Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hepatitis A Cover-Up on Long Island?

Although practically the whole world knows there was a Hepatitis A infection alert at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Massapequa Park, Long Island, this past week, questions still linger.

Some pertinent facts stand out that have been overlooked in the media blitz of attention focused on this modest suburban parish in the last three days. By weaving these news items together with anecdotal evidence from a few parishioners, it's possible to arrive at a tentative theory about the identity of the Christmas Day HAV Carrier.

Why is this important? While it's usually appropriate to protect the privacy of the individual concerned, revealing more details in this case could help narrow considerably the scope of the potential contamination and reduce the number of people who receive vaccinations. Not specifying if the carrier was a priest or a layperson is an injustice to the uninfected category since they will automatically be suspected of being carriers. Finally, there is an obligation in justice to the parishioners to know if one of their priests was the person responsible for the infection scare.

Anecdotal evidence:
From what I've been told by two OLL parishioners, both of whose accounts coincide exactly, Fr. Edward Seagriff, one of the associate pastors, informed the congregation at his Mass the weekend before Christmas that Msgr. James Lisante, the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, was suffering from a stomach virus and was so indisposed he would not be celebrating Mass the next week. Despite this announcement, Msgr. Lisante apparently recovered enough to celebrate two Masses on Christmas Day.

News reports:
That Msgr. Lisante was present at both the fateful 10:30 and noon masses on Christmas Day was verified by Sean Dolan, the diocesan spokesman, in a Jan 5. New York Times article:

Msgr. James Lisante, the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes and a well-known spokesman for the Catholic View on Fox News and other cable news and religious networks, was among a few people who gave communion to parishioners during both services, said Sean P. Dolan, a spokesman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which oversees Catholic churches on Long Island.
That the HAV carrier was a clergy member was confirmed by Mary Ellen Laurain, the spokeswoman for the Nassau County Department of Health in a Jan. 3 CNN article:

At least one member of the clergy involved in the communion process was infected with the disease, Laurain said.
That the infected person in question was a male was inadvertently verified in this Jan. 4 Fox News report:

So after learning from a lab that a person had hepatitis A, health officials moved quickly, tracked him down, and informed the public through the media.
It's important to note that at Our Lady of Lourdes the celebrating priest is typically the only priest who distributes Holy Communion at that Mass. It's also significant that Eucharistic Ministers do not usually serve at more than one Mass on a Sunday morning.

From the above quotes, one might reasonably deduce that the HAV carrier may be the pastor, Msgr. James Lisante, a conclusion not unsubstantiated by the fact that the pastor has apparently gone AWOL the last few days. It is indeed curious that the affable pastor, a masterful communicator, well-known as a TV and radio personality, has made no public statements and has not been available for comments.

It could, of course, be surmised that if Msgr. Lisante were the infected person in question, he may be too ill to appear in public. A wire story from the Norwalk Reflector has made this claim:

A source who was briefed on the probe said the infected person did not realize he or she was ill until after Christmas Day. The patient sought out a
doctor and was hospitalized.

The decision by Rockville Centre diocesan officials to withhold the name, or at the very least, the possible clerical status, of the virus carrier remains highly suspect. Operating from a hunch, I wonder if the social stigma attached to hepatitis A is keeping the local hierarchy from revealing any further details. Most of the affected parishioners, I'm sure, would be very generous about forgiving someone for a possible lapse of personal hygiene and would have a good deal of sympathy towards a victim of foodborne illness.

Problem is, though, this isn't just a case of someone eating bad sushi. The grim facts are that there are two other, far more disreputable ways to contract hepatitis A: through unsanitary intravenous drug use and through the act of sodomy which actually accounts for the predominant number of hepatitis A cases in the United States.

Because of this highly significant connection in an age where clerical scandals have been consistently and systematically concealed with the full knowledge and collaboration of high Church officials, the parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes deserve to be told the truth about this incident so they may form their own judgements about the matter.

If, God forbid, the pastor is indeed the Christmas Day HAV Carrier, as any careful observer might reasonably hypothesize given the circumstantial evidence above, that fact ought to be immediately divulged, no matter what potentially sordid and disastrous implications may result from the revelation.

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