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Week of June 4, 2003

Is That a Crucifix in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

Give accused priests the benefit of the doubt, for Chrissakes: The good long article by Ron Russell on Archbishop Levada was marred by a spirit that the accused are guilty until proved innocent ["See No Evil," May 21]. The American way is that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Levada has been one of the few Roman Catholic bishops in this country attempting to weed out sexual perpetrators and also protect the civil rights of accused priests.

Father Daniel Carter is a case in point. The allegation against him stems from an event that may have taken place 26 years ago. There is enough doubt in it to make it appropriate that a priest with a clean record for 26 years is innocent until proven guilty and restored to active ministry.

Robert Warren Cromey
San Francisco

The bad apples are few: As a Roman Catholic, I'm always looking for different views of the abuse scandal. Russell's article takes a side that has been totally ignored in that he covers the story of Father Conley, who turned in a pervert in the ranks (I can't call them priests).

It may strike readers as strange that Conley's case is not the only one that has been largely uncovered. There have been stories (like on Court TV) about other priests who have done this. What is also left out of most stories about this subject is that there are priests who have been getting cleared of abuse charges, in Boston and elsewhere, that no one ever hears about.

In fact, a recent New York Times study estimated that less than 2 percent of the 46,000 priests in the U.S. have ever been accused of this crime, which does not whitewash the issue at all, but shows that all the stereotyping against the Catholic priesthood has ignored the innocent clergy who have been falsely accused, as well as those never accused.

Russell's article makes a bad move in the beginning, when it speaks of the "watered-down" zero tolerance policy of the bishops in Dallas. In fact, it is because the Vatican got involved in that policy that it was as strict as it is. It states, tell me if I'm wrong, that one accusation against a clergyman that is proven true merits immediate expulsion from the priesthood. Maybe this is why Bishop McGrath, as soon as he arrived from Dallas last year, immediately kicked two abusers from the priesthood -- doesn't sound like a "watered-down" policy to me, and cheers to McGrath for doing what he did.

Most of the accusations against priests are from people who allegedly experienced these events years ago -- some dead priests have even been accused. What also needs to be looked into is the fact that so many of these cases involve not children, but teenaged boys, like the Conley case. So it needs to be asked how many teenaged boys, in this time and place, would let another man touch them in a solicitous manner? Are these relationships consensual? If so, is there an equal burden of guilt here?

This doesn't ignore the true victims of abuse, but it makes questionable many other cases of accusers, who seem to be going for the big bucks, regardless of who they have to sue -- in this case every man, woman, and child of whatever Catholic diocese these alleged crimes take place in.

Guy Sudano

Ride, She Said

If you don't pedal with us, shut your pie hole: Matt Smith just doesn't get it, does he ["Critical Masturbation," May 14]? When's the last time he rode in Critical Mass? Like anything else, a few rowdies can give a lot of people a bad reputation. The majority of Critical Mass riders are polite. And recently, they have included many members of Bikes Not Bombs. With peace placards and anti-war signs, they are hardly lawless. And writing about Critical Mass along with Bike to Work Week makes Smith just as ignorant as those folks who think the San Francisco Bike Coalition and Critical Mass are one and the same. One has absolutely nothing to do with the other.

Smith writes about Critical Mass as though it is a monolithic institution. Nothing could be further from the truth as the riders change all the time, and that is precisely the point -- it's sponsored by no one, and led by no one, every month on the last Friday.

Has Smith checked out the Web site, He'll notice that Critical Mass, which started in San Francisco in 1992, is now a worldwide phenomena in hundreds of cities all over the world, including all of the cities he mentions in his column. He should check it out, and then check out the next Critical Mass ride. Then he'll understand the euphoria of bikes taking over a street normally filled with cars, and why this is so popular worldwide.

San Francisco will never forget about Critical Mass. But maybe, just maybe, we can forget about Matt Smith.

Marcia Weisbrot
Duboce Triangle

Of PC slaves and tepid establishmentarians: In the 1970s, I regularly commuted by bicycle between the Haight and the waterfront (until I was mugged in the Western Addition one night), no thanks to S.F.'s "fine-grained participatory democracy." Not only does Matt Smith nail Critical Mass, but he so gets San Francisco character in a way that the PC slaves at the Guardian simply cannot, or the Chron's tepid establishmentarians simply will not.

