The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Well, Isn't That Special?

I have to admit the ability of the Catholic Church to feel put-upon is a constant source of incredulity to me. From Pope Benedict and the Vatican itself, to New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the refrain seems to be the same: Damned liberal media.

Seriously, who'd these guys get to craft their defense, the Coasters?

Let me address this one very simply: If you claim to be the one true faith, the one true church, and then spend half a century systematically covering up child sexual abuse, it's a story. Too bad. The gap between ideals and performance is always going to sell papers, and you don't get to complain, since you like telling people how to live and even how to vote. As the eminent philospher says, "the greater the power, the greater the responsibility."

More substantively, Abp. Dolan links the Vatican statement denying that "a relationship exists between the application of ‘Crimen sollicitationis’ and the non-reporting of child abuse to civil authorities in this case. In fact, there is no such relationship. Indeed, contrary to some statements that have circulated in the press, neither ‘Crimen’ nor the Code of Canon Law ever prohibited the reporting of child abuse to law enforcement authorities."

This is interesting, because when in 2005, the Guardian reported on then-Cardinal Ratzinger's 2001 letter continuing Crimen Sollicitacionis, the Vatican declined to comment, saying "'This is not a public document, so we would not talk about it." (You can see my earlier post on the matter here; note that I used the Guardian's spelling; I'm now employing Abp. Dolan's. And abbreviating it as "CS").

Anyway, the back-and-forth on the document's impact is perhaps somewhat unclear, but the skeptics of the Church's view seem to me have pretty good corroboration that it was understood as requiring silence on the part of the victim. First, Cardinal Sean Brady of Ireland, who has acknowledged that when he was 36, he participated at an inquiry pursuant to CS at which "the boy and the girl [complainants] were required to sign affidavits swearing that they would not talk to anybody except priests given special permission by the tribunal hearings, known in church parlance as “ecclesiastical proceedings."

This reading of CS is further corroborated by the Dublin Report into the Irish Church's experience chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy. Murphy's Commission reported that the Vatican refused to provide any documents or testimony to the inquiry, so the Vatican deprived tself of a chance to elucidate the issue. However, after much study, it issued an exhaustive report. The Times of London (linked above, two back) summarized the Commission's findings regarding the church's policy as follows:

Ratzinger’s letter was relying on crimen sollicitationis, a set of procedural laws first issued in 1922 and updated in 1962. One of its requirements is that any person making a complaint of abuse against a priest is required to take an oath of secrecy.

Breach of the oath can be punished by excommunication. The document, exposed in a BBC Panorama documentary by clerical-abuse survivor Colm O’Gorman, deals with what it calls the “worst crime”, child sexual abuse. The main difference between the 1922 and 1962 versions is that the second one extended its remit to members of religious orders.

According to the Dublin report: “It appears that both documents were circulated only to bishops and under terms of secrecy. Each document stated that it was to be kept in the secret archive to which only the bishop had access. The commission has evidence that the 1922 document was known to senior figures in the archdiocese of Dublin, especially during the time of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, and that, in the words of one witness, it was a ‘well-thumbed’ document.”

The commission found that the document was used by McQuaid in the case of Fr Edmondus, who abused Marie Collins and other patients in Crumlin children’s hospital.

Regrettably, between the Vatican and the evidence falls the shadow.

At least the Coasters were amusing:

Saturday, March 20, 2010

"I wish to exhort all of you"

I confess that the Pope's Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland took my breath away. Why? Because of the continued assumption on Benedict XVI's part of a personally undamaged innocence and lack of personal responsibility:
Like yourselves, I have been deeply disturbed by the information which has come to light regarding the abuse of children and vulnerable young people by members of the Church in Ireland, particularly by priests and religious. I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them.
Is it churlish on my part to point out that the Pope, in his prior role of Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was the ultimate authority overseeing investigation of such allegations, and that his role as been described as obstructing the inquiry? Or that the earlier papal edict reaffirmed in Benedict's 2001 letter giving rise to the claim of obstruction was in fact applied by the Church in Ireland, notably by now-Cardinal Brady, as mandating secrecy from the secular authorities, leading to clergy extorting oaths of secrecy from children reporting molestation? Or that, in his own capacity as an archbishop in Germany, he handled sex abuse complaints in a manner indistinguishable from the bishops in Ireland he now reproves?

