"If people can confess on Oprah, Phil and Geraldo, I don't see why they can't confess right here on Eighth Avenue." So said Father Anthony Joseph, a Dominican priest from San Bernadino who peddled a confessional booth mounted on the back of a tricycle to the site of the Democratic National Convention in New York City during July of 1992.
Portofess, as the confessional was called, provided religion on the move for people on the go. A manifesto handed out to passersby stated, "The Church must take a more aggressive stance. The Church must go where the sinners are!"
Father Joseph, (a.k.a. Joey Skaggs), had designed and, with the help of friends, built an ornate confessional booth. A tricycle was customed designed to haul the booth (i.e., solid rubber tires and special gearing for a quick getaway if necessary and no worries about a flat tire). He had purchased a full priest cassock from a mail order company in Connecticut. And, to cover his butt, had become a card carrying minister with a $36 mail order license from the American Fellowship Church.
The life of an itinerant priest is not an easy one -- two days in the hot sun peddling a confessional booth on a tricycle on New York City streets, in full priest garb! Once situated outside the convention hall, he was attacked by pro-abortion demonstrators, who pasted stickers on his body and on the booth. But, the New York police took Father Joseph under wing and offered him protection rarely afforded his alter ego Skaggs.
The Good Father was trying to make it easier for the politicians to free their souls by confessing their sins. Confessors approached the booth and entered. Most of them were actors, working with Skaggs to pull off the hoax. But eventually, the good Father had difficulty keeping the general public out of the confessional booth. "Come back when you're sober," he said. Or, "I'm on a break right now." Or, "I'm sorry, but I'm waiting for Ted Kennedy."
Thousands of journalists were in town for the convention. And, as it turned out, there was nothing much for them to do. So Father Joseph was swarmed by hungry mobs of reporters with cameras and questions, some of whom had interviewed Skaggs previously during other performances and should have known better. For example, Steve Powers of Fox TV News, who had covered Skaggs' Fish Condos as well as the expose of his Geraldo Hoax did not recognize Skaggs. He chased after the priest who was peddling away as fast as possible (fearing recognition). Once he caught the priest, he interviewed him as if he'd never seen him before.
Father Joseph thought it was a miracle. Portofess made the news on TV, radio and in hundreds of newspapers around the world. Father Joseph appeared on CNN, Fox TV, CBS and dozens and dozens of other news outlets including Reuters and Associate Press.
Finally a reporter called the Archdiocese in California to verify the Father's identity. Unable to do so, the piece was declared a hoax. And none too soon from the good Father's point of view. It's really hard finding a place to park a portable confessional booth in New York City.