“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 pedaled a confessional booth mounted on the back of a tricycle to the Democratic National Convention in New York City in July of 1992.
Portofess, as the confessional was called, provided “religion on the move for people on the go”. A manifesto hand out stated:
“The Church must take a more aggressive stance. The Church must go where the sinners are!”
Father Joseph (a.k.a. Joey Skaggs) designed, and with the help of friends, built an ornate confessional booth. He had a tricycle custom designed by Worksman Cycles to haul the booth. It had solid rubber tires so there would be no concern of a flat tire, and special gearing for a quick getaway if necessary.
He bought a full priest cassock from a catalog and became a card carrying minister with a $36 license from the American Fellowship Church.
Father Joseph wanted to make it easier for the politicians to free their souls by confessing their sins.
Once situated outside the convention hall, confessors approached the booth and entered. Most of them were actors, working with Skaggs to pull off the hoax. But soon, Father Joseph 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.”
He was soon attacked by pro-choice demonstrators who pasted stickers on his body and on the booth. The New York police took Father Joseph under wing and offered him the kind of protection rarely afforded his alter ego.
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.
Steve Powers of Fox TV News, for one, had covered Skaggs’ Fish Condos as well as the exposé of his Geraldo Hoax. But he did not recognize Skaggs. He chased the priest who was peddling away as fast as possible, fearing recognition.
Once he caught up, he interviewed the priest as if he’d never seen him before. Father Joseph thought it was a miracle.
Portofess was widely reported on TV, radio and in hundreds of newspapers around the world. Father Joseph (also sometimes called Father William) was featured on CNN, Fox, CBS and by scores of other news outlets including Reuters and Associated Press.
When a reporter finally called the Archdiocese in California to verify the Father’s identity and was unable to do so, the piece was declared a hoax. And none too soon for the good Father. It’s really hard finding a place to park a portable confessional booth in New York City.
Watch the “Steve Powers Sampler” of Steve Powers repeatedly interviewing Joey Skaggs:
- Democrats are embracing center at convention, Philadelphia Inquirer, July 14, 1992
- Democrats embracing the right stuff, The Globe and Mail, July 14, 1992
- Confessional is mobile in N.Y., Miami Herald, July 14, 1992
- N.Y., it's gotta be N.Y., Daily News, July 14, 1992
- Portofess, USA Today, July 14, 1992
- Confessions to go, Staten Island Advance, July 14, 1992
- 'Portofess', The Denver Post, July 14, 1992
- Conventional Wisdom: Forgiving On the Run, New York Newsday, July 14, 1992
- Quick-stop confession, The Providence Journal, July 14, 1992
- Confessions to Go, San Francisco Chronicle, July 14, 1992
- Going to the Sinners, San Francisco Examiner, July 14, 1992
- 'Big Apple' tourist tip: Don't rile the robbers, Chicago Tribune, July 14, 1992
- 'Portofess', The Daily News (Coastal Carolina), July 14, 1992
- San Francisco Chronicle cartoon, July 15, 1992
- Traveling Confession, Colors, September, 1993
- Les péchés capitaux s'enrichissent, Liberation, March 31, 2008
- Portofess Exposé Press Release
- 'Portofess' priest outside convention really a prankster, Philadelphia Inquirer, July 15, 1992
- 'Priest', 'Portofess' fool public, Miami Herald, July 7, 1992
- Portable Confessional 'Priest' Is a Phony, San Francisco Chronicle, July 15, 1992
- Pedaling 'priest' defrocked, Tampa Tribune, July 15, 1992
- Do tell!, Globe and Mail, July 15, 1992
- Noises Off: What's Red and Green and seen all over?, Globe and Mail, July 18, 1992
- Conventional Wisdom, Stan Mack's Real Life Funnies, Village Voice, July 21, 1992
- Bicycle Business Journal, July 1992
- Lines from the public arena, Los Alamos Monitor, July 1992
- Portohoax, Variety, July 27, 1992
- 'Father Joseph' preyed on the media, by Richard Johnson, Daily News, July 29, 1992
- Everyone's Fighting... is anybody listening?, Upper Westside Resident, August 10, 1992
- Photokulturelles aus New York, Photo Presse (German), September 24, 1992
- Personalien, Art (German), September, 1992
- Se habla de: joey skaggs, Vogue (Spanish), October, 1992
- Qui sont les Media torturers, Actuel (French), June, 1994
- Beichtstühle gehören in die Kirche, Suddeuthsche Zeitung (German), April 23, 2004
- Confessons notre faute, Liberation (French), April 1, 2008
- Le poisson de Libé : le journal Libération victime d’un canular de Joey Skaggs à la veille du 1er avril, Hactivist News Service (HNS-info)(French), April 7, 2008
- The Story of the 'Portofess', the Prank Confessional Booth at the Democratic Convention, Atlas Obscura, July 14, 2017