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The Church That Forgot Christ by Jimmy Breslin


Rating: (Mildly Recommended)


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Jimmy Breslin’s ability to tell a memorable story shines on the pages of his latest book, The Church That Forgot Christ. His ability to create a memorable phrase reveals itself in his moniker for one of the New York Catholic bishops: “Mansion Murphy,” a reference to the palace the bishop created for himself after throwing a group of nuns out of a building in Rockville Center. Breslin’s personal anger with the pedophile scandal in the Catholic Church fuels the pages of this book, and makes the stories come alive. That same anger distracts from any key points readers might take away from this book. Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter Eleven, pp. 139-145:


The pigeons of Seventh Avenue at noon of this day were dirty and brazen and accompanists to the start of a day of more cold distressing stories of the church. I wanted to duck them, but I could not. Father Frank Pizzarelli, who was in from Port Jefferson, out on Long Island, got off the train across the street at Penn Station and we went into a place for a hamburger and coffee. We talked about the death of Raymond Trypuc at age twenty-eight, and the reasons for his dying. The body should have been thrown onto the steps of St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, the home of the Catholic church’s Long Island diocese, which by now was close to having the oldest, most organized criminal conspiracy in the nation. Frank Pizzarelli, a large dark-haired man with a beard, talked of the death of Raymond Trypuc.

“He showed up in my teenage homeless shelter,” Pizzarelli was saying. “I never knew him until I saw him. I don’t know if we could have saved him. But the diocese committed the crime of giving him money when he was alone and had nobody to counsel him. It was like giving the poor guy a loaded gun to put in his mouth.”

The wounding and eventual killing of Ray Trypuc started in 1978 when the parish priest, James Bergin of St. Francis de Sales in Patchogue, became what seemed to be a close, close friend of Trypuc’s father, Raymond Trypuc, Sr. Trypuc was a telephone company lineman from eight to five and afterwards, he went right to a counterman’s job in a delicatessen, where he finished at eleven at night. The priest slipped into his son’s life in the hours when he was away. He took Raymond off on ski trips. “I’m working twojobs,” the father said. “I can’t do that for him.” On the ski trips, the priest and Raymond were in one room. Certainly, the priest molested him. ‘When a neighbor called the father and said he suspected Father Bergin, Trypuc made the priest come over to the house, where he admitted it. The next day, a nun called Trypuc and said the priest was off in therapy. At eighteen, Trypuc joined the army. He came home and money immediately was missing in the house, a sharper warn­ing than lights at a railroad grade crossing. He tried drug rehabilita­tion on Long Island. Then he went to Father Pizzarelli’s shelter, Hope House. ‘When we finally found out a priest had put this kid into trouble, we called the diocese. Placa was in charge.”

Monsignor Alan Placa was a beefy, duplicitous man who was the vice chancellor of the diocese, putting him one step under a bishop. He was advertised as the closest friend, the spiritual adviser to Rudolph Giuliani and held himself out as a protector of children. He was also a lawyer who bought silence from victims in sexual abuse cases in the Long Island diocese.

The only person he couldn’t save was himself. Placa came to the job with complaints of his sexual abuse of young men that went back to the steam engine, though he has denied all these accusations and has never been criminally charged. According to a grand jury report in one case, the young man helped Placa make banners for a parade protesting the Roe v. Wade decision and with the banner covering him, Placa fondled the boy’s genitals. The report also stated that he tried to grope a young man in front of the casket at his father’s wake. Placa, a priest named John Alesandro, and a third, Frank Caldwell, had a diocese intervention team, which meant they interviewed priests and victims and their families and settled the cases secretly with the victim’s family and in many cases, priests were shuffled to another parish without a thought about the priest’s next victims. What makes them so important all of a sudden? We don’t even know who they are.

Placa had priests on his staff go to Pizzarelli’s Hope House and remove Trypuc without Pizzarelli knowing it. Trypuc vanished into the sky and off to a rehabilitation facility in Arizona. He was in two facilities and then payments from the diocese ran out. He called Placa on Long Island. Placa sent him $25,000 to sign a release saying he would not sue. The money did not last long in the sun and drugs. Neither did Trypuc.

Placa tried to say that he had done the proper thing. “That was it for you?” Pizzarelli was asked.

“No. I said the funeral mass.”

The molesting complaints about Placa caused his suspension as a priest. He went to work for Rudolph Giuliani’s new company in Manhattan. He was allowed to say mass twice, and that was over the casket of Giuliani’s mother and his own.

After seeing Pizzarelli, I had to go only a few blocks downtown to meet Tom Faye, who was in the Triple Crown Bar on Seventh Av­enue. He was on his lunch break from working in the carpet busi­ness. He was there to talk about his son, who commited suicide on Long Island after being molested by a priest, he said.

“How did you lose the kid?” I said.

“I live in Holbrook,” Faye said. “My wife and I were out buying patio furniture and when we got back to the house there was a police car in front. I figure, What are they here for? The kids broke some­body’s window No, around here, they won’t call if that’s all that happened. They know me and they know they’d get paid and the kids kept in the house.’”

“You didn’t think of anything worse?”

“I just stopped thinking. I saw a neighbor standing outside his house and looking. I didn’t like that, I guess. My wife was different. She gets out of the car and runs into the house screaming.”

“She knew”

“I guess women do. I went to the neighbor and I said, ‘Joe, what happened?’ He said my kid fell. That’s all he said. I went inside and he was on the floor. He died suddenly.” He put his head down and said no more. He didn’t have to.

“We went to the hospital,” Faye said, “and they had him up on this stainless steel table. He was blue. I kissed him and left. You lose a son, fifteen years three months.”

