LA Dodgers’ ‘Drag Nuns’ Honor Marks a ‘Tipping Point’ in Religious Bigotry

NEWS ANALYSIS: An increasing number of Californians believe that their faith-based values and institutions have been marginalized in a state that preaches tolerance but operates under a double standard.

Dodger Stadium, with close-up of the logo at the centerfied entrance, is seen in Los Angeles on June 29, 2021.
Dodger Stadium, with close-up of the logo at the centerfied entrance, is seen in Los Angeles on June 29, 2021. (photo: Steve Cukrov / Shutterstock)

LOS ANGELES — Timothy Halpin grew up 10 minutes from Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and still recalls Kurt Gibson’s legendary home run that propelled the Dodgers to the 1988 World Series title. 

“I was 11 years old when I watched Gibson’s home run with my dad,” Halpin told the Register. “It solidified my obsession with the Dodgers, and I have followed them every year since.”

So when Halpin learned that the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence,” a “drag nuns group,” would be honored by his team during a June 16 Pride Month event, the Catholic father of eight promptly conducted an internet search to learn more.

What he found on the drag group’s website did not reassure him.

The group describes itself as a “leading order of queer and trans nuns,” who provide “outreach to those on the edges,” and employ “humor and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit.” 

As Halpin studied the graphic sexual images from the organization’s annual “Hunky Jesus” Easter Sunday event conducted at a public park in San Francisco, he took note of the often sacrilegious names of its members and considered its motto, “Go forth and sin some more,” he felt betrayed and immediately registered his objections.

“I sent an email to the Dodgers’ marketing director and fan feedback line,” he said. “I told them that honoring a group that mocks religion is not [an expression of] tolerance; it is bigotry. If it continued, I could no longer support an organization that has brought me so much joy.” 

Halpin was not the only Dodgers’ fan to cry foul. News of the award provoked a local and national outcry, and the team acted swiftly to contain the damage by retracting the honor.

Then LGBTQ activists and their allies in the California Legislature pushed back hard to defend the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. And the Dodgers reversed course for a second time, reinstating the plan to honor the group.

Halpin severed contact with his beloved team. 

The simmering dispute — with both parties strongly contesting the facts asserted by the opposing side — highlights both the deeply polarized nature of what passes for civic discourse in modern America and the growing intrusion of the culture wars into once safe spaces, like Major League Baseball.

While a slew of secular media stories offered a benign portrait of the organization as a “charity and satirical protest organization,” the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights posted a list of the group’s most egregious comments and actions on its website. 

And even as the Dodgers scrambled to defuse the controversy, Anheuser-Busch, producers of Bud Light beer, was still grappling with a devastating consumer boycott over its social-media promotion with a transgender advocate, and a Twitter executive resigned amid an uproar over the platform’s handling of tweets about What Is a Woman, blogger Matt Walsh’s documentary that questions gender-affirming medical treatments for minors. 


Marginalized Values

But in the Golden State, an increasing number of Californians view the Dodgers’ award to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence as a “tipping point” for many Catholics and Christians who believe that their faith-based values and institutions have been marginalized in a state that preaches tolerance but operates under a double standard. 

Indeed, despite Church leaders’ strong objections to the organization’s anti-Catholic profile, state lawmakers honored Michael Williams, who goes by the name “Sister Roma,” a member of the group, during a June 5 event at the statehouse in Sacramento.

The California Catholic Conference (CCC) condemned the honor, noting that the state Legislature has frequently called out “acts of hate, but today … chose to elevate them.” 

“Lawmakers praised a member of a group that actively disrupts our Masses, events and even steals our sacred Eucharist,” read one portion of the conference statement. 

During an interview with the Register, Kathleen Domingo, the CCC’s executive director, questioned why Democratic lawmakers who described themselves as “feminist” would celebrate a “misogynistic group of men that dress up in drag to mock” women religious who serve the neediest. 

On the day Williams was honored, Domingo gathered with Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders, and organizations like the California Family Council, for a solemn prayer vigil on the west steps of the Capitol. 

The furor has convinced many onlookers that people of faith must join ranks to defend their beliefs and practices. 

“We need to get away from the idea that the bishops have to do everything,” Chris Plance, a father of five and a theology instructor at St. Monica’s Academy, in Montrose, told the Register. “We lay Catholics need to shift our mindset, follow the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, and take action in the temporal sphere.”


Signs of Trouble

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco applauded lay action in defense of the faith and told the Register that “complacency” had been partly to blame for the Church’s present predicament. Over the past 20 years, the Church has faced “increasing restrictions on our religious liberty: We are not allowed to practice our faith to serve the poor and needy in accordance with our principles,” said Archbishop Cordileone.

He ticked off the signs of trouble, like the closure of Catholic adoption agencies that refused to place children in homes headed by same-sex couples and the federal government’s effort to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to incorporate the contraceptive mandate into their employee health plans. 

“Now,” he told the Register, “we are seeing the mockery of what Catholics hold sacred being celebrated in the culture.”

To better respond to the challenges ahead, he said, the faithful must be more proactive about educating themselves so they can spread the word and have an impact. It will be important to “get politically organized and elect candidates who support justice for all and not just for some.”

But the San Francisco archbishop also acknowledged that he had become increasingly “cynical” about California lawmakers and their willingness to respect and defend the rights of their Catholic and Christian constituents that don’t align with a socially progressive agenda. 

During the pandemic, the San Francisco archbishop faced an uphill battle as he pleaded with local authorities to ease restrictions on religious worship, even as department stores, marijuana dispensaries and other businesses operated with considerable freedom.


