Most Reverend George Niederauer,
Archbishop of San Francisco
1 Peter Yorke Way
San Francisco, CA 94109
November 8, 2008
I am writing to urge you to right a great wrong.
You have used your influence to amend the California Constitution to remove civil rights the Supreme Court found there, and imposed on Californians a heavy burden they should not have to bear.
I understand perfectly well that your Church teaches you marriage is an arrangement between one man, one woman, and God, a sacrament that goes back to the Council of Trent. I respect your right to follow that tradition and urge Catholics in your care to do the same.
I know of your work in caring for those whose self-loathing has led them into drugs and prostitution, for those who have fallen victim to AIDS, for those seeking a way to stay in the arms of the Church despite its insistence there is something fundamentally sinful about them. I know you are a good man trying to be a good priest, and on a personal level I share with Catholics and other non-Catholics of the San Francisco Bay Area respect for your good works.
But something terrible has just happened with the passing of Proposition 8 that makes me see you in a very different light.
Surely you must be aware that the Yes on 8 Campaign was founded on deceit. It suggested Barack Obama was in favor of the proposition when he was not. It based its entire pitch on protecting children – a homophobic trope since the days of Anita Bryant. It railed against “activist judges” when anyone who took the trouble to follow the May 15 decision knows how earnestly these good men and women lived up to their role as guardians of the Constitution and behaved honorably. It encouraged people to vote their fears and suspicions, not their understanding of the great American tradition of equality under the law. How could you have put your reputation on the line with such as these?
You might have done as Obama did, and let it be known your views differed from those who were opposed to Proposition 8, but simultaneously recognize that this does not entitle you to subvert the spirit of the laws of the state in which we live.
Instead, you got into bed with Mormons and Evangelical groups known for insisting real Americans are Christians and others are merely to be tolerated, to impose your will on those outside your faith traditions – unlike Quakers, Congregationalists, Unitarians, Reform Jews and others, whose love of God does not make these demands of them.
What will come of this decision remains to be seen. My guess is your parish at Holy Redeemer will lose much of their Catholic heart, and many will seek spiritual guidance elsewhere. You can chalk this up to the cost of doing business, if you will. Elsewhere hearts will surely harden against the notion that churches should have tax-exempt status. Bitterness, anger, and rage will be expressed until the gay community finally learns to channel once again these powerful emotions into constructive rebuilding of the edifice of freedom you have knocked out from under them. Your church may ride this out; this may also accelerate its evident decline as it sinks in around the Bay Area just what you have accomplished.
You are not solely responsible, of course, for this outpouring of grief, despair and anger. But you surely bear a good portion of responsibility. One may forgive those whose knowledge of the history of the separation of church and state was weak, and whose understanding of democracy and the voting booth ends with the expression of selfish desire, those who do not understand their freedom ends where others’ begins. One expected more of you.
I write you in the hope that you might come to see what harm you have just done. You live where you can see the beauty of gay and lesbian families up close, the ways they raise their children, the way they struggle to make life meaningful and good, the way they seek God. I was encouraged to write when I read that you were able to separate priest abuse from homosexuality, and saw Brokeback Mountain as being about the destructiveness of not being honest with yourself. Your experience, one hopes, might enable you to speak to power of the truth of the evil of institutional homophobia.
But, more importantly in the present instance, you could do so much good if you were to come forward and admit that removing the constitutional rights of California citizens was not an appropriate act for any member representing a religious body.
Please, Your Excellency, right the wrong in which you have just participated.
Alan J. McCornick