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Catholic Culture Solidarity

The Bostonians

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jun 16, 2004

Msgr. Michael Foster, Boston's "Queer Eye" canonist, is back in the news again with the release of a report of a private organization severely critical of the process by which the Archdiocese exonerated Foster of complaints of sexual misconduct with an emotionally unstable man named Paul Edwards. There are certain controversies that take on a symbolic significance greater than the rights and wrongs of the parties involved, precisely because they foreground especially vexed questions. This is one of them.

Just as scholarly priests belong to, and are to some extent formed by, a culture of scholarship that becomes interwoven with their ministerial lives in ways too numerous to count, so too gay priests are connected with, and partly formed by, a gay culture whose influence continues in obvious and not-so-obvious ways in their priesthood. Even those who wish to put their troublesome associations behind them find that it is not always possible.

By its nature the gay culture is rife with shadowy, borderline characters -- half-hookers, part-time blackmail artists, sporadic psychopaths, drug dealers, liturgists, thieves. Since it is a culture defined by illicit pleasure-seeking it is inevitable that those who take part in it, even if they tend to stay on the fringes, will snarl themselves in ambiguous situations with ambiguous persons in which the categories of moral responsibility have all but disappeared in the murk.

Edwards claims to have been abused by two Boston priests: William Cummings, who died of AIDS in 1994, and Michael Foster. Foster admits that he brought the teenage Edwards up to his rectory bedroom but denies sexual misconduct. The Archdiocese, somewhat too conveniently, decided that Edwards was telling the truth about the dead priest but was lying about Foster (epidemiology fans will be interested to note that Cummings was resident at Newton's Our Lady Help of Christians parish at the time of abuse -- where Foster was later to live).

The question that exercises the media -- and, it would seem, the Archdiocese as well -- is whether Foster's relations with Edwards constitute abuse in a legally actionable sense. As suggested above, Foster and Edwards may both be damaged beyond the point where a clear answer is possible. But some of us are more impressed by the dog that didn't bark, the Archdiocese's failure to address the question of accountability: whose thumbs have been applied to whose windpipes?

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