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bullet  They Have a Confession to Make

I just know I'm going to get a lot of comments on this story, so I may as well just post it now, from the start, with comments open so you can do your job. It's from the 8 June 2008 issue and I expect to hear from Christians and atheists alike:

Hey, Get a Room

A parishioner at a Roman Catholic church in Italy's Cesena-Sarsina diocese called police after hearing "rustling and groaning" in a confession booth. Inside was a "goth-rock couple" engaged in sex. The 31-year-old man and his 32-year-old schoolteacher partner reportedly explained that they were atheists, "and for us, having sex in church is like doing it any other place." Police charged them with an unspecified crime. Bishop Antonio Lanfranchi called the desecration "an outrage of notable proportions which bespeaks unutterable squalor," and said a purification rite would have to be held before the confessional could be used again. (Italian National Associated Press Agency) ...It could have been worse: they could have been using a condom.

It's fairly obvious that I'm going to hear from Catholics and other Christians: it's really a rude story. And I agree -- it is. Some will complain about my tagline. Yeah, well, if you can get past the rudeness, it is a pretty funny story, so deal with it. I could have been much ruder myself with the tag, suggesting what the "purification rite" might be (bleach?), telling the scoundrels "Shame shame shame! You know sex in the confessional is limited to the priests and their altar boys!" or some such. I think telling them they should "Get a Room" and labeling their act "desecration" (note that's my word, not the newspaper's) gets my point across. So if you're here to complain, don't: as I said, it's a funny story once you get over the anger at the people involved -- don't shoot the messenger.

OK, they'll still wonder, why do I think atheists will have a problem with this story? Because such a ridiculous statement as the miscreants made in the story makes atheists look bad. (Substitute "Christian": would that make Christians look bad? You bet.) Atheists may not believe in God, but atheists are regular people first, and decent people don't go out offending others in this way. To them, "having sex in church is like doing it any other place"? Nope: I don't buy it. They did it for the thrill of maybe getting caught, for the purposeful sacrilege, for the desecration. Atheists don't run out to offend the religious on purpose; they are not interested in having religion shoved in their faces, so it makes no sense to do the exact same thing they don't want (shoving "anti-religion" in the faces of the religious). Yes, atheists believe in "do unto others" too.

But enough from me: it'll be interested to read the calm, rational debate among both Christian and atheist readers that is sure to ensue. But read the other comments before making your own. I won't approve a comment when the concept has already been covered by someone else.

(Source note: The source is ANSA, or Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata. In English, that's the National Associated Press Agency. Translation was by CNN.)

June 11 Update

Reuters reports today that the couple has apologized and "made peace" with the bishop. The charges were noted too, finally: "obscene acts in public and disturbing a religious function."

Their excuse: they had been "drinking all night".

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56 Comments on This Entry

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Posted by Becky, Montrose, CO on June 9, 2008:

I don't know that the story makes atheists look bad... Of course the participants look bad, as does their lame excuse. It's not as though atheists are organized and recruiting members, and therefore don't really have an image to uphold in the public eye.

Wait, do we?

---

I dunno: do you?! :-) -rc

Posted by Tom in Boulder on June 9, 2008:

As an atheist, I have to say I am not happy with this couple. I wouldn't bomb a church, mosque or any other religious structure, persecute a religious person, deface a religious icon, burn a religious book, or in any other way harass religious people.

I simply stick to criticizing religion for its silly beliefs and the bad effects those beliefs have in the world.

But I do love the tagline .... :c)

Posted by Denise, California on June 9, 2008:

Sorry, but the only thing they did wrong was have sex in public. It's just a building, and the only thing that makes it "special" is that people want to think it is.

So yeah, having sex in a church is just like having it in any other place... any other public place. It was rather juvenile for a thirty-something couple to do, and especially rude to do so during Mass. They need to be fined for disturbing the peace, or some similar violation.

It is the reactions of the officials that are more disturbing, though. Once again the concept of sex as a dirty, befouling act is reinforced. So while they decry this foul act their idolatry in the form of reverence for a thing of gilt and velvet and wood strikes ironically at the heart of Christian beliefs. It's a cubicle with pretty decorations inside a building further lavished with gilding and carvings. The space and its trappings are not in and of themselves "holy". The Holy Spirit - if you believe in It - resides within the soul of mankind, not within the trappings of religion.

So what purification besides a good dose of Lysol is really needed here?

One of my favorite quotes by Robert Heinlein sums up nicely all the other hoopla surrounding this case: "Of all the strange "crimes" that human beings have legislated of nothing, "blasphemy" is the most amazing...."

Posted by Phil, California on June 9, 2008:

"Just another building" -- endowed by its adherents with special properties and ceremonies, such that they give it special significance to them.

An analogy: As the Android Sisters said, "Money? It's just bits of paper, blessed by the Government, that's all."

Would I come piss on your favorite icon (football hero, singer, banker, etc.)? No, but that's just me, not needing to piss off an establishment... We already have plenty enough hate in this world to go around. How about coming up with something to make it better for everybody?

Posted by Jeff in Chino Hills, CA on June 9, 2008:

I am a Christian, but not Roman Catholic. So I'm left with trying to draw a comparison, not imagine the actual incident. So let's say a couple was thus engaged behind a screen in the back of the sanctuary (the room where services are held) during a service. Would I be offended? Yes. More than if they were, let's say, making a disturbance by talking too loud? I would have to say yes. So why is that? I think it's two distinct things: 1) disturbing a meeting by distracting others from the purpose of the meeting; 2) performing a private act in a public place.

As far as the latter is concerned, I would be less offended if the private act they performed were, say, blowing their nose in their hand; more offended if the private act they performed were, say, defecating. Why is one more offensive than the other? I'm not sure, actually, but it is (to me). I don't think it has to do specifically with the church's attitude towards sex (mine doesn't seem to be hung up about it, at least), but rather the common reaction to a private act performed in public.

