The Catholic parish of Most Holy Redeemer (MHR) in the Castro District of San Francisco has a long history of dissent. Fr. Donal Godfrey. S.J., who wrote the definitive history of MHR described the parishioners stand in relation to the institutional Church as a “defecting in place.”
The transformation of MHR from neighborhood church to what silenced dissident Sister Jeannine Gramick described as “a model for other parishes,” “in terms of how it meets the needs of gay and lesbian people,” did not take place overnight. Probably beginning in the 1980s with the presence of Pastor Anthony McGuire, who tried to respond to the then growing AIDS crisis with noticeable care and compassion; but as sometimes happens, the genuinely concerned have a difficult time recognizing the inherent flaws in the surrounding culture which contributed to the human suffering taking place in front of them. In other words, they often lose the ability to challenge the culture, because they erroneously believe that to do so, delegitimizes the person they hope to console. But this trap becomes almost inevitable in Catholic parishes and ministries when they adopt the secular terms like “gay” and LGBT, or make prolific use of the “rainbow flag.” – Fundamentally, they lose the ability to separate the person with same-sex attraction from the homosexual orientation and or the “gay” community.
From then on, the pastoral approach at MHR has been singularly focused on a welcoming spirit, making people feel comfortable, and, as Donal Godfrey pointed out, “…to accommodate the new reality.” Later, with the next MHR Pastor, Zachary Shore, according to Godfrey: “gay partnerships were almost routinely acknowledged.” By the time Shore left MHR in 2002, a number of openly gay and lesbian parishioners held leadership positions as well as serving on liturgical committees; with the most famous being Patrick Mulcahey, who was vice president of the MHR Parish Council until 2008; in 2013, Mulcahey taught a course in gay bondage for “Daddies,” Masters, and their slaves. The class bio included this description: “He has served as a judge for the International Master/slave and International Leather SIR/boy contests…” Godfrey then described how Archbishop Levada took “an aloof, hands-off approach to the Parish.” In 2012, Fr. Brian Costello became Pastor, but his stay at the Parish proved short-lived.
Soon after arriving at Most Holy Redeemer, Fr. Costello was embroiled in his first public controversy, when he requested that drag performances, which the previous pastors allowed, no longer take place in the parish hall. According to news reports, at the time, openly gay “Parish Manager” Mike Poma asked Costello to reconsider; in an interview, about the incident, Poma said: “I told him, this is just dinner. It’s not a strip show…I told him it was going to be a powder keg.” He continued: “We have to give [Costello] a break…He’s got a boss, you know. And he’s never been immersed in gay culture in his life. He’s learning.”
In 2013, another incident took place following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI from the Papacy; according to Fr. Costello:
“Two weeks ago, after Pope Benedict XVI had announced to the world that he would be resigning the office of Peter as of February 28th, I put the Pope’s picture, that usually hangs in the rectory, in the church. A handful of people told me that they would rather it not be there. They explained that the feeling was while he was Pope, as well as his time as a Cardinal, Pope Benedict had made hurtful and hateful statements regarding the LGBT Community and thus, his picture should not be placed on the altar of MHR. I was also warned, many parishioners would walk out of Sunday Mass if the picture was not removed. I spoke with a close priest friend of mine, and even though both of us were saddened by this, the wisest course, I felt, was to remove the Pope’s picture…..”
The only possible “hateful statements” those at MHR could be referring to is the inclusion of the term “intrinsically disordered” in the 1986 “Letter to the Catholic Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexuals.” In gay-affirmative Catholic ministries and parishes, the term “disordered” remains particularly contentious. From the February 2012 issue of “The New Wine Press,” the official Newsletter published by The Missionaries of the Precious Blood, in an article titled “A Place at the Table: Just Say the Words” by David Matz, C.PP.S., Matz wrote:
“Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered. You can’t believe how powerful a message is sent when people just say these words. In just speaking these words we validate these persons’ realities and the one who hears these words who is LGBT validates their inner most being.”
Following on this celebration of self-identification as “gay,” which in their words, will validate “their inner most being,” Matz continues:
“In ‘saying the words,’ we begin the journey of faith and healing – from stereotypes and prejudices to welcoming and hospitality. We begin the journey from being ‘objectively disordered’ to created in the image of God.”
In a September 1, 2016 Facebook post, MHR stated the following:
Our congregation is 65 – 75% LGBTQ. Many of our parishioners are married to their same-sex partners and have adopted children which are baptized at our parish. BTW, none of the parishioners feel that we are “intrinsically disordered” and we have told that to the Archbishop.
In 2014, Costello requested a transfer. Concerning his departure, he said: “It just didn’t work out. I did the best I could. My best was just not good enough for a lot of people here. There are real challenges here…”
Subsequently, Fr. Jack McClure and Fr. Matthew Link C.PP.S. were assigned by Archbishop Cordileone to MHR from the aforementioned highly gay-affirmative Missionaries of the Precious Blood. The Missionaries, according to their web-page for the Kansas City Province, one of their main apostolates is to the LGBT community. It states: “We bring a radical love to the world through service that affirms LGBT people and works for changes in institutions that cause oppression.”
