It’s been discussed several times on this site: not only is there a similarity between the assorted dynamics sustaining the sex-offense mania and those sustaining the Iraq War mania, but also that just as we are starting to see the consequences of those dynamics ripping our little war apart as it comes into contact with actual reality on the ground over there, so too we are starting to see this sex-offense mania starting to fray as it comes into contact with certain realities it had for so long avoided (including the reality of citizens now tolerating less unreality). And that in the face of that downturn, we could expect the sex-offense ‘advocates’ to behave pretty much as the Incumbency and its neocon and Fundamentalist cheerleaders have been behaving in the matter of Iraq.
While not wishing to beat a dead horse, it’s clear that the horse is not dead.
There is an article in “The Washington Post” for February 23rd (“Abuse Victims Demand More Than a Check From the Church”, by Alan Cooperman; http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/23/AR2007022301814_pf.html
Just when you think it’s safe to go back. But of course, this whole sex-offender mania – now nearing the quarter-century mark in one or another of its forms – is not simply an emotional shivering of the popular spine; American history is littered with record of such spasdic tremors that came and went, causing – like the occasional hurricane or tornado – its modicum of damage and destruction. No, this sex-offense mania is the demon-child of a truly unholy alliance: Revolutionaries representing feminist interests and advanced-level Advocacies seeking to keep themselves in a remunerative business (both supported by the vote-hungry Democrats) and an increasingly prosecutorial approach to national governance and a Fundamentalistic rage against society’s perceived utter-decadence (both supported by the Right and the Republicans as presently constituted, in support of the National Crime State).
We recall that the Roman Catholic Church was singled out early-on. In the mid-1980s, after the abducted-children scares of the late 1970’s (that gave us milk-carton photos of reportedly abducted children) and just after the child-day-care scares had begun to burn themselves out and as the violence against women phase of feminist law-twisting was still ramping up for its take-off roll, there were several publicized cases of Catholic priests (in the South, curiously enough) who had in some form or other (precision is almost always lacking in these things) become involved sexually with parishioners. The particular instances seemed to be grave in terms of the act(s) perpetrated, and applicable criminal process was administered.
In the early 1990s there was another spate, not among other denominations but once again against the Catholic Church: this time it was in New England and civil-litigation attorneys, with which the area is well-supplied, took increasing professional note. And after a couple of publicized criminal trials at least one accused went to prison, where he has subsequently died of illness and age. Later, an even older one in prison was murdered outright.
Much water flowed under the bridge in the nation, up to and including 9-11 and the beginning of the tectonic changes it stimulated in this county. But then in January 2002 “The Boston Globe”, purchased by “The New York Times” and under the tutelage of a satrap appointed by the oddly-unripe “Junior” Sulzberger, reported that there were vast numbers of unreported cases, involving children, and especially boys, and probably hundreds of priests, and a massive cover-up engineered by a secretive and powerful conspiracy of bishops here and in Rome.
Assisted by assorted civil-litigation lawyers who aimed for the reputed fabulous wealth of the Roman Catholic Church, and a media that quietly expanded and elasticized the definition of a targeted action and accepted without question the self-declaration of ‘victimhood’ by whomever came forward to tell their story … the whole thing had the distant but distinct ring of certain Fundamentalist tremors of earlier times, though suitably upgraded and fortified by fresh coalitions of willing interests.
The matter proceeded to fireball quickly, as courts shifted rules of evidence out of ‘sensitivity’, and the media refrained from any questioning of any claims out of ‘sensitivity’, and bishops began to be advised by counsel that to defend in this atmosphere would be highly imprudent. Despite the paucity of actual criminal convictions – and even of reported cases – compared to the numbers of ‘probable’ offenses asserted by assorted ‘experts’ and amplified in the media, huge amounts of money were acquired through a process which quickly came to assume iconic status: claims were made, often decades old, and attorneys who made themselves available for the purpose had in most cases only to contact the bishop’s office for discussions as to amount to begin.
The bishops showed themselves less than courageous in their dealing with the whole thing. But they hadn’t gotten where they were – most of them – by a path of aggressive and cut-throat assertion. They served a Church long used to the foibles of humankind and grew up in a hothouse clerical-culture that had not prepared them for the exertions of the legions.
Nor would the legions have been of much use in the situation as it hardened: media coverage was ‘simplified’ to parroting unquestioningly the claims that were announced and following such few ‘trials’ as actually took place, while amplifying the assertions of self-designated ‘experts’ whose ‘knowledge’ indicated a vast conspiracy of grossly-deformed but mysteriously powerful super-perp priests who fed on their flocks – especially children and especially boys – like vampires, which web of slavering perversion extended in Space throughout the world and in Time back “at least to” the 1940s and was abetted up the ranks of the hierarchy all the way to the Popes themselves.
In rare historical forays, a particularly enterprising reporter or tendentious researcher might note that even as far back as this or that medieval council in this or that long-vanished century the Church had made laws against this sort of thing, which proved invariably that the conspiracy was long-and-deep-rooted. That such historical realities might rather clearly indicate that the Church was consistently taking a clear stand against such acts and behaviors, as she had against so many of the sins that did and do beset human-kind, was oddly not a possibility – indeed a probability – that detained the minds of any of the ‘reporters’ or ‘scholars’.
It was enough – in the fine phrase of Robert Lewis Taylor – “to give any sane drinker pause”, contemplating the curiously but consistently skewed dynamics sustained by all involved in the ‘war’ against this infamy.
As always happens in this sort of thing, matters reach a point of diminishing returns. The well runs dry, or the wells: money, public interest, media attention. As the emotional frenzy subsides, however, there grows the increasing danger that more rational minds and tempers might actually start to examine the claims and the assertions, and even take stock of the damage caused by the stampede. As the neocons are discovering to their great dismay in the foreign policy area, so too we might expect the assorted sex-mania participants to fear: their binge being over, there might be consequences. This, in theory, would create among those who batten on such stampedes a distinctive self-protective reaction: further claims will have to be put forth to keep the ball rolling. If the ball stops then popular opinion slows down to a speed where it can look carefully and think about what’s going on. And it may well not be amused.
We had seen a test-balloon along these lines several months ago: the “New York Times”, in support of its subsidiary’s need for reinforcement, suddenly ran out of the blue an editorial on “rogue priests”. This was, at first glance, confusing; in our current usage “rogue” applied to nations, and very nasty and dangerous ones at that – if the Bush administration was to be believed. The editors of the “Times”, however, had expanded the meaning of “rogue”, while simultaneously borrowing its cachet as a term of fear-and-opprobrium in order to deploy against a target of their own choosing.
That target turned out to be: priests. No, not the ones a) declared by criminal process (such as it is nowadays in these matters) to be guilty; and not b) the ones whose bishops simply decided (prudently, all things considered) to pay a whole bunch of civil claims at once and not to take the astronomically expensive path of trying to defend each civil lawsuit individually (as has been noted above, criminal cases are – in light of the purported numbers of “horrific” crimes that must be out there – very very very infrequent).
No, the priests in the sights of the “Times” at this point were not formally accused. They are men who have, under the general miasmic cloud of this thing, left the active ministry – not thrown out, not defrocked, but simply resigned and taken other paths. These, bray the editors ominously, constitute a huge and unseen danger. They have ‘escaped’ supervision; that they were never found guilty or in need of it is a relevant point that is (not surprisingly) left un-raised. The clear and present danger is that these unseen monsters are loose among us now, and utterly unrestrained by the very ‘experts’ whose ‘knowledge’ assures us that they are/must be guilty of … something.
So in addition to increasingly expansive definitions of ‘sex offense’ (that now don’t even require one’s physical presence at the offending incident), and the assurance that ten or a hundred more times the number of offenses exist than are ever reported, and the fact that anyone who bothers to make a claim is automatically designated for publicity purposes as a ‘victim’, and the skewing of the justice system and the laws to make it almost impossible n-o-t to be ‘guilty’, the “Times” now seeks to increase the target-pool by going after priests who have not been discovered to have been guilty at all.
As is the case in so many of these Advocacy-gambits, you can keep yourself in business ad infinitum this way. The feminist advocacy’s demand for same-gender units in the military, by demanding a totally risk-free environment, and then placing its ‘victims’ in a situation where the very laws of nature guarantee there will not be totally risk-free environment, virtually guarantees ‘incidents’ from now until the end of Time or the human species, whichever comes first; it’s an entrepreneur’s wettest dream come true.
So too with this priest-abuse advocacy: by constantly expanding the definition of ‘abuse’ and ‘molest’, and removing the due-process and evidentiary obstructions to accusatory and inferential stampedes, and guaranteeing any claimant that no claim will be seriously examined or even questioned, and producing ‘experts’ to claim that there is a ‘silent majority’ of these crimes – vaster by quantum factors than the reported ones – that are unreported (and how indeed verify that claim?) … well, this is a cottage-industry that can take its business plan and make an IPO.
The hugely toxic and dangerous legal premise underlying this whole thing is: yeah, well just because we can’t really ‘know’ and just because we can’t really ‘prove’ it one way or the other, that doesn’t mean that we can’t criminally process and punish people for it. This stuns. The entire Constitutional praxis, and it goes back to England’s long fight against arbitrary government power, is that a citizen cannot be subjected to the police/criminal power of the government unless very clear process is carefully followed. So to say that an allegation cannot be proven one way or the other but let’s do this anyway … this renders any due process moot; it's like slathering butter and sour cream lathered onto a rotted potato.
And if such due process is applied when it is understood clearly that the gravamen of the charge cannot be reached no matter how carefully the process is applied, then such cynical and fraudulent deployment of the government power betrays the fundaments of the Republic itself and corrupts the administration and the administrators of its Law. And that is not a good thing, no matter how many shorter-term objectives might be served. And over the long haul, consequences will intensify and amplify exponentially, throughout our culture and our society and our civilization and the very structures of our government.
And it didn’t start with this priest-abuse thing. The priest-abuse mania is only a sub-mutation of the original feminist (of whichever Wave, perhaps now disowned) strategy: if we want to weaken the position of ‘men’, and open space for women, in this society, then we are in for a long haul and we need a weapon that a) can jumpstart this whole thing and also b) can last long enough so that we won’t have to worry about not having anything to beat on them with. And the winner was … sex. Who can be surprised? It was a shrewd, kinda obvious, choice. Given the undeniable male proclivity for sex – that seems clearly to be a product not of patriarchal Western culture but of Nature itself – then it can provide eternal fuel for the Cause the way atomic reactors provide eternal fuel for aircraft carriers. And so – as at Santa Anita – they were off.
Thus to this article by Mr. Cooperman. As is the practice nowadays, the article (“report” almost seems too generous) starts with a sad story, yet with an uplifting ending. A pair of parents, now long dead, were spared a great pain and allowed a great victory this month when the body of a priest that had lain only 20 feet from their own graves was dug up and moved to a cemetery 5 miles away; the priest had reportedly “serially molested” their three sons over the course of several “horrific” years back in the 1950s and it is only now that these three children – in their 50s and 60s themselves – had, as part of a three-quarter-million dollar settlement with the diocese – demanded that exhumation would be necessary for their “healing”. This, opines a law school professor, “validates that it happened and it wasn’t their fault”. So the priest, whose remains had been in the grave since his death in 1960, was dug up and trucked away. The reporter fades out with the scene of the three elderly men, with their wives, standing at the graves of their parents (Mom died in 1976, Dad in 1988) “for the first time in many years”, proclaiming that “it was a joyous occasion”. The parents had never been told and had never known.
It’s hard to know what to do with something like this. Certainly, if a priest had committed serial rape, especially of three brothers over the course of four or five years, and had hidden the matter and warned them not to talk about it because it would violate the seal of the confessional, then it is heinous sin and crime.
That the priest has been dead for half-a-century and this is only now coming to light prevents us or the criminal trial – specifically designed for the purpose – from making a determination of what actually did happen. That none of three boys told their parents (Dad was head of the parish council and great friends with the priest) at any time in the ensuing 20 or 30 years although it is cast as a happy, all-American family seems odd. That the parents never noticed anything amiss though their sons were apparently being serially raped one after the other seems odd. That these dedicated children hadn’t been to the cemetery to visit their parents’ graves in years is odd. That they just happen to do so when the reporter is there is not odd – it exudes a whiff of calculation.
That the bishop agreed to a settlement is not surprising: clearly, even the attempt to defend oneself or one’s deceased predecessors or colleagues or one’s Church is – under the present arrangements – itself an admission of guilt and even of complicity; but, far more telegenically, even the merest skepticism of a claim constitutes ‘re-victimization’ of a (self-proclaimed) victim all over again. The very fact that ‘victim’ status is available for the claiming without any effort at verification bodes ill for anyone trying to get at the truth. Nor are bishops selected for their feistiness and chutzpah these days.
That the ‘claims’ are factually impossible to verify yet emotionally impossible to deny is one of the shrewder achievements of the Advocacy in this whole now professionally-directed mania: abetted by ‘experts’ with their ‘knowledge’, any doubt as to the factuality of the claim is squelched (not answered) through the peculiar ‘mystery’ and ‘horror’ of sexual experience and ‘violation’; it is a bit of circular argument and flummery worthy of the best 19th-century American hucksterism and the most advanced totalitarian jurisprudential praxis. A horrible thing – so bad that you don’t need proof – so bad that you shouldn’t ask – so mysterious that you can’t ask anyway because you can never know – so bad that to ask about it would simply hurt the claimant all over again – so bad that to doubt the claimant would itself be almost a crime … none of this proves that a claim did or did not happen, but it sure as hell gives you pause. And it sounds sooooo very much like the same play that was run by Us as the Iraq invasion was ramping up. Remember WMD? Imminently deployable?
Of course, the fact that the money is running out, and the public is growing more skeptical of ‘claims’ that cannot-be-refuted-because-it’s-an-emergency cannot be ignored. One could make the case that in order to keep the ball rolling, the professional PR folks who constitute the advanced-level Advocacy industry have advised going for non-cash awards: it keeps the ball rolling and – now that folks aren’t so gullible – it will look better. And you can get an awful lot of mileage out of horror-stories that cannot be tested or even doubted.
Will all that help these three claimants? What actually happened decades ago and in the intervening decades in the lives of these particular claimants? What seems certain is that we are going to see a lot more of this sort of thing now. And on an ominous level this sort of thing represents a toxic synergy between a for-profit advocacy industry, a media happy with less ‘reporting’ and more emoting, and a government seeking to smooth its path to increased police power through scaring and frightening people with the horrors and emergencies of ‘Crime’. On this level those elements of the feminist revolution who helped start this sex-crime mania and the many victims – actual and not – have been made into pawns, to be trotted out – as Bush trotted out a brassy-blue background of any available cops and firemen for post-9/11 photo ops – when opportune.
But I just finished reading Richard Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style In American Politics”, and there’s even more oddness. He describes the vision and characterizations of themselves, their situation, their projects and their opponents that were common to those right-wing elements that – from the late-‘40s and to the mid-‘60s - were considered the looney fringe of the Republican Party. I’ll Post more on his political insights in the near future, but in reading this sex-offense story I couldn’t help but note some striking similarities.
Hofstadter notes that the paranoid style was primarily to be found among American Protestants, and not in the mainstream denominations of Protestantism but in the less-organized, more fundamentalistic small churches, more rurally located.
He notes that there had been a history of violent American Protestant outbursts against ‘others’ perceived to be threats, and that among these were Freemasons, immigrants, racial ‘others’ and – my, my – Catholics. Sex – in any and all imaginable combinations of illicitness – was frequently a factor in the charges they leveled against those ‘others’.
The classic scenario went like this: There is a vast and secret conspiracy / this enemy is powerful and monolithic and surrounds us and has infiltrated us and can strike at any time / it is bent upon doing evil to us / its perpetrators are horribly depraved yet very skilled and powerful and exert mysterious forces over us / we are fighting a war / it is an all-or-nothing war where we will either completely triumph or be totally destroyed / our very existence is at stake / there is not much time / one is either totally with us or is against us and with ‘them’ / there can be no middle-ground / anything less than immediate action with all our energy is treason and disloyalty / thinking and discussing and seeking ‘consensus’ is treason / doubt is a failure of faith and courage and is treason.
