The Los Angeles Dodgers’ decision to host a July 30 Christian Faith and Family Day does not allay concerns and outrage over the team’s plans to honor a self-described “order of drag, queer and LGBTQ+ nuns,” Catholic experts told OSV News.
“This is not a quid pro quo,” said Kathleen Domingo, executive director of the California Catholic Conference. “You can’t have a night where you invite one group that is openly bigoted towards another, then invite that other group. Why do you have to encourage inclusivity at our expense?”
On June 5, Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto is leading an ecumenical prayer vigil sponsored by the California Catholic Conference at the state Capitol in Sacramento, in response to the state Senate’s plans to honor the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw called for the relaunch of the club’s annual Christian event, which had been on pause since the COVID pandemic, after the team said it would proceed with feting the LA Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence during a June 16 Pride Night game. The invitation had been briefly withdrawn after protests, but reinstated with a public apology to the group from the Dodgers.
According to its website, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — founded 1979 in San Francisco, are a decentralized organization counting an estimated 1,000 members globally — that uses “humor and irreverent wit,” often sexual in nature, “to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt.” Members don drag-style makeup, religious habits and names such as “Sister Jezabelle” and “Pope Dementia the Last.”
In April, the San Francisco Sisters group held its annual Easter Sunday party at a San Francisco park, featuring a “Foxy Mary and Hunky Jesus” contest, with costumed participants parodying the events of Holy Week and the Triduum to a laughing crowd.
The LA Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — a separate, self-described “house” of the broader organization and the one at the heart of the Dodgers’ controversy — began in 1995 and was set to receive the Dodgers’ Community Hero Award for charity work.
In an email to OSV News, a member who goes by the name Sister Unity said that “a number” of the LA Sisters “are practicing Catholics,” with one in Los Angeles “a deacon (who) helps families bereaving the loss of a family member.”
The Dodgers’ Kershaw, a devout Christian who along with his wife founded the faith-based charity Kershaw’s Challenge, told media he disagreed with the team’s call to honor the Sisters, and approached the team about reviving the Christian family night event.
“I don’t agree with making fun of other people’s religions,” he said in a May 26 interview with the Los Angeles Times. “It has nothing to do with anything other than that. I just don’t think that, no matter what religion you are, you should make fun of somebody else’s religion. So that’s something that I definitely don’t agree with.”
Teammate Blake Treinen backed Kershaw, saying in a May 30 statement that the Dodgers’ recognition of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence “disenfranchises a large community and promotes hate of Christians and people of faith.”
Washington Nationals pitcher Trevor Williams said in a May 30 statement that “as a devout Catholic” he was “deeply troubled” by the Dodgers’ decision, which was “a clear violation” of the team’s own discrimination policy banning “conduct or attire at the ballpark … deemed to be indecent or prejudice(d) against any particular group (or religion).”
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles said in a statement the Dodgers’ “decision to honor a group that clearly mocks the Catholic faith and makes light of the sincere and holy vocations of our women religious who are an integral part of our Church” has caused “disappointment, concern, anger, and dismay from our Catholic community.”
In addition, the archdiocese called on “all Catholics and people of goodwill to stand against bigotry and hate,” and to support both religious liberty and women religious.
Bishop Robert E. Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, also denounced the Dodgers’ decision to honor the LA Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
In a May 25 video posted to Twitter, Bishop Barron, a former LA auxiliary, said the Sisters “can only be described as an anti-Catholic hate group.” He noted that “there’s a long tradition in our country of anti-Catholicism,” often described as “the last acceptable prejudice in America.”
Apparently referencing the San Francisco group’s Easter gathering, Bishop Barron said that “for Catholics, it’s hard to imagine anything more offensive” than parodying “the most sacred moment in history for Catholics.”
“Suppose this group had dressed up in a kind of simulacrum of a rabbi and had done something deeply disrespectful to the Torah, or … (in a) mockery of a Muslim cleric or imam, and then had desecrated the Quran. What would the reaction be?” he asked.
Bishop Barron said in a May 26 tweet the Dodgers’ Christian family night was “not enough,” adding that “if you really want to reach out to Christians, don’t celebrate anti-Christian hate groups.”
Archbishop Naumann said the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence “openly mocks Catholic beliefs, and their actions are nothing less than blasphemous.”
However, the LA Sisters maintain they have been unfairly characterized. In an email to OSV News, Sister Dominia — who heads the Los Angeles branch of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence as “a gay Catholic who went to Catholic school,” and “loves and respects Catholic nuns” — said that community is “not mocking nuns or Catholics,” and that “most events detailed in the media that have shown offense were done by other, independent Sister houses, and we cannot speak for them.”
“We are devoted to charity work and we raise much needed funds for local nonprofit charities,” said Sister Dominia.
But the group’s charitable efforts do not mitigate its parodies of Catholic faith, said Archbishop Naumann.
“Though the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence historically advocated for the underserved population of victims of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, 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,” he told OSV News.
Both the Leadership Congregation for Women Religious and the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious declined requests for comment from OSV News.
Throughout American history, “Catholic sisters, because of their traditional religious garb, have been an easy target for parodies,” Kathleen Sprows Cummings, professor and director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame, told OSV News.
Serving in education and health care, nuns were “the public face of the Catholic Church” in the U.S. for much of the 19th century, alternately admired and considered “suspect,” Thomas Rzeznik, associate professor of history at Seton Hall University, told OSV News.
Following World War II, “the image of the nun in a habit became a source of playful amusement” in film and television, he said.
At the same time, both Cummings and Rzeznik said that nuns (even without the traditional habits) continue to mystify and challenge the culture, since their way of life — which embraces poverty, service and celibacy — starkly contrasts with accepted norms.
Rzeznik noted that the controversy over the Dodgers’ decision “speaks to how we need to be careful about any sort of religious and cultural appropriation.”
“Sisters’ habits and other religious garments are not costumes,” he said.