(RNS) Sensational news stories send earth tremors through the culture, causing fissures to open up that allow passage into the real world for people normally denied a public voice to proclaim theories they patched together in the dark.

"I did it," one says; "I confess," another one tells us; "I can lead you to the murderer under a full moon," yet another proclaims.

The earthquake also causes some people with public voices to lose their balance and to say things that lack the tune and the timing of their ordinary statements. They may be confessing what they really feel, versions of the murders they would like to commit, perhaps, but usually have the good sense to keep to themselves.

That explains the Rev. D. George Spagnolia, the pastor from Lowell, Mass., who claims he has been falsely accused by the Boston archdiocese of sexually molesting a teen-ager 32 years ago. "You want to play in the legal ballpark, your Eminence, I'll see you in court and I won't move out of the rectory. Unless, of course, I do when I confess that, during my 20 years off from the priesthood, I had two homosexual affairs." Had the earth not split open, Father Spagnolia would never have found his voice and we would never have heard of him.

>And it may explain how Father Richard John Neuhaus, the Catholic convert and publisher of First Things whose carefully chosen words often appear in the Wall Street Journal, could have been so shaken by the revelations about pedophilia in Boston that he explained their origin in a voice so unlike his own as to seem like bad and distracting dubbing in a foreign movie.

He is quoted in the Boston Globe, in effect, as blaming liberal theological teaching at the Boston seminary for producing the pedophile problem among priests in that area. He claims seminarians "were led to believe ... the rule on celibacy would soon be abandoned .... a kind of wink and nudge attitude -- everything is up for grabs ... dissent in one area encourages dissent in other areas, including sexual ethics."Neuhaus has probably thought better of this statement because not one of its clauses is based on fact. First, there is no evidence the Boston seminary was ever a setting for the kind of dissent and loose moral convictions he ascribes to it. This slanders the faculty members and makes inferences about the causation of pedophilia so peculiar and unfounded as to be filed with Flat Earth theories.

It is difficult to believe Neuhaus, with previous experience as a pastor in Brooklyn that acquainted him with the gritty realities of life, could have so politicized a tragedy that needs what it has not received: a calm appraisal by experts who can bring to this situation something else it has not received -- human understanding marked by sympathy for both victims and victimizers.

Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls is said to be a psychiatrist. As spokesman for Pope John Paul II, we may presume he also knows some theology. He betrayed training in neither field in his recent interview with The New York Times suggesting homosexuals may not be validly ordained to the priesthood. "People with these inclinations just cannot be ordained," he observed.

He compares a homosexual in the priesthood to a homosexual in marriage, saying that just as "such a marriage can be ... considered invalid from the first, the ordination might similarly be invalid."

These are unjustified and inexcusable statements whose real intent is obvious. He denies the pedophile problem can be attributed to homosexuality while laying the groundwork for doing exactly that. If the Vatican concludes that homosexual ordination is invalid, then it can boast that no valid priest has ever been guilty of pedophilia.

The Vatican used the same technique when it began to compile statistics on heterosexual priests applying for permission to marry, telling them that if they admitted that they never wanted to be priests, or had severe psychological problems, their permissions would be granted quickly. Officials could then claim that no real priests ever sought marriage, only those who were either disturbed or had never had vocations.

Navarro-Valls is close to malpractice in floating this trial balloon that should be speared by the Swiss Guards or shot down by the Italian air force immediately. It is breathtaking in the depth of its insult to the many wonderful homosexual priests who serve with such integrity, to all homosexuals, and, indeed, to heterosexuals whose good common sense rejects such theorizing.

It is, however, another example of the oddities that appear when an earthshaking event, such as the sexual scandals in the priesthood, occurs. There is sadness enough for everyone in this situation that is already sad enough in itself. Let us not allow these off-key voices to make it any sadder.
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