A priest, Father Brian McKeon, who was a very close friend of the young man’s—”You’d like this priest as soon as he walks into the room”—had been out of town when Faye died, but he returned and served the mass and gave the eulogy.

‘All I know is that he was there, our favorite priest, Father Brian McKeon, on March 2, 1987, says mass for my dead son. He imme­diately came around to comfort the youngest brother. He always was with us so much. Barbecues, golf, family outings. Then griev­ing. Once, I had this thought. He never hung out with a family where there was just a daughter.”

One day, a little over two years ago, young men in the neighbor­hood fought over a priest’s affections. Then some of the neighbors talked about McKeon, who has been identified in lawsuits as an abuser and has previously admitted to engaging in “inappropriate” conduct with young boys. After which a family friend, Bob Fernan­dez, a retired New York detective, called Faye’s wife.

“Bob said to me, ‘I wanted to tell you myself before you hear this from anybody else,’ “she recalls. He told her that the priest McKeon had molested the dead son. Then the priest molested the second son.

Trypuc and his wife went to the Long Island diocese headquar­ters in Rockville Centre. They saw Monsignor Alan Placa, who did abuse complaints precisely as expected. He promised to investigate and report to the bishop.

On St. Patrick’s Day 2001, Faye remembered, he and his wife were in Manhattan on 48th Street and 5th Avenue, watching the pa­rade, when the Nassau County Police Emerald Society marched by with chaplain Brian McKeon out front. The Fayes couldn’t get through the barricades. They went to Park Avenue and took a cab up to 68th Street. Faye ran back to Fifth Avenue in time to jump into the police contingent. He was in the rank right behind McKeon. He made McKeon step out of line and go into the park, but the place was filled with police. Faye left. “If you ever see him tell him I’m looking for him,” he said to me now.

Faye had to go back to work. I started to go home, but a note scrawled on my notebook caused me to walk two blocks to Eighth Avenue and 23rd Street, where a dull red awning at number 332 West 23rd gave the name of Leo House. It is an eight-story stone building whose brochure notes, “is a safe, quiet guest house with a Christian atmosphere, centrally located within New York City, and is staffed by the Sisters of St. Agnes and lay persons.”

There he was, in these years from 1995 to 1997, leaning over the front desk and greeting and booking all guests, most prominently the young: the Reverend Paul Shanley. All he had to do was step out­side to be on the streets of the Chelsea neighborhood, teeming with young. There can be no realistic estimate of the number of young people he had attacked and abused in Boston. They stopped count­ing at only sixteen of his stadium full of victims.

He seduced a fifth-grade boy and kept abusing him for four years. The archdiocese paid $100,000. It was one of several settle­ments. The archbishop, Medeiros, did nothing. Shanley had a street mission, with the homeless young and drug addicts. He dressed counterculture style, with no collar and long hair. He ran schools and dances and special clubhouses. His life was an aberration, and nobody stopped it. In 1978, at a conference, he said that sex with children hurt nobody. He said the same thing in a magazine called Gaysweek. He extolled man—boy love. Medeiros received so many complaints that he had to revoke Shanley’s street ministry. Shanley then made it known he had enough on Medeiros to turn the diocese upside down. In some sort of compromise, Shanley was transferred to a money parish in Newton, where nobody young was safe. He had no way of controlling himself and he went everywhere, walking into wards of hospitals, prison hospitals, a home for children. He was Catholicism’s busiest pedophile. He had Bishops Daily and Murphy supposedly monitoring him. They did nothing but write letters praising him.

Finally, with too many complaints coming in, he moved, or fled, to California, where he ran a hotel for gay nudists in Palm Springs. He came back east and followed his close friend, Frank Pilecki, who had been the president of Westfield State College in Massachusetts until he went openly mad over young boys and got himself busted. Pilecki came down to run Leo House on 23rd Street. He went off to die, but left his gay connections to Leo House open for Shanley, who arrived in 1995 as a priest and assistant director.

It was a marvelous position. There were seven floors of rooms renting from sixty-five dollars to eighty-six dollars a night. The place is known everywhere in the world as fine lodgings for decent Catholics who need no bar in the lobby or ornate bedrooms.

His background was known. Neither the Boston nor NewYork archdiocese complained. There was an indictment looming in Boston. Shanley was still all right at Leo House.

And then somehow John O’Connor, archbishop of New York, happened to look at the Shanley file and saw the address of Leo House. West Twenty-third. That was right in the middle of Chelsea. In the political district of Tom Duane, then in the City Council. Tom Duane was gay and not reticent about it. And he was not quiet about O’Connor, who preached that being gay was to at­tempt to leap over the pit of the flames of hell and survive if you can. Why, if this Duane ever finds out about this Shanley!

“Get him out of this archdiocese now!” O’Connor thundered.

Never mind about all these hundreds of young people abused by Shanley, and as a result grew up with minds in pieces.

After me, they come first.

Shanley was gone to his fates with the Boston prosecutors and courts. He is in his early seventies so the flaming part of his life is over. His playing field is a cell with big thick bars. But it is an exam­ple, perhaps the most telling of all, as to the regard the church has for the helpless.

We look to journalists like Breslin to uncover stories and present them to readers. Breslin accomplishes that in The Church That Forgot Christ. Clearly, the stories Breslin selects present what he wants to convey to readers. The stories in this book describe behavior that will sadden all readers, discourage many, and leave too many questions unanswered.

Steve Hopkins, September 25, 2004


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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the October 2004 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: Church That Forgot Christ.htm


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