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Where have you gone, Vin Scully? Dodger nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Is it possible that the Los Angeles Dodgers waited until Scully, the epitome of gentlemanly piety, died last summer before deciding to honor the grotesquely blasphemous, sacrilegious, and anti-Catholic “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence” with their annual Community Hero Award? This group of activists, which emerged from San Francisco’s gay population in 1979, wears religious drag to impersonate and mock Catholic nuns, as well as Catholic teaching, the Eucharist, and devotional symbols. The name “perpetual indulgence” itself blasphemes the popular devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Scully, the radio voice of the Dodgers for 67 seasons, was a devout Catholic who once recorded a CD praying the Rosary. Time for Dodger baseball? Time now for Dodger blasphemy.

What should be the Catholic response? That’s not clear, aside from denouncing the Dodgers’ decision. The incident seems to establish that a new cultural moment has arrived, and a group with minimal cultural power—Catholics—has to reconsider its position. 

The Dodgers' decision to honor the “Sisters” led to a protest from the Catholic League and others. The Catholic League had been following the “Sisters” for decades, and compiled a list of sacrileges stretching back more than forty years.

The Dodgers reversed themselves immediately. But then the “Sisters” and their allies protested, and the Dodgers reversed themselves again. The award ceremony is back on, scheduled for June 16, Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

It should be noted that “The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence” were selected not only because of various fundraising works, but also because they promote “spiritual enlightenment.” That is to say that the Dodgers, as between the enlightenment offered by the “Sisters” and the light of the gospel, did not choose the better part.

The allies of the blasphemers include Sister Jeannine Gramick, who wrote to the Dodgers to express her approval of the award. Her enthusiasm was not unalloyed though; the “Sisters” wear habits, and Sr. Jeannine does not like habits. 

A great deal has by now been written about all this, as it is a clarifying moment. The Dodgers made a clear choice—twice over actually—to give an award to an anti-Catholic group that engages in serial sacrilege. That one of baseball’s more storied teams would arrive at this point is not a small thing.

In 1990, Michael Jordan explained his reticence to engage in progressive politics: “Republicans buy sneakers too.” Regarding the Dodgers in 2023, Catholic businessman and philanthropist Tim Busch advised that corporations should follow the Jordan rule and stay out of controversies. 

Yet the Jordan rule—stick to business—may have been observed by the Dodgers. Perhaps Dodger management calculated that this was not only the advantageous cultural position to take, but the commercial one too. It would not be the first time that there was more money in sacrilege than sanctity.

Some Catholics want that commercial calculation to change. The Catholic League called for a boycott of the June 16 game. Bishop Robert Barron, formerly an auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles, also called for a boycott.

Perhaps it might change the commercial calculation, but that doesn’t mean that the Dodger approach will change. They might choose to pay the price to maintain their desired cultural position.

The two Catholic archbishops in California both commented. Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles lamented the mockery and encouraged Catholics to use the occasion to express appreciation to actual religious sisters. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco said the Dodger administrators have revealed “what gods [they] worship.”

“Disappointing but not surprising,” tweeted Cordileone, acknowledging that a new cultural moment is at hand. Or perhaps a very old cultural moment has returned, as he concluded: “Gird your loins.” Bracing biblical imagery, though perhaps an unfortunate reference given the loin-girding that the “Sisters” prefer.

Baseball provided another marker of cultural decay twenty-five years ago. In 1998, all 30 major league clubs played on Good Friday. Cardinal John O’Connor was enraged that the sacred hours of the Lord’s Passion would be observed in recreation.

“I believe that playing on Good Friday, at the very least from 12 to 3, is cheap and cheapens our culture, no matter how big the box-office receipts,” O’Connor wrote. “I resent it. I protest it. I will not go to a game in 1998.”

It was a personal protest, not a call for a boycott, and it came with a price for New York’s archbishop. The Yankees won the World Series that year.

This year several teams had their home openers on Good Friday. In Cleveland, some asked whether the local bishop would grant a dispensation so that those attending could have hot dogs.

“We wish the Cleveland Guardians a very successful home opener on Friday, April 7,” wrote Bishop Edward C. Malesic. “We cannot grant a dispensation to the practice of abstaining from meat for Catholics attending the baseball game on this most holy Friday of Lent.”

Good Friday is not in Lent, but leave that embarrassing error aside. It’s a long way down from 1998 to 2023. Cardinal O’Connor did not wish that the Yankees would play well; he told them that they should be ashamed for playing at all. In Cleveland, Catholics are just asked to eat popcorn and crackerjack.

What then to do? Traditional Catholic devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus emphasize reparation for outrages, blasphemies, and sacrileges. This year, as the Dodgers celebrate the “Sisters,” acts of reparation ought to be offered.

Vin Scully would have done so. 

Raymond J. de Souza is a priest in the archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario.

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Image by Pavel Danilyuk and licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped. 

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