Gay activists, saying they are angered by Los Angeles Archbishop Roger M. Mahony's recent condemnation of the use of condoms to fight the spread of AIDS, claim they splattered bright red paint on four Los Angeles-area Roman Catholic churches early Sunday morning.
A spokesman for the activists--who said he is part of a newly formed group called Greater Religious Responsibility! (GRR!)--said members of the group also pasted posters featuring a full-face photo of Mahony on church doors. "Safe sex is a lie and a fraud" was printed above the picture. In larger letters, "MURDERER" appeared at the bottom.
Roman Catholic bishops have come under fire from AIDS activists for overwhelmingly approving a major policy statement rejecting the use of condoms as a means of fighting the spread of the fatal disease. The statement was drafted by a committee that Mahony chaired at last month's National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore.
In presenting the policy paper to the bishops, Mahony declared that young people should avoid "being trapped into the 'safe-sex' myth, which is both a lie and a fraud." That paraphrased statement was featured atop the posters.
In a call to The Times on Sunday, a person who described himself as one of the activists and who declined to give his name, asserted that in endorsing the anti-condom position, the bishops committed "an immoral act." The red paint symbolized blood and the tragedy of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, he said.
About 20 activists were involved in the vandalism, the caller said.
"We will probably be doing more postering around town before Christmas," he added.
Mahony could not be reached for comment Sunday.
The four vandalized churches were: Immaculate Conception Church on West 9th Street, part of the headquarters complex of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles; St. Basil Church, mid-Wilshire District; St. Ambrose Church, West Hollywood; and St. Charles Church, North Hollywood.
By the time Sunday morning services had begun at the churches, much of the red paint had been washed off main, side and rectory doors, and several of the 11-inch by 17-inch black-and-white Mahony posters had been scraped off.
At St. Ambrose, however, the red paint and posters were generally left intact.
"I left it there deliberately this morning," said the church's pastor, Father John A. Beattie, "as a reminder that there's still anger and prejudice and intolerance" in the world.
During an interview in the church's office, Beattie noted that the vandalism took place on the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the liturgical year when people are looking ahead to a Christmas season of brotherhood and good will.
The anonymous GRR! spokesman said that, indeed, the vandalism was timed to Advent "to bring more attention to it."
Beattie, who observed that about one-third of the West Hollywood church's congregation is gay, said he called attention to the vandalism during his sermon Sunday. He said he declared that "we should ask for more understanding, more tolerance and more compassion of each other."
The activists, Beattie added, may have misunderstood the message that came out of the bishops' conference.
"I thought the whole tone of the (bishops') statement was compassion," he said. "I think that wasn't heard, and that's unfortunate."
At St. Basil, a priest denounced the vandalism. At the same time, though, he declared that Mahony's position was "not realistic" to say that, in effect, "you can't even give people information" about the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS.
The priest, who requested anonymity, pointed to red paint streaking the church's rectory and said, "That's not the Catholic teaching." Still, he said, many Catholic priests disagree with last month's anti-condom position.
"This is a horrible struggle for us priests who are trying to be pastoral," he said.