Devout baseball fans might view their teams’ performance as heavenly or hellish, depending on the quality of play. Currently, it’s the Los Angeles Dodgers’ handling of their annual Pride Night — not the team’s record — that has provoked emotional reactions from religious people, including prominent faith leaders, Catholic nuns, and even the team’s All-Star ace.
Indeed, three high-ranking U.S. Catholic leaders this week suggested the team had committed blasphemy.
The Dodgers have been holding Pride Nights for 10 years, but this year’s edition on Friday night became entangled last month in a high-profile controversy.
Under a barrage of criticism from some conservative Catholics, the team rescinded an invitation to a satirical LGBTQ+ group called the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to be honored at Pride Night. The Sisters’ performers — mostly men who dress flamboyantly as nuns — are active in protests and charitable programs.
A week later, after a vehement backlash from LGBTQ+ groups and their allies, the Dodgers reversed course — re-inviting the Sisters’ Los Angeles chapter to be honored for its charity work and apologizing to the LGBTQ+ community.
The Dodgers’ reversal was welcomed by LGBTQ+ allies, including some Catholic nuns. But it infuriated many conservative Catholics, even at the highest levels of the U.S. hierarchy.
On Monday, the team was lambasted in a statement from Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, and the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Services.
They asked Catholics to pray on Friday “as an act of reparation for the blasphemies against our Lord we see in our culture today.”
“A professional baseball team has shockingly chosen to honor a group whose lewdness and vulgarity in mocking our Lord, His Mother, and consecrated women cannot be overstated,” the archbishops said. “This is not just offensive and painful to Christians everywhere; it is blasphemy.”
Phoenix-based Catholics for Catholics organized what it called “a prayerful procession” in a parking lot outside Dodger Stadium. Hundreds of people, many wearing red clothing in honor of the sacred heart and toting signs, gathered in the hours before the Dodgers hosted the San Francisco Giants.
The group later walked from the parking lot to the intersection outside the stadium’s main gate, spread out across the entrance to the ballpark under the watchful eyes of police.
Catholics for Catholics had urged participants not to bring children because “we do anticipate hostility from anti-Christian protestors.”
The gathering attracted a large Los Angeles Police Department presence, with officers standing around watching as traffic approaching stadium backed up. Three helicopters flew overhead.
One woman held a blue sign invoking the name of the late Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully, a devout Catholic, that read, “Vin Is Sad.” In her other hand, a white sign said, “Uphold Dodger Code of Conduct. No Mocking Religion.”
In a brief ceremony held on the field with few fans yet in their seats, the Dodgers gave a Community Hero Award to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The public-address announcer said the group supports meal programs in the Los Angeles area and cited “their outstanding service to the LBGTQ+ community.”
The sparse crowd cheered as the PA announcer introduced Sister Unity and Sister Dominia — two men dressed flamboyantly as nuns.
Although official Catholic teaching opposes same-sex marriage and same-sex sexual activity, there are many Catholics who want the church to be more inclusive toward LGBTQ+ people. Among them are nuns in the U.S. who have ministered empathetically to LGBTQ+ Catholics, and took note when the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence made news last month.
One of them, Sister Jeannine Gramick, has ministered to LGBTQ+ Catholics for more than 50 years and is a co-founder of New Ways Ministry, which advocates on their behalf.
She publicly shared a letter she wrote to the Dodgers, welcoming their re-invitation to the drag group and saying its members deserved recognition for their charity work.
“While I am uncomfortable with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence using the nuns’ old garb to draw attention to bigotry, whether Catholic or not, there is a hierarchy of values in this situation,” Gramick wrote.
“I believe that any group that serves the community, especially those who are less fortunate or on the margins of society, should be honored.”
However, Sister Luisa Derouen, renowned for her outreach to transgender Catholics, said she was “deeply offended” by the Dodgers’ decision to honor the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
“I realize they do a lot of good for many people with their philanthropic work, and I thank them for that,” she told the AP via email. “But where my passion about this most comes from is with regard to my religious life.”
“I have spent about 30 years passionately trying to help people understand and respect the lives of gay, lesbian and trans people,” she added. “Women religious are their best allies in the Catholic Church — we don’t deserve for our lives to be caricatured in this kind of demeaning way.”
“Why can’t they do all their wonderful work without disrespecting our lives, when we have done so much to help others respect their lives?”
Robert Barron, a Catholic bishop in southern Minnesota and formerly an auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles, told his 240,000 followers on Twitter that the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence “can only be described as an anti-Catholic hate group.”
“I’m a big baseball fan. I’ve even thrown out the first pitch at a Dodgers game,” Barron tweeted. “But I’d encourage my friends in LA to boycott the Dodgers. Let’s not just pray, but make our voices heard in defense of our Catholic faith.”
Criticism wasn’t confined to Catholic ranks. The Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told listeners of his syndicated radio show that the Dodgers “completely capitulated.”
“The company is falling all over itself with what one author called years ago, ‘The Art of the Public Grovel,’” Mohler said.
MLB pitchers Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and Trevor Williams of the Washington Nationals criticized the Dodgers for re-inviting the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, saying they resented the group’s mockery of Catholicism. Williams, on Twitter, encouraged his fellow Catholics “to reconsider their support of an organization that allows this type of mockery of its fans to occur.”
But each pitcher said he had no objection to the broader tradition of Pride Nights.
“This has nothing to do with the LGBTQ community or Pride or anything like that,” said Kershaw. “This is simply a group that was making fun of a religion. That I don’t agree with.”
Some conservative religious leaders said they oppose the entire concept of Pride Nights.
“MLB teams have no business sponsoring highly divisive events like Pride Nights and instead need to concentrate on playing baseball,” said prominent megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress via email.
His church, First Baptist Dallas, is about 20 miles from the home field of the Texas Rangers, the only MLB team which isn’t hosting a Pride Night this season.
“All ‘Pride’ events are attempts to celebrate what God has condemned,” Jeffress wrote. “Christians are right to boycott companies and organizations like MLB teams that try to cram their godless and offensive agendas down the throats of Americans.”
Similar condemnation of Pride Nights came from Brent Leatherwood, head of the public policy wing of the Southern Baptist Convention — the country’s largest evangelical denomination.
“These displays continue to confirm just how far removed from biological and sexual reality our culture is right now,” said Leatherwood, reiterating the SBC’s rejection of same-marriages and sexual relationships.
In contrast, the Rev. Alex Santora — who oversees an LGBTQ-welcoming parish in Hoboken, New Jersey — says Pride Nights are useful in combating prejudice.
“Pride Nights hosted by sports teams and Pride displays mounted by businesses acknowledge that accepting the diversity of sexual and gender orientations is normal in society,” he said. “It sends a valuable message to children and teenagers that acceptance is important and contributes to good mental health. “
The Dodgers’ Pride Night saga followed LGBTQ+-related difficulties for some other big-name businesses. Bud Light partnered with a transgender influencer, then tried to walk back its support amid a backlash. Similarly, Target’s support for the LGBTQ+ community has provoked some hostile, homophobic criticisms, as well as calls from LGBTQ+ activists not to cave to the pressure.
A spokesperson for the country’ largest LGBTQ+–rights organization, Laurel Powell of the Human Rights Campaign, said the proliferation of Pride Nights — and similar gestures in other economic sectors — is encouraging.
“They’re an important signal to the LGBTQ community that we are valued by these organizations, that our patronage, our faces in the stands, are welcome,” she said. “It’s also a signal to other folks about where their values are.”
AP Sports Writer Beth Harris in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.