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Why the Kinky Priest’s 911 Call Should Not Have Been News

Wow. I didn’t think it was possible. But I’m actually finding myself feeling sorry for a sexually hypocritical Catholic priest.

You may have already hear about this story. In November of 2012, a Catholic priest made a 911 call asking for emergency help, because he had gotten stuck in a bondage mask and handcuffs (he was apparently alone at the time). The story is now all over the Internet — as is the recording of his 911 call.

Normally, I’d be all over a “religious sexual hypocrisy” story like this one. The Catholic Church’s teachings on sex and sexuality are repugnant to me. And I’m revolted by the hypocrisy of priests and other leaders in the church who demand that their followers practice an absurd, morally convoluted, out-of-touch set of sexual ethics… and then don’t even practice those ethics themselves.

But this story has me creeped out. And not in the usual way.

It’s creeping me out because of the violation of privacy.

People in sexual situations that are both dangerous and potentially embarrassing need to be able to call for help, without fearing that they’re going to be publicly humiliated and that their call for help is going to be spread all over the Internet. How many kinky people — hell, not just kinky people, anyone with any unconventional sexual practices — are going to read this story and be reluctant to call 911 when they’re stuck in handcuffs, when they have something stuck in their ass, when they can’t get a cock ring off, when they stumble in their bondage boots and break their nose?

I don’t know anything about this priest, other than the fact that he got stuck in bondage gear and made a 911 call to help get him out. I don’t know if he was in a more conservative church that practiced a lot of sexual shaming, or if he was in a more inclusive one that cherry-picked out the nasty pits of Catholic sexual shame. I don’t know if he preached sexual shame to his followers while secretly doing kinky stuff, or if he openly opposed the Church’s teachings on sexuality, or if in his public life he just stayed away from the whole topic. I don’t know that it matters. Well, of course it matters in the larger sense.

But I don’t think it matters to this story. I think that, when he was stuck in handcuffs, he should have been able to call 911 without fearing that it would result in his massive public humiliation. His public shaming sends a really crappy message to anyone involved in unconventional sex: “If you’re responsible and take care of your safety by asking for help when you need it, from the people whose job it is to help you, you could easily wind up with your sexual practices becoming the laughing stock of the Internet.”

Since the founding of the Clergy Project, I’ve become more sympathetic to the plight of clergy members who find themselves no longer believing in the teachings of their religion, but who don’t see a way to get out. And that’s true whether the teachings they no longer believe are, “Kinky sex is bad,” or, “God exists.” But again, I don’t know whether that’s the story here or not. I don’t know whether this priest — whose name I’m deliberately not using, since I don’t want to be contributing to the very dogpile I’m critiquing here — was ethically tormented by the conflict between his private actions and the tenets of the faith he was publicly espousing… or whether he was just a straight-up hypocrite, secretly cackling with glee over how he was pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes.

And I don’t think it matters. I think he should have been able to make that 911 call, without fearing that it would result in him being publicly humiliated all over the Internet. I know he didn’t have that legal right — 911 calls in most states are a matter of public record, and there are good reasons for that, having to do with government accountability. But I think he had that moral right.

I’m an atheist, and I think it’s fine for people to mock religious hypocrisy. I think it’s more than fine: I think it’s a positive and beneficial good. But this instance of it is giving me the creeps. Calling 911 is… well, I’m not going to say it’s sacred, obviously. But it’s important. It is, literally, vital. And it’s certainly way too important to screw around with for anything other than the best possible reasons. There are certainly some good reasons to publicize 911 calls: incompetent police responses, bigotry or insensitivity in 911 operators, reporting on a serious news story about a crime, etc. But providing the Internet with this week’s example of religious sexual hypocrisy for everyone to laugh at… that’s not one of them.

I am willing, happy even, to publicly mock religious hypocrisy, and especially religious sexual hypocrisy. Religion is one of the primary sources of pointless sexual shame in our culture, and I will gladly excoriate it on that account. But I don’t want to buy in to the exact sexual shame that I’m condemning in religion. This is not cool.

Comments

  1. says

    Yeah, I think I can agree with you on this. The general hypocrisy is an easy enough target when priests are caught in a rape scandal and the hierarchy covers it up. That sort of thing should be a public concern and cause for public shaming.

    If, however, they’re just doing something by themselves or with consenting adults in a private setting, they should have an expectation of privacy. Being kinky shouldn’t be something to shame people over. And since this is the first I’ve heard of it, I don’t know what this particular priest’s positions are on sexuality, so I can’t be sure there’s hypocrisy involved, anyway.

    One thing that worries me is that I suspect he’s more likely to face punishment from the higher ups in the church than the rapists.

  2. opposablethumbs says

    he’s more likely to face punishment from the higher ups in the church than the rapists.

    Unfortunately true. Also agree w Greta; it’s a safety issue.

