Rhode Island Priest Rebukes Public School for Pornographic Books in Library
When the public high school in Westerly, Rhode Island, made available to students two books with pornographic content, the Rev. Giacomo Capoverdi sprang into action with more than a dozen other pastors.
The books — Gender Queer and Fun Home — are not appropriate for high school students, according to a letter 14 clergy wrote to The Westerly Sun on Sept. 27. Despite facing a backlash from the school and the LGBT movement, Capoverdi isn’t backing down.
Capoverdi joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to explain why he is using his leadership position as a Catholic priest at Immaculate Conception Church in Westerly to speak out and take action.
Read a lightly edited transcript below or listen to our interview.
Rob Bluey: Let’s begin with the recent concerns that you’ve raised about two books with pornographic images and descriptions that can be found, surprisingly, in the Westerly High School library. You led a letter of 14 clergy who spoke out against the availability of the books. One of them is known as Gender Queer. The other one is called Fun Home. What prompted you to speak out?
The Rev. Giacamo Capoverdi: What prompted me to speak out was the desire and the fortitude of a gentleman in my town, Bob Chiaradio. And Bob is not my parishioner. He’s a parishioner of a church that’s closer to the beach from here because we’re on the shore in Westerly of Rhode Island and I’m closer to the downtown and he lives closer to the beach, so he’s in another parish.
But … I was very impressed with his courage and his fortitude in wanting to expose these books to the school committee and read them out loud in school committee meetings, open forums where taxpayers can speak to the school committee in a certain amount of time they have, and he used his time to open up these books and to expose their content.
We were all shocked at the pornographic descriptions in the content of these books and you would think it would be a no brainer for the school committee to realize this and say, “Wow. I didn’t realize that these books were in there” and want to eliminate them from the library and the ability that kids have to check them out from there.
So they weren’t, though. They were very much in support of these books, but they didn’t like Bob reading these books out loud in front of them and the chairman of the school committee was banging on the gavel and telling Bob, “You’re out of order. You can’t read these books in front of us.”
And Bob is saying, “Why can’t I? They’re in the library. Our kids can read them in the library of the high school and you’re telling me it’s inappropriate reading for me to read out loud in front of you? If I had a history book or a science book, could I read the content in front of you and would there be a problem? Why don’t you want to hear out loud what your kids and our kids in town are able to have access to?”
So, when he was doing all of this, I was really impressed with him and I thought he was a real great person for doing this and exposing this. And then he approached me and he said, “You know, Father, I really need your help.” And, I was thinking, “Gee. You know, what kind of leader would I be if I’m always yelling ‘Charge’ from the [pulpit] … And, I’m doing it on this issue from the back.”
Because, really, usually, I’m doing it from the front. I’m usually in the front lines and I’m usually, when it comes to pro-life and when it comes to other issues, gender issues, I’m certainly not shy in wanting to speak about those things. And, with this, I was thinking, “Well, you know, this is a perfect opportunity.”
But I didn’t want to do it alone. I felt like I didn’t want to be the heavy in town and the priest in town that was doing this alone and … some of my parishioners who may disagree with me, they could go to a neighboring parish and think that that pastor thinks differently than me so they’ll join there. I didn’t want that to happen. I didn’t want to split the town and have some priests for it and some priests quiet about it.
So I asked the other priests and I said, “Look, everyone can agree with this. I’m sure. Right?” Oh, yeah. Of course. Everyone was on board, including the Protestant ministers. And we had priests who signed it who were from the town originally but are assigned in different other locations around the diocese but they’re known to the people in town because they grew up in the town and they signed it.
So, it wasn’t just us priests in Westerly or even the Protestant ministers in Westerly. It was any clergy who had a connection with Westerly and wanted to put their name to this and we got quite a few names.
Bluey: You certainly did. In it, you write about the dangers of pornography and you cite a number of studies and other research that has been done on this topic, which underlines the concerns that you’ve just outlined. Why is pornography so dangerous? And how is it harming America’s youth?