Despite the questionable theories extolled by The Missionaries of the Precious Blood, they were handed over control of MHR. And early on, McClure made his intentions well-known, when he stated: “We didn’t come here to change anybody.” McClure, after he stepped down as Pastor and became parochial vicar, was sanctioned in 2015 when he showed up at a women’s ordination conference.
In October of 2015, Donal Godfrey headed a retreat for the “Young Adults of Most Holy Redeemer.” In his book “Gays and Grays: The Story of the Gay Community at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church:” Godfrey wrote:
“If God must become Asian or African, then God is also in some sense queer…Is it less appropriate for gays to imagine Jesus as gay than for African Christians to picture him as black, Asian Christians as Asian?”
Over the years, MHR has essentially become a separate church within the Catholic Church; a sort of alternate reality; where Jesus is “gay;” again Donal Godfrey wrote:
“…many of the Catholics at Most Holy Redeemer live out of just such a space, in the same way that Catholics in other parishes practice artificial contraception while remaining Catholics in good standing. Gay Catholics in relationships are in a similar situation. Catholics can dissent and remain loyal despite what some Catholic fundamentalists would want us to believe. Most gay Catholics at MHR do long for that day when the institutional Church will accept and recognize their reality, just as the church now recognizes how wrong we were on slavery.”
In 2015, current MHR “Parish Pastoral Council” member Michael Mazzaferro openly campaigned against a proposed contract and handbook which required parochial school teachers within the Archdiocese of San Francisco to uphold Catholic teachings on homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, contraceptives and artificial insemination. Also in 2015, Mazzaferro wrote a letter to Cordileone, expressing his disagreement with the Archbishop on this issue:
“I feel that the focus of your proposal unjustly targets me and my family. You see, Archbishop, I am a married gay man who, with my devoted husband, chose to adopt two amazing children many years ago…Regardless of your personal beliefs, I trust that you and others can understand just how much this proposal hurts me and my family. In earnest, I feel called out, targeted, bullied.”
On January 2, 2016, the author of the blog “Out of Obscurity: An LGBTQ+ Mormon,” described his experiences when attending a Baptism at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Parish in San Francisco; the child being baptized was the daughter of a same-sex male couple; he wrote:
“Gay couples sat next to straight elderly widows and single twenty-somethings. Seated at the front were my Catholic friend and his husband absolutely glowing with joy, their teenage son, their beautiful baby daughter all dressed in white, and her lesbian godparents.
Towards the beginning of the service, the priest invited the whole clan up to the front of the sanctuary. After the parents publicly committed to love their daughter and raise her in faith, he asked the entire congregation to affirm their commitment to assist the parents in this journey.”
During his 2016 parish visit to MHR, acolyte Nanette Lee Miller assisted Archbishop Cordileone during Mass. In a 2007 MHR Bulletin, Miller was listed as an “acolyte.” According to a 2015 article published in The National Catholic Reporter: “[Miller] grew up Catholic, married, but eventually recognized it wasn’t working. After years of counseling and discernment, she realized she was gay.” In the same article, Millar said: “I think the most important feeling [at MHR]…is its warmth, its welcoming and acceptance.” The article continued: “The experience was so gay-friendly that her partner decided to become Catholic….Miller became increasingly active in the parish, and eventually president of the parish council.”
Miller is a partner at the San Francisco accounting firm Marcum LLP and head of the accounting and advisory firm’s national Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) & Non-Traditional Family Practice group; according to her employer web-site: “Miller founded the Firm’s Modern Family & LGBT Services group in 2012, a full year before the historic overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act by the U.S. Supreme Court.” Miller has been active at MHR since the 1990s.
In February of 2016, the LGBT committee of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood offered a daylong workshop on LGBT issues headed by Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry. After a lengthy Vatican investigation, in 1999, the following “Notification” was published; not only is this an indictment against Gramick, as well as her co-founder of New Ways Ministry Robert Nugent, who passed away in 2014, but a dire admonition to those who wish to confuse and deceive those Catholics with same-sex attraction:
Father Nugent and Sister Gramick have often stated that they seek, in keeping with the Church’s teaching, to treat homosexual persons “with respect, compassion and sensitivity”. However, the promotion of errors and ambiguities is not consistent with a Christian attitude of true respect and compassion: persons who are struggling with homosexuality no less than any others have the right to receive the authentic teaching of the Church from those who minister to them. The ambiguities and errors of the approach of Father Nugent and Sister Gramick have caused confusion among the Catholic people and have harmed the community of the Church. For these reasons, Sister Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Father Robert Nugent, SDS, are permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons…