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Voice of New Rochelle: Close to Home, Far Away

Upon his return from vacation, the author was greeted with not one but three stories related to priestly child abuse, all with local connections.

Even within the free speech venue that is WVOX, some subjects require special handling, if you will. Religion, race and the subject of Israel, when not articulated carefully, can bring a lot of negative feedback and result in suspension or even the loss of one’s job.   

Yes, speech in such matters is free; the consequences, however, can be very costly.

Nonetheless, I have charted a course on the radio of criticizing the Catholic Church’s problems with respect to sexual abuse and what I believe to be, at minimum, the contributing factor of celibacy. As I prepared to return to the air from my break, I began to wonder if I didn’t have a little of Joe Paterno in me.

The local papers noted the fall from grace of ;  the recent arrest of the former leader of the Salesians, , on rape charges; and the comments of Father Benedict Groeschel, also of  Westchester, that it is young people who seduce clerics into child abuse. Indeed, maybe I—we—have grown too tolerant and too respectful of the church to acknowledge this problem, even as it has manifested itself right here in Westchester. 

At times, when I have introduced this subject on the air, I have been met with the accurate, though irrelevant, feedback that I am picking on the church and that the issue of child abuse exists in proportion throughout society and in other religious organizations. I buy that it exists all over society and I have written about it here. But I no more accept the notion of proportionality than I do the argument from my liberal friends that there is just as much crime in suburban areas as there is in the inner city. Both are either polite notions of political correctness or undue deference to the status of religion.

Let me clarify my own feelings about the church, so we can dispense with them as an issue within this discussion. While I have evolved towards agnosticism for reasons that space limitations will preclude for now, I have loved and continue to embrace the Christian values I learned from my Catholic upbringing and education. I am especially grateful to the men of Bishop Ford High School who, arguably, prepared me for work and life better than any college classroom.

Many of these men, by the way, were likely gay, a reality I learned, unambiguously, from my best friend in school who himself was gay and privy to this confidence. There—the tiny elephant in the room is out now. I am in no way making a causal connection between homosexuality and child abuse. Indeed, in this case, the statistics of proportionality are clear and available. What I am suggesting, though, is that the church—at least among its men—has within its ranks a culture that hides the reality of its gay membership because it is an institution at once significantly gay and anti-gay.

So here I am, a man who supports gay marriage and the movement which made it possible, making a case that the church deals ineffectively with its problem, not because of any malevolent intention to hide child abuse, but out of the fear of openly dealing with the segment of itself that is inclined to live the life that “dare not speak its name.”

A closer look at the abuse cases—I have deliberately avoided the term pedophilia—indicates that a lot of those abused were not small boys, but older pre-teens or teenagers. 

I can’t help but wonder a couple of things: How many sexually mature men— straight or gay—really want to commit to a life of celibacy? Sure there are some whose religious convictions and intellectual candle power lead them selflessly to the calling; but, really, how many are there? 

Why is it that in the entire archdiocese of New York, only one—one—priest was ordained last year? Might it be possible that the improvement in civil rights for gay people, including the right to marry, may have lessened the option that a good, God-fearing, gay man could seek refuge, identity and acceptability in the very organization that condemned him? 

Whether the cause of the problem is the vow of celibacy or something else, it would do us all well to think of Penn State and what happens when you look the other way.

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