Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What Makes an Enabler?

If you are familiar with San Francisco, you are familiar with the name Alioto.  Joseph L. Alioto was mayor when I was a student at San Francisco State during the 1968 strike.  It was very heady times.   At the center of our world were organizations like the Third World Liberation Front, Students for a Democratic Society and the Black Panthers, and we were forced to take a position for or against a strike demanding an Ethnic Studies program.  (Not really a choice.  Nobody I knew failed to join in.)  And we had to contend with right-winger S. I. Hayakawa, then university president and later Republican senator from California during the early Reagan era. 

It was also flowers-in-your-hair hippie time in San Francisco’s Haight/Ashbury, Vietnam War demonstrations were growing every year, the Zodiac killer was on the loose and even the police and firemen were striking.   Alioto rode it all out, and the fact that, despite all this, he was given the job of nominating Hubert Humphrey for Vice President at the 1968 Democratic Convention suggests that his place in leftist California and national politics was pretty solid.

Besides his fame as a San Francisco Democratic politician, he was known for his very publicly Catholic family.  His first wife, Angelina, went missing at one point.  When she showed up finally, it turned out she had been making a pilgrimage to all the California missions, allegedly “to punish him for neglect.”

Joe and Angelina had a daughter, Angela, who also went into politics, even becoming president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for eight years.  Since then she has become a noted civil rights lawyer, winning some whopper cases like the $135 million suit against Wonder Bread, and the Mary Kay Cosmetics case.  She also served for a time as vice chair of the California Democratic Party.  Her name catches your attention, so I couldn’t help but read the letter to the editor in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle bearing her signature.

It turned out to be a strong endorsement of San Francisco’s new Roman Catholic archbishop, Salvatore Cordileone.  She was taking issue with a previous article the Chronicle had published the day before.

The headline on your article about Archbishop-elect Salvatore Cordileone (“New Archbishop key in passage of Prop. 8” July 28) should have highlighted his key role in opposing the death penalty, providing housing for the homeless, securing citizenship for undocumented immigrants and working one-on-one with our diverse communities – all major, major issues in our city.

I am delighted to have a new archbishop-elect who is brilliant, who cares for the plight of the poor, who is humble and – you know I have to say this – who is not only Italian but, indeed, Sicilian! (My grandparents on my mother’s side were born in Corleone, Sicily.)

San Franciscans love a debate, indeed we love political conflicts, and clearly there are issues that will be debated.

But, for now, we should celebrate this historic appointment to our great City of Saint Francis.  The only question I have: Is the new archbishop-elect a Giants fan?  That is a must in this city!

Angela Alioto, San Francisco

The San Francisco Chronicle doesn’t identify her as the Angela Alioto I just described.  It is possible there’s another one (although the Chron would be doing some serious mischief if that were the case and they let it go unnoticed – and then there’s the mention of a grandparent from Corleone in Sicily).  But if it is the Angela Alioto I know as the legislator who got through the first no-smoking legislation, worked on programs for the homeless, AIDS education for teenagers, and on Jerry Brown’s campaign for president, the very same Angela Alioto who supports the Raoul Wallenberg Jewish Democratic Club, the Harvey Milk Club and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, this endorsement for Cordileone is one hell of a downer.

Cordileone deserves credit for his opposition to the death penalty, to be sure.  But let’s not forget that’s the church’s official position and Cordileone is nothing if not a perfect party-liner.  Officially, the church is also known to be concerned with the plight of immigrants and the homeless.   I don’t know the man, so I can’t be sure of the degree to which his heart is in these causes.

What I do know is that he is an outspoken member of the conservative faction within the church, trying to move the church back to the days before Vatican II when the hierarchy had clear control over the minds of catholics, back before women started asking for equal responsibilities and status within the church, back before the majority of catholics came around to thinking divorced members of the church should still be entitled to the sacraments and that gay and lesbian people were not disordered.

Cordileone has been called “the father of Proposition 8,”  the campaign that led to the removal of the right to marry gay men and women once had in California.  Cordileone and his predecessor, George Niederauer, got Prop. 8 off the ground.  They worked hand-in-glove with Maggie Gallagher and her grossly misnamed National Organization for Marriage to tap into sources like the Knights of Columbus and the Mormons of Utah and get them to pour millions of dollars into coffers which would buy misleading television ads and ultimately scare the voters into thinking same-sex marriage was somehow a threat to civilization.  A threat which most people ­– Catholics included – no longer perceive, incidentally.

And this brings up an interesting question.  Why is it so many otherwise progressive Roman Catholics still join forces with the retrograde power structure of their church and ignore the pastoral church, the teaching and nursing centers, the folks who care for the poor and who make compassion, not control, the center of their religious faith?  Why are there so many “enablers” like Angela Alioto still convinced that devotion to their Savior requires devotion to the patriarchal structure of this decaying institution?

It’s hardly news that there are two Roman Catholic Churches.  One ­– the one in which the majority of European and American Catholics who have not left the church still hold out hope for – takes its cue from the reform movements of Vatican II in the 1960s.  The other – the monolithic power center old boys' network now fighting for its life – is seeking to roll back time, reinstate the Latin mass in which all attention is focused on the priest, shore up papal authority, shut down efforts to lift the lives of women out of the dark ages, endorse the right to contraception and full control over their bodies which they have long been exercising anyway.  And clamp down hard on the nuns now seeking to achieve equal status and responsibility within the church hierarchy.

Angela is not the only Roman Catholic to come out clearly on the side of the hierarchy.  Whether she enjoys being a member of the ruling circle, whether it’s a question of esthetics, whether it’s longing for a father figure, only she can tell us.  But this all-out endorsement of this nasty piece of work called Cordileone is disturbing.

Go to her law office website, take a look at the good her firm does in the field of civil rights, filing discrimination suits, sexual harassment claims, defending whistleblowers – the list is long and very impressive indeed.  Give credit where credit is due.  Then take note of her membership in an organization known as the Secular Franciscan Order, a group of Catholics who are intent on making sure the focus is on the church pastoral, the approach of the humble St. Francis, for whom Angela’s city is named and for whom she espouses a special devotion  – not the church militant or the church of Father knows best.

Then ask yourself what prompts so many progressive Catholics to throw their weight behind such retrograde forces.  What makes them speak in the same voice as those who would remove the right to effective birth control, to keep gay people in a pariah state, to insist that the right to protect the church should take higher priority over the lives of children.  What makes an Enabler like this?

I just read in this morning’s paper that Richard Muller, the well-known Koch-funded holdout on global warming, has just done a complete turn-around.  He has come to recognize man-made global warming is for real.  Perhaps Angela Alioto can one day leave behind the folks with the money and the power and come to understand the facts on the ground that exist apart from political ideology.  Perhaps she too can experience a turn-around and back off from this disappointing public endorsement of an authoritarian crusader such as Cordileone, a man even the National Catholic Reporter describes as “combative” in the struggle not merely to withhold gay rights, but even to outlaw use of the words gay and lesbian, words he said are “not in the church’s vocabulary.”

What a great way that would be for her to honor the Alioto name.  

What an endorsement that would be for the church we associate with Saint Francis.

1 comment:

Lilly Rivlin said...

so smart, so enjoyed the insights because of your memory of earlier times.