LOS ANGELES — With “stop anti-Catholic hate” and "God will not be mocked” signs, protesters surrounded the main entrance to Dodger Stadium on Friday hours before The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were to receive an award on LGBTQ Pride Night.
The appearance of the rights advocacy group, whose members dress in drag as nuns, came after conflicting messages from the Dodgers and amid accusations from Catholics that their faith was being insulted.
The controversy started last month when the Dodgers invited, then disinvited, then re-invited the Sisters to the team's 10th annual Pride night at the stadium in Chavez Ravine.
The Sisters have been at the forefront of LGBTQ rights activism for decades. The group began organizing in the 1970s to support people with HIV/AIDS.
In the end, the Sisters were awarded a Community Hero Award at a brief on-field ceremony held with few fans yet in their seats before Friday’s Dodgers game against rivals San Francisco Giants.
The invitation infuriated many conservative Catholics, even at the highest levels of the U.S. hierarchy.
On Monday, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, and the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, joined in a statement calling it offensive and a mockery.
The statement did not refer to the Dodgers by name but rather a professional baseball team. They asked Catholics on Friday to pray "as an act of reparation for the blasphemies against our Lord we see in our culture today."
Phoenix-based Catholics for Catholics organized what it called “a prayerful procession” and had advised people against bringing children to the rally because it anticipated “hostility from anti-Christian protestors," The Associated Press reported.
But, there were no disturbances or arrests from the protests, which extended from a main entrance to the stadium and down Vin Scully Avenue before the game, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department said.
A man with a bullhorn repeated “Hail Mary, full of grace" and a prayer, and at one point the entrance was closed, with a chain link fence rolled across and police vehicles present, but it later reopened. It was not clear why. Police had no information and the Dodgers did not respond to a request for comment.
Others basked in the event. One man attending the game told NBC Los Angeles that it mattered that the team was honoring LGBTQ issues.
"My team supports me, and I want to show my support," he said. "I think they [protesters] have their right, but today is like a special day for us. Especially since we don’t get respected a lot — especially for LGBT and for the Dodgers team to support us."
The invitation of the Sisters, initially extended by the Dodgers in May, prompted a backlash that included a letter of objection by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, to Major League Baseball.
In his letter to the league, Rubio called the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence an “anti-Catholic” group with members “who mock the faith” and encourage “perversion of Jesus’s command to ‘go, and sin no more.’"
The Dodgers' about-face did little to calm matters. Equality California, an LGBT civil rights group, said the team “should be ashamed.”
LA Pride, which among other things organizes the huge LA Pride Parade & Festival, said it was disappointed and that it would not participate in the Dodgers’ planned Pride event.
“Pride is a fight for equality and inclusion for the entire LGBTQ+ community and we’re not going to stop now,” the non-profit said.
Among those who disagreed with the Dodgers’ decision to host the Sisters was the team’s own star pitcher, three-time National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw told the Los Angeles Times in late May that he didn't "agree with making fun of other people’s religions." The left-hander told the newspaper his opposition to the ceremony was not against the LGBTQ community, just with honoring the Sisters.
“This has nothing to do with the LGBTQ community or Pride or anything like that,” Kershaw told the Times. “This is simply a group that was making fun of a religion, that I don’t agree with.”
The Dodgers on May 22 apologized to the Sisters, as well as to the LGBTQ community at large, and re-invited the group.
It said it reversed course "after much thoughtful feedback from our diverse communities, honest conversations within the Los Angeles Dodgers organization and generous discussions with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence."
The Los Angeles Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence said that they were honored to receive the award. The group said that protesters were expressing their opinion.
“Having been an activist organization, in addition to our charity fundraising work, for 27 years, we have been to many protests ourselves. So we cannot begrudge any fellow Angelenos expressing their 1st Amendment right to protest,” the group said. “As it turned out, everything was peaceful which is very good and as it should always be.”
Many of the signs at the protest against Friday's event dealt with insults to the Catholic faith, according to video from the scene.
But the Dodgers' controversy comes after some companies have been targeted by conservatives and others over ads or merchandise featuring transgender people and issues.
Bud Light was targeted by a boycott after it partnered with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney on a social media ad, and Target in May removed some merchandise from its Pride collection after the retailer said its employees received threats.