Capoverdi: This is what our letter articulated very beautifully. I didn’t actually pen the letter. When we got together, we had a priest who was among us do it. We chose him to do it and he represented us and then he sent us the rough draft in the email and we added to it. I added a paragraph to it. Other guys did as well. And what you’re seeing is the finished product of all of us. But it was actually another priest in town who penned it but we all of course signed it and agree with everything in it.
What was beautiful about it is that it really articulated the urgency not to have pornography be exposed to youth, especially in the way it is described in these books, because it could harm them in their own sexual health and life when it comes to their relationships with women, the way they respect women, the way they treat women, the way that they understand what their sexuality is actually for and the reason why God gave it to us.
And nowadays it’s all over the place. There’s no doubt about it. And, as a matter of fact, one of the school committee members, which I was shocked because he’s Catholic, and he was debating me on this and he said, “Well, you know, Father, I don’t understand why you’re all upset about this because the kids can go home and they can turn on the TV at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and ‘The Godfather’ is on or ‘Goodfellas’ is on and the kids are listening to bad language and seeing sexually explicit scenes in these movies.”
And my rebuttal to him was, “Well, that’s the parent. That’s their discretion. If they don’t mind their children watching ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘Godfather’ or even other things that maybe are inappropriate — as much as I personally love those movies — but it may be inappropriate to younger children. Then that really is their discretion. The parent is the one who should decide what his children or her children are going to see and hear at home.”
But not the school. The parents will not have any control over what’s available in the school and that’s not fair, that a Catholic who does not want or anybody who does not want their children exposed to these kinds of books. … Maybe if they’re home, they may allow it in their household but their neighbor doesn’t allow those materials in their home. …
It’s the LBGTQ agenda that’s pushing this. … A lot of these people, even Catholics, on these committees are falling like dominoes supporting it.
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Bluey: It’s certainly troubling and it’s also ironic that some of these same individuals are trying to ban the classics and the books that our kids should be reading. Then they’re trying to promote other works like we’re talking about here. You mentioned the role of parents. I think that that is so important.
What is your advice to parents who might be in a situation where they don’t like something that they see in their public school library and want to do something about it?
Capoverdi: There are three things they can do. The first thing they need to do is pray and fast. This is a battle that’s a spiritual battle and we’re not going to conquer this battle here on Earth without God’s help and so we have to pray to Saint Michael the Archangel to defend us in battle. We have to pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary through her prayers as our patroness in this battle, like they did in liberating Spain, dedicating that [Battle of Lepanto]. We can win these victories by prayer and fasting because they are really demonic forces that we’re battling. That’s the first thing.
The second thing I would recommend is to take your kids out of public school. And, as bad as Catholic schools can be … and as problematic, especially some of the schools like universities or colleges, but still though I think if you find the right school, and usually parish schools are very good and sometimes high schools are very good. So, I would say to take them out of a public school and put them in a Catholic school because at a Catholic school, we have our issues but they’re not as anywhere near severe as these issues of having these kinds of books in these libraries.
And, the third thing I would recommend is run for office. Run for the school committee. We have a guy. His name is Seth Logan from Westerly and I knew him because I used to play on a softball team with him. He was a softball teammate and he was the best kid on the team and he was very athletic. I think he was athletic in high school and everything. And, he always reminded me of an athlete, someone who I never realized would ever get into politics, but he knocked on my door of the rectory and I said, “Seth.” I mean, I haven’t seen him in a while because I haven’t been playing on that team.
And I said, “Seth, I can’t believe. What are you doing here? Nice to see you.” And, he’s like, “Father, I’m running for office. Will you sign my papers to get signatures to be on the ballot?” I said, “Seth, you’re running for office? You’re a jock. What are you…? I didn’t think you cared about politics.” And he says, “Well, I never really got involved too much in it but you know what? I’m fed up. I just can’t believe what Bob is exposing and I’m a guy in town who has values and who has beliefs and this is just ridiculous, what’s going on. I’m not going to stand for it anymore. I’m running for office.” The last guy in the world … I’d ever think would be involved in politics.