  3. says

    This is a pet peeve of mine. Most people probably don’t realize it, but in most states 9-1-1 calls are public record. Anyone at all can request copies of 9-1-1 calls, and if they’re not part of an ongoing criminal investigation the government has to hand it over. 9-1-1 calls don’t fall under HIPAA in most cases, either, since the call center isn’t the agency providing medical care. I believe that there should be some sort of privacy protection for 9-1-1 callers, but right now there isn’t.

  4. lorn says

    I remember talking to a ambulance attendant who worked in the 50s. He explained that back then there were no EMTs or any real medical care on the way to the hospital. Ambulance services were essentially taxi services with a stretcher and flashing light.

    Many communities were served by private ambulance services who were, as often as not, associated with funeral homes. A funeral home could paint a hearse white and make money hauling sick people around. And if the croaked they had a leg up on funeral services. The attendants had no medical training and were selected for clean driving record and the size necessary to haul stretchers up stairs and bodies down. On the way the hospital they gave you state-of-the-art medical care, oxygen.

    Given the heavily Christian moralizing and lack of professionalism it was common for ambulance attendants to make the transport something of a morality play, and have a good laugh at the expense of the client/s. He related that as a junior of a pair of attendants sent to recover a couple having troubles they went to a three story brownstone, kicked in the door after hearing people saying they couldn’t unlock it and finding a couple having sex. The woman’s vagina had clamped down and they could get the people apart, so they loaded them both on the stretched, and without even the decency to cover them with a sheet they hauled them down the stairs as the neighbors gawked, leered, and cheered.

    Evidently moral judgments and shaming were all part of the service. He related how they transported a guy with the better part of a baseball bat up his rear and cracked jokes about it all the way to the hospital. There was no attempt at covering anything up or keeping the victim anonymous. He noted that the staff at the hospital were not generally a whole lot more considerate. Sermonizing and shaming were pretty common.

    Things have gotten a whole lot better but, as this case shows, all isn’t as it should be. Police, fire, rescue and EMTs need to be empathetic and work hard to protect the privacy and dignity of their clients. Emergency services are present when people are at their worse. Failure to protect their anonymity and dignity heaps insult on to of injury. It isn’t necessary or helpful.

    That said people are people. They like a good story. When I worked at a hospital an ER doctor had a file and photographs and X-rays, carefully cropped to avoid faces and names, of unusual cases. Evidently there was a rash in the mid-70s of young males attempting to use incandescent light bulbs as sex toys. The shape is workable enough but the construction is of very thin glass. He saw two bleeding, pained, and highly embarrassed men in one night.

    In the file was a Xerox, remember Xerox, of an article to a medical journal outlining the community outreach efforts of the hospital to the local community alerting them that light bulbs are not sex toys and suggesting that they use devices designed for their particular use.

    At the time it struck me as a difficult conversation start. Hi … I hear you like to … might I suggest you avoid the 60w … Hard to picture a way to deliver that and obtain a positive outcome. Somewhat heroic that they tried, and amazing that they actually were able to get the word out and change behaviors.

  5. baal says

    What Daryl said. 9-1-1 calls should be private and not public records – or at least not available with personally identifiable information. The public does have a right to know what the police records are (9-1-1 is part of the police dept.) but we need everyone to feel free to call and not have to worry that they will be tomorrow’s headline (with full personal info).

  6. Edward Gemmer says

    +1

    The choice to make one’s life public is difficult. It should not be made at the time of the emergency.

  7. maddog1129 says

    That’s one reason I find the news in general to be rather ghoulish. If I were in a severe auto wreck on the freeway, I sure would not want pictures of me on the 6 o’clock news. Having an accident is not a license to publish my image. The cop shows on TV too: The investigating agencies may have agreed to filming, but the people they are chasing, knocking down, handcuffing, etc. didn’t sign any releases. People should be left alone.

  8. says

    I’ve heard adam carolla make a very similar argument in the past. It is crazy that 911 calls are public record. How many people are going to think twice before calling 911 because they are afraid of being embarrassed. I wonder if anyone has died because they waited too long to call.

  9. allencdexter says

    I am very happy to see you recovered enough to be posting somewhat regularly again. Your unique insight and ability to express it so well is very much needed.

  10. iainr says

    @8 without it being public record how often would someone have died because the person who took the call had some reason not to pass it on to the relevant emergency service fast enough or not at all?

    Say a call reporting gunshots from the wrong part of town and the person who picks it up assumes gang violence and thinks gang members deserve what they get so introduces a delay that proves critical to the death of some young person deprived of the chance to turn their life around or an innocent bystander in the cross fire? Or a domestic violence call picked up by someone who recognises the voice of their friend’s wife and dismisses it because she’s said this stuff in the past but his friend has always put his mind at rest that she’s melodramatically making a mountain out a molehill?

    I don’t think it’s crazy that this is public record, I think there’s a fine line between ensuring that people aren’t routinely embarassed by needless distribution and being able to be sure that a public service is working how it should be.

  11. grumpyoldfart says

    “If you’re responsible and take care of your safety by asking for help when you need it, from the people whose job it is to help you, you could easily wind up with your sexual practices becoming the laughing stock of the Internet.”

