May 242013
 
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Watch the following video.  Millions already have – yet it was only published three days ago.  A lovely game of point-of-view, too.  Top-notch stuff, whether true or not.


http://youtu.be/zdtD19tXX30

Frame is everything, especially in a visual world.  This from Pope Francis, for example:

He told the story of a Catholic who asked a priest if even atheists had been redeemed by Jesus.

“Even them, everyone,” the pope answered, according to Vatican Radio. “We all have the duty to do good,” he said.

“Just do good, and we’ll find a meeting point,” the pope said in a hypothetical reply to the hypothetical comment: “But I don’t believe. I’m an atheist.”

“You couldn’t get more hopeful,” I imagine many of you are thinking.  Me?  It just makes me wonder if even the Pope has fallen in with those who would create a conditional world – a world where what we do is far more important than what we are.

As I say, frame is everything in a visual world – and there’s nothing more visual than a pope who knows how to speak to the masses via the tools and media they are most comfortable with.  Even when unconditionality is the last thing on his mind.

Maybe I’m being picky here – let it be clear, for the moment I find Pope Francis a real breath of fresh air.  But I still feel unsure of where I should stand in other contexts: if we’re talking about my children, for example, my love is absolutely unconditional.  Why, then, can’t society be built on similar foundations?  Why must we choose, instead, to monetise life so?

Why must our civilisations measure us so religiously – even as religions are the last thing on their mind?

More importantly, how is that one of our biggest religions also finds it this easy to do?

Does no one care to love any more outside the framing impact of these artificial boundaries?

And this impossibility that our societies might just allow us to be – doesn’t it also serve to explain a jot why our lives are becoming so mentally ill-advised?

For it’s truly paradoxical that in a supposedly hyper-individualist world, one should feel this fearful obligation to conform to certain norms rather than discover oneself in all one’s uniqueness.

Frame, as I say, is everything in a world where what we see has become more important than what we think.

And this is, quite sadly, where too many of us now find ourselves.

“Cheese!” I suppose we should say.

No?


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Mar 142013
 
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The quote comes at the end of this El País article last night (original in Spanish, robot English here) on the election of Pope Francis.  I have seen both hopeful and unhappy things written about this election.  Even though I am a lapsed Catholic, I wish the new pope well.  He certainly will have a helluva job to brace the ruins I perceive.

Meanwhile, practically the first thing I see this morning is this cold announcement on Google Reader.

Google Reader - July 2013

Not much more to say on this one, except that Google would appear to be reinforcing its rolling process of centralising all online debate around Google+.  It would seem that long-term the idea of us blogging at our own places and coming together through such aggregating tools is really not where Google is going to.  A Communist Google, in fact, as the model being followed seems far more USSR than USA.  I’ve already complained about other changes made a while ago to their unattended tool – and even suggested that we work out some way of buying up the whole Google Reader tinglado, lock, stock and barrel.

It won’t happen, though.  Voluntary adhesion to common goals was never the corporate way.

So whilst the Church wants to brace the ruins, Google aims to detonate them.  There’s a poetry of sorts contained in the synchronicity of the two events.

*

Two more thoughts to finish.  The next story shows us just how poor latterday journalistic standards – where not prejudices – have become.  An “exodus” of “overtaxed” French bankers becomes around one:

And that’s the sum total of the FT’s evidence of the “exodus,” at least in this article. In a population of 65 million we have one confirmed departure, one effort to leave, and an unspecified number of anonymous departees. (Who, we might ask, are they? Will they confirm that they left for tax reasons?)

Meanwhile, on a piece I posted over at the Speaker’s Chair blogging hub, we get an interesting discussion on Liberal Democrat election chances.  My response to a comment at the foot of the piece runs as follows:

I’m not absolutely sure the LibDems will lose as badly as people think. Yes, for many, they’ve enabled the Coalition – but I bet a huge number of that many would not have voted LibDem anyway. The little experience I have of grassroots LibDem members leads me to believe there is plenty of ideology which would not fit in either Labour or the Tories, and which serves to keep that flock together. I *can* agree with your latter half of your last sentence, mind. The only caveat being that I’m not sure Ed will have too much room for manoeuvre to do very much differently at all. But then tone and discourse are also important – and his would I’m sure be far more kindly and supportive to the most frightened in our society than IDS & Co will ever manage. In fact, a politician who can enthuse through manifest decency and infuse confidence through honesty may just be what our democracy needs right now.

