Outrage and Adventitious Amnesia in Erie

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jul 04, 2003

A story in last week's Erie Times-News reports on an instructive conflict. Father John Trigilio was suspended of his faculties to preach, teach, and hear confessions in the Diocese of Erie. Caught exploring diversity issues in a gay bar, perhaps?

Nothing of the kind. He gave an interview in which the remarks he made were such that he was charged with "gross impudence bordering on scandal." Well then, he must have derogated the Blessed Virgin, or impugned the reliability of Scripture, or dissented from Catholic doctrine regarding contraception, abortion, divorce, or the nature of the Eucharist. Or perhaps, given the expression "gross impudence," he joined forces with the growing number of priests who openly flout Church teaching on homosexuality, right?

Wrong. Referring to a seminary he attended, Trigilio told author Michael Rose, "If you wore a cassock, you were a reactionary 'daughter of Trent.' If you wore women's underwear, they'd make you seminarian of the year."

Got that? Trigilio wasn't pushing the lavender agenda. His crime was protesting against the gay dominance of the seminary, albeit sarcastically. Bishop Donald Trautman spat the pacifier across the room when he read Trigilio's criticism, and trained all his heavy artillery on Trigilio in his ensuing letter:

"I am frankly shocked by your outrageous comments. That statement alone is outrageous and unworthy of any priest. It reflects poor judgment and gross impudence bordering on scandal. Because of your allegations and the scandalous manner in which you have publicized your thoughts, I hereby forbid you to exercise any priestly ministry in the Diocese of Erie until further notice."

Quite a display of fireworks. One detects a more wistful note in Trautman's dealings with another Erie priest, embroiled in a different kind of difficulty. A techie repairing Fr. Robert Bower's computer was shocked to find on the hard drive "three photo images ... of an adult man sodomizing a 5-year-old boy." Bower was subsequently arrested and charged with possession of child pornography. To the editors of the Times-News, Trautman wrote:

When Rev. Bower was arrested in 1999 he was placed on administrative leave while charges were pending. I sent him to counseling and, based on recommendations from medical experts, he was entrusted with supply work [i.e., saying mass in various parishes]. The former charges against him were dropped. There is no evidence of misconduct known to the diocese on the part of Rev. Bower from 1999 to the present. He appears to be a person who has put his life in order.

Trigilio can't preach in Erie; Bower could. Clearly Trautman views Trigilio as the greater threat to his diocese. Speaking ill of seminary life merits two uses of "outrageous" in a single paragraph, which, by the way, put us in mind of another product of Trautman's pen, his censure of chaplaincy secretary Sally Beres for her "outrageous claim" that the Erie Diocese stiffed her when she reported in 1982 that -- how's this for a coincidence? -- her boss Fr. Robert Bower was stashing gay porn.

When [Beres and her friend Ann Caro] went into Bishop Murphy's office, the women said, they sat in a row in front of the bishop's desk. They said Beres went to hand Murphy the materials she had found in Bower's office, but that Murphy did not take them. "He refused to even touch them," Beres said. "He refused to even look at them. He just said, 'We cannot let this get out.'" Caro and the other woman at the meeting confirmed Beres' account. "He refused to look at anything," Caro recalled. "He lectured us on love and what it means to love." ... Murphy said he does not remember the meeting, which would have happened shortly after he became bishop of Erie on July 16, 1982.

By yet another astonishing coincidence, Bishop Murphy's memory again failed him regarding Trigilio's complaint:

Retired Bishop Michael J. Murphy, in an interview with the Erie Times-News, said he recalled meeting with Trigilio and several other young seminarians when Trigilio was in the seminary. Murphy, 87, said he recalled discussing only religious concerns with the seminarians. He said he recalled no discussions about allegations of immorality in the seminary.

The moral of the story might be put in the form of a riddle:

Q: What do you get when you cross a bishop with the Seminarian of the Year?
A: I don't have a clear recollection.

[Note: there are no permalinks to the news stories quoted above. To find the pertinent articles, go to www.goerie.com and feed "Trigilio" and "Beres" into the Search engine.]

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