“We don’t give a damn how they do it in Minneapolis-St. Paul!”: Father Theophorus Segundo de Soga
Father Theophorus Segundo de Soga
Father Theophorus Segundo de Soga knew he was screwing the pooch. As a result, he was the master of walking the tight rope and thus his name. His original name had been Harold Dobbins and he hailed from Marblehead, Massachusetts. Born and raised in a Catholic neighborhood he aspired to be a priest for the simple reason he saw a niche into which he would be welcomed. From an early age he realized the founding fathers of Catholicism had tricked the faithful into believing that God intended the expression “be ye fruitful, and multiply” to mean to have a large family. That may have been God’s intention but He, She or It was clearly unprepared for the billions of parents of large families who were living on the edge of poverty to keep six children in shirts, shoes and spiral notebooks.
Further, Dobbins realized that every human had a tick, a desire that required scratching. He had no use for cigarettes, did not look at girls as desirable objects, failed to be interested in his father’s beer and found his mother’s pills dyspeptic. He discovered his tick on the dark side of the standard ecumenical bill of fare. He was gay and found more than a few kindred spirits among the priests, bishops and fathers of the order. His gayness was far more than an investigatory phase of his life and it grew in strength, depth and breadth with each encounter. Because the only reasonable outlet that existed was the church and thus the church became his reason d’etre. He fell in with like company and corkscrewed his way into a career.
When it came time to choose his name for the priesthood, he chose symbolically appropriately. He chose the name Theophorus, Greek for “God-bearer,” who was better known as Ignatius of Antioch. Legend has it that Theophorus had been one of the children whom Jesus had taken into his arms and blessed. Theophorus became the Bishop of Antioch, a city founded by one of Alexander the Great’s generals in what is today Turkey. In its heyday it was known as the “Cradle of Christianity” and its location on the Silk Road made its residents wealthy. When he became known as Ignatius of Antioch he upset the Romans and the Romans flexed their muscle. Ignatius was devoured by beasts in the Coliseum during the reign of Trajan about 108 A.D. — which would have made him a man in his eighties when he was consumed. Dobbins, now Theophorus, added Segundo, Spanish for “the second,” because he was the second Theophorus and Soga, a triple entendre in Spanish because it meant, at the same time, robe, rope and tightrope. He wore a robe, understood that he was tied to the Church with more than one knot, (another pun) while he and his sensual brethren were walking a tightrope with the church.
Soga knew he was hovering between two worlds. God had made him what he was, but God’s servants were condemning him for the very same genetic make-up. Had he been the only one with such an alleged affliction he might have considered himself to be an aberration of the holy process. But he was not alone, and his kindred spirits were both many and highly placed. With so many men with similar passions it was hard to believe that all were condemned in God’s eyes. The logical conclusion was that Ecclesiastes had erred in this and many things and even if not, he had been a Jew.
While Soga had begun his journey at a young age, he did not succumb to the same temptation he had engendered. He was not a predator and disdained those who were. He knew exactly what he was, established his own rules of conduct and lived by them as strictly as if they had been established by the College of Cardinals. Within the Church he walked a tightrope personally. He was there for all who entered the nave but was known to be particularly available for what became known as the LGBT community: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual. They were God’s children just as surely as if they had been Episcopalians, Negroes, atheists, Muslims and jack Mormons. God was a mighty ocean with many rivers running thereto and as long as you would abide by the basic rules of humanity, humility and hospitality you were welcome to travel any waterway. A vow of poverty was not necessary as long as you recognized your obligation to the poor and wealth was not a stumbling block to salvation as long as you realized that we were all the same before the Lord and that but for the grace of God you could be wearing sackcloth and eating at the Salvation Army.
One of the greatest shortcomings of the cyber world is that one quickly loses the perspective for importance. Deaths by firearm are a significant political talking point because they are attention grabbing. Homicide by handguns claims about 10,000 lives per year, about the same number of deaths as from drunk drivers. While any single death from a firearm or a drunken driver is a tragedy, deaths by homicide and drunk driving combined are less than one-thousandth of a percent of the population. Depending on the definition of L, G, B and T, it is estimated that about 4% of the population are willing to identify themselves as being something other than purely heterosexual. This amounts of more than 9 million individuals, 4,000 times as many living individuals as those who died of violence because of a pistol or Tequila shooters. Articles on the LGBT rarely appear in ink-and-paper publications or on cyberspace news pages but shooting deaths or drunk driving incidents are listed in local papers and on local TV news even though the murder or crash took place in a faraway state.
Soga recognized the import of these numbers. When it came to comforting the afflicted, he was thousands of times more likely to be dealing with an LBGT individual than someone who was recovering from the death of a loved one from bullets or Bourbon. He took this message to heart but that was all that he could do. This was for a variety of reasons, the largest being the ongoing child molestation scandals that were commanding the attention of the nation. Even though less than a tenth of a percent of all priests in America were pedophiles, the media was in crisis mode.
It was in this era of doldrums of gay issues that the work of Father Theophorus Segundo de Soga found traction. Unfortunately, the traction was in reverse. It was birthed with a couple, both male, in their 50s. The two had been living as partners for a decade which gave neither of their families pause. But it became a matter of great concern when a centenarian grandparent of one of the men died and left a sizeable fortune to be split among his children and grandchildren who were living a “moral life.” The will had been drafted when said centenarian had been in his 40s and was an extension of the will of his parents. The terms of the will were boilerplate for the Roaring Twenties when “moral life” had a completely different meaning. There was no evidence that the deceased centenarian had any idea that the clause was even in his parent’s will and there was every reason to assume that his gay grandson would inherit a portion of the largess as the grandfather knew of his grandson’s ways and had made no effort to exclude him from any family functions. In fact, the grandfather had been the gay couple’s adopted son’s god father even though the old man would clearly never see his great-grandson graduate from middle school.
