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The Cathedral Incident
by Brian S. Wise
24 August 2002

Even this former liberal, non-religious writer cannot defend baseless disrespect of the church.



On 15 August, a man and a woman were arrested for having sex inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, at the behest of two radio talk show hosts (Greg Hughes and Anthony Cumia, hosts of the Opie and Anthony Show), who were holding a contest to see who, if I am understanding this correctly, could have sex under the most unusual circumstances, or with the most unusual people. (Here it is meant police officers, firemen, et cetera, so long as it was recorded.) The basis of comparison between participants was a point system, constructed around not only where but with whom sex was had; Church sex happened to be worth 25 points – though sex at Rockefeller Center was worth 30, which is questionable; one would imagine heresy is more valuable, points wise – to the end of whatever prizes I simply couldn’t say.

Saint Patrick’s was particularly full on the day of the incident (Mr. William F. Buckley, Jr. has since noted it was the Feast of the Assumption) and the act was carried out while a producer for the show, one Paul Mercurio, stood nearby, delivering play-by-play to a live audience. Everyone in question was arrested, Hughes and Cumia have been yanked off the air by their parent station, WNEW in New York City, and in 16 other cities where the show was syndicated by Infinity Broadcasting.

One could have any of several different reactions upon learning of such a story. So far the two most prominent have been, first, outrage; a greater or lesser outrage depending on the exact depth of one’s religious convictions, but outrage nonetheless. One seems compelled to mention the fact St. Patrick’s isn’t a porn movie set, it is instead a rather seriously considered house of worship. The second reaction is wonder; as in, exactly when did entertainment digress to a point where a contest such as this is esthetically pleasurable? (Other than for those having the actual sex, I mean.)

Honesty here commands a certain truth be told: mine is neoconservatism, which is to suggest I evolved from liberalism into my current mindset; but certain very visible tenets of liberalism remain in my character, including virtually all of my entertainment tastes. Whatever interested me a decade ago, as a liberal, most likely interests me today, if not more so (with certain reasonable allowances made for the natural maturity that comes with the passing of years, of course). There is a simple enough philosophy behind such tendencies, that whatever an adult finds to his own satisfaction should generally be left to his own satisfaction, so long as no innocents are compromised. (The difference here between adulthood and childhood is important, if distinguishable only by age and not maturity.)

This also happens to be the prevailing philosophy when it comes to “shock jocks.” (A phrase that irritates; absolutely no one in radio is saying anything more shocking or intellectually offensive than those at NPR, and yet we save them from the term, for mysterious reasons.) Whatever a radio host can sucker his listeners into is between him, his listeners and the management that stands idly by and allows it all to happen. The Opie and Anthony Show has, for two examples, fulfilled lesbian fantasies and encouraged females to call in on their cell phones, at which time they were supposed to masturbate with them, on the air. We can all agree, this isn’t exactly high comedy in the grandest tradition.

That said, the vast majority of the nation – moreover, the nation’s radio listening audience – has never heard a single word spoken in the commission of the Opie and Anthony Show until this week, at the height of the controversy, when various excerpts were broken down and spread around for broadcast on television. To have a better idea as to what I would be writing about, extensive research was done and several transcripts from the show were read, and I’ve got to say, at the risk of harming my credibility as a conservative, they were pretty funny. Not for everyone, and certainly not for children in any case, but funny.

Still, the St. Patrick’s Cathedral incident should bother anyone of truly consistent standards, whether or not they practice a religion (I do not). Whoever will rise and defend the actions of Greg Hughes and Anthony Cumia will surely bolster the artist’s prerogative to perform as they please. Within certain limits, sure; but there are also prerogatives within worship, which tend to be infringed when services are disrupted by public arrests. Has not the sanctity of the Church been violated? And which is more important, the ability of the Opie and Anthony Show to have a public sex contest, or the ability of people to attend Church services unencumbered?

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