Posted by Sam in Atlanta on June 9, 2008:

I see the story from both sides. I am not in any way religious myself, although I don't call myself atheist either.

But I don't buy the bit from Denise about it being sex in "just another building". While I am not religious, I fully respect people's religious views as long as they don't attempt to force them on me. As such, if I am in a church (for whatever reason, like working an event), I always respect their beliefs and moral structure. I will go out of my way to make sure I am acting as would be expected by a religious group.

It's about respect for those you are around. You are in their building, whether you like to see it as a public building or not. I'm all for sex in fun places, but I hardly believe this couple just stumbled upon a church confessional when they had the urge. I thoroughly believe the act was planned pretty much to be disrespectful. I don't care what the situation is, a church would always be out of the question for me.

Posted by Bob, Niwot CO on June 9, 2008:

I would have to disagree with Denise. Although the church generally welcomes the public inside, it is not a "public place". The building was built and paid for by an organization for their purposes. The owners and those entrusted with the care of this church have every right to decide what is appropriate and what is not appropriate inside. The point being: It is special to the people that own it, and that is what counts. Religion aside, just based on property rights the church leaders have every right to be outraged.

Posted by Denise, California on June 9, 2008:

In response to the three people who posted after me:

I agree wholeheartedly that what these two did was wrong, plain and simple, because the laws of most cities, states, and countries prohibit sex in public places. They also have laws about trespassing to prohibit them popping into someone's private property for a bit of fun. Either way, these two were wrong.

The part of the story that I was annoyed by was the religious rant the Bishop added to it. The twits tried to tweak the congregation one last time with their little atheist comment. Considering what they were caught doing, I'd say that their reasoning skills are already suspect, but the good God-fearing folk got up in arms about the "desecration" of their church, rather than taking a moment to consider that they were probably being baited.

That building has no "special properties" (it's a building, it just sits there being a building) and it has no special significance save what the people give it.

So just as we look askance at people who hoard money, or obsessively collect sports memorabilia, or believe that Elvis is living in Tahiti, or that big-eyed aliens abducted them after mutilating their cattle, insisting that these buildings are any different than any other building in the city is ludicrous.

"They had sex in a church" has no more impact on me than if you substituted White House, locker room, library, Mosque, Temple, or sacred grove. And it shouldn't to anyone else, either. As mentioned by Phil in CA, we have plenty of hate in the world, so why should anyone feel they need to incite more over a couple of idiots?

It is called a church, but church can be held in an open field or on top of a mountain. The building means nothing to the actual worship of God. Churches should be nothing more than a convenient place for God's worshipers to gather, but they are too often sources of pride (a sin) which they brag about (I go to St Michaels with the huge stained glass windows. Where do you go to church?) and spend money that would be better spent in charitable works.

But as missionaries have proved for centuries, you do not need grand cathedrals or golden crosses to receive the Holy Spirit. A comfortable place to sit and contemplate or listen to someone preach is all you really need. If you must, two sticks and a bit of string give you a cross upon which to focus our prayers.

Everything else is hubris.

Posted by Randolph, Johannesburg on June 10, 2008:

An awesome tagline, which took me a couple of seconds to get. Thanks for the story and the laugh-out-loud post script.

As a self-respecting atheist, I think the couple should find less offensive ways of getting their rocks off.

Posted by Trish, Victoria, BC on June 10, 2008:

I'm Christian and I found the tag line absolutely hysterical! I'd love to know what the purification rite would be. What are they going to do with the confessional...burn it? Certainly the couple deliberately showed disrespect for the church, but they were arrested and the court will deal with them. The Bishop can stop his tantrum.

Posted by Cheryl, Alberta Canada on June 10, 2008:

I really believe that these two "humans" planned this deliberately, and WANTED to be caught. Some people just aren't happy unless they're causing problems. They knew that what they were doing would upset the majority of people. I really don't think it had anything to do with their being atheist. Most atheists respect other people's beliefs as long as these beliefs are not being pushed on them.

How would these people feel if others brought their dogs over to their yard to poop on their lawn? There's a place for everything. Would these same people have sex in the grocery store or in other public places? I really have my doubts.

I was raised Roman Catholic. I was also raised to respect others and their beliefs. I was forbidden to say anything negative about any other religion.

I really don't think it's necessary to perform a purification rite on the confessional. I truly believe that, in God's eyes, it's not the confessional that needs purification. This couple needs to grow up and learn to live in peace with others. This was just a childish act done only to create hurt and hatred. If everyone treated others the way that they want to be treated, this world would be a much better place! These people don't deserve the satisfaction of getting angry replies from Catholics or any other Christians.

Posted by Ken, New York on June 10, 2008:

I am neither Christian nor Atheist -- can I post anyway? :-)

I agree with Randy -- even if they considered the church just like "any other place", they chose the place for the thrill of possibly getting caught, and to offend.

I don't say grace before meals, but if I'm at someone's house where they do, I sit quietly (and respectfully) while they say grace -- I don't just start "digging in" when the food arrives. I've attended Sunday mass at church with my wife's family. While I didn't partake of the wafers (I forget the correct term), I wouldn't think to do something like pull out a sandwich and say "I thought it was snack time".

Just because a place doesn't have "special meaning" to you, doesn't mean you should disrespect a place that you know holds "special meaning" to many others.

But, as others have already pointed out, I do have to wonder what "purification rite" needs to be performed. Does a confessional need a "purification rite" before it's used for the first time? (Seriously, I'd like to know. Is a confession in a "purified" confessional booth worth more than, say, in an elevator?)

Posted by David, Arkansas on June 10, 2008:

Perhaps they should put an electric sign over the confessional that says "OCCUPIED." Another good measure would be to sound proof the confessional, after all, who wants everyone within earshot to hear what is being confessed?

