On August 9, the Bay Area Reporter published an article about a new policy at San Francisco’s Most Holy Redeemer parish called “Drag is out at Most Holy Redeemer.”

The article quoted the church’s new pastor Father Brian Costello:

“Most Holy Redeemer’s new pastor, the Reverend Brian Costello, confirmed over telephone on Monday, August 6, that drag queen performers and emcees are no longer permitted to participate in events at the church.

“Costello said that during a telephone conversation with a Castro Country Club representative, when the topic of drag queens came up, he told the person, ‘That is not going to work under the present circumstances.’

“‘I said work with me. You can still have the dinner. You can have a regular emcee, but not drag queens on church property,’ Costello said. It seems the directive is the result of several factors. ‘I am the new pastor,’ Costello added. “There is a new archbishop. The archdiocese told me straight out, ‘No drag queens.'”

But apparent dissension about the policy has arisen. Not only that, it seems to be an open question as to who is in charge at the renegade parish. On August 13 the S. F. Examiner published an article called “Faux Pas Puts S.F. Holy Site in Fix” by Carolyn Copeland.

Copeland spoke to Michael Poma, the business manager at Most Holy Redeemer:

“… although church Business Manager Michael Poma acknowledged that Pastor Brian Costello did tell members of the Castro Country Club that they could not hold their event if drag queens were scheduled to attend, Poma said he quickly reversed his decision.

“‘Father Brian wasn’t educated about the importance of drag queens in the gay community,’ Poma said. ‘Once it was explained to him, he said they were welcome to attend as long as their behavior was church-appropriate.’

“Church officials now say the new policy is not a prohibition against drag queens, but rather an end to all one-time events that do not originate at the church. Poma said the ban applies to all outside events — gay or straight — including weddings, parties or fundraisers. The church is still planning to hold its own events, including 12-step programs, suppers for the homeless and AIDS support groups.

“‘This is not a ban on drag queens or an insult to the gay community whatsoever,’ Poma said. ‘In the church hall there have been issues with weddings and other groups, so we decided to put an end to them altogether. We are part of the community here and to think that we’re banning drag queens is obnoxious and ridiculous.’”

On page 27 of Father Donal Godfrey’s Gays and Grays: the Story of Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church (2007), Father Godfrey reports a 1982 discussion regarding a new pastor for the parish. He quotes Deacon Laurence Rolle, then serving at the parish:

“‘They came from the chancery, the personnel board, to ask questions, to see whom to send. We have to replace Father Moriarity, they said; ‘What kind of pastor do we need in this parish?’ I said, ‘The parish is gradually becoming more gay. These are the demographics of the area. This needs to be thought about in making this decision.’ There was absolute stone-dead silence in the room… and the meeting went on to another point… Fortunately, Archbishop John Quinn was well aware the question needed to be asked, and chose a man who turned out to be especially suited to the new sociological profile of the parish. Under Father Anthony McGuire — ‘Father Tony — the parish was reborn… Anthony McGuire became the ninth pastor of Most Holy Redeemer parish in 1982.”

On page 48 of Gays and Grays, Father Godfrey confirms the suspicion that parishioners at Most Holy Redeemer seem to have played a larger than usual role in the selection of their pastors. He quotes Father Randy Calvo (now Bishop of Reno), who served at Most Holy Redeemer: “One of the first encounters I had was with Jim Stultz, President of the parish council at the time. He came to me and said I’d like to interview you before you get to the parish… I remember one thing he talked about. He criticized someone who gave a homily at MHR bashing people for going to the gay baths, and all that.”

To read earlier California Catholic story about Most Holy Redeemer click here.