But that’s the kind of guys that we need, a guy like Seth Logan who wants to put himself out there and say, “You know what? I’m fed up. I’m running.”
I think that’s the third thing they could do, is run for office and especially if you live in a purple state. If you live in a blue state like ours in Rhode Island, it’s a real uphill battle. I don’t even trust the electoral process here and how they collect ballots and everything.
Everything’s controlled by Democrats in my state. … We have like four Republicans in the Rhode Island Senate. They have like eight out of 75 in the House. They have just no authority. They have no power. Every elected statewide official is a Democrat. Our governor, our lieutenant governor. They all control the voting. …
So, I don’t know. I just don’t trust the whole system on the state level. But, I think the local level is really where a lot of people can make a big difference and I think school committee. … I never thought I’d be saying this 10 years ago. The school committee? Really? … To me, it didn’t seem like it was that exciting. But now these are where the battlegrounds are. The battleground is on the town councils and the school committee because they’re starting to make big decisions, moral decisions, not even the state is making. It’s the local level that these things are happening on and that’s where the fight and the battle is going to be in the neighborhoods.
Rob Bluey: One more question on this particular topic. My colleague Jay Greene has pushed back on the label that some on the Left try to give those of us who are concerned about this obscene material, calling us “book banners.” And, I wonder how you have responded to that, either to folks in your community. Recognizing that the books you’re talking about are not just an issue in Westerly High School, they have appeared in high schools all over the country. How have you rebutted that charge that maybe some have thrown at you?
Capoverdi: The Left are the kings of cancel. They’re the inquisition. They’re the new inquisition. They have banned all kinds of things. …
Bugs Bunny is a great cartoon and it’s amazing that Bugs Bunny now is politically incorrect but yet things like these other cartoons that are on, like “Family Guy,” that have incredibly explicit sexually explicit material and extremely inappropriate humor for children, and that’s acceptable. But, “The Flintstones” or Bugs Bunny is a problem because of the aggression or something of the cartoon or whatever it is.
They are certainly no stranger to banning shows, people, books. You say one thing out of line that may not even have meant to be public and the person is disgraced and loses his job. And, look at what happened to this poor kid, the Catholic kid at the pro-life march where he was from the high school there where he had a Trump hat on and the guy with the drum came right in his face and then all of a sudden this kid was the enemy. This poor little guy from a Catholic school was being canceled and being called an enemy.
When you live in a glass house, you can’t throw stones. If you want to take the speck out of your brother’s eye, you better take the plank out of your own eye. And these people live in glass houses and they have a big plank in their eye, so they have no authority to tell us that there are things we deem inappropriate for kids when they are constantly deeming things inappropriate for kids when it comes to things that they disagree with like religion or morality or the values that we hold dear to us as Judeo-Christian people and believers.
Bluey: I wanted to ask you about recent polls that we’ve seen that show fewer Americans believe in God today. Gallup put it at a new low of 81%. It’s still a high number of Americans but two questions. What is fueling that change in our society? And, for those of us who are Christians and deeply care about this issue, how do we change it?
Capoverdi: Part of our problem is that parents used to have a lot of control over their kids’ upbringing and there wasn’t many outside influences that affected them until television. They could grow up in a small town. They could have small-town values, even if it’s a big town. They could grow up with their family having a lot of control over what they’re going to view and what they’re going to see and who their friends are going to be. And then when television came into our living rooms, now all of a sudden a lot of other influences were able to penetrate the household — Elvis, The Beatles and rock-and-roll.
As the world got smaller and as communication became better, Satan used all of these tools that were invented that could be another influence rather than their parents. Also, too, young people are going to college where they didn’t used to go to college in these great numbers. You go to college and the professors there now have these children in their classrooms. I know because I was in a classroom in a college.
I know how liberal the teachers are, how they’re all members, most of them, of the Left. At least where I come from and the college I went to. And, you’re considered somewhat of an outcast. You don’t really speak out if you have a difference of opinion because the people who say they’re most open-minded are the least open-minded and they say that they want to listen to other people’s opinions. They don’t. They’ll shut you down immediately or you’ll get a bad grade. So, kids kind of realize that there are punishments for not going along with the Kool-Aid, drinking the Kool-Aid and being and having the same ideology.