---

I dunno: I've seen an awful lot of busybodies that would love to get the gossip! -rc

Posted by Jenny, Tualatin, OR on June 10, 2008:

Let's remember that this is a goth-rock couple we're talking about, not just your garden-variety atheists (who are generally difficult to identify in a crowd). These are people who intentionally draw attention to themselves through their dress, jewelry, and/or makeup. That makes it kinda hard to believe that they just coincidentally thought the plush seats made a perfect private spot for a tender moment. I'm voting with those who think they got an extra thrill from the defiance involved in doing it in a church.

Posted by Tristram, Raymond ME on June 10, 2008:

Jeff, your Church sounds remarkably like the Episcopal one I attend.

As to the people, I think the most offensive thing they did was have sex in a public place. Respecting others' desire not to see you having the time of your life, so to speak, is an important part of getting along. I mean, it might be "just another building to them" but I don't suppose they would be delighted to come home to a couple having sex in their kitchen.

To Denise, there is a sizable population of Moslems in the city near where I live. Last summer some guy rolled a frozen pig's head through their mosque. Would you also argue that person committed no crime because the mosque is "just a building, and the only thing that makes it 'special' is that people want to think it is."? Or, to make the act a little closer to the one at hand, having sex in that mosque? If so, then fine. I think that it is polite to respect things that people hold as special, be it religious or profane, but at least you are consistent. However, if this is really just because of your feelings about Christianity, I ask you to consider if doing something you know a group finds offensive for the sake of antagonizing them is not a hate crime? Even if they were just doing it for the thrill, most likely the guy with the pig's head was also doing it for a thrill, and that was still ruled as a hate crime.

Posted by Mike from Dallas on June 10, 2008:

For all the people who don't believe in any purification process for the enclosure, YOU try sleeping in a bed where some couple has had a joyful romp. On the other hand, it's not Nepal, so we shouldn't need to burn a goat to appease the aircraft engine god.

The tagline is funny in view of the RCC's position on condoms, but even funnier when you consider some poor soul sitting below the balcony at a movie theater and having a used condom drop down the back of his neck. No, it wasn't me, which is why I can laugh at the poor sap that did experience it.

---

I don't think anyone is saying there's no need for a cleanup. They're rolling their eyes over the concept of a "purification rite", which is a very different thing. -rc

Posted by Andy, Mission Viejo, CA on June 11, 2008:

I'll be brief since most has already been said.

As a pragmatic libertarian and atheist it seems to me this should be handled exactly as if the same couple were doing the same thing in a photo booth at a mall. Both are private property, both would be using an enclosure for other that its specified purpose. Hence, it would be a local jurisdictional matter. If local was San Francisco it might receive different treatment than if local was Greenville, SC.

The intent of the couple is irrelevant to my way of thinking, but then to my way of thinking there is no such thing as a hate crime.

Another possible tagline:...had the couple been Catholic it could have been one stop shopping! The act and then the confession all in the same place!

Posted by rewinn, Washington on June 11, 2008:

As a Roman Catholic Atheist (...that is, I went to R.C. Seminary, which eventually turned me into an atheist...) I commend your attempt to have a serious discussion on a subject just begging for humor of the most unsubtle sort!

As to any "need" for purification, we must always distinguish between what God needs and what humans need. Whether or not God exists, Its needs are very different from those of the humans that worship It.

God is everywhere, and therefore very intimately involved with countless acts of sex at every moment. Consider the insects and the squids! So God is not likely to feel bothered by a couple of Goths.

Humans OTOH have different feelings about the places they have sanctified. Even after the location has had a good antiseptic scrubdown, a very human thing to feel would be the negative emotion we associate with desecration. That it might be unreasonable is not the point; religion is not about reason (...sorry, Thomas Aquinas!)

So let the bishop have his ritual, if it makes him and his flock feel better; none are harmed by it (...except of course for the ongoing harm of that religion itself, which your tagline captured perfectly and succinctly, but that's another matter.)

Posted by Matt Charlotte, NC on June 13, 2008:

Ok... Now I know I'll be flamed for this but has anyone thought to consider that the Roman Catholic Church in question could have cooked this up themselves? I mean it's not like the RCC has had its fair share of questionable practices (Cough, Holy Crusades, Cough). I'm just saying that the likelihood of someone planning to be together in a confessional booth along with the congregation as well as the words seems a little far fetched. But I could be wrong... Just my two cents.

---

I don't consider it any too likely. -rc

Posted by Ernest Junee, NSW, Australia on June 13, 2008:

I agree that the couple shouldn't have been using other people's property for private activities not related to the purpose which the property was provided. However, I find the priest's comment that the activity was sacrilegious wrong as it was God who gave us the ability to procreate and they were only carrying out God's wishes in the act. Now, if it was me who found them, I'd have just given the guy a good solid kick in the arse and told them to get out, and laughed myself silly as I chased their half dressed forms out of the building and on to the street.

Posted by Jane, Toronto on June 13, 2008:

Having sex in the confessional of a Catholic church is similar to urinating on Canada's National War Memorial, or knocking over headstones in a Jewish cemetery. They were all acts which were deliberately undertaken in order to upset people. Just a building or just a big piece of (carved) stone? Perhaps, but that isn't how the parishioners or the families of the dead probably perceive those places. This sort of disrespect speaks volumes about the two participants, and their total lack of empathy for anyone besides themselves. I'm sure most atheists wouldn't want to associate with them, and very few would condone such rude behaviour.

Posted by Pierre, Ontario, Canada on June 13, 2008:

I think this is a perfectly legitimate story for you to email & post. And I was not offended either way. I think your tagline was apropos, and so was your commentary.
The story did not strike me as funny, though, merely unusual, and a bit sad. Sad at the 2 goths, AND sad at the Catholics. Or was I sad for both? I have not made up my mind on the issue.

