Monday, February 28, 2011

The Church and Its Abuse

        “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but he whoso confesseth and forshaketh them shall have mercy.”  Proverbs 28:113

        “The sins of the common, untutored people are nothing in comparison with the sins that are committed by great and high persons that are in spiritual and temporal offices.”
                                           Luther, Table Talk

        Stories about members of the Catholic clergy abusing children continue to appear in the press.  A Sunday’s New York Time Magazine article (February 13, 2011) featured a report by Russell Shorto, “The Irish Affliction,” detailing the sexual abuse (I believe more accurate terms are “sexual assault” and “rape.”) of children perpetrated by priests throughout Ireland
       Besides the thousands of cases in Ireland, which makes that country only second to the US in the number of cases, Shorto cites reports of clergy sexual abuse in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, Britain, Italy, Spain, France, Malta, Switzerland, Austria, Mexico, New Zealand, Canada, Kenya, the Philippines, and Australia.  Though this list might seem shockingly long, it does not report all the countries that have experienced abuse by Catholic clergy. 
        More tales of horror will, no doubt, surface in the future (See Washington Post, L.A. Cardinal’s legacy tainted by priest abuse.” Saturday, February 26, 2011).  But how many victims have remained silent over the years and how many victims from centuries past took the abuse they suffered silently to their graves?
        One particularly disturbing story that has made its way into the news is that of Marie Collins.  Collins told the curate of her parish about a priest who sexually abused her when she was thirteen.  The curate listened to her ordeal and then informed her that she “may have tempted” the priest into “digitally raping” her. 
Other depositions and news stories have revealed that the church would sometimes pay off victims and then convince them to sign nondisclosure agreements, prohibiting them from speaking about what they suffered.  In other cases, church authorities transferred abusive priests to different parishes when complaints against them became too clamorous to contain. 
Worst of all, the Vatican frequently asserted it had legal jurisdiction over priests accused of abusing children in order to shield them from criminal prosecution. These tactics were part of a ubiquitous pattern of concealing the crimes being perpetrated by their priests. 
        Through its history, the church had been more interested in protecting its reputation and wealth than the lives of the young.  But now that the church is buried in an avalanche of public evidence, one would expect at least a trickle of mea culpa to emanate from the Vatican.  Nevertheless, Rome rejects responsibility for these crimes and dismisses the fact that it covered them up.  One wonders, what makes this self-proclaimed guardian of morals blind to its own culpability?
        The mendacity of the Vatican has persuaded all but the most docile and dogmatic supporters (The Catholic League for one) to see the church for what it is: an accessory to numberless counts of sexual abuse, sexual assault and rape. Though it might attempt more subterfuge, it can no longer disguise its history of obstructing justice and helping perpetrators evade punishment.
        To anyone with the most rudimentary moral sense, it’s astounding that an institution guilty of covering up thousands of sex crimes continues to censure society’s “immoral” culture and behavior.  Yet, as its own crimes pour out for everyone to see, the Vatican still tries to deceive the world about the rot circulating through its clergy body.  Rome’s duplicity reflects a controlling hierarchy trapped in an archaic system of beliefs, beliefs of an insular male culture that sees issues involving women, marriage, celibacy, sexuality and the contemporary world through a warped lens of a medieval theology and philosophy.
        If the church is to purge itself of their foul crimes, it would first have to launch itself into the twenty-first century by modernizing all of its positions on the issues above.  But that is more than unlikely, since it would require jettisoning an all male hierarchy that will never surrender its control and power.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Psychic Hoax

Sunday February 5, 2011
Psychic Hoax
“The mystical life is the centre of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write.”
      Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks.  (New York) W. W. Norton. 97
    Throughout his life William Butler Yeats believed in mysticism, spiritualism, occultism and astrology.  His interest in these fueled his imagination with ideas and images that he employed in his poetry.  Even though W. H. Auden admired Yeats’s poetry, he found his idiosyncratic beliefs in Yeats’s poetry troubling.  He said that Yeats’s willingness to accept the occult as a means to know the future or a way to divine life’s mysteries was the “deplorable spectacle of a grown man occupied with the mumbo-jumbo of magic.”  Of course, Auden is correct in this assessment.  Any grown man who believes the occult has fallen under some illusion of magic and mysticism. Nevertheless, Auden was spellbound by the beauty of Yeats’s poems.
   When writing poetry a poet steeps external reality in the world of the imagination and for Yeats that reality included the occult which he used to beguile the boundaries of the quotidian with mystical beliefs. The genius of his poetry and the need to satisfy his ravenous imagination make it forgivable that Yeats believed in the occult or worse, that he consulted astrologists to learn whether Maud Gonne would ever return his love.  In the twenty-first century, I would expect that all but the most credulous would dismiss such ignis fatuus for what it is.  Yet, even today many people read daily horoscopes and consult psychics with the hope that they might find answers to their problems and might communicate with dead relatives, friends.  In fact, many credit psychic readings with literally transporting from the grave the spirit of a parent, brother, sister, or friend into their presence during the course of a “reading.”
   Recently, a friend consulted a psychic and told me about the reading the psychic offered her.  At first, I thought her visit was for her amusement and the money she spent no more a loss than what one might slip into an Atlantic City slot machine.  To my shock, she credited the psychic with touching upon some personal matters in her life with an uncanny accuracy.  But more distressing was her willingness to believe this charlatan’s success at summoning deceased members of her family to join them at that reading.  Clearly, he manipulated her through her grief over the recent death of her brother.  Though I tried to wrest her from the grip of this sham artist’s illusions, she remained convinced that he had tapped into some special psychic energy that graced him with the power of clairvoyance.
   Anyone who believes a psychic’s ability to summon their dead relatives and foretell future events has failed to consult the most rudimentary research that exposes how these swindlers scam unfortunately willing victims.  Psychics gull victims by using a series of techniques which include cold reading, warm reading, hot reading, “shot-gunning,” the Forer effect, and the rainbow ruse to name a few.   One source that can quickly disabuse one of the psychic’s “power” is The Skeptic’s Dictionary ( which provides reasonable and logical explanations of how these methods work.  If you are tempted to visit a psychic, read this website first.
   It can be safely stated that many, like my friend, who consult psychics feel confident that they possess a strong faculty of reason.  Yet they accept answers to questions that categorically exceed human knowledge from someone who claims to have supernatural powers. Surely the imagination, as was true in Yeats’s case, conjures possibilities that don’t exist.  And surely the grief over someone’s death or the anxiety over what awaits us in the future can spawn in the imagination the idea that spirits exist in an afterlife from which they can visit us and to which we will travel once we die.  Perhaps these basic human feelings explain why so many fall for the obvious psychic hoax.  Or perhaps it is too painful and frightening to confront the simple fact that we know exactly where the dead are and the only other knowledge we have for certain is one day we will join them.