Richard Wagner was ordained a Catholic priest in 1975 in the Bay Area, and he still has the air about him of someone made for dealing with intimate confessions. He's a burly, bald-headed guy in his 50s with a warm, wide face, a watermelon-slice smile, and the tendency to end statements with a winking, rhetorical "doncha know?" He talks about the gay porno films he's directing like he's just stumbled upon a nifty project for the school science fair that could save the planet—and you believe him.
At the moment he's busy trying to explain the considerable change in his life's direction while curtailing the inquisitive nose of his indefatigable, pink-shirted German shorthaired pointer.
"To this day, I'm the only Catholic priest in the world with . . . Ginger!" he breaks off to chastise the dog, who's just discovered something new about my female companion. Wagner apologizes with a twinkle. "She doesn't get to see many women here," he says.
Wagner, the president of Seattle's Daddy Oohhh! Productions for Quality Adult Entertainment, Education, and Enrichment (www.daddyoohhh.com), is, as he started to say, the sole man of the pulpit with a Ph.D. in clinical sexology. His fascination with the vagaries of human sexuality led him to complete the dissertation Gay Catholic Priests: A Study of Cognitive and Affective Dissonance, which effectively ended his service to God in 1981 (though it took the church a good 15 years to officially bar the uncooperative activist).
"Back then there was no such thing as a gay Catholic priest," he says. "I finished [my doctorate] in January, and by February I was being thrown out of my religious community because I had publicly identified myself as gay."
He got over the rejection, obviously, but it still genuinely disappoints him, and he trails off in wistful frustration when it comes up: "I had a teachable moment and a captive audience to do some really good stuff about sexuality and, I mean, just human . . . personhood. . . . "
He sees his move to Seattle and dive into homo porn as a means to fund his dream, the work he's been driving at since the '80s: frank video education that would help terminally ill or post-op patients to view themselves as sexually whole.
It sounds funny—the priest turned pornographer. It is funny, let's face it. But Wagner's devotion to letting it all hang out registers as disarmingly low-key instead of lurid; watching unedited scenes from his forthcoming gay flick, you can hear him behind the camera admonishing his uncertain players with, "You don't have to worry about having a stiffie all the time!"