I hope no one asks what the differences in sadnesses is, but I know you will know the difference - and a witty answer to boot! And my beliefs? Well I have swapped between what I was born, and what by nature I am, so many times... By birth a Catholic. By nature an Agnostic. For those who do not know, we Agnostics have one answer to religion: "We don't know." Or, like the Scottish third verdict (Besides Guilty or Not Guilty): "Not Proven." Theology is great, but it is after all, Theory, Study, Belief, regardless of your faith.

Posted by James, Highland Park, NJ on June 13, 2008:

I don't find the statement about a "purification rite" surprising, even if like most commenters I'm not Catholic and don't know exactly what he has in mind. But the principle is not so laughable to me, at least based upon what I understand of the Bible.

The sense I get from the text is that sin stains objects, it stains places, it stains people. And that not all sins are equal in God's view; he particularly disapproves of sexual immorality. In fact, Leviticus explicitly prescribes different purification rites for the state of being ritually unclean. Although I bet many of those had a lot to do with physical cleanliness, I can't help but believe that there was also a spiritual component to them.

To be sure, the whole tone of things changes after Christ, but one can't escape the sense that God is sensitive to exactly the sort of uncleanliness to which the Bishop refers. It's common for Christians to ask God to bless people, places and objects; it seems in the same spirit to ask God to make a thing clean. Consider baptism, the dipping of fingers into water upon entering a Catholic church, etc. It's not such a stretch to say that the God of the Bible believes there is something to be gained through such ceremonies.

The thing that I find most revealing about the discussion - and I don't mean to be too critical here - is how thin the idea of "respect" for religion seems. To claim to respect a person's religious choice (and not just to say you'll tolerate it, but to actually consider it a reasonable decision by a rational person) is a fine thing. But that doesn't have much substance if in the same breath the believer is labeled a superstitious crank for expressing something at least broadly in line with his faith's traditions.

Posted by Marie Wade Houston TX (ClearLake/NASA area!) on June 13, 2008:

OK, this may open me to raging bonfires of flame but, here goes.... creating a ritualistic atmosphere takes a lot of energy and usually a lot of time and it takes very little energy or time to break up that same atmosphere.

OK, OK, you have to accept here the possibility that there are in fact energy patterns that are created by humans repeating similar actions and emotions in contained spaces over time, rather like the sand carried by a river shapes a canyon over time. But that is what ritual and religion are about: people who care about such things putting their life energy over and over into creating a vibration, if you will, that will help subsequent visitors to that space to more easily enter that same vibration. And don't kid yourself that people cannot tell later. Some people CAN TELL.

Gothic cathedrals that smell of candles and that have a sound even when it's silent in there, meditation chambers that affect a person's brain waves as soon as they enter... etc.

I have my own issues with the RCC, but I know the outrage I would feel over someone coming into an energetic space I had cultivated for decades (in Italy, centuries, maybe) and intentionally (obviously) messing with it.

Part of the Goth culture is about ritual; they knew what they were about. At the very least, it was intended to be rude and childish.

That said, I wonder how many crucifixes they were wearing while they were in there and if the little Jesuses were spinning like tops?

heehee

Posted by Harriet, Albuquerque, NM on June 13, 2008:

Interesting comments, all. I'm inclined to agree with the assessment that this was a "thrill-seeking" thing, too. Most people (thank goodness) don't go through with this type of stunt, tempting though it may be.

As far as a "purification rite" for the booth, if I remember correctly from my days as an RC (just a stop on the path of the seeker), confession is considered to be a Sacrament of the Church. It would follow, then, that the location set aside for this sacrament would be a sanctified place, above and beyond the sacredness of the entire edifice.

The RC Church (institution) has developed a highly specialized and formalized language for dealing with things sacred. My pagan translation would be along the lines of needing to banish the negative or inappropriate energies that had been raised by the act performed. The couple, whatever their reason, intentionally performed a high-energy action in a place where that energy was not welcome or appropriate. Therefore, that must be undone, and the proper energies restored. A ritual that is aligned to the energy of the space and of its purpose must be performed properly to not only cleanse the area but reconfigure the energy flow to its proper state.

Posted by Trevor, Johannesburg, RSA on June 14, 2008:

I think the problem here is that in the world we live in, nobody has any respect for anyone else. My reaction is the same as 2 Catholics, or lesbians, or Moslems doing it in the confessional, or a synagogue or a Mosque or anywhere else that has a special significance to someone else. Just shows that the world we live in is very immature. People are just not willing to make the necessary sacrifices in order for everyone to get along.

Posted by Rimon, Israel on June 14, 2008:

While the comments and remarks are thought provoking and are meaningful in general, it seems that they do not apply to the specific situation: IMHO, They were caught in an embarrassing situation, and as "This is True" readers know a long time in cases like that, they just found *afterward* a very silly "explanation" for their behavior.

Probably they don't really consider themselves atheist, they didn't intended to be caught, the just are like most the people that supply the raw material for the stories of "This is True" - just bless them and Randy for the fun they give us (and of course, the opportunity to read so many thougthful comments after that...)

Posted by Scott, Killeen, TX on June 14, 2008:

If it's in a public place then it quite obviously is not a private act.

What is private about defecating? Least I heard, 100% of the (higher) animal population of the planet does it. I remember, when I was a kid, having a conversation with someone who was sitting in an outhouse. My understanding is that it is mostly modern North Americans who are concerned about privacy. Perhaps the people screaming about privacy just don't want others to know that they don't wash their hands afterwards?

Same for sex; 100% of your ancestors did it.

I agree, a church is NOT a public building. Being open to the public does not make it public. I would expect, though, that by being generally open to the public (and generally considered to be a public place, as many people clearly believe) confers some of the protections that public places get.

It is expected by society to act in certain ways in certain situations. If you want to do what you want, get your own universe; application forms are available at your nearest mental health clinic.

