and nuns when the Vatican sent investigators to interrogate them. This caused real trauma. There was the threat of spiritual violence. I don’t remember seeing anyone from the outraged voices handing out leaflets in support of the sisters in front of the Chancery in 2012.

  5. LA Sandra
    LA Sandra says:

    This was sent to the group planning the protest on June 16 –

    As a Catholic with Evangelical roots, I deeply understand the outrage at the public blasphemous antics of the Sister of Perpetual Indulgence over the years. As a spiritual director who works with members of the LGBTQ+ community longing to find their place in a church (Catholic and Protestant) that has rejected, scorned and called them disordered- all in the name of Christ, I understand what is driving these blasphemous antics. I understand that Christians feel compelled to pray and protest in a public manner at Dodger stadium on June 16. I wonder if that public display will do anything to reveal the true Christ to those they claim to be trying to reach. I wonder what would happen if these Christians publicly repented for the way the church has treated the LGBTQ+ persons over the centuries and displayed love and forgiveness to those attending the game and being honored. Instead of focusing on their own “persecution,” I wonder what message would be heard if these same Christians focused on their sins and publicly asked for forgiveness for the “secret blasphemy” in their own lives and of their leaders. The only group Christ admonished were the religious leaders of His day who put heavy spiritual burdens on the people that they could not carry themselves. “White washed sepulchers” he called them for making public displays of their piety but containing rotting flesh on the inside. “Let He who is without sin cast the first stone.”

    As season ticket holders, my husband and I will be at Dodger Stadium this Friday along with our son and his husband, who are more welcome at a ballpark than at a church. As you are conducting your “prayerful protest,” in the name of Christ, remember that you ARE Christ to the thousands of fans who will observe you but know they are not welcome at your churches. What would Jesus do?


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