Horatio

Horatio
[Photo by Jacquelyn Griffin)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Terror in Retail Form

This brutal and sacreligeous murder--in a church--of an abortion clinic doctor is terrorism, plain and simple.

Worse, it was part of a campaign against Dr. Tiller, who had been shot once before, and whose clinic had been vandalized recently, while Operation Rescue continued to stoke the fires against him, while O'Reilly helps.

Meanwhile, any concern about right-wing extremism causes a firestorm on the political right, remember?

In a church.

UPDATE, June 1: To my astonishment, some in the Anglican blogosphere are, while condemning the shooting of Tiller, declaring it a sin which nonetheless led to a just result, and defaming the parish in which he served as an usher, denying that it was a "real" church. I won't encapsulate the comments; read here and here. (The earlier post--the second link--has the more interesting comments, made before the commenter's positions hardened). Note the disdain for the ELCA, and even the innocent onlookers-- Fr. Matt Kennedy, a protagonist on both threads, notably says early on "Trying to feel sorry for the guy and the parishioners...its just that I keep seeing these murdered babies… ", and then concedes, with clear reluctance several comments later: "yeah, not justified...true." (The immediately succeeding comment asks "How soon before Tiller ends up on TEC’s Lesser Feasts and Fasts?" Charming.)

They'll know we are Christians by our love, eh, guys? Stay classy.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Indictment in Colorado Springs

Well, this can't bode well:
A Fourth Judicial District grand jury Wednesday indicted the Rev. Donald Armstrong on 20 felony counts of theft charges, concluding a months-long investigation by the Colorado Springs Police and the Pueblo District Attorney's Office into Armstrong's financial conduct while rector of Grace Church & St. Stephen's parish.

Armstrong, who ministers to about 600 people a week, surrendered to police Thursday and was jailed at the Criminal Justice Center until posting a $20,000 bond later in the day.

If convicted on all 20 felony counts, Armstrong, 60, could spend the rest of his life in prison. Each count comes with a possible prison sentence of 4 to 12 years, said Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut. Fines against Armstrong could mount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The D.A.'s office did not provide a breakdown of the 20 counts. But in the search warrant executed by police in November on Grace Church, Colorado Springs Police Det. Michael Flynn sought evidence suggesting Armstrong had funneled money from the church to pay for his two children's college education.
Fr. Armstrong is charged with felonies including embezzlement, in the amount of $392,000.

Fr. Armstrong is quoted in the article as saying, "I will, after years of unbridled false accusations, have my day in court, so this is a good step in that direction." Well, let's be frank: Fr. Armstrong is mistaken on that point. An acquittal can come a very long time indeed after an indictment, defending a complex criminal case through verdict is often ruinously expensive, and, worst of all, an acquittal is not vindication, but a finding that the prosecution did not prove every element of its case beyond a reasonable doubt. So, no, an indictment is never good news.

The indictment also should put paid to the notion that Fr. Armstrong is a martyr to a tyrannical Episcopal Church, bruited about by his more zealous defenders. At a minimum, unless the Pueblo County District Attorney's office is incredibly remiss, some significant evidence of irregularities must have been unearthed in the two year investigation.

That said, an indictment is, as I used to remind courts on a regular basis in my criminal defense days, a mere allegation. Even the existence of irregularities does not translate necessarily to criminal wrongdoing. Fr. Armstrong is entitled to the presumption of innocence and a fair trial.

And, from across the gulf of the internal conflict that is rending our church, prayers--whatever the facts ultimately prove to be.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Better That a Millstone...

From the NYT:
Tens of thousands of Irish children were sexually, physically and emotionally abused by nuns, priests and others over 60 years in a network of church-run residential schools meant to care for the poor, the vulnerable and the unwanted, according to a report released in Dublin on Wednesday.

The 2,600-page report paints a picture of institutions run more like Dickensian orphanages than 20th-century schools, characterized by privation and cruelty that could be both casual and choreographed.

“A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions,” the report says. In the boys’ schools, it says, sexual abuse was “endemic.”

The report does not give the names of either the acuused or of the victims, and was delayed "because of a lawsuit brought by the Christian Brothers, the religious order that ran many of the boys’ schools and that fought, ultimately successfully, to have the abusers’ names omitted."

From Times (London) columnist Ruth Gledhill:
'More than 30,000 children deemed to be petty thieves, truants or from dysfunctional families _ a category that often included unmarried mothers _ were sent to Ireland’s austere network of industrial schools, reformatories, orphanages and hostels from the 1930s until the last church-run facilities shut in the 1990s. The report found that molestation and rape were “endemic; in boys’ facilities, chiefly run by the Christian Brothers. Girls supervised by orders of nuns, chiefly the Sisters of Mercy, suffered much less sexual abuse but frequent assaults and humiliation designed to make them feel worthless. “In some schools a high level of ritualized beating was routine. ... Girls were struck with implements designed to maximize pain and were struck on all parts of the body,” the report said.

“Personal and family denigration was widespread.” Victims of the system have long demanded that the truth of their experiences be documented and made public, so that children in Ireland never endure such suffering again. But most leaders of religious orders have rejected the allegations as exaggerations and lies, and testified to the commission that any abuses were the responsibility of often long-dead individuals. Wednesday’s five-volume report sides almost completely with the former students’ accounts.

It concludes that church officials encouraged ritual beatings and consistently shielded their orders’ paedophiles from arrest amid a culture of self-serving secrecy.

“A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions and all those run for boys. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from,” the report concluded.

Gledhilll notes that the Christian Brothers lawsuit to strip the report of all identifying information was won in 2004.

What are we to make of this? Again, as I have written elsewhere, the problem must surely lie in the monarchical orientation of the Church's hierarchy--institutionalism crowding out the loving concern that is meant to animate the Church in its dealings with all people. When hierarchy, pomp, and self-righteousness crowd out the sense of service--or, to put it more bluntly, when "Christian" means cruelty, well, as we say on the Internet,"Ur doin it wrong." Pride is fostered by power and deference, and suffocates self knowledge. And, as C.P. Snow wrote in The Light and the Dark (1948), that self-knowledge, stripped of arrogance s crucial to those who hold power. Here's Snow's stand-in Lewis Eliot, debating the balance of power in 1937 with a young Nazi:
"No one is fit to be trusted with power," I said..."No one. I should not like to see any group of men in charge--not me or my friends or anyone else. Any man who has lived at all knows the follies and wickedness he's capable of. If he does not know it, he is not fit to govern others. And if he does know it, he knows also that neither he nor any man ought to be allowed to decide a single human fate, Ian mot speaking of you specially, you understand; I should say exactly the same of myself.

Our eyes met. I was certain, as one can be certain in a duel across the table, that for the first time he took me seriously.

"You do not think highly of men, Mr. Eliot."

"I am one."
The Light and the Dark pp. 148-149.

That self-knowledge seems utterly lacking in the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Heart and Head

Just back from a powerful retreat, at which my cerebral approach to faith and inhibitions were shed in favor of a much more abundant approach. Words that seemed cliched came alive, I joined in songs that I've called kitsch, and generally had a whale of a time.

Grau, teurer Freund, ist alle Theorie
Doch grĂ¼n des Lebens goldner Baum

May all who stop by here bloom with life!