Trespassing is illegal? Wow, that's news! I was told by my local police that people had to be specifically warned not to trespass (verbally or with a sign) before the police could do anything.

What's wrong with sex in the White House? I guess people never heard of President Clinton. It wasn't the sex (with a "cigar" or whatever) that was the issue, the issue was who the alleged sex was with.

As for worshiping, perhaps some people should read about the closet in Matthew 6.

Randy, chances are that the gossip is going around before the confession.

If I left the "l" out of "public" anywhere, its a typo. :)

(Before you reply to this, consider that there may, or may not, be bait present)

---

Yes, I can see the bait. The only thing I wanted to reply to is your legal definition of trespassing: I don't think it's correct. In a "public" place, yes, I think it is. But I think it's a trespass to walk in a stranger's front door, even if it's unlocked. This of course may vary from state to state; in your state, it's also an invitation to be shot, but I digress.... -rc

Posted by Christine Searle -Ohio on June 14, 2008:

Put me in the column of people that laughed. I was raised catholic and now consider myself a "recovering catholic". I have many issues with the church but your condom comment made me laugh right out loud.

Posted by George, Ithaca, NY on June 14, 2008:

As an ordained Roman Catholic Deacon, I thought I'd add my spin on the story. Obviously, the couple was doing this just to shock the people. This has nothing to do with atheism or sex and everything to do with disrespect. Take the confessional and church out of the picture and add a public park or a Chucky Cheese, and you see what the goal of this couple was.

Now, as for the purification rite, that's mandated by Canon Law. Purification rituals are a response to desecrations (yes, even including abuse of altar boys!). God doesn't need it, but we do. It's like the prayers said at Ground Zero. For instance, one of my fellow deacons does prayers at the scene of murders in an upstate city. The idea is to bring healing and reconciliation. Isn't that what we all need?

---

What we need is more people with a sense of humor, such as yourself! I love it you didn't take my bait about purification, but instead simply explained it -- and very well, too. Kudos. -rc

Posted by Kelly, Ashland, PA on June 14, 2008:

I remember years ago finding a condom in the back row of our church. (I don't know how it got there.) I was shocked, scandalized and hurt. I can't speak for the bishop but as for myself, there is nothing more painful than to witness such a hateful attack on the one you love more than life. But if the bishop truly wanted to take control of the situation, he could have given them absolution on the spot. After all, it was Jesus who said, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."

---

Great point, Kelly. -rc

Posted by Bergman, Seattle on June 14, 2008:

As I view the matter of atheists, the problem is there are two types. There are those who genuinely are atheist, in the literal meaning of the word. I have no problems with them. The other type are those who have made atheism their religion, as odd as that may sound, and are as obnoxious about it as the most fundamentalist christian (or muslim, or jew, or hindu, for that matter). I'd say the two idiots in that confessional are the latter type -- not only do they not believe in any god, they feel a need to desecrate and attack any religion they encounter other than their own, just like many radical fundamentalists do.

Posted by Jonathan Racine, Wisconsin on June 14, 2008:

While I am not now or ever have been a Roman Catholic, your tagline bothers me. It brings in a theological dispute that is totally unrelated to the story, and it's only funny to those who disagree with with the RC position on birth control.

I think it was Pope John XXIII (please correct me if you know the RCC better than I do) who said that if we disconnect the act of sex from procreation then it will slide into simply another recreational activity, and any sexual practice will become acceptable (those are not the exact words, obviously). It seems to me that those words from half a century ago were in some way prophetic, for that is the world we live in now. Popular entertainment explores the world of formerly obscure sexual practices, and while many of us feel a vague sense of revulsion at some of the more outlandish expressions, we are hard put to explain why this sort of thing should be rejected by civilized society.

While the presence of six billion humans on a small planet may indicate the need for some form of population control, it is also true that the widespread acceptance of "recreational sex" and casual "hook-ups" cheapens and devalues the glue that holds all those humans together. The basic unit of civilized society has ALWAYS been the family, both nuclear and extended. We all know how strained family relations can be, showing the need for a strong adhesive to hold them together. When physical intimacy is experienced in a context that also includes intimacy of mind, will, and emotions it seals the tightest bond that humans may ever experience. Outside of that context sex may be pleasurable and "fun," but it fails to fulfill the deepest longing of the human heart. Just like recreational use of drugs leads to a high followed by the deepest low, driving the user to stronger and stronger drug experiences, this "law of diminishing returns" applies to sex as well. A hook-up may provide temporary relief from sexual tension, but when it doesn't meet the deep emotional need for true intimacy, the "user" mistakenly believes that he just needs a stronger fix, and goes out looking for one.

Outsiders focus there criticism of Catholicism on the prohibition against birth-control. In doing so they fail to see the positive side: that the prohibition is intended to protect the highest and best life a human being can have.

The Puritans are another group much maligned for their alleged disapproval of sex, so much so that the word "puritanical" has become an unanswerable condemnation of any restraint on sexual appetite. In fact, the Puritans were quite in favor of enjoying sex, as long as it was in the right context: marriage. There is even one recorded case of a wife taking her husband to the authorities on the complaint that he wasn't having sex with her. For a more accurate view of the Puritans see the book Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were by Professor Leland Ryken. You'll discover that the Puritans were not "puritanical"! They seemed to follow the cue from St Paul's letter to the Corinthians, in which he says that husbands and wives should not withhold sex from each other. Paul knew the strength of human urges, and he urges us all to satisfy them in the right way, one that leads to the greatest happiness and lasting fulfillment.

So please don't make fun of people who are trying to increase human happiness by showing us all the higher path.

---

It's fine to not like the tagline, but don't mistake your dislike for your religious convictions: plenty of Christian readers, RCC and otherwise, quite enjoyed it -- which you would know if you had read their comments before posting yours. One has to presume Catholics agree with the church, since they'd leave if they didn't -- yet so far 100 percent of those who have expressed an opinion have enjoyed the tagline, so so much for your premise. -rc

Posted by Lynne, Portland, Oregon on June 14, 2008:

When I was fifteen, I gave the rabbi a blow job in Temple. I consented with great pleasure and we didn't get caught. It was one of my better adventures, actually, and it was fun.

