Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Churches in the Headlines

Seems as though every day one picks up the Local Rag, there's more news about the various ecclesiastical woes in town. Over the weekend the news broke that the Rev. Michael Moynihan had been terminated at St. Michael Church on North Street after fourteen years as its popular pastor. Some $500,000 in church funds cannot be properly accounted for, and the FBI has been investigating "hidden" bank accounts under Moynihan's control. But this is merely the latest whiff of scandal in the local Roman Catholic churchscape; local residents may recall the abrupt departure of the similarly popular Rev. Al McGoldrick at St. Paul's in Glenville not long ago. And then, of course, there was the unspeakable Charlie Stubbs at St. Mary Church on the Avenue, who by rights should be behind bars instead of hidden away in seclusion by the RC church...as seems to be their long-standing custom.

Not that the Protestant denominations have exactly clean hands, either. A few years back Dick "Hot Sheets" Stearns was allowed to retire quietly from the First Presbyterian Church; time was when he might have been tarred and feathered (if not worse) for his serial adulteries and defalcation of church funds. Your scribe could not believe that the church's session, eager to cover up the problems, asked the congregation to contribute to a "purse" so that Stearns could "continue his theological studies." Talk about hypocrisy! In actual fact, he was put on trial by higher church authorities and came within a whisker of being defrocked. Only the machinations of a hot-shot lawyer (and perhaps the explosiveness of the case) managed to get it hushed up.

Down the street at Second Congregational, something similar occurred when assistant pastor Becky Spencer started carrying on an affair in the church manse with the son of her superior, Mert Rymph. You have never seen a church in such denial, dear reader; but when one member of the church council said, on tape, that "everybody knows it's true," the tape mysteriously disappeared. The late unlamented Reg Jones, polluter par excellence as erstwhile chairman of the executive committee at GE, told your scribe that the tape would "destroy the church", and therefore he himself had destroyed the tape. He learned this trick, no doubt, from his close pal Richard "Tricky Dick" Nixon of Watergate fame.

But Becky Spencer was not punished (here on earth, at least) for her sins; rather she was foisted off on an out-of-state congregation. That's the Greenwich way, dear reader; if someone screws up, we promote them and give them a medal and get them out of town as fast as possible. Then everyone pretends to play dumb about the whole thing. Works every time.

Well, almost. II Esdras and all that; one would think the clergy would know better. Magna veritas et praevalebit should be part of the prayers - and the lifestyle - of every church in this town. Instead, the order of the day is cover-up, three-monkeyism, and the occasional threat or bribe for good measure (favorite tactics of Reg Jones, who bought the 2nd Congo church secretary a condo in exchange for her silence on the Spencer follies).

Thankfully, there is the occasional exception to the Greenwich rule of hypocrisy and denial. Yesterday Bob Tate, the beleaguered former music director at Christ Church, entered a guilty plea to the charge of possessing child pornography. When the judge asked if Bob understood the nature of the charge, Bob answered forthrightly, "I'm sorry to say, yes, your honor." He was truthful and remorseful - probably a first for this town. Six parishioners stood by to make personal bonds for the $500,000 bail; and Bob was allowed to leave jail and enter a clinic in Pennsylvania for treatment.

Sad as it was to read this news, one cannot help but admire Bob for his honesty and candor. In the 36 years he served Christ Church so ably and well, he never once laid an inappropriate hand on any of his charges. I, and hundreds of other choir parents who worked and traveled with Bob, will swear to this. If Bob had human urges - as, in fact, we all do - he sublimated them. In another society, such a victimless "crime" might be looked on leniently by the authorities. But somehow, Bob was singled out; and instead of whining or prevaricating, he stood up like a man and spoke the truth.

Meanwhile, hundreds of active pedophiles carry on unmolested, as it were, by the law. Many of them are clergymen, who are shunted around by their denominations in an effort to hush up their misdeeds. Few if any of them are charged in the courts. When was the last time you heard of a pedophile priest being sent to jail?

Well, this has not been a happy post to write, but your scribe believes that there may be some salutary lessons to be learned here. Do cover-ups work? Rarely, if ever. Those who, like Reg Jones, try to engineer them, wind up dying as miserably as they lived. And those who, like Bob Tate, have used their life and talents to enrich the lives of countless others, will be held forever dear in the memories of those they worked so hard to help.

I am very sad that Bob Tate is now a convicted felon. But I am very proud of the way he is handling it.


Blogger city of angels lady said...

Hello from a pedophile priest survivor on the other side of the United States. My blog is about how my life was affected by being raped by a pedophile priest at age five in 1953.

It is a comedy. That is how best to deal with trauma. . .

You can read it at http://cityofangels1.blogspot.com and at 2 is the conclusion and at 3 is coverage of the civil cases against the L.A. archdiocese going on right now.

The best way to clear this mess up is to get out the truth in as many ways as we can. Please read and forward my story any way you can. And email me through the blog please I'd like to stay in touch.

Kay E, Hollywood CA
city of angels lady

January 24, 2007 4:38 AM  
Blogger Bill Clark said...

Hi, Kay,

Thanks for your wonderful comment. Yes, life is a comedy to those who think, and a tragedy to those who feel. All in all, I agree that it's better to work through your feelings and then look at the human - and divine - comedy side of things.

I just finished Andrew Vachss's latest book, "Mask Market". I strongly recommend this and all the rest of his books, which deal with the sexual exploitation of children in all the horrific ways one can imagine - and some one can't.

As for getting the truth out, that is one of my main missions in life. See my posts for January 10 and 11 for more on that topic, including the full reference to II Esdras and G. Washington's gloss on it. I hope you will find these watchwords as helpful as I have!

I look forward to reading your blog; for the moment I just wanted to get this online so you can read it with your morning coffee.

All best,


January 24, 2007 9:51 AM  

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