So they either acquiesce and take an if you can’t beat them, join them attitude. I’d rather fight with my parents who I’m going to see only once in a while than my teachers that I’m going to be around all the time. Or they may be convincingly changed and they become ideologically different because they’re only hearing one side of the story.
I can’t be in the classroom refuting what they say about the church and what they say about priests and the history of the church and what happened in the Middle Ages. So they hold the keys right now, these educators and influencers on television, and I think that was a big reason.
Another reason is that kids started to realize that they hold the cards nowadays. Somehow in the 1990s I think it happened. Things flipped and parents ended up not being the authority in the house, but the children are, and I think part of the reason is because parents are having less children and they are more concerned about their survival because they only have one or two. …
A lot of parents are not worshiping God but worshiping their children and anything their children say, they think is OK and they want to do. They never do anything wrong. They’re never wrong in school. They never lie. If the teacher says they did something and they come home and they say they did an opposite thing, then they always believe the kid over the student, over the teacher.
When I was a kid, I went to an all-boys Catholic high school. If you got in trouble in school, you didn’t go home. It was stupid in the 1980s or 1970s to tell your parents you got in trouble because you’d get in more trouble at home. What did you do? And, if you said, “Nothing. He just picked on me,” they didn’t believe you. They were like, “Come on. Don’t give me that. You had to do something.” And, then the teacher would tell them what you did. “Oh, you did that. See? You told me no I didn’t. Oh, come on.” You know? They didn’t believe you. You know? So, they always believed the teacher.
But now it’s the complete opposite and so now the kids are completely running the household and they’re completely running schools. Now they’re in charge of the schools, not the parents.
A friend of mine works in an inner-city school. He’s a teacher in an inner-city school. He said the kids wear their hoodies, they look on their phone all day, and they swear. And, I said, “Can’t you do anything about this?” I mean, he and I both went to the same Catholic high school. He said, “No. We’ve just given up those battles. We no longer fight those battles.” …
Young people have completely taken control of society and parents are listening to them more than God. The kid comes home from college and says I want to move in with my girlfriend. All right. We’ll pay for the rent. No problem. There’s not a fight. There’s not, “Hey, listen, you’re a Catholic. You’re a Christian. You’re not supposed to live together before marriage.” There’s no fight anymore left in parents. They’ve completely handed over the authority of decision making to their children.
And so, as a result, kids today and younger people today don’t want to follow rules. They’ll follow rules enough not to be in jail, but they don’t want to follow rules when it comes to morality or church’s teaching and it’s easier for them to say I’m spiritual and not religious because if I’m religious that means that I’m going to have to follow these rules. I can’t live together before marriage. I can’t be with the other gender, with the same gender. I can’t have children before marriage.
I know people right in my town of Westerly who have four kids, three kids, and they’ve been with this girl for 12 years and I say to them, “When are you going to get married?” “Oh, Father, I don’t know if I want to get married.” …
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Bluey: You’ve given our parents a call to action, Father, and I hope that they heed your advice and step up. It is critically important for this next generation.
You have quite a popular following on Facebook and you host a show called “Cappuccino with Father Capoverdi.” What prompted you to start sharing your thoughts on politics and our culture in such a public way?
Capoverdi: I have a parishioner. She’s a really nice girl. She’s married with a family and she’s like a health guru, like an exercise person and diet consultant. And, she would go on every once in a while and talk about nutrition and talk about food and talk about diet and talk about exercise. Then, people would write in to her. And, I thought, well, how great of her to do that. She has a passion about what she does that she’s willing to put herself out there online and field questions. And, I’m sure it helps her business. I’m sure she’s out there and people are watching her do something for free but want to hire her eventually because they like what she’s saying and they think that this person could be good for them.