And of course, as it was so succinctly put by Barry Goldwater in 1964: “Moderation in the defense of liberty is no virtue; extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”
A couple of things jump out here: First is that this ‘paranoid’ style is easily transferable from the hyper-religious Fundamentalist to the hyper-secular revolutionary and 'advocate'. And thus in a climate a half-century after Goldwater where the ‘fundamentalist fringe’ became the Ascendant power in the Republican Party and in national politics, and where the assorted revolutions of the Identities were seeking to ram through their agendas, using this or that ‘emergency’ to justify their on-going ‘struggle’ against this or that group, it can only seem a very unsurprising coincidence that the Catholic Church has been continually put upon.
Add to this that it was the Catholic Church in the early-1980s that stood against Reagan’s nuclear policies and his support of authoritarian governments in Central and South America, and one can see why a US government bent on pre-emptive war based on false pretenses and indentured to its fundamentalist base while seeking to ground the dual blessings of the imperial and the prosecutorial state … why a government thus configured would find itself not unreconciled to the distraction and diminution of the Catholic Church’s political influence.
Add to this, as John Gray notes in his book “Heresies” that it is Christianity – far more than Theory or the revolutions or secularism or even ‘humanism’ – that has a realistic vision and praxis toward “homo rapiens”. As with the neocons and the Incumbency in their plunge into Iraq, so too with the sex-manianistas and their plunge against men: the idea that ‘they’ will ‘only understand force’ was more a sop to one’s own defects and limitations than it was an accurate assessment of the actual state of affairs, and thus the whole expedition has been undertaken on awesomely wrong and thus ineffective and thus consequence-generating premises. The neocons have not been greeted as liberators; it may well be as the facts become clear that the revolutionistas will be similarly disappointed.
Not surprisingly, as skepticism increases, efforts to push the 'agenda' become more obvious. A play recently opened entitled "Doubt". It does a masterful job of complicating the matter of deciding if a sturdy nun's suspicion's of an otherwise effective priest's activities with young males of the congregation are or are not ... y'know ... t-h-a-t. The core genius of the play (and it's a sad commentary on the times that the exposition of such a once-common insight is now not illegitimately termed 'genius') is that not only is it difficult to decide about a particular action, but that it is notoriously difficult to tote up the good and bad in a man so as to decide whether his life is or is not the current American version of a life-not-deserving-of life. It goes without saying that such decisions are almost always best left to God, for the simple reason that as humans and especially when we're particularly agitated "our power to add or detract" is - famously - "poor".
One Margery Egan, resident feminista at a tabloid in Boston, allowed as how it's a very well-made play, and even allows that it is "a very unsettling place to be", this being in-doubt. Alas how true. And at this point in time - after all that's happened, bloodshed under government auspices not excluded - it's most damned well surely an unsettling place for a mania-nista to be: we're getting to that point in the movie where, having burned the town down in their night-frenzy, the erstwhile 'saviors' of the town are looking around at the smoking wreckage at dawn in awe that gives way to shock and then apprehension.
But her closing upset, as she retreats to the 'settling' security of familiar ground, is that the play is not socially redeeming because it might induce people who have given up believing in their Church to doubt the wisdom of that gambit - and that, she is sure, is counterproductive. Which, to the revolutionary agenda, it most certainly would be. She sniffs, en fin, that the play "has no clear conclusion". Ah yes, and as such it would get no staging in Moscow or Peking or Pyongyang. The essence of Socialist Realism, as it serves the revolutionary agenda, is to lead most clearly and vividly and loudly to a clear conclusion - indeed, to the only clear conclusion.
Comrade Egan is not amused. Have she and her pals made so long a march and put so many against the nearest wall thus now to be bethumped with intimations of uncertainty and its attendant humility? Not likely. I'd say, however, that folks might want to re-visit their religious attachments, and their entire attitude toward life's complexities (of which the Church has always been notoriously patient). They might even want to approach the revolution and kick some serious tire.
