LOS ANGELES (OSV News) — A demonstration described as a “prayerful procession” drew thousands of people who opposed the Los Angeles Dodgers’ honoring a controversial drag group June 16 at the baseball team’s annual Pride Night event.
The “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence” — who don drag-style makeup, religious habits and names such as “Sister Jezabelle” and “Pope Dementia the Last — were recognized by the Dodgers for their group’s charity work. The team presented its Community Hero Award to the group’s Los Angeles chapter during a ceremony before the Dodgers’ game against the San Francisco Giants.
From the time the Dodgers announced the decision to honor this group, several Catholics expressed dismay and condemnation, saying that the group is anti-Catholic for its portrayal of women religious and other Catholic imagery.
Back in May, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles had said that 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” had caused “disappointment, concern, anger, and dismay from our Catholic community.”
According to its website, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — founded 1979 in San Francisco as a decentralized organization counting an estimated 1,000 members globally — use “humor and irreverent wit,” often sexual in nature, “to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt.”
The June 16 procession against honoring the group took place from 3 to 7 p.m. According to the LA Times, roughly 2,000 demonstrators marched along Stadium Way to Vin Scully Avenue at around 5 p.m., which resulted in police and security briefly closing access to the stadium’s main entrance. One of the event’s organizers told a local Fox station that more than 5,000 people were in attendance.
At a Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels earlier that day, Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez said that only through the Sacred Heart of Jesus and his love can Catholics and the church persevere through persecution. Nearly 2,000 people attended the Mass for healing and reparation as a response to the Dodgers’ decision, according to Angelus, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
“Jesus commands us to forgive those who trespass against us, and to pray for those who persecute us,” Archbishop Gomez said during his homily. “And he taught us to oppose what is wrong and ugly, with what is beautiful and true. Just as he did.”
“When God is insulted, when the beliefs of any of our neighbors are ridiculed, it diminishes all of us,” said Archbishop Gomez in his homily during Mass marking the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. “When we reward such acts, it hurts our unity as one city and one nation, as one family under God.”
The demonstration later that day was in part organized by Phoenix-based Catholics for Catholics. The group had discouraged political signs and advised people against bringing children to the rally because it anticipated “hostility from anti-Christian protestors,” The Associated Press reported.
Several of the participants, many wearing red shirts in honor of the Sacred Heart, carried rosaries and signs with religious imagery and messages in support of religious sisters and against the Dodgers and the group. Among the messages were calls to “stop disrespecting sisters.” Other protestors invoked Jesus’ plea while being crucified, recorded in Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do.” A sign read “satan has no rights.”
Before the game, the LA Sisters — who were founded in 1995 — maintained they have been unfairly characterized, telling OSV News that “most events detailed in the media that have shown offense were done by other, independent Sister houses, and we cannot speak for them.”
The June 16 procession started in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium at 3 p.m. to protest with prayers, music and special guest speakers. Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Texas, led a prayer rally before the procession, according to LifeSiteNews, a co-sponsor of the event.
Counter-protesters also were present, according to media reports and Reuters photos of the event. Catholics for Catholics stated on its YouTube channel that the game had fewer attendees than usual; the Dodgers reported an above-average turnout, with 49,074 people in attendance. According to Baseball reference, which includes attendance data of games, the team’s Pride Night last year had 52,505 attendees. Footage of the awards presentation showed a small crowd in the stadium, but the LA Sisters group was honored during a pregame ceremony held about an hour before the first pitch was thrown out to officially start the game.
The Dodgers’ invitation had been briefly withdrawn in May after protests but was reinstated with a public apology to the group from the team. The team’s follow-up decision to host a July 30 Christian Faith and Family Day drew criticism from several Catholic leaders, including Bishop Robert E. Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota — previously an auxiliary bishop for the Los Angeles Archdiocese and a critic of the team’s decision to honor the drag group — who said in a May 26 tweet the move was “not enough.”
On June 12, LA’s Archbishop Gomez released a joint statement calling on Catholics in the U.S. to pray and make reparations to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the day of the game.
“We call on Catholics to pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart on June 16 (Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus), offering this prayer as an act of reparation for the blasphemies against our Lord we see in our culture today,” said Archbishop Gomez, along with Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB); Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee for Religious Liberty.
In their statement, Archbishops Gomez and Broglio and Cardinal Dolan said the Dodgers had “shockingly chosen to honor a group whose lewdness and vulgarity in mocking our Lord, His Mother and consecrated women cannot be overstated.”