"Rashomon" has come to denote events which lend themselves to multiple, and often radically different, interpretations. That's what the life and death of the former head of St. John's Roman Catholic Church, Darien, Connecticut have turned out to be. His name is Michael Jude Fay. It seems there have been many Fays.
Since the scandal about his embezzlement of $1.3 million from church funds, hard partying, and gay lifestyle broke in the media in 2005, I have been covering the story. That means talking with a God's Plenty of people about who this man was, what his actions might have symbolized about the state of the Roman Catholic Church, and who his behavior harmed. Believe me, sources don't always depict him as a con artist, total hedonist, or even a crass materialist.
"Fay was a deeply spiritual man," a source told me today. We met in downtown New Haven, Connecticut, about a 40-minute drive from Darien. This source had known Fay for more than a decade as not only a "good priest" but also a brilliant fundraiser who attracted money to the church. And no, Fay wasn't the Roman Catholic version of Bernard Madoff, who was an inmate at the same prison where Fay died. He was more an outsized, generous personality who enhanced the parish's brandname.
Overall, the actions he was vilified for in the media and eventually incarcerated for were, according to this source, not atypical, not in the Roman Catholic Church, not in the upper-middle class circles he traveled in. One might put it: A good time was had by all. But there came a time when a scapegoat was needed. He was saddled with that role. Why? That might be explained in terms of some kind of tragic flaw. There are few accidental scapegoats.
Those who support Fay view his nemesis Michael Madden, the alleged whistleblower at St. John's, as nothing but a rat, one who eventually caved to the pressure. Madden left the parish and the priesthood. Fay, some report, was cool to the end.
This tale has so many versions, thanks to the legal system, middle-class morality, Roman Catholic dogma, and a point of view which values talent and ability to get results. Should a book be written by one of Fay's champions, which it may, we might discover that life isn't binary: Good guys, bad guys. Instead it might be more Chaucerian, with Fay as the engaging, opportunistic Pardoner.