Monday, May 24, 2010

No Sackcloth and Ashes for these Guys!

"I would just say this. The most important thing is to clean up the truth. And the truth is I have never said anything."

What kind of double-speak is this?

They are the words of then Archbishop of New York, Edward Cardinal Eagan, regarding a statement made by the rector at St. Patrick's Cathedral, one Monsignor Eugene Clark, in 2002. Standing in for the embattled Cardinal Egan, Clark blamed the sex abuse scandal on gays, railed against homosexuality as a "disorder" and said it was a "grave mistake" to allow gays into the priesthood. Clark would later be forced to resign after his affair with his secretary, a woman 30 years his junior, came to light in 2005. You can bet the king of outing high level hypocrites, Michelangelo Signorile, had blast with this: A Monsignor's Closet, 2005-08-24. 

I have also said at least a few things about the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, though with a more sympathetic voice, I hope, having some experience of the cloak of secrecy that gay priests are forced to wear. I didn’t fit me well, but that is another story. Here is what I wrote when I revisited a conversation that I had with my friend Avery Dulles (who by the way did not much like wearing his cardinal duds). I did not mention him by name when he was alive out of respect for his position and our friendship; though I think that he might have endorsed what I said, I didn’t want to expose my version of his words to the lurkers on the Internet who love bits of gossip that they can distort. 

I don’t want to make some high sounding statement and then stand back. It’s time to keep up the pressure. So let’s try a little humor. I don’t think that it will surprise anyone that among gay clergy there’s a lot of dark humor and jokes that float from one “pink” rectory to another. When I heard this one, the main characters were John 23, Francis “Fanny” Cardinal Spellman, and John Joseph Cardinal Wright of Pittsburg and the Vatican. Even though Wright wasn’t yet a cardinal during Vatican II, it still works. John 23 and Wright, even if gay as suspected, were straight arrows, but “Fanny” was notorious for his liaisons with any number of New York chorus boys and hustlers, so much so that it seems he had part of his staff dedicated to quelling rumors and preventing them from reaching the pages of the NY Times. In New York gay bars in the 60’s there was always someone who swore that they heard from his lips: “If you threaten to go public, who’ll believe you? You’re a nobody and I’m the Cardinal Archbishop of New York.” That was another age, though his brother cardinals are now reaping the fruit of his indiscretions—among others.

So after all that preamble, here’s the joke.

When John 23 sent out the official announcement to the opening of the Second Vatican Council, he included a private note to all the cardinals, archbishops, and bishops asking them to tone down their dress. It was to be a solemn occasion, yes, but given that he as Pope was striving for reform, remaking the image of Church in the modern world, simple clerical garb would be enough. In other words, leave the cappae magnae home.

The day of the opening of the Counsel rolled around and the US prelates were gathered together in St. Peters, dressed down as requested. After the appropriate drum roll and trumpets, the doors swung open and there was John 23, sporting a Triregnum, carried on his sedia gestatoria by 12 hunky guys in red, surrounded by fans of white feathers (a boa that might have seemed out of place). 

Spellman turns to Wright and mutters, “Bitch.”

The current occupant of the chair of Peter has called for penance for the sins of the Church, one presumes for not reprimanding pedophile priests and allowing them access to children even after their crimes had been reported. But I hope that it’s not lost on anyone that Benedict’s penance doesn’t call for sackcloth and ashes. Oh no, quite the contrary. He’s taken the Pope’s little red slippers out of the closet—you have to have shoes to match.

He’s taken the papal throne out of the Vatican Museum where it has been since Paul VI's reign.

Even lowly bishops have taken to the 60 foot cappa magna once again. (It is reported to me from a reliable former Jesuit source that it was cut to 12’ by Pius XII more than 50 years ago).

The photograph is of Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on April 26th of this year.
And there are humors that Benedict will dust off the sedia gestatoria “for security reasons.” This certainly doesn't look like penance, or maybe that is how old queens do penance. I could check that out if I could find any among my friends who really did molest teenagers, or even have that proclivity. But they’re not in the Castro. They’re all in jail or under Vatican protection. (The picture is of Pius VIII riding high in 1828).

Penance my ass.