I've always been a proponent of public sex -- the risk of getting caught spices up the action. At my advanced age following years of celibacy it's getting hard to remember these things, but I do seem to recall that the desire to have sex doesn't always coincide with being in one's own home.

Obviously this couple planned an adventure so as to amp the Spice Factor and had no intentions of getting caught. I don't understand why anyone should be horrified -- they're hardly the first couple to have sex, even consenting sex, in a church.

Of course adventure would have been much better if they hadn't gotten caught but then Randy would have had one less story for True and probably have substituted yet another predictable Zero Tolerance story, so maybe I'm glad they did get caught.

(For the record, I am now an atheist. I was baptized Roman Catholic in my twenties but it obviously didn't take -- I now consider myself a secular Jew. And I would never roll a pig's head through a mosque or even a temple -- where's the fun in that?)

Posted by Brien, San Diego on June 14, 2008:

Ok calling on Captain Obvious - Yes a church is different than other buildings, like a bathroom in the public park, the library and the courthouse.

You can't file a suit over a cross on public land in the park restroom or check out the Communist Manefesto from the Courthouse. We have all placed more than emotional ties to those buildings so by default the argument that a building is just a building is defunct.

Someone else who claimed that religion is not reason is also misguided. Just because the brand of religion you got annoyed with didn't teach correct understanding and learning of scripture does not mean ALL religion is non reasoning.

I agree the tagline was irreverently comical over the significant irony of the comments by the priest but again no excuse for the Goth grope and grind.

Posted by Deborah Newbury, New York on June 14, 2008:

As an atheist, I find the actions of the couple reprehensible. Atheism does not excuse rude and thoughtless behavior.

Posted by Serginho, Sao Paulo, Brasil on June 14, 2008:

Sorry, Brien--religion is not reason. It is faith. It is an attempt to explain what we have not been able to establish via scientific proof.

But when scientific proof establishes that a formerly held religious belief is not factual, reason dictates that religion must yield.

Otherwise we would still believe that the earth is flat, that the sun is pulled across the sky in a horse-drawn chariot, that the sky itself is a plastic bubble with water above it, with windows that God opens up from time to time to produce rain, and women have more ribs than men.

All of which we know not to be true.

Posted by Merritt in Houston on June 14, 2008:

I was Roman Catholic until my mid-twenties and have now been an atheist for over forty years. When I first read the story I did not believe the couple to be atheists as this would be inappropriate behavior and contrary to a rational respect for the beliefs of others. My initial thought was that they were just looking for a special thrill by having sex in a "forbidden" place (like the "mile high" club) and that the atheist story was just a hasty excuse when they were caught.

As an atheist I had to develop a moral code to conduct myself and for my family. This code is based significantly upon logic and reason and tolerance of what others choose to believe or do. I have no interest in forcing my beliefs upon others and I don't want theirs forced upon me. I have Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Shinto, etc. friends and in general, we live and let live in harmony.

However, I was once in the position of filing a separation of church and state lawsuit against a public school in the "Bible Belt" that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. There were regular threats against me and my child and Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and many of the local Christian churches circulated petitions with my name in them and denouncing my attempt to keep the public schools from becoming parochial schools. The Jewish community did not follow suit and basically supported the concept of non-secular public schools. It saddens me to note that the fundamentalist (evangelical) Christians which are significant in numbers in this area tend to be less tolerant than the other religions and sects and continue to push for (and practice) prayer and bible studies in the public schools.

Most of the atheists that I know are rational, logical and highly principled individuals and would consider the behavior exhibited by this couple as unacceptable and inconsistent with our atheist philosophy. (Certainly, I have non-atheist friends with many of the same characteristics). I do live in an upscale and well-educated community so this may be a factor.

This discussion may have drifted from the original issue but the point is that I believe both atheists and non-atheists with any sense of good manners and consideration for others would not condone the depicted act. However, these inappropriate acts are commonplace in a world of six billion people. They provide fodder for some discussion and debate but are not worthy of any vitriolic behavior.

Posted by Fred, Australia on June 14, 2008:

Haha, we could go fishing with this story; it is so full of bait which has been taken. First the Goths who wanted to create a stir by baiting the Bishop (I notice it is another Australian who shares my idea that a swift kick in their exposed nether regions would have fixed them), then the article was written to induce outrage...or laughter (very similar), and look at all this serious talk about the story.

My paraphrase "2 d-head goths wanted to create a stir by having sex in a church, which they managed to do. God has been asked for comment, but hasn't seen the issue as big enough to comment on."

BTW, I am a strong Conservative Christian and I think the whole affair ludicrous....including the tag..

Posted by rewinn, Washington on June 15, 2008:

Brien - there's a difference between reason and reasoning.

You can exercise the process of reasoning on any premises; for example, Douglas Hofstadter wrote a delightful essay on "What if PI were 3?" and demonstrated that circles are hexagons (given that premise). It's marvelous reasoning even if, on the evidence, contrary to fact and therefore to reason. Likewise, you can (Aquinas-like) make long chains of reasoning based on the premise that something had to create the universe, and that thing we call God; but that chain of reasoning hangs on a premise than can be neither proven nor disproven.

Reason, on the other hand, is not a process but a premise itself: that the basis for belief should be be reasoning from provable facts. Revealed religions reject that premise. For example, it is a fundamental tenant of Christianity that scripture is revealed truth. This is not a provable fact; if you don't believe it, you're not a Christian; if you do believe it, you don't need proof. From this belief, you can use reasoning to come to such conclusions as "correct understanding and learning of scripture" take you, ... but first you have to make the leap of faith to accept Scripture. And that is directly contradictory to Reason.

