Penthouse, the Bible & ECUSA

Penthouse isn't known for its religion coverage.

Still, the Episcopal Church establishment went into damage- control mode this week as the soft-porn magazine's latest issue hit news stands, featuring news of an alleged clergy sex ring in the Diocese of Long Island. It's the latest twist in the convoluted story of the Episcopalians and their evolving teachings on sex.

The expose centers on the testimony of Wasticlinio Barros and Jairo Pereira, two Brazilian males in their mid-20s. They say they were brought to America and pressed into joining sexual orgies led by the Rev. William Lloyd Andries at the altar of St. Gabriel's Parish in Brooklyn.

Barros and Pereira provided credit card receipts and other records as evidence of their travels and affairs with Andries. Eventually Pereira was baptized and then united with Andries in a same-sex union rite. Yes, Penthouse has photographs of both the ceremony and the sexual romp that followed. In one X-rated scene, Andries appears to be wearing liturgical garb.

There's much more to this story of sex, money, cocaine and the "boys from Brazil," writes former Washington Post gossip reporter Rudy Maxa. "They were playthings for priests whose commitment to the Scriptures had long ago been replaced by a pursuit of pleasure that would have fit nicely in Sodom and Gomorrah."

Actually, this suggests that Penthouse has a more conservative view of the Bible than can currently be defended under Episcopal law. In May, an Episcopal court ruled that the church has no law or "core doctrine" that forbids the ordination a those sexually active outside of marriage. Right now, local bishops call the shots.

This raises questions more shocking than the Penthouse expose. If Barros has no proof he was given drugs, and if those involved in these complicated sexual relationships were consenting adults, and if church money wasn't used, and if Episcopal "core doctrines" don't forbid sex outside of marriage or define "marriage," then what did Andries do that was wrong? Was he merely guilty of trusting someone with a camera? Are charges pending?

Nevertheless, Long Island Bishop Orris Walker, Jr., quickly announced that Andries had resigned from the priesthood and that Penthouse's charges would be investigated. A church official told Newsday that Andries had "denied many" of the allegations.

Other questions remain. Barros said he first met Andries in Buenos Aires, where the priest was traveling with another priest, the Rev. Harold Williams. Later, Barros flew to New York to begin what he thought was a job as a translator in Andries' multicultural parish. It was Williams, he noted, who picked him up at the airport and drove him to stay with Andries.

This is a provocative detail, since Williams directs the U.S. church's ministries with children. Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning was shown the Penthouse article on Oct. 24 and immediately placed Williams on administrative leave, even though Barros specifically said he didn't know if Williams was involved with the sex ring. Apparently, Barros and Pereira did provide other names, including that of the priest who performed the marriage rite. But Penthouse didn't name those who hung up when called for interviews.

Another crucial question: How much did the bishop know? Maxa writes that while Walker denied "personal involvement with any of the boys from Brazil" he did say that he had "seen them around." As for the wedding, Walker said it "would be dishonest to say that I don't know that there are those services going on."

Walker told Penthouse that he didn't investigate earlier reports about Andries, in part because so many rumors circulate in the church. Episcopalians, stressed the bishop, are in the midst of heated debates about sexuality.

That's a fact. The debate will only heat up as events rush towards July's General Convention in Philadelphia.

"In the absence of canonical action by the whole church, these kinds of issues have been left to the local church. ... Obviously, we're going to try again in Philadelphia," said Episcopal spokesman Jim Solheim, referring to efforts to pass laws clarifying church teachings. "Right now, the sleaze factor is so heavy. This kind of incident isn't going to make things any easier for us."