MAXWELL: What’s pathetic is Egan’s judgment

3/18/2001 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


I relish a good fight as much as the next fella.

Since I wrote a column more than a week ago about Yo Mama’s Last Supper, a photograph that is part of an exhibition of black photographers at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, I have been on the receiving end of some nasty missives, both snail and electronic.

Folks are mad for several reasons: First, I have the unmitigated gall to like Renee Cox’s image of the Last Supper, a five-panel-color presentation in which Cox portrays herself as the naked Jesus Christ.

People are upset also because I condemn Edward Cardinal Egan for referring to Cox as a “pathetic individual.” Egan is the newly installed head of the 2.3-million-strong New York archdiocese. I have been accused of Catholic-bashing because I took on Egan.

In the column, I wrote: “Does a photograph make Cox “pathetic’? Has the good cardinal ever used the word “pathetic’ to describe the priests who molest little boys? Or has he been part of the vast coverup that protects these despicable men? Their behavior is both a crime and sin. . . . No one has reported that Cox . . . has sinned against an innocent child. . . . Egan does not have the ethical authority to judge this artist as a good or bad individual for her photographs. No human has such authority as far as I am concerned.”

I am returning to this issue because, since the column was published in newspapers nationwide, new information has come to light that shows _ as far as I am concerned _ that Egan has no authority whatsoever to judge Cox’s character.

On March 10, the New York Post reported that the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., admitted that six of its priests sexually abused 26 children. The diocese avoided embarrassing court proceedings by agreeing to settle the cases behind closed doors. The amount of money to be paid has not been disclosed.

But guess who is the main witness in all of the lawsuits? Cardinal Egan. Through settlement, he has been spared the huge embarrassment of taking the stand. According the Post, the late Bishop Walter Curtis headed the Connecticut diocese when most of the abuses occurred, from 1961 to 1988. During those years, Egan was a bishop in the diocese.

As my second question in the original column asked, has Egan been part of a coverup? I have no hard evidence to show that he was, but the lawsuits accuse Egan and the Bridgeport Diocese of covering up for the priests in Fairfield County, according to the Post.

“Egan specifically was accused of allowing one priest to have contact with children a decade after the priest was accused of molesting a child,” the Post states.

Cindy Robinson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told the Post, “I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that the settlement came about the same time Bishop Egan was elevated to the position of cardinal. I’m not aware of any other cardinal testifying in a priest molestation case. I think it would be a pretty big deal.”

Members of the Supervisors Network of Those Abused by Priests are disappointed that Egan will not have his feet put to the fire. They want to hear the cardinal explain his alleged protection of pedophiles.

Egan had no trouble castigating Cox, a mere photographer who portrayed the Last Supper and Jesus as she saw fit.

Remember, he called her a “pathetic individual.”

Edward Cardinal Egan apparently has no such venom for priests who abuse little boys. In a statement, according to the Post, he said of the molestation lawsuits that “any incidence of sexual abuse is painful for all persons involved, particularly those who are victims of such abuse. It is my hope and my prayer that this resolution will enable true and deep healing to begin.”

Such warm, expansive empathy does not impress me. Where is the tough language that was used to attack Renee Cox?

I reiterate my earlier position: Egan is a hypocrite. He does not have the ethical authority to judge Cox for Yo Mama’s Last Supper. This woman, as far as anyone knows, has not molested a child. She has not ruined a boy’s life. She shot some photographs _ only.

And for that, she is “pathetic”?

If truth be told, priests who abuse boys _ along with church leaders who protect them by covering up the sins and crimes _ are the “pathetic” ones.