But when there are six million dollars to be split four ways, one less split was $500,000 more for the remaining three.
The opening barrage came when someone — and no one could imagine whom — tipped the local newspaper, the Radissonville Coliseum, that Gerald Cummings, possible heir to a million-dollar inheritance was living a morally reprehensible lifestyle which would exclude him from his inheritance. He was involved with three males all in the same living environment and “does not seem to be concerned about the morals, morality or sensibilities of the community.” That those “three males” included an adopted child was not mentioned in the article and when it was revealed a week later, the implication was one of pedophilia not parenting.
Gerald Cummings and his partner of ten years, Jacob Mohenjo-Daro, a Pakistani who had overstayed his student visa by three decades, hired an attorney to sue the paper and fight the impending disenfranchisement. The attorney stated she would handle the legal paperwork but stated that suing a newspaper was a bad idea. Freedom of the Press was a powerful cover for all manner of slander, libel, insult and out-and-out revenge. After all, the gay couple could not prove that Gerald’s brother-in-law’s sister, the editor of the newspaper in question, had an ulterior motive in ravaging Gerald and Jacob in the press.
The attorney for the couple advised them to begin a charm campaign. There was more than one newspaper in Radissonville and several high-quality magazines. The couple was not going to be able to hide their relationship so why not advertise it? Drum up support from the LGBT community and progressive churches. Invite the television stations into their home. Show the adopted son’s good grades as proof they were good parents. You win a mudslinging contest by getting out of the wallow.
It was a brilliant strategy and oddly perfectly timed. There was a very good reason gay rights were front page news. That was because an overwhelming number of Americas were appalled at how gays were being treated and were in favor of a wide spread of options that, collectively, could be summed up in the term “equality before the law.” The public did not need an exposé or investigative report to know how badly gays had been and were being treated. They knew. When it was revealed that the root of the problem was a reference in a will that was almost a century old, the public came running to the rescue of the gay couple.
Further, as a legal backstop, the attorney had suggested that the couple get married. This could negate any suggestion that the couple was not living a “moral life.” Time was of the essence even though gay marriage was not legal in Minnesota and neither of the men was a legal resident in any other state. Someone suggested that Father Theophorus Segundo de Soga perform the religious ceremony. It would not be legal in the eyes of the State of Minnesota, but it would be before God and He, She or It was the ultimate moral arbitrator. Besides, the question here was not state law, it was a “moral lifestyle” which could be defined as matrimony.
Soga was the perfect man to perform such a ceremony. He was a long-term resident of Radissonville and was well-known to have LGBT sympathies. It was also well-known among the elderly Catholics that the Father had been residing with another long-term priest in a modest home with a single bedroom. It did take a nuclear physicist to draw the logical conclusion. He was also a moral activist; he knew you could not stand over a broken pipe and say, “God will provide” and expect it to be fixed.
The wedding was a modest affair with Father Theophorus Segundo de Soga presiding with a Unitarian minister signing a State of Minnesota marriage license. Individuals who register with the State of Minnesota could marry couples but there had yet to be a successful challenge to the marriage of a same sex couple. The Unitarian minister, a progressive Democrat, relished a legal fight with the Republican Governor. That the Chair of the Unitarian Fellowship Board of Directors was also the Chairman of the Radissonville Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union did not hurt either. The legitimate State of Minnesota was, in a way, present at the ceremony because State Senator Jason Sandborn was there with his gay son and his son’s partner. LBGT voters and their friends were a sizeable chunk of the Radissonville electorate and nothing pleased Jason Sandborn, a Republican, more than taking a swatch of votes away from any Democrat challenger.
With nothing to lose but a barrel of ink the balance of the family let loose the hounds. It was a donnybrook with both sides flinging writs, orders and sophisticated invectives. It was editorial ink slinging at its best with the Radissonville Coliseum versus the Daily Radissonville Tribune. Both sides savored the black waves which washed over them because it removed red ink. Win or lose, they were selling papers. The Radissonville Coliseum even assigned a special investigative reporter to give daily updates to the radio and television stations.
But the odd man out was Father Theophorus Segundo de Soga. Being a man of the cloth, he refused to do anything but turn the other cheek. He had no dog in the fight and even if he had he would not have loosed it. Since he would not fight back, he became the straw man. He was outed as gay by the Radissonville Coliseum, accused of arranging the marriage so he could get his pedophilic talons into the gay couple’s adopted son and it was insinuated by the evangelical Republicans that he had stage-managed the marriage to make gay rights an issue in the next election. Father Theophorus Segundo de Soga took it all in stride.
But the regional diocese did not. It was all good and well to be, shall we say, they said, close to other priests and share board and bread but it was unacceptable for that fact to be public knowledge. He should have known better — even though other priests in other locales were doing exactly the same thing. Father Theophorus Segundo de Soga’s sin was not that he performed the wedding but that the wedding has loosed the hounds of journalistic hell. It was just what the Catholic Church did not need in these days of recovering from the child molesting court cases.
Father Theophorus Segundo de Soga was sacked. But there is very little you can do to a mid-70s man of God who owned his own home free and clear and had banked several hundred thousand dollars from his modest salary. He left his frock on the pulpit and pulled on a pair of jeans and a light blue work shirt to sit behind a desk in the LGBT association office. He kept a collection of small cast iron tigers on his desk to remind him that he, like his namesake, had been martyred in the Coliseum.
[This short story is from Steven Levi’s “We Don’t Give a Damn How They Do It in Minneapolis-St. Paul!” available on Kindle.]