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The Reactionary Utopian

 The Case of the “Randy Rector” 

September 1, 2005 
In early August, New York City’s two big tabloids, the Post and Daily News, ran giggly front-page stories about one of the city’s most prominent priests, Monsignor Eugene Clark, 79, rector of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Today's column is "The Case of the 'Randy 
Rector';" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.He had been named co-respondent in the bitter divorce of his 46-year-old secretary.

Monsignor Clark, as it happens, is an old and dear friend of mine, whom I’ve known and revered for more than 39 years. He has been helpful to me personally. Until now, his honor has been unquestioned. The story shocked me, and I prayed it wasn’t so. I wasn’t giggling.

But the tabs came forth with more details, as well as pictures of the priest and the woman at a Long Island motel, taken by an investigator working for her husband. He was said to have signed in under an alias. Her 14-year-old daughter had said she’d seen the two sharing a Jacuzzi, and it was alleged they’d traveled to Lisbon together. It looked damning, but Monsignor Clark denied any guilt. He said he and the woman had been working on an editorial project; that was all. I wanted to believe him; yet it was getting harder to doubt the charges. If innocent, why would he use a false name?

When he resigned his rectorship a few days later, it seemed as much as an admission of guilt. The story had gotten so much publicity that I felt I had to write about it. I did so, as tentatively as I could, without making a judgment of culpability. A friend urged me not to touch the story, but to me that seemed a bit like not mentioning Michael Jackson’s indictment until his trial ended.

The tabs certainly weren’t waiting. They gleefully dubbed Monsignor Clark “the randy rector” and assumed the worst.

Either he was guilty or he had been cunningly framed. In a divorce case, the latter possibility can’t be ruled out.

This week, another old priest friend, who knows Monsignor Clark, called me to offer a very different version of events. It boiled down to this: the pair were telling the truth. They’d gone to the motel so the secretary could go to the beach while he stayed in the room and worked or napped. He hadn’t used an alias when checking in. They had never taken a trip abroad together, certainly not to Lisbon. The daughter’s Jacuzzi story was a lie.

[Breaker quote for The Case of the 'Randy Rector': Was Monsignor Clark framed?]So which of these competing accounts is true? A fair inquiry could focus on a few crucial details.

First, did Monsignor Clark demonstrably lie about any of the facts in dispute? More particularly, did he use a false name at the motel? The records should be easy to check.

Second, did he and the secretary go to Lisbon at the same time? Again, some record of such a trip should exist — if it happened.

Third, just when and where did the daughter see them sharing a Jacuzzi? It seems almost incredible that a woman committing adultery would risk having her daughter catch her in so compromising a situation with a man the girl knew to be a priest. Both parties had so much to lose that one wondered: Had they both lost their marbles?

If all the charges check out, it is reasonable to conclude that Monsignor Clark is guilty. But if not, then it’s just as reasonable to infer that he is the victim of an elaborate calumny.

A fourth question is this: Did the tabloids make any effort to confirm these allegations, or did they just accept hostile testimony in their never-ending pursuit of a juicy story? Put otherwise, were they so eager for a priest-caught-with-woman scandal that they were willing to impute preternatural virility to a 79-year-old man? Were they taking the word of the estranged husband for things they could hardly have heard from any other source?

The New York Times has covered the story with sober restraint. It might use its considerable investigative talents to get to the bottom of the matter. In the end, the real scandal could turn out to be the tabloids’ sacrifice of journalistic standards — and simple fairness and honesty — to the consuming imperative of providing titillation. The Times has proved its integrity by reporting its own derelictions in the Jayson Blair case. Now it can put the integrity of its rivals to the test.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2005 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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