    He’s into bondage! The last thing on his mind is taking care of his own safety. Putting his safety at risk is the very thing he’s aiming for. He’s probably loving the humiliation. He probably gets a stiffy every time he thinks about all those people laughing at him.

  12. says

    @11 iainr: whoa! I never considered that the person taking the call might just ignore it like that. That is terrible, but I bet you are right, that does seem like it could easily be a bigger problem. Do you know if that used to happen? Is that why it is public record now or something?

  13. Greta Christina says

    He’s into bondage! The last thing on his mind is taking care of his own safety. Putting his safety at risk is the very thing he’s aiming for. He’s probably loving the humiliation. He probably gets a stiffy every time he thinks about all those people laughing at him.

    grumpyoldfart @ #12: Please, please, please, tell me that you’re kidding. Please tell me that you are sarcastically expressing an idea that is the exact opposite of what you really think.

    If not, if you really think that (and to anyone else who might be thinking that): Are you kidding? Do you know anything at all about kinky people? For the record: I’m one of them. And kinky people do care about safety. People in the SM community are typically fanatical about safety. We sometimes like to consensually act out fantasy scenarios of danger — but we typically do so in carefully thought-out and safe settings. We don’t like real-world, actual danger that could seriously hurt or kill us, any more than anybody else does.

    And we sometimes like to consensually act out fantasy scenarios of humiliation — but that doesn’t mean we like humiliation in the real world, any more than anybody else does. Acting out a carefully negotiated humiliation scene with a caring partner who respects and values you and your desire is radically different from being actually and non-consensually humiliated in the real world, by people who disrespect and despise you, in a way that ruins your life.

    Please find out something about what kinky people actually do, and what our experience actually is, before speaking about it again — here, or anywhere. Here’s a good start. Here’s another. Please do not say another word about SM in this blog until you’ve educated yourself about it. Thank you.

  14. Greta Christina says

    hausdorff @ #8: Like I said in the piece, there are some good reasons to publicize 911 calls, having to do with accountability: incompetent police responses, bigotry or insensitivity in 911 operators, etc. I think we need to balance that against people’s right to privacy, and people’s need to be able to call 911 without fear of public humiliation. One possibility that I’ve seen floated is that 911 calls not be publicized without permission of the caller: without that permission, only transcripts could be released, edited so they reveal relevant information without violating the caller’s privacy.

  15. Rike says

    Oooooh, that poor priest! All he was doing was checking out some equipment to get firsthand knowledge about what he was condemning; and of course by not having any idea about what he was doing, he got trapped in it…

    As much as I think that he got what he deserved, I do agree with you. Nobody should have to be afraid of calling 911, and those parts that are open to public viewing should not contain names or addresses. That is indeed totally creepy! Even if I have a heart attack, or fall off a ladder, that should not be anybody elses business.

  16. john galt says

    The bible-god-jesus = fairy tales-guilt-super natural leaving an agonistic or AKA a well-adjusted person. People without self-worth, without self-confidence need a reason to behave in society. Religion is that reason. Good behavior is dictated by religion not self-worth. Why are people so dependent on magical, unseen, invalidated and anonymous writings to validate behavior? Why are we so weak and decrepit that we cannot form our own dichotomy independent of priests, books of lore and stained glass? Has not the decline of human behavior demonstrated self-reliance and selflessness is not attained through mythical prayer and tidings? Has not religion demonstrated that it is a vehicle of sodomy and greed? Has not the belief in an almighty power, greater than self, created wars and limitations on artistic growth? Why are people who claim to have visions of god labeled psychotic? Were visions of god only apparent two thousand years ago and not now? Is god in hibernation?
    Why does this country depend so heavily on “Born Again” – why wasn’t the first time good enough? What did these people do that cannot be forgiven by themselves? Why do people say god will guide me? Guide you where? To heaven – that over-the-rainbow celestial cloud in the sky? Maybe Santa will be there too. We are morphing into a weak dependent nation while other people (there are other people besides Iowa ,you know) are realizing that god, jesus, angels, heaven, hell and the Easter bunny are soothing, fun and words of wisdom linking your consciousness to your intelligence without actualization.

  17. john galt says

    I got carried away – I am so sick of pedophilic priests my angst erupted like Mt. Saint Helens

  18. says

    I believe a balance can be found. If a stranger unrelated to the incident requests a 9-1-1 (the media, for instance) the law should allow the agency to redact identifying information from the call before releasing it. If someone feels that their own call was mishandled, then they should be able to request the full, un-redacted call, and they should be able to share that with anyone they want, including the media. That would keep agencies accountable without violating privacy. It’s really not that complicated of a problem.

  19. njr says

    The fact is, the media *always* exploits private lives for public humiliation, ask ANY public figure. The problem is that we like it that way. If we didn’t, we’d stop consuming such reporting and they’d report on something else; news outfits aren’t in the business of reporting on what we don’t want to know. Until the practice costs them audience or advertisers, they have no incentive whatsoever to change.

    “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

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