Friday, February 16, 2007
When the Rubber Hits the Robe
When I was seventeen, attending Monsignor Edward Pace High School in Miami, I took a required course which bore the conspicuously generic monicker of "Human Development." The name derived a certain amount of humor not from what it stated -- which was almost nothing -- but from what it didn't, or rather couldn't: it was essentially a bland euphemism for what in secular schools would have provocatively been known as "Sex Ed." The entire concept of a Catholic school attempting to educate its students about something which was, as far as it was concerned, expressly forbidden was ridiculous in and of itself (I remember thinking that I may as well be offered a class in ritualistic murder), but this particular course upped the surrealist ante considerably by nature of the fact that it was taught by a priest (I remember thinking that I may as well be offered a cooking class taught by an anorexic).
Keep in mind that this was long before the world learned that the monastic vow of celibacy provided certain "exemptions" for its adherents when it came to helpless children.
The priest charged with instructing myself and my classmates in the ways of "Human Development" (the Catholic version) was a small, bearded man named Father Peter Lleo. For the most part, I tuned out the absurdist drivel with which he regularly attempted to poison what he no doubt hoped would be our fertile and impressionable minds, choosing instead -- in a bit of diabolical irony -- to focus on the curves of young Christy Maceo, who sat next to me and who, at a young age, had already blossomed into the kind of woman I could imagine spending the rest of my life with -- or at the very least, ten minutes on top of Father Lleo's desk. Suffice it to say, she was the most "developed human" in the class of 1987.
But then one day, Father Llleo brought up the subject of the distribution of condoms to high school students -- a concept which at that time was in its mere infancy.
His stance, which would of course become the Catholic church's inflexible mantra for two decades to come, was that condoms should not be provided to young people under any circumstance. His reasoning -- if that word can legitimately be used in the same sentence as anything ecclesiastical -- was that the distribution of prophylactics of any kind was immoral, as it was a tacit endorsement of premarital sex. As far as he was concerned, kids shouldn't be having sex, so there was no reason to give them condoms.
It was at this point that my Christy-induced reverie was broken.
"Are you kidding?" I asked him, which immediately drew the attention of the class and let me know with no uncertainty that I'd just crossed the Rubicon.
He seemed slightly stunned by my admittedly disrespectful tone. He then repeated his assertion -- slower this time. I once again asked if he was serious, giving him what I idealistically believed to be his last chance to back out of an argument he had no chance of winning, since his position was handicapped by a complete lack of any goddamned logic or sense whatsoever (I was young -- what did I know?)
"Young people should not have sex, therefore giving them condoms is wrong," he repeated again stoically.
"Yes, but they're going to have sex. There's nothing you can do about that," I said. "You need to give them condoms or at least teach them safe sex because there's a disease out there right now that can kill them."
"They can avoid that disease by not having sex."
"Yes, they can. But there's a very good possibility that they won't. You have to be realistic."
"If we offer them condoms, we let them know that it's okay to have premarital sex."
"No you don't. You're making a necessary concession to reality. Maybe you're right -- maybe kids shouldn't have sex -- but they're going to, and all the browbeating in the world won't change that," I said, noticing that by now the heads and eyes of my classmates were pivoting back and forth between teacher and tormentor as if they were taking in a tennis match.
"That doesn't matter," he said, his voice dripping confident arrogance. "Young people should not have sex. They don't need condoms."
I was exasperated and gave brief thought to quietly getting out of my seat, walking to the front of the class, and punching him in the fucking mouth.
And that's when something dawned on me.
"Father, what kind of car do you drive?" I asked, already well-aware of the answer.
He gave me a bemused look. "A Volvo," he said -- admitting to what I had always thought to be a bizarre lapse in his supposed vow of poverty.
"Do me a favor -- I see your keys on your desk there. Could you hold them up in front of the class?"
He seemed hesitant, but did as I asked.
"Tell me what's on your key ring," I continued.
Even more hesitant now. "Well, my car keys. My house keys..."
"You're forgetting something," I said, then -- "You're forgetting the remote for your car alarm."
He still didn't get it.
"People shouldn't steal cars. So why do you have a car alarm?"
For a moment there was silence, as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of the room -- and then the class erupted in shouts and whistles. I didn't even hear Father Lleo order me to the dean's office; I just saw him point to the door. I could've cared less; I had put him in his place, and that was worth any punishment that might be doled out for my insolence.
I bring up this bit of ancient history for one reason: nothing has changed in twenty years. The Catholic church is still engaged in its irrational and dangerous campaign to stop the distribution of condoms to citizens -- teenagers in particular -- and the argument against the church's lunacy is still as sound as it ever was.
Yesterday, Edward Cardinal Egan and Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio publicly and pompously chastised New York City's leaders, including Mayor Mike Bloomberg, for their role in a new program whose goal is to hand out twenty-six million free, subway-themed condoms across the city -- calling it "tragic and misguided."
"Our political leaders fail to protect the moral tone of our community when they encourage inappropriate sexual behavior by blanketing our neighborhoods with condoms," Egan and DiMarzio said, arguing that it will, "degrade societal standards."
As usual, the Catholic church's inability to recognize the lack of morality inherent in the willingness to sacrifice human lives in favor of an appeasement of its asinine superstition is surpassed only by the intransigence of one simple fact: it holds absolutely NO moral authority anymore. None. The pious virtue it once dangled over the heads of the meek and ignorant -- its self-righteous stranglehold on the ethical high-ground -- was lost in the cry of every child it raped; every vile crime it covered up; every despicable criminal it hid.
Thankfully, this time around, rational and enlightened minds are prevailing: Mayor Bloomberg has already released a statement "respectfully disagreeing" with Cardinal Egan and Bishop DiMarzio.
The truth is, any show of respect is far more than they and the silly little dress-up cult they represent deserve.
For centuries, the Catholic church has wreaked havoc around the globe in the name of fairy-tale hokum and 2000-year-old nonsensical teachings. It has caused outright, or passively allowed, the deaths of thousands and thousands and thousands. It has fought rational thought and intelligent inquiry and destroyed many great minds who dared stand against its ludicrous beliefs and proclamations.
Worst of all, it has failed to recognize its own moral bankruptcy because it believes itself to be the infallible avatar of God.
I feel the same way about the church's foolishness as I did twenty years ago, with one regret: that there will, in all likelihood, be no infinite justice meted out for Cardinal Egan, Bishop DiMarzio and their evil ilk -- as the indifferent oblivion that awaits them is, I fear, the same that awaits us all.