The Pope does not address his role in these matters; he rather states:
On several occasions since my election to the See of Peter, I have met with victims of sexual abuse, as indeed I am ready to do in the future. I have sat with them, I have listened to their stories, I have acknowledged their suffering, and I have prayed with them and for them. Earlier in my pontificate, in my concern to address this matter, I asked the bishops of Ireland, “to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected, and above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes” (Address to the Bishops of Ireland, 28 October 2006).

With this Letter, I wish to exhort all of you, as God’s people in Ireland, to reflect on the wounds inflicted on Christ’s body, the sometimes painful remedies needed to bind and heal them, and the need for unity, charity and mutual support in the long-term process of restoration and ecclesial renewal.
The emphasis is in in the original. And that is the problem, here. We have an assumption of invincible innocence, essentially, on the Pope's part, that ruins all of his expressions of sorrow and empathy for victims, because it ignores his own responsibility, personal and institutional, for what he has done and left undone. His exhortation exempts himself. Indeed, his response and that of his defenders has been dismissed as "whining about a campaign against his person" by theologian Hans Kung. A harsh characterization, no doubt, but frankly, not inapt in view of the Vatican's resposes in the last weeks.

The Catholic Church is not just the hierarchy, and does much good work. And Benedict has been much more willing to confront this issue than his predecessor. Fairness compels that this be remembered. But this crisis is in part the result of a half century systemic and systematic failure of leadership for which not one of the leaders has taken responsibility. That bill is now due, and if Benedict dishonors it, as he has done to date, the Catholic Church's institutional credibility may be lost for generations to come.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

This is Your Victory

The usual suspects are downcast (and vice-versa) at Rev. Canon Mary Glaspool's receiving the necessary consents to her election as suffragan bishop of Los Angeles. As I don't know the Bishop-elect, I can't really comment on her election, other than to say I've heard good things about her from people who do know her, and whose opinion I respect. Congratulations and prayers.

But I find I do have a word to say to the self-styled reasserter community, and to the communion conservatives joining them in deploring TEC's lack of "gracious restraint" in no longer honoring the Windsor Reports moratoria after six and a half years of compliance: Congratulations.

Seriously. In the years since the requests were made, TEC complied. In return, it was subjected to cross-boundary jurisdictional crossings, attempted property seizures, a farcical "listening process" and a never-ending wave of bile and venom. Additionally, our Presiding Bishop was insulted at the 2007 primates meeting, where seven Global South primates refused to take communion for fear of being polluted by her presence. And then of course there was the Lambeth Walk. And, finally, the ongoing effort to replace TEC as the North American Anglican entity. So, in view of all these, riddle me this, Batman:

What incentive did your side ever give the Episcopal Church to continue its adherence to the requested moratorium?

I mean, really. You go all out to tear her apart from within, demonize her and her leadership, replace her in the worldwide communion--and then you're surprised that she doesn't continue in a posture of "gracious restraint" which your "side" has been flouting for the same 6 1/2 years she's been complying. I mean, I know you have a low opinion of TEC, but what adverse consequence do you have in your arsenal that you haven't already launched at TEC? What benefit did TEC receive by holding off for 6 1/2 years? None, and none.

It's politics 101. The benefit to TEC in continued restraint was precisely nil. Since your "side" (how I hate these terms!) is hitting TEC with everything you've got already, the additional cost to TEC in ending the period of restraint is--why, precisely nil again. You forecast the result.

And, in 6 1/2 years of incessant demonization, attempted property-swiping and bloviating, you've managed to convince a majority of the decision-makers that the only "peace" you would accept is abject submission. You've convinced many of us that you don't love us as "even Christians"--quite the contrary!--and convinced many of us that being in communion with you is all pain, no gain.