Second is that this style of thinking results not in a certain type of politics but rather in an anti-politics. It is radically inimical to the American tradition and to the democratic process, and thus to The People as well as to the vision embodied in the Constitution. That this type of anti-politics – with and without its religious trappings – has been the stock-in-trade of the Left and of the Right for decades must alert us that large and grave consequences must have already taken hold in the citizenry as well as in the structures and operating dynamics of the government. The role and dedication of the media, the role and skills of The People in their capacity as the Ground of the government as well as in their lives as individual citizens and persons … all these are harmed by the toxic corrosion of ‘paranoid’ thinking, a paranoid-thinking which makes ‘wars’ and ‘emergencies’ inevitable, which makes them indispensable to the governing of the country whether they actually are justified or not.
Third, as much damage may have already been done in the name of the ‘emergencies’ of the several domestic revolutions as has been done in the waging of foreign, pre-emptive wars of choice.
Fourth, the consequences of all that will come back to bethump Us. It can be no surprise that those States that went whole-hog for incarceration starting in the anti-drug ‘war’ 20 years ago are now shocked to find themselves facing the return to society of not-really-bad folks who have been locked up in a state prison for 20 years and return to society with some decidedly mixed feelings and hugely diminished social skills. The sex-mania’s solution to its own incarcerees has been to try to intimidate them through Registration and – if at all possible – preventive confinement in mental hospitals. The expense, as California has discovered, will be insupportable. As from the cakewalk in Iraq, our own troops return to us grievously wounded, many more in spirit and maturity than those awefully broken in body.
Fifth, go to Dan Froomkin’s fine article about “How the press can prevent another Iraq”(http://www.niemanwatchdog.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=background.view&backgroundid=00156
). Wherever advice is given about dealing with a governmental entity (e.g. the Administration, the Pentagon, unofficial government sources) substitute Advocacy. So, for example: “You can’t be too skeptical of authority” becomes “You can’t be too skeptical of Advocacy”. I know: they’re only trying to help, whereas ‘government’ is baaad. Nope. Help or no help, if untruth – especially to the point of anti-truth – is being pumped into Our world, it’s got to be stopped, no matter how well-intentioned it might be. And let’s not forget that by this time there are no low-level mom&pop advocacy issues left … the little people are just fronts and pawns for professional, industrial-strength Advocacy that has an eye not on truth but on an Agenda and on the bottom-line). As this gets worse, and it all will, We will need to muster and sustain a seriousness that can be imparted to our national elected officials (currently debauched) and our government (currently addicted to the paranoid stylings of the Left and the Right).
Meanwhile, modernity staggers on, secure in the delusion that it is advancing. That this might not actually be the case is intimated by the fact that among many other habits of mind and thought that we have recently plucked from more primitive times, the sex-offense advocates have taken to digging up the dead in order to make examples of them; this charming blend of theatre and an almost pagan insistence on the merely human elements of what is a much Larger existence, was last seen when Catholics (themselves!) dug up the corpses of - among others - former Popes to try them for a heresy which the perpetrator had been adjudged to have harbored in life and for which he had 'escaped' punishment by shrewdly dying.
And it is not only the actual digging up, jaw-dropping a primitivism as it is. We have heard far too often in regard to a deceased and 'accused' priest the plaint of a claimant that the guy had now 'escaped' punishment. Which, not least among other things, bespeaks a Flatness far worse than any 'molesting' could ever inflict or maintain.
Molesters - real and manufactured - and claimants - legitimate and not - will come and go, will have their time, as so many frissons and individual lives do in this world. Flatness abides, lethal but hidden, a dark gravitational pull that chokes and deforms all that spirit seeks to make of humans and of our lives and of our world. Against that awesome, awefull plague, that veil, that fog, that miasm - we must wage the primary struggle, as individuals and as a society and as a civilization.
This is not the message of the advocacies and their flaks. To keep matters stuffed in the Flatness renders people far less capable of dealing with such experiences as they face, renders them far more dependent on the professional advocacies and - so dangerously - the gummint, and all their pomps and all their works. This is not the path of wisdom. It will bear evil fruit.
Labels: Alan Cooperman, American culture, Fundamentalism, priests, Sex-offenses