I should have noted that it may be possible to have a religion based not on faith nor revelation; some say that Buddhism and Unitarian/Universalism are process-oriented rather than belief-oriented religions. I accept that correction if so.

Posted by David Burlington ,NC on June 15, 2008:

Maybe the way to prevent this in the future is right at hand?
In the future just make the sign of the cross and say, "Well hate to break this to you but this means you've accepted the catholic faith and tenets. I now pronounce you man and wife. Now report to the Vatican for your pregnancy test. We have to check her out for Li'l Saints on board.

Posted by Neal, Sturbridge, MA on June 15, 2008:

After reading through the comments, I have to say I agree with both sides. Yes the couple wanted to increase the fun with the risk of getting caught (but its only really fun when you DON'T get caught). But they were very wrong to do that. Any public place, or even semi-public private place (like a church, temple, etc) is a bad location to have sex.

My fiance and I are both fairly non religious. I can mostly call myself a Wiccan. On the (rare) occasions my fiance goes to the Buddhist Temple, I go with her and show respect to the religion. When I go to help a friend with something at their church, I respect that religion.

I got a good laugh at this story, but I feel sorry for the church that this couple affected (since they now have to purify their space), and for the couple (because they were not smart enough to think before they acted). As for the tagline..... all i can do is quote Monty Python: "Every sperm is sacred......" (Monty Python's The Meaning of Life)

Posted by Ann Northampton, MA on June 15, 2008:

When I was a teenager I knew a couple who had sex in a chapel. She asked me later if I thought she had committed a terrible sin. I reminded her that if she was religeous just having sex was a sin since they weren't married which brings me to the thing that always puzzled me back in those days. Catholic teenagers had sex which was a sin but would not use condoms because .....it was a sin.

---

Right: then it would be TWO sins, see? I knew an unmarried RCC couple who would have sex several times a week, but she wouldn't go on the pill because that was a sin every day, thus it was a lesser sin to chance getting pregnant. Naturally, she did get pregnant -- and it wasn't her first time. -rc

Posted by Lisa in Grand Rapids, Michigan on June 15, 2008:

This is really a sad story. This couple decides to get hot and bothered by performing an act that they know would be incredibly offensive to the large group of people who are meanwhile doing something that they see as positive and meaningful in a place that they have purchased and maintained for this purpose. This is like a dinner guest peeing in your kitchen sink.

To those who think that this Catholic church is nothing more than a building, you are wrong. To the people who worship there, a Catholic church is a sanctified space. It doesn't matter what you believe. It's not your church or your building. It's what they believe about their building and their worship ceremonies that counts.

This couple knew this when they decided to have sex there, as opposed to some Denny's bathroom. They knew that the Denny's bathroom would be risky and tacky, but it would not offer an extra level of desecration that having sex in a confessional during a solemn ceremony would.

This is not about people being too easily offended or worshiping their building. This is just another sad example of the thrill that jerks get from performing blatantly offensive acts upon other people's properties in the name of personal freedom.

I'm willing to bet these Catholics would not be interested in getting their jollies out of inviting themselves to these people's next backyard barbecue and performing a blessing on the joint. This couple should show the same amount of respect.

Posted by Ayesha, Boston area on June 16, 2008:

I agree with an earlier commenter: "This has nothing to do with atheism or sex and everything to do with disrespect."

As an atheist *and* a sex-positive Goth, I declare myself highly annoyed with this silly couple. They're old enough to know better -- I'm younger than they are and I know that! Public sex and the thrill of the possibility of being caught is one thing, but a little perspective, please. Atheism posits (to me, anyway) that we all rule our own destinies: if there is no God, there is no Fate, and there is no reason to let scriptures or clerics or anyone else dictate what your behaviour must be.

The flip side of that, the one that people like these two "we are soooo edgy and raw cause we're *atheists who dress in black*, oooo" twits so often conveniently forget, is that therefore YOU are the only one responsible for your own behaviour. If you do not behave like a grown-up, making basic respect and common sense your priorities, you have no-one but yourself to blame when you are caught acting like a damn fool and mocked or censured.

So yes. Nothing to do with atheism, being a Goth or a punk, nor with being sexy or sex-positive. Everything to do with being immature and trying to shock people.

Also, the tagline was awesome.

And, David from Burlington NC? I snrk'd at your post. :^D

Posted by Will, Virginia on June 16, 2008:

Story: reminds me of the " Sex for Sam " scandel in Boston or New York City (not sure) a few years back.

Tagline: brilliant

I have one question as it relates to the idea of reason as described by someone previously. If I have a theory that all blues are also greens, I would have to test my theory to prove it true or false, correct. The outcome would establish fact. Thus the reason I believe all blues are green is due to my observation of the results of the test proving the theory. Faith is only as good as the object it is placed in/on, and is backed up by evidence of truth, else it would be blind faith and useless. If I take a portion of scripture and can substantiate that what it states can be proven then I have established a truth. Subsequently if I pile on top of the first truth many other evidences of truth I would then establish a pattern of truth. This would then give me a "REASON" to believe that the scriptures were true until proven false. Logic would dictate I follow the results, thus if everything I tested in scripture fell in only the two categories of true or unproven and nothing ever feel in the category of false I could reason scripture was true. If I am incorrect in my understanding of reason please explain.

Posted by Valerie - Oak Park, Michigan on June 16, 2008:

I agree that it has little to do with Atheism and everything to do with disrespect, but few organizations are as powerful a magnet for disrespect as the Roman Catholic Church. At least there were only consenting adults involved.

So while I wouldn't poke a sharp stick in the church's eye this way, I don't have a lot of sympathy for the organization which is responsible for more human suffering than anything else in history. When the church stops intruding into my personal life, I might begin to care that two people intruded into one of their buildings.

