SAN FRANCISCO, SEPT. 17 -- In the shadow of Mission Dolores, with police helicopters circling overhead and uniformed officers lined up behind the metal barricades, the nonadmirers gathered here this afternoon.
Some wore mitres made of newspaper and some wore traditional Roman Catholic robes, except that the person in a nun's habit was a man and the person in a cardinal's outfit was a woman. She appeared to be pregnant.
"This man is morally bankrupt," said the man in the nun's habit, who was speaking into a television camera. There were a great many television cameras about, all of them held by men and women trying not to film each other as they sought visuals of the demonstrators who had promised vocal protest against the visit of Pope John Paul II.
"We want to be clear about this: we are not anti-Catholic, and we are not antipope," said Lisa Desposito, a member of the group called Catholics for a Free Choice. The group ran large newspaper advertisements today criticizing the papal ban on abortion and artificial birth control.
"I come here to deliver a message to the hierarchy and the Holy Father. Catholics have not fallen away from the church -- the church has fallen away from its people," Desposito said.
The church has accommodated dissent and change before, she declared from the back of a pickup truck covered with placards and wired for broadcast sound. "It's an important Catholic principle," she said. "Love can never be wrong."
The mood of the crowd was spirited and jovial, with men and women carrying signs reading Curb Your Dogma and Just Nope to the Pope. Photographers jostled one another for pictures of the large skeletal construction in papal dress, or the drawing of a papal figure hammering to the cross a man labeled "homosexual."
When the papal entourage arrived at 5:50 p.m. PDT, the crowd broke into a loud chorus of boos and whistles. Many shouted, "Shame! Shame!" and cheered when one of the protest organizers, whose vantage point was high enough to see the passing dignitaries, announced that the noise was loud enough to be heard by the pope.
"The world is watching two events today," declared John Wahl, a lawyer who organized today's Mission Dolores protest. "They're watching one event in there, where a symbol of religious oppression, John Paul II, is going to say a few things about subjects that affect each of us deeply in our hearts."
The other event, Wahl said, gesturing to the gathered reporters, was the protest that he had helped convene.
But Wahl said it is particularly noteworthy that the plan of the papal visit included having the pontiff greet more than 50 AIDS patients as he read Mass inside the mission.
"After six years of this epidemic, the pope has discovered there are people with AIDS," Wahl said. "He told us that we need his compassion -- we've developed our own compassion. We've developed our own systems of care. We have done it, not that pope, not any cardinal -- we, the people, have done it."
Leonard Matlovich -- the Air Force sergeant who gained national attention 12 years ago when he was discharged from the service because of his homosexuality -- attended the demonstration. He said that although he is now under treatment for AIDS, he feels reasonably well and sees some merit to the papal visit, because of the widespread coverage of so many issues involving the Catholic Church the visit triggered.
"It has provided us with so much news coverage," he said. "And it is so incredible that now in Riceville, Iowa, they're hearing about AIDS, and they're hearing about women, and they're hearing about issues that are being discussed."
A hundred yards away, held back from viewing the pope by the wide police barricades, a very disgruntled elderly Guatemalan woman stood and digested the idea that she was surrounded by people who did not in fact respect the pope. In Spanish, sounding astonished, she said, "You mean they're against him?"