Thursday, December 10, 1964
I was furious, and I couldn't wait to talk to him.
"What are you thinking of?" I almost yelled. Not quite, but close. "Is this your idea of being a journalist?"
"Spreading gossip through the secretary."
"The rumors about Father Fox." This time I did yell. "Mrs. Price said she heard from you."
"I was just trying to do something. The man is—was—dangerous."
"You can't be sure."
"Well, I was pretty sure."
"Everybody says so."
"Everybody I know."
"You have details, I assume. The name of a victim?"
"Jimmy Parker," he said. "It's well known."
"Not to his parents, it's not. Goddammit, Sean. What's known for sure is that Bernie, Father Fox, was Jimmy's advisor and went to bat for him when he was being bullied for his perceived homosexuality. What's known for sure is that Father Fox got the bullies suspended. What's known for sure is this began a smear campaign orchestrated by the families of these boys. What's known for sure—and this is what's really pissing me off—is that you're part of the smear campaign."
Sean looked crestfallen. Harsh words from a mentor.
"I didn't mean ... I mean I didn't ... "
"Yea, you didn't mean to be mean. But you were, and it has consequences."
I told him a story well known in Jewish communities about a man who spread gossip about a member of his congregation. When the man realized that he had damaged his neighbor's reputation, he asked his rabbi how he could make things right. The rabbi instructed him to take a feather pillow, cut it open and release the feathers to the wind, and then return to him. The man was puzzled but did so. The rabbi then told him to gather up all the feathers and put them back in the pillow case.
I stared at Sean and delivered the punchline. "When the man pointed out that getting all those feathers back in the pillow case was impossible, the rabbi told him, 'It's easier than repairing the damage caused by your gossip.' "
Sean was suitably downcast. "So there's nothing I can do."
"Only from here on out," I said. "If you can avoid spreading rumors—or even spreading truth when it's not called for—it will be something."
"What to do you mean avoid spreading truth?"
"In your catechism, there are sins called slander, calumny, and detraction. Remember?"
"Well calumny is spreading lies," I said. "Detraction is spreading truth when no good purpose is served. Only harm to the victim. Calumny and detraction are both forms of slander."
"Maybe I need an example."
"Suppose one of your classmates confides in you by saying that he has had homosexual dreams. Let's call him Sam. Should you go and tell your classmates that Sam has had homosexual dreams?"
"No, he probably swore me to secrecy."
"What if he didn't?" I asked.
"Well, it would be mean."
"But it's true."
"But it would hurt him," Sean admitted. "My classmates would think differently about him."
"Maybe Sam is not a homosexual. Or maybe he is. Or maybe he doesn't know. The point is, you don't know—and you don't have a good reason for spreading the story."
"What if he gave me permission to tell others?"
"Well, that would change things, wouldn't it? It would mean your classmate is ready for the consequences, which could be significant."
"Yea, okay, I get it. Spreading gossip, true or false, is not Christian."
"Not by a long shot."
"But BJ, um, Father Fox was a Nazi. SS even."
"True, but that's a half truth. You left out something important."
"He was a Nazi deserter."
"But weren't the Nazi's losing, at that point. He was just trying to save his a-ass."
"How do you know that?"
"All right, speculation on my part. But his background was kept secret."
"Correct. See our earlier discussion about not spreading tales, even when the tales are true. The congregation's leaders were trying to avoid slander, don't you think?"
"Maybe nothing," I said. "That's what they were doing. They released the information only because it helps explain his behavior, as something other than predatory."
"I'm not sure I buy it."
"Then prove it—before you engage in slander. Tell me something. Do your classmates think like you do, that Father Fox was molesting boys."
"Truth. Some do. Some don't. He's always had his fans—and detractors. But," he took a breath. "He's not around. They don't talk about it so much anymore."
"What about Dingo Dave?" I wanted to know. "What do they say about him?"
"Not much anymore. He's always been an outsider, an object of fun. The guys still think he is weird, but ..."
"Out of sight, out of mind," I said.
"Something like that," he said. "But some guys think he did a service."