Joseph Symons: A Roman Catholic Topman Comes Clean

First Resigning U.S. Bishop Admits to Taste for Altar Boys

"I was Involved in Inappropriate Sexual Behavior with Minors"

By Jack Nichols
Joseph Symons

Welcome to the June Florida follies. Last weekend Orlando streets played host to Operation Rescue's Flip Benham (Flipped, to some). While rumors about Operation Rescue's sleazy shenanigans multiplied, anti-free-choice protestors and anti-sex "religious" groups finally began getting mugged in the media by residents grown tired of too many pious parsons pelting them with woe.

Festive same-sex lovers and friends were, by contrast, welcomed as other Americans are welcomed at Walt Disney World. To the chagrin of religious fundamentalism's troopers, the host city bedecked its streets with over 700 rainbow flags, thanks to the contributing foresight of a local gay newspaper, WATERMARK, and the collusion of the City Council.

Many locals deemed the invading anti-gay forces a provocation and an annoyance, a sad embarrassment to Christian believers who want to love their neighbors—whoever they may be— and avoid what they see as a fundamentalist mistake: the making of harsh judgments.

Simultaneously, while such reports of Orlando's mid-1998 fundamentalist drama leapt into the media as though from H.L. Mencken's 1925 Scope's trial journals, a horror-stricken West Palm Beach suddenly realized that it too was hosting yet another creepy "religious" bigot, a hypocrite indeed. This particular hypocrite's Roman Catholic parishioners had previously called him Bishop Joseph Keith Symons, Bishop, that is, until his recent scandalous resignation.

Before limits get arbitrarily set while assessing the damage to church credibility caused by this clergyman and to the Vatican's protracted holy war on sex, let it be known that ex-Bishop Symons is not the first U.S. Roman Catholic Bishop to resign under fire for sexual misconduct. He is, however, the first United States Bishop who has admitted having had sexual relations with at least 5 minors. Males.

After a lifetime spent defending, promulgating and upholding official Roman Catholic doctrine about the saving importance to Catholics of chastity vows among non-marrieds, ex-Bishop Symons has belatedly revealed that five angelic altar boys— who came along early in his career, of course-- were apparently too sexy and, obviously, too cute for even a fledgling Bishop to resist.

One is reminded of the Silver-Tongued Infidel's words—those that Robert G. Ingersoll spoke in the last century when addressing all bishops. "I don't believe in calling a man a liar simply because he's a Bishop," he told uproarious audiences, "It's bad enough to call a man a Bishop."

On the heels of such a unique Roman Catholic admission as ex-Bishop Symons' is, it becomes reasonable to conclude that all of these religious sex-regulation generals, time and again, are, in fact, trying most—when they babble—to impose strict sex regulations on their own self-damaged and meandering desire patterns.

"I was involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with minors," ex-Bishop Symons said in his statement last week. If there'd been a few more recent incidents of sexual trysts admitted, the ex-Bishop might now be on the hot seat awaiting trial in some forlorn Florida cooler. But no, priestly pedophiles and philandering old Bishops don't go to jails. Instead, they retire in church-approved "psychological treatment" centers located at undisclosed points on the map.

Pity. This may be at least one case wherein a public—non-Catholic--trial could actually put the church's hypocrisies under an international spotlight. Is it not true that "laymen" convicted of laying minors go straight to jail?

Why not the privileged clergy? You know, those sex- confidants who inhabit confessionals ? Recently in Austria, following adequate disclosures that its top-ranking Roman Catholic church official (a Cardinal, no less) had found too many youths too sexually irresistible, many Austrians renounced their church memberships in disgust. The Austrian Cardinal may or may not have gone to an undisclosed location in another country, according to the press.

Signs of a rowdier ruckus in the Palm Beach Diocese, however, became widespread as word that the bad-boy Bishop shamelessly celebrated Masses even after admitting what the Orlando Sentinel calls his "molestations"

Only two days before word had arrived that such a resignation would be an acceptable strategic course as far as the Vatican was concerned, the defamed cleric boldly and shamelessly confirmed 163 new Roman Catholic members—primarily children— accepting them into the bosom of the church.

The ex-Bishop's temporary replacement, Bishop Robert M. Lynch, attempted to provide an explanation to the press. The ex-Bishop, he said, had been permitted to continue performing his sacramental duties until the Vatican had formally accepted his resignation. Such an explanation failed in certain quarters.

The Reverend Tom Economus, for example, president of Linkup, a support-network for clergy-abuse victims based in Chicago, said, "This shows both the arrogance of the bishop and the arrogance of the Catholic Church….The minute he admitted this he should have stepped down. To continue the farce and charade is terrible."

Jason Berry, the author of a book—Lead Us Not Into Temptation—which puts focus on the sexual infractions committed by Roman Catholic clergymen, said that ex-Bishop Symons represents "one more episode in a continuing scandal of epic proportions."

Ex-Bishop Symons was credited with having fostered the growth of Roman Catholic parishes. He was also a whiz, it is said, at collecting funds for Roman Catholic schools.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Palm Beach, unconsciously arrogant, told reporters that while "there's obviously a tinge of disappointment" in Roman Catholic circles about what has happened to ex-Bishop Symons, "there is also the recollection of a man that was very compassionate and very gentle and meant so much to so many people."