By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO May 28, 2004 The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal want a local topless bar closed down and the dancers and patrons to change their "sinful ways."
The dancers and management think it's a good way to make a living and wish the friars would find somebody else to pray for.
On Saturday night, the "Gray Friars" staged a "Witness to Conscience" prayer vigil across the street from the Jade Lounge, a well-known topless bar just down the road a ways from Monticello Raceway.
As the Gray Friars set up a small stage backed by a large wooden cross flanked by speakers aimed at the topless bar, a couple of dancers and a few patrons looked out from the porch to see what was going on.
As soon as the opening prayer followed by worship music blared into the night air, several cars left the bar, and other patrons started asking if there were any other exotic dance venues in the area minus praying and singing friars, that is.
The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal are based in NYC. The organization was founded in 1987 under the auspices of Cardinal O'Connor and is a new order of mostly young men and women who are known for their work with the poor in the South Bronx.
They established the Blessed Sacrament Friary in Monticello about four years ago.
"We are a religious community of Franciscans within the Catholic Church who believe in St. Francis in an urban context," said Brother Crispin Rinaldi.
Brother Crispin said they staged the prayer vigil "to speak about mercy and to witness for the dignity of women and men, and invite our brothers and sisters to turn away and hopefully encourage the owner to close down and change his business."
He said that while the friars were setting up, a number of people watched them from the bar, but when they started playing, they went back inside.
"We believe the pornography industry is undermining the family, the basic fabric of society," added Brother Crispin.
"Pornography takes many shapes, from the Internet to this sort of operation," he said. "The exploitation of women and men is unacceptable to a society that wants to live in peace. ... We are witnessing for the dignity of people created in God's image."
According to Brother Crispin, by dancing topless, women become viewed as "objects, rather than a human being with a soul. . . . We want them to enjoy clean living and a relationship with God."
As women held up signs proclaiming "Women Are God's Children Too" and "God Is Mercy" and friars clutched pictures of a crucified Christ on the cross and a haloed Jesus radiating beams of holy light, the friars meditated, worshipped and "invoked the mercy of God."
Up in the parking lot, Fred Davis of Loch Sheldrake sat on the tailgate of his pickup watching the goings-on across the street.
"I go in and out of here as I want, that's it," he remarked. "I don't know what to say. . . . I'm not going to get myself involved in something I don't know nothing about."
A 20-some-year-old young man from Brooklyn showed up with three friends for his second visit to the Jade.
He declined to give his name, saying, "That's getting a little exclusive" but offered his view of the prayer vigil.
"I think it's disrespectful to have it right in front of the place," he said.
Phil Macedonio has owned the Jade Lounge for 12 years.
His take on the prayer vigil?
"Baloney!" said Macedonio. "I don't think it's right. They're stopping traffic and endangering people's lives . . . and it's costing us money."
Is topless dancing contributing to the moral decay of America?
"Put on the TV, and you'll see all kinds of movies," said Macedonio. "Who are they bullcrapping?
"Let them go pray for our brother soldiers who are dying," he added. "Pray to God for the people fighting for us instead of bullcrapping over here."
Trinity is a 23-year-old exotic dancer. She started dancing two years ago and has been dancing topless at the Jade for a couple of weeks.
"This is how I make my living and pay my bills. . . . This is my job," she said proudly. "It's not like I'm prostituting or selling my body."
She said exotic dancing "turned me into a better person," adding, "There's nothing wrong going on here. It's not a sin. . . . People come in here to enjoy themselves, just hang out and have fun."
This is Jamie's 11th year as manager of the Jade Lounge. Her reaction to the singing friars?
"I'm not very happy about it because it's not good for business," she said. "It's fine to do it during the day, but not at night when we're trying to do business.
"They were chanting things, that it's basically a sin to be in here," said Jamie. "Who are they to judge?
"These girls are dancing, making a living, not on welfare or out there on the streets selling themselves," she added. "If people choose to come in here and watch them dance, what's the harm in it?
"What's wrong with breasts?" said Jamie. "If they want to show their breasts, so what? . . . It's part of the human body."
As the prayer vigil drew to a close, Brother Crispin reiterated that people were created in the image and likeness of God.
"We were created to be temples of the Holy Spirit a very sacred, sacred thing," he said. "We want to remind them of their dignity."