Statue Vandalized

And when protests for racial justice during the pandemic resulted in the vandalization of Catholic statues and other church property, the archbishop found it tough to make his voice heard.

This May, he was deeply disappointed when the Marin County District Attorney’s Office reduced the charges from a felony to a misdemeanor in a 2020 case involving an attack on a St. Junípero Serra statue located at Mission San Rafael Arcángel, the present-day home of St. Rafael Church in San Rafael. 

District Attorney Lori Frugoli has defended her handling of the case, noting that the reduced charges came with conditions, including payment of restitution and participation in meetings with a restorative justice practitioner who works in the district attorney’s office.

But in his interview with the Register and in a letter to Frugoli, the archbishop contended that local law enforcement had used a double standard for prosecuting cases involving Catholic victims. 

The archbishop noted that he had been the one to press for a restorative-justice process before the trial, but the mediator appointed by the DA’s office had excluded him from meetings with the defendants, though he was the legal representative of Catholic victims harmed by the attack.

“[I]f the same kind of offense had been committed against another religious congregation or group, it would almost certainly have been prosecuted as a hate crime,” he told Frugoli. “Now, with this decision, the Marin County District Attorney has given the signal that attacks on Catholic houses of worship and sacred objects may continue without serious legal consequences.”

Frugoli’s handling of the case distressed some local Catholics, and Joe Tassone, a leader of a protest group called Catholics of Marin, organized a gathering after the district attorney resolved the case.

“There is no rule of law being followed,” Tassone told the Register. “With any other house of worship, it would be a felony.”


Anti-Catholic Bigotry

But if Californians like Tassone feel blindsided, Catholic scholars and others who have studied the past struggles of the Church in the United States are not surprised by recent high-profile disputes pitting Catholics against state lawmakers, local law enforcement and even the marketing departments of sports teams.

Anti-Catholic bigotry in this country was “inherited from Protestant England, where it was officially held that Catholics were disloyal to the state because they were loyal to a foreign power, that they were adherents to superstition and practitioners of inquisition, and that they did not support liberty,” Daniel Philpott, professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, told the Register.

Catholic immigrants struggled to prove their patriotism and celebrated the game-changing election of John F. Kennedy, the first president of the United States who identified as a Catholic. Today, however, anti-Catholic prejudice takes a different form, Philpott observed. 

“Vile scorn of the Church is leveled by parties, such as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and the destroyers of the Junípero statue, by partisans of the sexual revolution who are hostile to the Church’s teachings about marriage and by people who want to link the Church to the oppression of Native peoples and minorities.” 

But Carl Trueman, the author of Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution, also suggested that the furor over the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence marked the convergence of several new trends that have made life more difficult for people of faith.

“[G]ood citizenship is increasingly defined by acceptance of bespoke identities, especially sexual and gender identities,” Trueman, an evangelical, told the Register in an email exchange, and as a result “traditional Christian communities … are increasingly seen as bigoted, seditious and subversive.” 

Meanwhile, Trueman said, family holiday gatherings and professional sporting events, “where people used to be able to relate in a manner that did not require political conformity … have now become politicized.” And, at the same time, “the mobilization of commercial power as a way of enforcing these new terms of citizenship bypasses traditional branches of government,” making it harder for ordinary Americans to weigh in. 

Trueman said that “the disrespect shown to Archbishop Cordileone simply shows the feeling of strength that radicals now have in such an environment.”


Ideological Supermajority

These problems may be more acute in the Golden State, where progressive Democrats now command a supermajority in the state Legislature. Moreover, Gov. Gavin Newsom has signaled his intention to use the economic power of his state to influence the policies of major U.S. corporations, and that means the “California effect” could help drive national trends. 

“What happens on the coast works its way into the interior,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, told the Register. “Every baseball team has ‘Gay Pride’ nights, and the Church hasn’t objected to this.”

But the Dodgers’ decision to honor a group that deeply offends many Catholics, he suggested, also serves to remind the public that “once you cross that threshold,” fans may have little say over which “heroes of the gay lifestyle” are honored and whether sports teams will have their back.

Still, Archbishop Naumann, a baseball fan, found “cause for hope” in recent reactions to related developments in the news, like the unrelenting boycott that punished Anheuser-Busch for its marketing blunder. “Christians are finally pushing back and saying, ‘We won’t be your customers if you participate in things we find offensive.’” 

Catholics “should be prepared to object to actions that are blasphemous, but also be willing to reach out and dialogue with people with whom we have a disagreement,” he said.

Asked whether he thinks California, or even the nation, was moving toward a tipping point in the culture wars, the archbishop instead took the opportunity to refocus the discussion on what really matters. 

“There is much evidence to say we live in a post-Christian age. We are living in an apostolic age,” he concluded. And yet, “in one sense, it is an exciting time to be a Catholic because everybody needs to know what we have, in terms of the love of God revealed in Jesus and our destiny to live an abundant life in this world and in eternal life.” 

Thus, as Catholics like Tim Halpin and Joe Tassone grapple with this challenging time, the Kansas City archbishop offered sage advice to guide their path.

“We need to be clear, but also live the Gospel in a way that is attractive to all people,” he said. “I have hope that the culture can be reclaimed.”

This story was updated after posting.

Over the past several weeks, the Dodgers have demonstrated a cringe-inducing cravenness in the face of woke pressures.

The Wimps of Summer

COMMENTARY: The Dodgers’ kowtow to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is a blatant illustration of the sorry fact that anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice in American elite culture.