This conversation took place after a Confession in which I had acknowledged abusing myself three times in the previous 24 hours (reconstructed from the best of my recollection). Father's penance involved a devotion to Mother Teresa, the saint of the darkness and spiritual dryness.
FATHER: A treadmill can be gotten off.
ME: You heard about the New York governor today?
HIM: And you're afraid of the same thing.¹
ME: Yes. I didn't want to say it during Confession so as not to come across as making excuses.
HIM: It puts it in context.
ME: I got a call on my cell today from a prostitute I hired a year ago -- unsolicited, not a call-back.
ME: Big etiquette violation on his part.
HIM: Might be a setup; delete the number from your phone.
ME: Oh, I've already done so, believe me! I've not even close to being tempted. No way, not now.
(CM lets out some mordant, sarcastic laughter)
ME: Wonderful. That's how perverse I am. I'll resist sin if I fear getting caught.
HIM: That's not the best reason, but it'll do.²
Now to repeat, I am not not not not not not not not not not not not not not not not not not not not not not not not (is that enough "not"s) "blaming" Elliot Spitzer for such a hard fall. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
As Father said, I had been gutted by fear and not for the first time, and I responded in one of the ways people do -- seeking to medicate and forget through escapist private vice (drunkenness and drugs are other examples). I confess that I don't see exactly how, or even whether, this situation would be covered in any of the classic Nine Ways of Being an Accessory.³ And obviously "hey, the New York governor bought a prostitute, so I will too"⁴ is not a self-conscious thought process many people go through.
But the effect of Spitzer's whoremongering on me is, I think, illustrative of how all sin is social and how there is no such thing, ultimately, as a "completely private act." Your acts, everything that you do, becomes a part of the world that everyone else lives in and thus influences everybody else and in ways over which you have no control. Admittedly this next is a greater concern for public figures than other person, but at the end of the day, you can't even really have any knowledge of that influence, only the knowledge that it's there somehow.
I don't expect Elliot Spitzer to care whether he raised anxiety levels in others who have purchased prostitutes or encouraged the masturbatory response -- he has many more-pressing and important-to-him concerns. To make an obviously imperfect bawdy analogy, it's like pissing in the pool. Everybody knows and understands that you can't just pee in your own end. Obviously, one person's discreet whizz is hardly noticeable in any discrete way. But we still know that it circulates, and, if diseased, can infect anyone anywhere in the pool.
The meaning of the term "scandal" has changed. Now it just means "the public fracas over a celebrated person's wrongdoing, often in the personal or private (certainly non-official) sphere." But in the past, as in the phrase "giving scandal," "scandal" meant "the encouragement of bad acts/thoughts in others." And in that sense, Spitzer's purchasing prostitutes, though it may be a "victimless crime" in the sense that bourgeois libertarians imagine -- it is, truly, scandalous. And thus not victimless.
¹ I'm not even close to being a public figure, so fears at the level of "front page of the New York Times" are completely irrational. Lesser forms of outing ... not so.
² Father has told me in more than one other context that I shouldn't worry so much over doing things for not-the-noblest of motivations.
³ "By counsel. By concealment. By command. By partaking. By consent. By silence. By provocation. By defense of the ill done. By praise or flattery." As I say ... not clear if this fits any example.
⁴ Or as Chris Rock put it apropos of Marion Barry: "How you gonna tell little kids to not get high, when the mayor's on crack. 'Don't get high, you won't be nothing.' / 'I can be mayor'."