Posted by Dominic, Cape Town on June 17, 2008:

Valerie of Oak Park, Michigan seems to have been carried away by the excitement of the moment if she really believes the Roman Catholic Church is "... the organization which is responsible for more human suffering than anything else in history...". Granted, much evil has been perpetrated for personal political gain in the name of the Church but the culprits knew then as we know now that their activities were nothing to do with the Church's role on this planet. One doesn't have to look very far back for the legitimate aspirants for the title of "Worst person / organization in history".

Posted by John, Florence, KY, USA on June 17, 2008:

Let me begin by stating that I am a practicing Roman Catholic. With the exception of the previously posted deacon, I believe I am the only commentor who has said that. I consider myself a tolerant person with a well developed sense of humor, but this story annoys me on a multitude of levels.

Although the ultimate motivation of the couple in question is pure speculation, it is also immaterial. Whether simply immature thrill seekers or radical provocatuers, the Goths had to know what they were doing was rude, offensive and probably illegal. In other words, WRONG. Whether, because of their atheism, they believed the church to be "no different from any other place", is a specious argument. They had to know the kind of outrage their actions would foment from the congregation. They knew it was not just any old place to the people who worshipped there. So I dismiss them as the kind of self centered, obnoxious people whom I encounter all too frequently in this world. They have no respect for others and therefore I suspect little for themselves either.

In Catholicism, a church is a holy, sanctified place. When a new church is dedicated, there is a specific ritual performed whereby the local priest and bishop bless the edifice and specific areas within where sacraments are to be performed. These include the altar, sacristy, baptismal font and confessional. To poke fun at the bishop's remarks about the need for purification of the confessional showcases your own ignorance of or disrepect for the Catholic faith.

In a way Randy's tagline is similar to the Goth's actions. He knows he is about to offend others, but he does so anyway. Why? Is it for a laugh? The line is clever. I can see that. But is it truely just about being funny? Perhaps Randy is attempting to display some kind of superior or more enlightened viewpoint to the tenants of Catholicism. I find that sad, as I always do when people resort to humor in an attempt to elevate themselves at the expense of others. Taking the higher ground means not always making the easy joke. You may have to think a little more to find humor, but I think it is worth the effort.

I am heartened by the numerous postings from atheists, agnostics and others who disapprove of the couple's actions and recognize the need for more respect and tolerance of differing viewpoints. Reasonable people can disagree about even the most fundamental principles without getting all "fundamentalist"! But provocation, whether thoughtless or deliberate, is dangerous. History, as well as the news of the day, is full of examples.

Posted by Jennifer,Brisbane,QLD,AUST on June 17, 2008:

I read all the comments, and was shaking my head the whole time..... prehaps this couple were crossing off their "places to have sex in list". I've done it in a baptist church during the sermon, in the outside eating area of starbucks during lunch, on the bonnet of a car in the middle of a major round about, on the counter of subway (a fast food sandwich place) and in the playground of maccas (ok that one was at about midnight but I still did it so I could cross it off).

The only thing I think these people did was get caught, and as it comes to churches being violated doesn't it say, "you will not find me in places made of sticks and stone, lift a rock and you will find me, split a piece of wood and I am there"? A church is just a building that people congregate in.... are you all up at arms in those people who buy old churches to live in? Essentially they are doing the same thing are they not?

Posted by Graham, London on June 18, 2008:

Lets wait and see what the court does with them, I can see both sides, including the bizzare concept of thinking up a purification ritual. However, think if you found them banging away on your mother's grave or your kitchen table on the grounds that they were available flat surfaces, "no different from any other". I think anyone would be aggrieved.

Posted by Morgan, Cortez, CO on June 18, 2008:

I think that if these two were really atheists and really believed that it was "just another building", they would have found somewhere else for their game. These morons shouldn't get a free pass just because the RCC tends to accumulate grudges.

I admit that Rome is a little overrun with churches, but there are still plenty of spectacular places for games like these that wouldn't really offend anyone. Instead, they chose to risk offending people.

Some things are just guaranteed to anger someone else, and the consequences are predictable. Wave a realistic toy gun at a cop, and it is easy to guess how things are going to turn out. Have sex in a church, and the congregation is going to be peeved. If you insist on carrying through with this sort of nonsense, don't complain about the consequences.

By the way, for those of you on the "just another building" side, I'm curious. If you substitute girl's restroom and elementary school for confessional and Catholic Church, does that change the equation enough to change your mind? After all, it is just what we choose to invest in the building, right?

P.S. When the church sells a property, they have a rite to desanctify the structure, so there is no further possibility of defilement.

P.P.S. With semi public buildings, like a retailer, I believe that trespass can be cited if the perpetrator is using the premises in a way obviously not intended by the owners/operators, like playing paintball inside a Wal-Mart store. Seems appropriate here.

Posted by Kathy, Florida on June 20, 2008:

As a practicing Catholic, I am not happy with the people in this story. Atheist or not, they should have had respect for the other people who were there at the time. I know people have sex in weird places, such as on picnic tables, etc (NOT when there are other people around) and that's their prerogative. However, have a little common decency and respect for your fellow man.

Posted by Carol - Ann Arbor, MI on June 24, 2008:

As for the morons who felt the need to desecrate a church, they need to be bitch-slapped. I don't care what your beliefs are, show a little respect. If that took place in a Mosque, they would both be dead, and nobody would defend them. As for that tag-line, I have only one thing to say... HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! (and I'm Catholic!)

Posted by Anthony, Toms River on July 16, 2008:

I believe the Catholic Church would make an exception, in this case ONLY. These two morons would have permission to use any and all birth control measures possible. THEY SHOULD NOT PROCREATE AT ANY COST !

Posted by Steve in Hartford, Kentucky on August 4, 2008:

I knew a couple who did that in church sanctuary back in the early 1970's just for "kicks". They both met horrible fates soon afterwards. Believe what you will for this is true.

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