I regret only that he has occasionally digressed to eccentric obsessions: his anti-medical pot haze was a low point of diatribe that unfortunately compromised his clearheaded and valuable reporting on housing and planning issues. But his bigger picture -- a recurrent theme -- of the perils of a political culture of unlimited inclusion (and resultant epidemic NIMBYism) is spot-on. When everyone's an actor in S.F.'s Theatre of All, who dares heed the critic?

Hollis Lenderking
Palo Alto

Sugar gets you more than vinegar, sugar: Smith's take on Critical Mass is spot-on.

I work for a bicycle parts distributor in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minn. Our company is rather progressive in its stance on commuting, whether it is by bike, bus, or carpool. Commuters are credited money to their accounts to use for purchase of the parts and accessories we sell. We have indoor bike storage, locker rooms, and showers.

Minneapolis has its Critical Mass rides too, and while they haven't resulted in the same degree of police crackdown as S.F. has experienced, the same negative feelings toward cyclists result. Put a bike in front of a car with a cyclist egging their animosity on and nothing good will result.

I argue that if bicyclists (especially commuters) would say "hello," "good morning," and act courteously toward those around them when riding, they could do more good in one day than in a whole year's worth of Critical Mass rides.

You can be nice or you can be a jerk. Which will get us farther in the long run?

Michael Riemer
Minneapolis, Minn.

No fear: Thanks to Smith for a very well put and very well thought out article.

I am a cyclist and used to ride from Marin to Second and Mission and back. That ride was fabulous since there was so little time I was with traffic. Living in Switzerland has taught me a whole new type of riding, one where I am not petrified of the drivers. I guess the more we ride (even in California) the more people become accustomed to seeing us on the road. Even the scary French drivers let me pass -- they are used to the cyclists and they love us!

Thanks again, and I am looking forward to coming home and riding to and from work (with my eyes wide open).

Vera Divenyi
Carouge, Switzerland

P.S. And yes, as a driver and cyclist, my car was spit on by Critical Mass -- I guess they didn't see my bike stickers on my car. Jerks with a Patagonia bag named after them.

Violence isn't the answer: Smith said quite eloquently what I have been feeling for a while.

I am all for making the Bay Area safer and more friendly for bicyclists, and have always felt Critical Mass to be thwarting these efforts by creating animosity towards the cause in people who could help. To maybe go a little radical myself, I see Critical Massers as no different than "peace" protesters who resort to violence, or for that matter terrorist extremists of any kind who hide behind a cause just to have an excuse to cause mayhem, chaos, annoyance, hatred, and even death, and in so doing thwart any positive effort and activism that is trying to further an otherwise good cause.

Bless you, Matt. I hope your article helps move not only bicycle activism, but activism in general towards a positive, productive, and peaceful direction, and away from destructive, hateful, regressive mayhem.

Michael Blodgett
Via the Internet

Thanks a Mil!

You're certainly welcome, Stan: On behalf of the rest of our motley crew, I would like to thank you for the recognition of our hard work but also mention that, as in most organizations, good employees are a reflection of their leadership ["Best Hardware Store Employees," Best of San Francisco 2003, May 14].

Having as bosses two brothers who are the grandsons of the founder and whose dad's name is over the front door makes all the difference at Roberts Hardware. Bruce and Steve Smith take great pride in their work and that attitude is reflected in their staff. They take perverse pride in the fact that frequently we spend as much time on a 20-cent sale as on a $20 one.

When asked, they modestly disagree on which is S.F.'s best hardware store. One says Crown Hardware, the other, Cliff's Variety. They are among the most rigorously ethical people I've ever known, much less worked for.

Stannous Flouride
Theater District

Cheers to you, Joe: Thanks so much for the honor of being named "Best Government Employee" and for mentioning the excellence of our campaign finance staff, Frank Lester, Marvin Ford, and Oliver Luby -- all of whom serve the public with commitment.

Your readers may be interested to know that we have a workshop coming up demonstrating the power of our electronic database of campaign finance activity in San Francisco since 1997. It's a gold mine of information for any person interested in San Francisco politics. It'll be in Room 408 of City Hall on Thursday, June 5, at 5:30 p.m. Call 581-2311 to reserve your space.

Joe Lynn
S.F. Ethics Commission
San Francisco


In a May 14 article, the name of the Owl Tree bar's owner was misspelled. It is Bobby Cook.


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