Interviewee: Franciscan Priest
Interviewer: Sister Marie Heyda (and Charlene Plunkett)
Date: November 20, 1977
The Franciscan Priest in this interview was based in Lafayette, New Jersey and worked with prostitutes in New York City. He believed that discrimination against women, sexual abuse, and incest contributed to women becoming prostitutes. The Franciscan Priest was in favor of reproductive freedom planks that did not have to do with abortion. Interview includes discussion of: the Catholic Church’s stance on women’s rights issues and the ERA; the Father’s positive impression of the conference; how the leaders of the Catholic Church are largely against women and “afraid of women”; and the Father’s own more pro-woman beliefs.
Franciscan Priest: –Franciscan Priest, Christ House, Lafayette, New Jersey.
Marie Heyda: And you work with prostitutes in New York City.
FP: New York City area, and any place you’ll find them, and they’re kind of all over, but mainly in New York City because I live right near there.
MH: Do you see that way of life as the result of discrimination of women?
FP: That’s a big part of it. That’s a big part of it, and also another big part is a lot of incest. We’ve had an awful lot of incest, the father, older brother, uncle, whoever, and the girl, at that it may be a girl, can’t take it out on her father. I mean, how do you get back at your father and kind of get away with it? So she would take it out on other men. Also, going back maybe to discrimination, this one woman that I’m working with, Marie Magoo, she said “I’ve taken a natural endowment, my sexual powers, perfected them, put in the cost of overhead and sell it as a profit.” We get paid for our brains, we get paid for our brawn; they get paid for sex. I think it’s logical.
Men, unfortunately, demand this activity. Then these very same men who demand it end up condemning the ones they demand it from. It goes, again, back to “big brother knows best,” and we don’t know what he knows but seemingly he thinks he knows best. We say men and women are equal. Say, in the Catholic Church they always say men and women are equal. You can receive six sacraments, I can receive seven. We’re equal? That’s equality. Hopefully that doesn’t sound like a simplistic comeback at that thing.
MH: I talked yesterday with a woman who was one of the Episcopal priests, and it was interesting what she had to say.
FP: But it’s all part – you know, we advertise toothpaste with sexual overtones, we advertise tires with sexual overtones. Is it any wonder that some people take that just a little bit further with natural profession?
MH: The culture is shoving it even harder. So you came then for this entire conference?
FP: Oh yes, I got here Friday, leaving tomorrow.
Charlene Plunkett: How is the response from the prostitutes that you work with?
FP: Very pleasant. If it was just working with prostitutes that would be easy, but to work with the square community, I find that very difficult.
CP: Work with what community?
FP: The so-called square or straight community. It would be something like the gays and also the prostitutes, too. When it comes to something sexual, boy, do we come on strong. Nixon rips up the country. He’s deaf, dumb and blind. He messes up the country, exploits the country. He’s forgiven and obviously for reconciliation, but then he gets $1 million to go on the David Frost Show to tell his life history. Here’s a woman, society demands her services, she’s picked up, put in jail, penalized; she wouldn’t even get ten cents to go on an interview show.
MH: To what extent might it be economic, that girls go into that way of life?
FP: Well, even with the women’s movement, women are still number two, even if they’re that high. Sometimes they’re a ten. So what do you do if you’re a woman in today’s society, kind of minority, if you’re a black or a Spanish woman, another minority; if you’re a black or a Spanish woman and you only get a fourth, fifth grade education, what do you do to get food, clothing and shelter, just to name the three basics let alone all the other necessities and niceties of life. You sell what you got. Well, if the only thing you got is your body, society demands the use of your body, well, you sell your body.
CP: What’s your impression of the convention so far?
FP: Very positive, very, very positive.
CP: You’re liking what you see?
FP: Yes, definitely.
CP: Do you feel that women are well organized?
FP: Oh yeah, well, for a group this size. I mean even if you get two people together it’s difficult, let alone what, 15,000, 20,000, whatever is here? Oh yeah, definitely.
CP: Are you very much in support of the various resolutions on the agenda?
CP: I take it you would not be in favor of the reproductive freedom resolution.
FP: Well, it’s not that I would be – while I might not be exactly for it, I’m not exactly against it either. Obviously a woman should have some choice, some say in what she does or doesn’t do, what children she has or doesn’t have; how she brings her children up, she should definitely have an equal say in that. Unfortunately, up till now men have almost had the total say. Not just men, but society, the whole impression, we’re calling the shots. And isn’t that interesting – we don’t have to bring up the children. Or say even me, I’m a celibate, but it’s nice for me to tell you is that you’re a married woman, well, you should do this, you shouldn’t do that, do this, don’t do that. I don’t have to be with these children twenty-four hours a day the first eighteen, twenty years of their life. I can very unemotionally say what you’re supposed to do, but I’m not there for the actual day-by-day process.
CP: So I’ll take it, then, that you would support those portions of the resolution which do not have to do with abortion, per se?
MH: In my opinion, it’s unfortunate that abortion questions are mixed in with this whole thing, because I think it’s a personal answer that one has to make with his own conscience; a little different. Let’s talk a little bit about the position of the Catholic hierarchy in –
FP: Yeah, right. If you put anything in I would like to see it, if you could send me a copy to this address. Okay?
CP: Sure, I’d be glad to.
FP: And your first name again?
CP: Charlene Plunkett.
FP: Plunkett. Any relation to the Plunketts of way back?
CP: My husband is a descendent of Joseph Plunkett (unintelligible at 5:59).
(Recording cuts out 5:59-6:03)
MH: Father, I wonder if you would address yourself to the question of why the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and so many of our priests cannot see it in their minds to back ERA.
FP: Well, it’s probably (unintelligible at 6:22) with liturgy or anything, sacraments, and so anything new kind of frightens them, not just the bishops but even myself personally. Until we adjust to that, understand something, then, we’re still going to fear it. So our first response, which has been for several years now, until we kind of understand, is that first response is one of being against something.
MH: And they don’t understand women too well.
FP: Well, that’s an understatement. That’s definitely an understatement, yeah, that’s true. We’re frightened by women, even though we would not subscribe to things like St. Thomas Aquinas said that women are misbegotten males. Although we would not dare subscribe that in public, yet the feeling or that kind of attitude is still prevalent among us, although we wouldn’t sharply say that kind of a statement. We do. What’s the difference of a woman reading the Scripture, a man reading the Scripture, a woman giving out communion, a man, so, see, that’s the whole mentality; we’re against women.
MH: You say the Church came out a couple weeks ago. The bishops came out a couple weeks ago and said not to equate ERA and the abortion issue.
FP: Yeah, the bishops had their annual meeting in Washington just last week, November 14th, 15th, came out and said that these two are not to be – they didn’t come out for the ERA, they didn’t come out against the ERA, they just said they were trying to make this distinction. It’s a definite distinction now.
MH: Definitely they already are connected, aren’t they?
FP: Well, in most people’s minds, a lot of people’s minds. (Unintelligible at 8:03) You know, fine. They should. They came out, but I would have hoped they would have come out a year or two ago, because of all the emotion that’s built up, the connection has been made, and to disassociate now, very difficult. I’m sure many people have not even heard of this thing. We just came out last week, so it’s kind of in a sense useless to have any effect on this meeting here.
MH: Like you see the Blessed Sacrament in your hand or on your tongue. Some people can’t understand that doesn’t mean anything.
End of Interview