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Editor's note: Since so many readers felt compelled to vent about George Cothran's April 7 column, "Sisters of Perpetual Conspiracy," we decided to uncork the vox populi and let it flow.

Free Speech, The Inquisition, Papal Supremacy, Bonnets, Lenny Bruce, Withcraft, Birth Control, Civility, and Other Reflections on the Meaning of Easter

Thanks to George Cothran for staking out a rational position in the recent row between local Catholics and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Such thoughtful analysis regarding this kind of issue is hard to come by in a city where pseudo-progressive political posing is the foundation of political life, and the very raison d'etre of the Board of Supervisors.

William Samuel Tobben
Bernal Heights

Wow, did George Cothran have a bee in his Easter bonnet, or what? To say I was astonished at his rantings and ravings about the now-infamous Easter Day street party in the Castro is an understatement. I didn't realize that under the skin of this journalist beat the heart of a Pat Robertson, or the Pope.

Talk about needing to "let it go." Get over it George, the party went on, the archdiocese had its say, and everyone is ready to move on. I have no intention of responding to any of his theories about the Sisters or Tom Ammiano. The Sisters are guaranteed the right of free speech as much as the archdiocese is guaranteed the right of freedom of religion. Sometimes these two principles clash -- but that's what our country is supposed to be about.

It would have been reprehensible to me if the Board of Supervisors had disallowed the party to go forward. No person, religion, or organization has the right to dictate what is acceptable. We live in a democracy, not a theocracy -- and thank God for that.

As a gay, HIV man, I respect anyone's right to their opinion. I respect George's right to express his views. But I wonder how he'd feel if some religious organization went to his editor and said, "We hate that story, it's offensive, and we want it stopped." I'm sure George would have more than the fit he had about the Sisters.

What I really got from George's column was that it appears that people are beginning to feel threatened by the gay/lesbian community and its political power. In reading between the lines, I got the impression that George is telling us queers that we've gone too far and offended straight society. Well, George, get over it! This community is not going away.

One last thing, I was very amused by George's listing of all the wonderful things and people that are, in his mind, the Catholic Church. In particular, his reminding us that Catholic Charities was one of the largest AIDS service providers in the city. That is correct, but most of their money comes from local, state, and federal funds. There's that evil government again. I'm grateful for the services Catholic Charities provides, but that doesn't give the archdiocese the right to dictate morality to the community.

While George was making his list, he failed to mention that the Catholic Church is responsible for the Inquisition, the brutal torture and murder of thousands of women accused of witchcraft, complicity with the Nazis by allowing countless Italian Jews to be sent to death camps, leading the fight against a woman's right to choose, and condemning gay and lesbian people as less than human because of our "sins."

I welcome the archbishop's overtures of reconciliation. However, I fear that won't help. As long as he continues to call for the passage of anti-gay legislation and demands that our community bend to his will, there can be no room for reconciliation.

Jerry T. Windley
The Castro

I really appreciated reading George Cothran's opinion piece about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. I am a good liberal and supportive of gay rights. However, I agree with Cothran that the supervisors, but more importantly the Sisters, should have been more sympathetic to Catholic concerns. His thought exercise illustrating Catholics making fun of gays on the anniversary of Harvey Milk's assassination illustrated his point clearly and pointedly.

While the sisters may choose to mock religion, they could learn from some of its tenets: "Do unto others ..." is one that jumps to mind. Perhaps learning the Hail Mary prayer would be appropriate as well.

Brett Evans
Via Internet

George Cothran just doesn't get it. The Catholic Church has no right to be respected on Easter Sunday, or any other day. Thanks to the First Amendment, Catholics, whether archbishops or parishioners, do have the right to speak out and assemble to try to earn respect from the community.

The same First Amendment, coupled with the Fourteenth Amendment, fortunately prohibits the mayor and Board of Supervisors from denying a permit to assemble to any group, whether Catholics or the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, based on who they are or what their message is. Tom Ammiano, Mark Leno, and seven other supervisors were right to not revoke the Sisters' permit to assemble just because another group, the Catholics, objected to the Sisters' message on Easter or any other day.

The First Amendment protects speech and assembly, no matter how objectionable or offensive. It does not protect anyone from being offended. Despite Cothran's ranting, there is no more to this story.

Carl Stein
Noe Valley

Give George Cothran the Alicia Becerril award for vicious attacks. Becerril I can understand. She's Willie Brown's mouthpiece, going after Tom Ammiano, the only politician who can give Willie a run for his money in the mayoral race. The strategy was transparent -- knock Tom down a few pegs in front of the city's powerful Catholic vote.

But what's Cothran's problem? Has he forgotten that the First Amendment doesn't specify that the content of one's free speech has to be cleared through the archdiocese? If speech offends, that's all the more reason to protect it. Remember Lenny Bruce? The only olive branch Archbishop William Levada can offer queers (this one among them) is to speak out when we're murdered (he remained conspicuously silent when three recent gay bashings happened); to start teaching tolerance towards queers and others in his school system (I went to Catholic School for 12 years, so I know how bad it is); and to lay off politics (like the upcoming Defense of Marriage Act).

I don't expect Levada will do any of these things. Frankly, I don't think he gives a damn if queers are murdered or discriminated against. When's he ever said otherwise? Levada's a politician. He may have his eye on the throne of Rome. For certain he's going to use his new newspaper as a vehicle to influence politics in this city. Doesn't that violate his tax-exempt status?

I sure hope the IRS is watching. Willie's no better, of course. He took advantage of the situation to set up Ammiano as the fall guy. And Cothran fell for it, blaming the powerful gay community, instead of seeing the more obvious motives of the archbishop and the mayor. Not too swift, this Cothran.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca
The Castro

While I agree with George Cothran that holding a rally on Easter Sunday was probably not the smartest move the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence could have made -- at least if they want to win support for gay rights at the ballot box -- I strongly disagree that the city should have denied their permit.

No city government serves as a guarantor of polite (or even civil) public discourse. When a group makes an application that satisfies all the usual criteria regarding traffic, safety, etc. the city may not deny the permit based upon the group's views, or the content of their protest, however offensive it might be. Besides, you can't blame gays for having some negative feelings concerning Christians. How many times can you kick a dog before it will bite you?

Mike McCulley
Atlanta, Ga.

I was a little surprised at George Cothran's siding with the Catholic Church in his column, but totally baffled when he threw in the absolutely ignorant quote that the Catholic Church is "a leading force behind liberation in Central America." Examples? He gives us none.

Have you ever been to Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, or Honduras? Spanish conquistadors (good Catholics) forced those they didn't kill to convert to a religion that has kept women popping out children they cannot support (witness Guatemala City, Rio, and Sao Paulo's legions of homeless children), prevented them from having any choice in the matter, and from getting divorces. The mind-boggling poverty of these countries is largely based on the fact that there are too many babies being born.

If you call that a liberating religion, then you're as out of it as the Pope.

Cynthia Walker
Inner Richmond

In our review of A Long Day's Journey Into Night ("The American Canon," Stage, April 14), we misidentified the actor playing Edmund. His name is Jason Butler Harner. SF Weekly regrets the error.


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