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The Archbishop of No

Regardless of what San Francisco’s Catholics may want, anti–gay marriage crusader Salvatore Cordileone won’t let the flock push him around.

Roz Gallo, a San Francisco Catholic who married her female partner of 20-plus years in 2008, hopes for common ground. When she heard about Cordileone’s appointment, her first thought was to welcome him. “There’s room for dialogue,” says Gallo, an office manager at a Peninsula law firm. “Immigration, social justice, those are my concerns, too. I’m also Sicilian and raised in Southern California. Perhaps I’m Polly-annaish, but I think that if [the archbishop and I] met, if he heard my views, we could change his mind.”

That refrain is not repeated by Father Brian Costello, the new priest at the Castro’s Most Holy Redeemer, one of the country’s leading gay-friendly churches. Upon arriving last July, Costello welcomed everyone at his first mass, from the young, old, and gay to the “traditional, questioning, and fervent.” He went on, however, to institute some less-than-progressive new policies. Groups not affiliated with the church can no longer rent the church’s social hall—and no more drag queens. In recent years, organizations like the Castro Country Club, a sober gathering place near the church, had rented the space for fundraisers. But when videos of drag performers at the parish hall were uploaded to YouTube in June, the archdiocese flipped. “I have to keep triple-X entertainment away from the church,” Costello says.

Though the new policies preceded Cordileone’s installation, some congregants and longtime observers of Most Holy Redeemer say that the new archbishop’s presence and his investigation of CALGM have further sent a chill. “He’s not going to swoop down to the Holy Redeemer and yell, ‘Stop your gay outreach!’” says DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry. “It’s far more nuanced than that. People might censor themselves, modify things a bit.” Costello responds by saying that he needs to draw some reasonable lines. “I walk a tightrope,” he says.

Cordileone might just leave Most Holy Redeemer alone. There are larger national struggles afoot, and with the Prop. 8 win in his back pocket, he has “moved to the top of the pile in the Vatican,” says Georgetown’s Reese. Conventional wisdom among conservatives has it that the church must work against more electoral wins for gay marriage. And yet, cautions DeBernardo, “the polls show that more and more Catholics support marriage equality. It’s a losing battle. At this point, our political campaigns are just speeding up history.” Much depends on the Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of Prop. 8 and the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples. A decision is expected by June. In December, within hours after news broke that the court would examine the two gay marriage cases, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement on its website. In it, Cordileone called on the justices to protect the institution of marriage, “which is as old as humanity” and protects “the most vulnerable among us, children.”

At the Sunday service after the court’s announcement, Cordileone’s homily referred to winter, “when darkness is at the maximum.” He talked of the violation of things sacred and foresaw “restoration.” After mass, one young parishioner who lives near St. Mary’s spoke to me in the parish café. Like other congregants with whom I spoke, she agreed with the church’s right to protect the sacramental character of marriage. But she would also like to see Cordileone ease up. “I’m hoping to hear something from him that sounds compassionate,” she said. “I hope he doesn’t blow it.”