Farewell to Leno

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly

November 18, 2004


            I’ve always been something of a night owl. Over the years I developed the habit of watching the Tonight Show monologue before I went to bed.  It became a little routine: night prayer about 11:15, the monologue around 11:35, then to bed.

Since most of my life I have lived alone, it gave me a little company in the evening. It was nice to go to bed with a laugh.

            For a long time Johnny Carson was an electronic friend. When he retired I took it personally. But I got over Johnny’s retirement and soon began to enjoy Jay Leno. He was not as gentle as Carson, but he could be very funny.

But now, I watch him no more. Lately it has gotten to be too painful.

A few weeks ago he started on a series of jokes about priests and child abuse.

He is, of course, free to tell whatever jokes he wants. I also realize that that we priests have nobody but ourselves to blame for the fact that we have become the butt of jokes. Comedians, after all, make a living by pointing out the ironies of life. After the scandal of the last few years, we are an easy target.

However, I don’t have to listen. I am free to turn it off, so from now on, I will.

I don’t want to watch or listen when the vocation to which I have dedicated my life is made an object of scorn. It is just too painful.

There is a meanness to these jokes.

In one joke about childhood obesity statistics, Leno said the real danger of child obesity was that the altar boys were now too fat to run away from the priests.

In another joke about the presidential election he said, “never mind the separation of church and state, what about separating the church from our kids. That’s what we ought to be worried about.”

Whew. Scorn is hard to take.

The priesthood is in trouble when people are laughing at it. Anger, even hatred is easier to take than scorn. We have a lot of repair work to do.

Like a lot a comedians; Leno is a fallen-away Catholic. He is not alone. There are others like  George Carlin and  Bill Maher. 

Their jokes are angry. Their anger tells me something.

It tells me that in some way, the priesthood and the church are still important to them.  That is way they are so angry about it.

Cynics are often disappointed romantics. But both cynicism and romanticism are immature.

Mature people eventually come to realize the truth of what the Church has always taught about the human condition. That is that sin touches everyone. We all have feet of clay. We are all sinners.

It is not entirely their fault if they are cynics about the priesthood and the church. Priests tended to “widen their phylacteries” as Jesus said. We tended to project the image of  virtue and never admitted mistakes, sins or weakness. Now it is painfully obvious.

But there is one thing I take some comfort in, because I have seen it over and over.

At the end of life, folks like these bitter comedians will want comfort and consolation just like everybody else.

I want them to know that despite their scorn a priest will be there for them. 

We will come with the body of the Lord. We bring words of encouragement and forgiveness if they want it.

That is what we do. Because we serve Him who offered himself up for those who jeered and mocked him.

In the mean time, I will be turning the TV off a little earlier and getting a little more sleep. I will miss the laughs.