San Francisco female priest and gay Catholics react to selection of Pope Francis

Pub date March 21, 2013
SectionPolitics Blog

Victoria Rue, a female Roman Catholic Priest, leads a small community of renegade Catholic worshipers in San Francisco. Ordained by a trio of female Bishops on a boat on the St. Lawrence Seaway in 2005, she’s part of a growing international movement to dismantle the longstanding ban on female clergy and push the Catholic Church in a more liberal direction. Although Rue was excommunicated shortly after her ordination, she continues to consider herself a Catholic.

Contacted by the Guardian shortly after Pope Benedict stepped down last month, Rue said, “It’s just as much my church as [former Pope Benedict] Cardinal Ratzinger’s church.” She regarded his resignation as a welcome, if limited, opportunity to push the church in the direction of inclusivity.

But that’s a tall order to say the least; the Pope selection process is fundamentally flawed, Rue says, since “women are left out completely from the process.”

And while Rue said the selection of Pope Francis showed some sensitivity to the church’s changing constituency — “The fact that he is Argentinian is definitely a positive sign” — the newly chosen pope also pushed for legislation to ban gay marriage and gay adoption in Argentina. The church’s conservative values are entrenched: When it comes to LGBT rights, female priests, and contraception, the incoming Pope isn’t likely to budge.

“There is extremely limited hope for a new direction in the Church,” said Tom Piazza, a member of Sophia in Trinity, a San Francisco Roman Catholic church.

Piazza, who is in his 70s, says he grew up Catholic but felt alienated by the Church’s conservative tone — and local Catholics like him are increasingly at odds with the Roman Catholic Church. While it continues to champion conservative social mores, the majority of local Catholics now support gay marriage, according to a recent Field Poll.

The San Francisco Archdiocese is currently headed by Salvatore Cordileone, a major proponent of Prop 8. Cordileone served as the chairman of The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ subcommittee for the defense of marriage, and his appointment to the San Francisco Archdiocese was widely understood as an effort to rein in the city’s diverse Catholic community.

The  ideological rift between parishioners and the hierarchy is most apparent at Most Holy Redeemer Church, in the Castro — home to San Francisco’s active gay-Catholic community. The parishioners at Most Holy Redeemer routinely clash with conservative church leadership. Bishop Cordileone has even suggested that the Church’s gay couples refrain from taking communion.  

Father Brian Costello, the priest at Most Holy Redeemer, recently removed a picture of former Pope Benedict XVI from the Church after parishioners raised concerns about the Pope’s homophobic leanings. In a letter to the community, Costello expressed hope that with the selection of a new Pope, gay Catholics could work to “embrace the Pope and the Church, even when they don’t accept us.”

Jesuit Priest Donal Godfrey, author of Gays and Grays, a history of the gay Catholic community at Most Holy Redeemer, sees the ascension of Francis as a welcome opportunity to change the relationship between San Francisco’s Catholics and the church leadership.

“I want to get away from the dynamic of always getting put in our place. Instead of being smacked on the head and being told we are not good Catholics, we should create a space where we aren’t frightened to share our truths,” he told the Guardian.

At Sophia in Trinity, Rue echoes Godfrey’s concerns and hopes that the new Pope Francis will allow local Catholics to collaborate more closely in her community. “In the future, if a parish wants to work with a woman priest, maybe they won’t get their hand slapped by the Church hierarchy.”