So, I thought why don’t I do that when it comes to my profession and my vocation. I mean, if this woman is so passionate about diet and exercise and nutrition, I’m passionate about my faith and about converting souls to Christ. So, why don’t I put myself out there and just talk about things? Plus, it gives me the ability to say things that I can’t say from a pulpit or maybe wouldn’t want to say from the pulpit.
The pulpit is very sacred and I’m very careful. … There’s no doubt about it. I don’t want to talk about just ranting about things that I’m upset about in the course of the day or the week. I’m supposed to preach on the Gospel and it’s supposed to be theologically centered and succinct. I only have seven minutes. I preach about seven minutes on a weekend.
This affords me the opportunity to kind of go on and on about things that I really think are important and I think like-minded people need to listen to or maybe people who don’t agree with me can hopefully see why we have the opinions we do. And, I think it’s a great evangelization tool and a great opportunity, like I said, for me to talk about things that maybe I don’t have the opportunity to talk about when it comes to other forums I have as a priest.
One thing that I’ve been really wanting to talk a lot about is clothing among kids nowadays. I’m just shocked. I was at a wake and a kid came in with a hoodie and sweatpants at a wake. And, this is unbelieveable. …
I was at the Capital Grille, which is my favorite restaurant. I don’t go there often because it’s expensive. But, when I do go, it’s a nice night out. I treat myself to a nice night out with a friend, a priest friend or something. And I see a kid on a date and he has a hoodie on and he has jeans and sneakers and he’s sitting at the Capital Grille in downtown Providence with his hat on backwards. It’s just shocking to me.
My sister said that she was in the market the other day and a guy was there with a bathrobe on. Nothing else. His legs had nothing on them and his chest looked like he had nothing on. It looked like underneath he had nothing on from what she could see by what was exposed and he had a bathrobe on, walking with a shopping cart up and down the market, picking things off the shelf. What is going on with this dress? We don’t see suit jackets. We don’t see a button down shirt anymore. We don’t see slacks.
That’s something I could talk about on my streamcast that I’m not going to really maybe address from the pulpit. If I do, it’s just a sentence or two that I’ll mention it if it relates to the Scriptures.
Bluey: I encourage our listeners to certainly check out your work. And, Father, a final question for you. How can our listeners or The Daily Signal audience support the work that you’re doing, follow the social media postings or the livestreams that you do? What’s the best way for them to connect with you?
Capoverdi: First thing is pray. Anyone who’s listening or wants to help me, please pray for priests. We’re under attack. Satan is like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, as Scripture says, especially priests. And, we are under attack because he knows that if we go down, we bring a lot of people down with us. If we go up, we bring a lot of people up with us.
It’s important for them to pray, especially devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the way that we are really going to find the greatest possible relationship we could have with Christ is if we have a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
But, also too, I’m on Facebook. That’s mostly what I post. You don’t need to be friends with me to see my posts, to see the streamcast I do, and that really is the best way to reach me, is through Facebook.
We also have a YouTube channel that’s called Immaculate Conception Parish Westerly. You hit subscribe and on that subscribe, it has all our masses, every mass we do. Funerals, when the family wants it, or every scheduled masses or my homilies.
I talk on Thursdays, as you know. I have “Cappuccino with Father Capoverdi.” I sit there at 9:30 at the rectory kitchen table with a cappuccino and I talk about all kinds of issues like we’re kind of talking about today. That’s on Facebook. Going on to that and seeing my different posts of what’s going on I think is the best way to keep in touch with what I’m doing.
Bluey: I applaud you for putting those masses on your social media channels so those who are far away from Rhode Island have an opportunity to tune in and watch and see the work you’re doing.
Thank you for your leadership in Rhode Island. Thank you for speaking out on these important issues. Those of us who need the encouragement turn to leaders like you in times like this. We’re grateful that you would join “The Daily Signal Podcast” and share a little bit of time with our listeners today.
Capoverdi: I really appreciate you inviting me and I bless you with your work and please know you’ll be in my prayers.
Rob Bluey is executive editor of The Daily Signal, the multimedia news organization of The Heritage Foundation.
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