Hypocritical clerical bully exposed
Once again the mighty have fallen with a big, ugly splat. If there were ever a case of poetic justice in the tumbling to earth of a powerful guy, it was in the crash of Monsignor Eugene Clark, the rector of New York's St. Patrick Cathedral and Cardinal Edward Egan's right-hand man.
Clark's career imploded in an extramarital sex scandal after a wily husband caught him on tape, having an alleged sexual tryst with the man's wife. In pictures plastered all over the news, the portly, 79-year-old priest was seen entering and leaving a motel in the Hamptons with his much-younger secretary, giving further credence to the saying that there's no dog like an old dog.
And there was the irony of it all. Clark was a grandstanding, judgmental, self-righteous man who blamed the recent sex scandal of the Catholic Church not on its own arrogance and self-serving immorality, but on homosexuals, a sex-saturated culture and liberals who campaign against celibacy.
Yet here he was preaching one thing and apparently doing another. When the bullies of morality are brought down by their own vices, they deserve whatever public flogging they get.
Clark's outing as a hypocrite is a continuation of the Catholic Church's priest sex scandals. Pedophiles were allowed to prey on the innocents of the church because of a culture of priestly infallibility, institutional arrogance and contempt for ordinary believers. But these were mostly ordinary parish priests -- sad sacks like John Geoghan and James Porter. Clark isn't accused of molesting children, but belongs to a long line of priests who've had illicit sexual affairs with women. And he's a really big fish, who ran the most prestigious Catholic cathedral in the country.
Clark's behavior blows the priest scandal open even wider, since a lot of people who could never grasp the pedophile thing, because it's so dark and strange, will have no trouble understanding adultery between two heterosexual adults.
Some Catholics will be hurt and disgusted by Clark's alleged misbehavior, but others will regard it with a certain relish. They're like the people I know who were scarred by their Catholic upbringing, by the terrible authority of priests who were treated like demigods and behaved like bullies, and who ruled through fear, guilt, sexual repression and a profound conviction of their male superiority. According to them, if one didn't follow the Baltimore Catechism to the letter, one was doomed to burn in hell.
Malachy McCourt, the Irish Catholic actor, former bar owner, humorist and author, told me he laughed when he heard about Clark's embarrassment.
"The hypocrisy, that's what gets me," he said. "These are human beings, and every human being is sexual. But they would have you believe they are so above it all that nothing stirs them. And that gives people the idea that they're supermen, and that they can do anything they want.
"When you have these people preaching to others about morality and so forth ... I don't care what they do, but they're frightening people, and look at their own lives."
Religious bullies, whether Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or Jewish, are a menace to their followers because they put dogma over simple morality and generosity toward the human condition.
Even after Clark resigned last week, church officials didn't seem to get it. They said he wasn't forced to resign, because he wasn't accused of doing anything "illegal."
Still, it was satisfying to see them humbled.
"They're like dirigibles,"McCourt said of the princes of his church. "They look huge floating over us with their messages. Then they get punctured, and they're flabby rubber."
SHERYL McCARTHY, is a Newsday columnist.