Some of you will no doubt have read about the torching of a rainbow-colored bench outside a Presbyterian church in Ogdensburg, New York, last week. The congregation had placed the bench outside their church as a statement of welcome to everyone.
Today, the media are reporting that a man, Francis (he also goes by the name Dominic) Solis of Ogdensburg, who was detected burning the bench by the security cameras of nearby establishments, has turned himself in after the video footage was released to the media. He is stating that he burned the bench to "send it back to hell," and also because it evoked memories of his sexual abuse by an adult male or men as a child.
His statement about burning the bench interests me, too, because of several other details in it. He indicates that after torching the bench, he went to St. Mary's Catholic cathedral and "sat on the bench in front of Mary for a little bit. I got on my knees and said a prayer."
And those details make me all the more interested in the fact that he maintains a page at the website of the Crusaders of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which the media have apparently not discovered — though the page (it's set to private) is easily found by a Google search. The Crusaders are a Catholic fringe group who, as their mission statement indicates, want to "restore" the church by returning the Latin Mass. The group mounts rosary crusades with the purpose of "consecrating" Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
I certainly wouldn't be surprised if Francis (aka Dominic) Solis happens to be a mentally disturbed man who may have a history of childhood sexual abuse which deserves our compassion. But, given the glimpses we can quickly obtain here and there through Google searches of his right-wing Catholic religious fixations, I'd be inclined — if I were a criminal official investigating this incident of hateful arson — to ask about those right-wing Catholic religious fixations.
Only a number of days before he torched the bench in front of the Presbyterian church, he was hanging out with a bunch of other disturbingly hate-filled homophobic folks discussing whether the gay community produces serial killers, and stating,
It's the "gay" folks, you understand, who are angry and bitter and have "shockingly graphic violent imaginations." Not people who carefully plot the torching of a bench in front of a church, garbing themselves head to toe in black and thinking they will never be found out — and then heading to other churches to kneel in front of Mary and pray.
And at the same time he was making that comment about angry, bitter, violent gay folks, Dominic Solis was visiting another article featuring a gay Catholic man who had married (to a woman), left his wife and led an openly gay life, and is now pursuing chastity as he returns to the Catholic church. Dominic Solis's response to this story zeroes in on the fact that the man was previously married and is now divorced:
Reading that statement, I don't come away with the picture of a raving, disturbed individual who finds it impossible to function in the social mainstream. The sentences hang together well, there's a nice, even flow of logic running through the entire paragraph. Logic wedded, that is, to a theological rigidity that causes this individual to obsess about gay men and about Catholic teaching on issues of sexual morality and marriage and divorce . . . .
The picture I get as I put together these few pieces we can obtain of Francis/Dominic Solis's "testimony" about his understanding of gay people and their lives is a picture of a man driven by religious ideas that fixate on gay folks and their ostensible anger and "violence," while there's absolutely not a scintilla of any awareness that he himself is angry and violent. Francis/Dominic Solis is someone with enough composure of mind to plan his crime of arson with cool dispassion — carefully gathering the materials to burn the bench, planning a time to do so, putting on a face mask and black clothes so that he'd be, as he thought, invisible as he did his dirty work.
Given his ties to a right-wing Catholic movement with extremist views about a number of issues, his obvious fixation on gay folks and their lives, his atrraction to web conversations whose sole purpose is to demonize gay folks, I find it hard to give credit to his statement that he discovered the rainbow-colored bench in front of the Presbyterian church in his town quite by accident as he biked by, and that seeing the bench triggered memories of his childhood abuse that made him determined to send the bench back to hell.
The picture I get, instead, from the bits and pieces we can obtain about his interests through a quick online search, is the picture of a man who is a committed anti-gay activist with theological commitments feeding that activism. I suspect he never intended to be outed by that video camera, and that he's now scrambling to invent plausible reasons for his act of hateful violence which are akin to the gay panic defense used by the defense in trials involving acts of violence against gay men: the gays make good people bash them, torch church benches, etc., you see, in the same way women make men rape them.
And why should any of us care about these theological gutter feeders in the world around us, with their warped ideas and hate-oriented religious missions? We should do so, I propose, because they're there. And when they surface, when they decide to act out the violence in their imaginations, what happens affects all the rest of us.
The photo of Francis/Dominic Solis is by the Ogdensburg Police Department by way of Syracuse.com.