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On the Death of an Archbishop



I take no pleasure in George Niederauer’s death on Tuesday. But I am glad that we’ll never again have to hear his voice: negative, hateful, homophobic. Such is death’s blessing and curse, that it silences all of us, the just and unjust alike.

Niederauer was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco back in 2008, when he led the Proposition 8 campaign to outlaw same-sex marriage in California. He was already an old man who looked as though he had been weaned on lemons and had not enjoyed intimacy with any human being for decades, if ever–an angry, embittered shrew. Not only did he lead the fight for Prop 8, he’s the one who got the Mormons involved—a lovely cult, who gave America polygamy, and many of whose followers to this day are fighting a rearguard action against gay rights.

These so-called “Christian” homophobes always haul out a few sentences from Leviticus and the man, Saul of Tarsus, whom they call Saint Paul, to justify their condemnation of the love that same-gender humans may have for each other. I always wished I could have confronted one of them and asked a simple question: Why do you choose to fasten on a single “abomination” from the Bible and ignore the dozens of others, defined in the Bible as abominations, many of them punishable by death?

Now, before you accuse me of Christian-bashing, I’ll tell you a story about my former friend, the ultra-orthodox Hasidic (Lubavitch) Jewish rabbi of the East Bay, who took a similar stance. In that case, because we were friends, I was able to sit him down and go through every death penalty in the Old Testament. “Rabbi, are you saying it’s okay for parents to kill a child if the child shall strike its parent? Are you really saying it’s okay to kill your wife if she cheats on you?” And so on. Rabbi chuckled each of those away, as well he should have. “No, of course not,” he told me. “God didn’t mean for us to take those literally. They’re metaphors.” But then we came to the infamous passage from Leviticus (18:22). “Rabbi, do you really think it’s okay to kill a man for having sex with another man?” “Oh, yes, certainly,” he said. “That is God’s law.”

I don’t remember if I even pointed out the obtuseness of Rabbi’s remark. But it was the last time I ever saw him, for how could I, in good conscience, be friends with a man—of influence and power—who would happily kill me, and millions like me, were he given the keys to life-and-death?

But back to Niederauer. I don’t know if he, himself, ever messed around with another boy or man, although my gaydar told me he sure looked gay. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. But I do know that an extraordinary number of Catholic priests not only messed around with boys and men, but engaged in child sexual abuse. Niederauer’s own San Francisco diocese itself settled at least 101 abuse cases, and while there’s no evidence he knew about it, it seems logical that he did. This is the man, the fiend, who tormented gay people with his pious denunciations, whose accusation that gay people are “intrinsically disordered” caused so much suffering and pain. He engaged in a years-long witch hunt against many of his own parishoners, even as his church allowed the perverts who also donned the black cloth to continue their heinous sexual activity. So, as I said, I take no pleasure in Niederauer’s death. But I am glad that such a stupid, irresponsible voice will never again be heard, at least coming from his body. Unfortunately, for every Niederauer, there are tens of thousands more in this country who say similarly odious things about innocent Americans; and I will venture to say that almost all of them are Christians, Republicans, and Trump supporters.

I don’t know if Niederauer, or anyone else, will survive death. I don’t know if he, or any of us, had or has an immortal soul. If he did, I don’t know if it’s going to heaven, or hell, or purgatory, or someplace else. But, if you will allow me to engage in a little retrospective emotion, if Niederauer does have a soul that survives death, I hope it goes someplace that will be very uncomfortable for him, a place where he will be tormented, at least for a period of time, until he realizes the awfulness of his sin.

  1. Bill Haydon says:

    Best obit I’ve read since Hunter S. Thompson’s requiem for Richard Nixon. Somewhere the good Doctor of Journalism is smiling.

  2. I wasn’t thinking of Hunter when I wrote it, but sure, the influence is there. Gonzo journalism.

  3. Steve

    Great post. I attended seminary and worked with him.

    There’s so much more to the story about him, which unfortunately, the zealously pious are too aftraid too discuss.

    Email me – I’d be happy to chat more about him.

  4. Dear SMS, thanks for the offer of more info, but I’m done writing about him for now.

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