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The Papal Visit : AIDS, Gay Issues to Pose Thorny Test in S.F. Today

September 17, 1987|MARK A. STEIN and DAN MORAIN | Times Staff Writers

SAN FRANCISCO — Fred Powell and Leonard Matlovich are Catholic, gay, passionate about the right to live as they choose--and they have AIDS.

But they are on two sides of one of the toughest, most emotional and troublesome issues that Pope John Paul II is likely to face during his 21-hour visit here today and Friday: AIDS and homosexuality. The visit is exposing divisions in this city, a place with a large and devout Catholic population and also a reputation as a capital of sexual liberation.

When John Paul enters the 200-year-old Mission Dolores Basilica and for the first time meets people dying of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, Powell, 52, will be among the 800 inside, hoping to be blessed. Matlovich will be on the street outside, leading perhaps thousands of gays, feminists, Jews and others in protest against the Pope and unpopular church edicts, such as those that condemn homosexuality.

"If the Pope came up to one of us who has lesions and embraced us and blessed us, that spark would go around the world and ignite a lot of people," said Powell, a former Christian brother who sometimes uses theatrical makeup to conceal the purplish, AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma cancer lesions over his face and body.

"I can't believe any person with AIDS would really want to see the man," said Matlovich, 44, a decorated Vietnam veteran who drew national attention in 1975 when he sued the Air Force for discharging him because of his homosexuality. "How could I want to see a man who says I am intrinsically evil, when I know I'm a good person, a moral person, when I know I've contributed to society?"

In this emotional milieu, there is concern that because of strong feelings on both sides, there may be a lingering resentment after the Pope leaves. But gay Catholics and parish priests who minister to them have faith that John Paul II will give some sign showing compassion for people with AIDS, some signal that gays are welcome in the church. For if the Catholic Church in America is changing, nowhere is that more apparent than in San Francisco.

Despite the importance here of AIDS and gay issues, they will not be the only items on the Pope's agenda. He will also be able to take in a breathtaking sampler of the city's human smorgasbord.

In addition to the city's old-line Italian and Irish faithful, there will be equally devoted Latin American and Asian refugees, legions of liberal lay people and a veritable vaudeville show of media-savvy iconoclasts, including a troupe of transvestites who dress as "nuns" and call themselves the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

Helping to chronicle all of this for the rest of the world will be a bevy of short-time celebrity journalists, including former Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., the former Jesuit seminarian who will provide television analysis, and comedian Don Novello, a.k.a. Father Guido Sarducci, who is penning columns for the afternoon Examiner newspaper.

The Pope also will take in, albeit briefly, one of this scenic city's most lovely sights, the Golden Gate Bridge, which bridge officials will close to car and foot traffic for security reasons.

'Wants to Play Tourist'

"I think he wants to play tourist a little bit," said Richard McDrew, head of the Secret Service office here that will provide papal security along with San Francisco police and the Swiss Guard.

In his bulletproof Popemobile, he will shuttle between the city's oldest church, 200-year-old Mission Dolores, and one of its most modern, the striking hilltop St. Mary's Cathedral. In between, he is expected to draw as many as 1 million people to a brief cross-town parade along Geary Street--and snarl traffic. The crowning event will be an outdoor Mass on Friday for 70,000 people in Candlestick Park. Then he moves on to Detroit.

Demonstrations are planned at Mission Dolores and St. Mary's, and there is an all-night vigil planned for outside the rectory.

All leaves on the 1,980-member police force have been canceled for the visit.

"While we can't predict how hundreds of thousands of people will act, of course, we don't expect trouble--although we have planned for it," Executive Deputy Mayor Hadley Roff said.

Although some in the Jewish community here, as elsewhere, have pledged to protest against the Pope, demonstrations by gays and feminists are likely to be the biggest.

As the Pope's trip progressed, he managed to soften some of the anger here when, in an address to Catholic health workers in Phoenix, he urged people to treat AIDS victims with kindness. But Matlovich and others will not pack up their protest. As Matlovich sees it, the comments, the Pope's first public pronouncement on AIDS since the crisis hit in the early 1980s, were "positive," but "very, very late in coming."

"He should have been visiting AIDS hospices five or six years ago," Matlovich said, adding that there remains "apprehension" that the Pope may loose a "bombshell" regarding homosexuality and AIDS when he meets with people with AIDS tonight.

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