Congratulations. Take a bow. This is your victory.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Mystery of Mark Twain's Lioness (Part 1)

The recent publication (just yesterday, in fact), of Laura Skandera-Trombley's book,
Mark Twain's Other Woman is significant in that it presents a well-sourced, sympathetic account of Twain's relationship with Isabel Lyon who started out as his wife's social secretary, and subsequently became his personal secretary in a relationship that was both unconventional and intense--on both sides. The relationship ended with charges of embezzlement and more on Twain's part, and ferocious countercharges by Lyon's recently-acquired husband, Twain's business manager. Lyon, interstingly, never spoke out against the man she called "the King." After making the papers, and causing a social scandal, it was forgotten for 60 years after Mark Twain's death.

Trombley's book is well written, and her use of Lyon's voluminous papers adds details to a period in Twain's life that his too often been relegated to the unremitting darkness of myths of Hamlin Hill's overtly hostile biography God's Fool (1973) (which revived the Lyon story) or the equally unrealistic sunniness of Albert Bigelow Paine's important but hagiographical authorized biography, published in 1912. Trombley is, like Hill, a supporter of Lyon's, but, unlike Hill, has an abiding affection for Twain.

However, her overt championship of Lyon leads her to make all credibility calls in her favor, even though Lyon's own diaries (as Trombley notes) were heavily edited by her and her 1906 daily reminder, at least, exists in multiple, inconsistent forms, devised "with the intention of either misleading anyone who would read he reminder or as a backup in case the original was stolen." (p. xvi).

Additionally, Trombley is rather prone to disparage Twain's later writings in a way that denies their political influence on antiwar protestors as late as the Vietnam era. Where she disparages these works, such as "The War Prayer" and "King Leopold's Soliloquy" as "shrill" and marred by a "constant note of misanthropy" (pp. 64, 62), writers such as Maxwell Geismar found them bracing and inspirational enough to compile a book length anthology of them, which I have owned since I was a teenager, and which helped me form my own political outlook.

A more skeptical view of Lyon's account is taken by Karen Lystra in her 2004 book Dangerous Intimacy: The Untold Story of Mark Twain's Final Years. Lystra rebuts Hill's uncritical acceptance of Lyon's last version of events, and deploys the unpublished diaries and a manuscript by Twain's youngest daughter, Jean Clemens, whom she asserts Lyon banished from her father's house in order to maximize her chances of marrying him. Lystra's book is an important corrective to Trombley's championship of Lyon. In championing Jean, Lystra carefully examines the transactions between Twain, Lyon, and Twain's business manager Ralph Ashcroft (who married Lyon in 1909). Lystra is both more detailed and skeptical on these transactions than is Trombley; where Lystra asserts that Twain's notary who notarized his power of attorney in favor of Lyon routinely notarized documents without Twain's presence (an inappropriate, but not uncommon, practice even today), Trombley relies rather naively on the boilerplate statement used in all notarizations that the document was signed in the presence of the notary as conclusive.

Another questionable move on Trombley's part is her acceptance as if uncontroversial of Lyon's claim that Jean Clemens attacked on two occasions the family's long-time servant and friend Katy Leary. (82, 96-97) Lyon's account is questioned quite acutely by Lystra, who suggests that Lyon misinterpreted Jean's own statement of what happened, and embroidered it based on stereotypes of epileptics which were common in these years. Trombley simply treats Lyon's observations as self-evident, and suggests it indicates that Jean suffered from postictal psychosis. (82). Well, perhaps. If it happened--it is unhelpful that Trombley does not address Lystra's critique of Lyon's account, which is uncorroborated by Jean's papers, or Katy Leary's account of life with the Clemens family. It's not that Lyon cannot be right absent corroboration; however, the fact that she is a somewhat unreliable narrator and the unpleasant denoument of her relationship with Twain suggest that Lystra's critique deserves to be considered. It's Trombley's decision not to do this which is troubling, especially as she is certainly aware of it--she cites Lystra as a source at least twice in the footnotes, and in fact provided a blurb for the book's jacket in 2004.

