Controversial Ex-Priest Guides Paterson

March 26, 2008

by Tom deignan
 
DO you know how you can tell it has been a crazy couple of weeks up in Albany? Because one of the most powerful men in New York State now is an Irish Catholic ex-priest who presided over John F. Kennedy Junior’s wedding and funeral, and who once wrote an explosive article about sex and the priesthood for Playboy magazine.

And this has barely raised any eyebrows.

I guess that’s what happens when one governor (Eliot Spitzer) steps down after getting nabbed in a prostitution scandal and his replacement (David Paterson) admits that he, and his wife, have had a number of affairs.

Oh and by the way, Paterson added this past Monday, he’s used pot. And cocaine.

Who says politics is boring?

Because Spitzer and Paterson keep the salacious revelations coming, Charles J. O’Byrne has sort of slipped under the radar. Just a few weeks ago, O’Byrne was toiling in relative obscurity as an aide to then Lieutenant Governor Paterson.

It was the first time in roughly a decade O’Byrne was away from the spotlight. His path to Albany’s corridors of power was, to say the least, eventful.

O’Byrne grew up in New Jersey, where he attended Ca-tholic schools. He graduated from Colum-bia University in 1984, then entered the priesthood, becoming a Jesuit.

While at the Church of St. Ignatius Loy-ola on the Upper East Side, he became a friend to the Kennedy family. When JFK Jr. and Carolyn Bessette were married in 1996, O’Byrne officiated at the ceremony.

Sadly, it was also O’Byrne who advised the family, and presided over the funeral services after a small plane piloted by JFK Jr. disappeared into the night sky, killing him, his wife and her sister.

But it was in 2002 that O’Byrne really thrust himself into the spotlight. He wrote a long, personal article in Playboy which slammed many members of the clergy as close-minded bigots.

“Once in the seminary, I quickly learned some harsh truths. Many of my classmates in the New York archdiocesan system were exceptionally narrow-minded, and some were out-and-out bigots who made offensive remarks about Jews and Hispanics, among others, all the while offering pious phrases about Jesus,” O’Byrne wrote.

“I protested, but nothing happened. I protested some more, and then told a friend what was going on. My friend wrote to John Cardinal O’Connor and urged him to investigate what sounded like officially approved hate crimes.

“With reason to fear a media scandal, the archdiocese pretended to discipline the seminary superior who had coddled the bigots, but in reality it merely shuffled him off to a cushy job.”

As if that’s not enough, O’Byrne also depicted the priesthood in general and the Jesuits in particular as a highly sexualized -– and gay –- sub-culture.

“Despite official church pronouncements, my colleagues and I knew there were many gay priests, and that many of them had adult lovers. Sometimes the lovers were priests, too, and sometimes they were laypersons.

“In most cases such relationships were handled discreetly, but I have been at more than one funeral for a priest where his lover was in the front row.”

O’Byrne -– who himself is gay — also took more than a few swipes at the Irish.

“This belief in sex as sin has been worsened in the American Catholic church, which was shaped by the history of Ireland,” writes O’Byrne.

“Sex became the signature taboo of Irish Catholicism. The Irish bishops helped ruin the great 19th century Irish patriot Charles Stewart Parnell, Ireland’s best hope for a meaningful emancipation, when he had an affair with a married woman. When the Irish came to America, their priests imposed a similar model of control on a vast network of parishes and schools.

“Many veterans of the American Catholic education system had it drilled into their heads that sex was dirty and that sexual sins such as masturbation would send the sinner to hell.”

Well, O’Byrne is now Paterson’s closest aide, carrying the title secretary to the governor. Agree with him or not, at any other time, O’Byrne’s controversial life and position of influence would make for big headlines.

But not when governors are living lives that would make even the readers of Playboy a little squeamish.

Contact at Tom tomdeignan@verizon.net

 
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