While both Jean and Lyon have modern champions, the one voice which has not been heard in all of this is Mark Twain's. He left behind a 429 page manuscript, commonly known as the Ashcroft-Lyon Manuscript," which has not been published to date. It is only known in snippets, when quoted by Hill, Lystra or Trombley. They have widely varying estimations of it; Hill cites it as evidence of senility, Trombley calls it "bizarre" (p. xiv), while Lystra defends Twain's accuracy and acuity in writing it, as well as depicting it as a great effort to come clean about his own guilt in banishing Jean for years while under the sway of Lyon. Until the manuscript is published, there is no way to know whose characterization is more apt; the great writer, one hundred years after his death is voiceless in this riveting drama. One thing I'd say about his mental capacities in his last months (assailed by Hill), however is this: Twain's last essay, The Death of Jean, written in the days after her death on Christmas Eve 1909, and a mere five months before his own death, is powerful, moving, and has all the hallmarks of Twain at his finest.

(edited and expanded)

Next: A Tentative View of L'Affaire Lyon

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Conservative War on Christianity

I actually think Christians, of all denominations, should realize that Glenn Beck is not the only voice of conservatism saying this, just the most unsubtle:
I'm begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them ... are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words.

Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!
(Full version is here). Code words for what? Nazism and communism. Really.

As the Times shows, this has resulted in a lot of hostile reaction to Beck from churches, mostly liberal, but some conservative in theological orientation, too. But that's the problem; churches, liberal and conservative critics are acting as if Glenn Beck is on his own here--a lusrus naturae of conservatism, well out of the mainstream of conservative thought. But not so fast. As I have previously pointed out, Beck is merely a more obvious tone-deaf version of more respectable conservative voices, such as Robert George, who has successfully lobbied the U.S. Conference of catholic bishops in a strikingly similar manner:
He told them with typical bluntness that they should stop talking so much about the many policy issues they have taken up in the name of social justice. They should concentrate their authority on “the moral social” issues like abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex marriage, where, he argued, the natural law and Gospel principles were clear. To be sure, he said, he had no objections to bishops' “making utter nuisances of themselves” about poverty and injustice, like the Old Testament prophets, as long as they did not advocate specific remedies. They should stop lobbying for detailed economic policies like progressive tax rates, higher minimum wage and, presumably, the expansion of health care — “matters of public policy upon which Gospel principles by themselves do not resolve differences of opinion among reasonable and well-informed people of good will,” as George put it.
More clever than Beck, George would simply water down the centrality in the Gospels of how we treat the poor, the oppressed, and the stranger to bromides, thereby "freeing" Christianity to focus on important issues, like doctrinal orthodoxy and serving as clerical sex police. And this isn't merely a Catholic phenomenon--in fact, the Catholic Church is unusually rich in its social justice tradition. Similar thought in evangelical churches has led to so-called Christians who believe, with seeming sincerity, in a free market gospel or, worse, the patently heretical prosperity gospel.

And, of course, such thought goes a long way to explaining how professed Christians, including Roman Catholics in public life, and at least one priest, have explicitly defended American use of torture in, among other religious media, Catholic television programs, with only silence from the American bishops. (The latter of whom are much more swift to act against abortion, or gay marriage).

That trenchant old critic of organized religion, Mark Twain, had a good, sardonic chuckle over the result of this sort of thinking, in inaugurating the Twentieth Century. He wrote:
I bring you the stately matron named Christendom, returning bedraggled, besmirched, and dishonored, from pirate raids in Kiaochow, Manchuria, South Africa, and the Philipines, with her soul full of meanness, her pocket full of boodle, and her mouth full of pious hypocrisies. Give her soap and towel, but hide the looking glass.