Interesting cases today – in a way all connected.  Whilst the Church and the Lib Dems look to recover from awful moments during which their hierarchies have unfairly damaged their own sense and perception of what they should really stand for, my judgement in both cases is that these “flocks” (flocks of birds more than sheep) will not easily break away from their core beliefs.  Was the last pope, then, the Catholic equivalent of the current leader of the Lib Dems?  Pope Benedict XVI, the prayerful inactivist versus Nick Clegg, the pious teller of half-truths?

Maybe so.

The only certainty I do appreciate this morning is that corporate Google continues to head off in the opposite direction to history.

The Facebook model of walled gardens and ad-infested centralisation is not the way forward, nor was ever going to be.

Google is lost, much as the Lib Dems and the Roman Catholics have recently been feeling.

And, perhaps, in the end, for similar reasons.


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Mar 122013
 
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I don’t know much more than the bare bones of this particular story.  The BBC reports it rather sketchily at the moment as breaking news; even the My San Antonio website doesn’t make it all that clear whether criminal proceedings are attached to the $10 million payout by the LA archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church, designed it would seem to settle four cases of child sex abuse.  There is talk of further punitive claims against the Church, mind – but I don’t think I fully understand what this means either.  Of course, $10 million can never serve to repair the abused childhood of any poor young person, but – at least in an English context – $10 million would I think be considered pretty punitive already.

I do – out of ignorance – wonder what’s happening here, though.  Is the Church really not of this world?  Are criminal laws not applicable for those who move in the grace-filled circles of godliness?  We hear, as over time the details seep out, of reports having been sent to the Vatican time and time again.  Someone with more money than sense then pulls out their temporal wallet and finds the means to settle what can surely never be settled.  Confession is supposed to be good for the soul, but it would appear that the Church has a very cardinal side too – and the response to these very cardinal sins is not unlike, say, Mr Murdoch’s in the face of phone-hacking scandals various.

That is to say, get out the chequebook.

By now, you must be thinking me very naive.  “Why not?” you may ask.  “If the aggrieved are happy to achieve closure through a wad of promissory notes, who should be reserving for themselves the right to intervene?”  Well, I may be naive, but I’m bloody well not stupid.

I was watching a TV interview last night with an Italian priest – a fairly young Italian priest.  He was sat on a terrace outside a bar, a cup of coffee to hand I think; a brain as sharp as anyone’s might be.  During the interview he cared to remind us of the example of St Francis of Assisi.  No airs and graces there – though plenty of a very different kind of grace.

He asked, almost pleaded, for a different kind of Church: a Church of the lay people; a Church for the real people.

A Church, essentially, which was of this world.

If the Church is to lead its faithful out of the mire in which a wider society finds itself, both politically and economically, both democratically and socially, then it needs to understand this world.  And it can only understand this world by understanding how to engage with its miseries.  To distance itself, to separate itself, to see the hand and works of the Devil in everything bad that its representatives carry out, is to repudiate all sense of personal responsibility and liability: to excise, in fact, from the people who form the Church all possibility of a true redemption.  You cannot be redeemed unless you want to be; unless you express true sadness at what you did, even as you shouldn’t have done.  But to go down the path of saying the Church is capable of no evil – and where it is, it is the acts of extraneous forces or weak men or sheer greed – is to argue that the structures of the Church have no impact on how its flock, clergy and faithful end up behaving.

This is what they said at the start of the Germany that became the seedbed of Nazism.  Structures do matter – terribly too.  The environments we construct – or perpetuate from generation to generation – affect the behaviours we exhibit.

I’m not versed in the Bible; am not versed in the religion I was born to.  But I do feel that if God existed … well, He would not choose structures for His work on earth which distanced that work from the earth He was looking to save.

In any case, it seems clear enough, with the examples I have linked to above, that such distancing from the grassroots has served no purpose whatsoever: to an outsider looking in, it would seem that there is now very little difference between a) those who, from the depths of Wapping, formerly ran the blessed News of the World; and b) those who, from the depths of the Vatican, currently evangelise the blessed Word of God.

Both, in a nasty and very ultimate place, understand the power of money to make problems go away.


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Feb 242013
 
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Cardinal Keith O’Brien, whom I mentioned in yesterday’s post on “Sex, horsemeat and plebeian sausage rolls (again)”, has just been accused of some of the very sins it would appear he has been criticising in the recent past:

O’Brien, who is due to retire next month, has been an outspoken opponent of gay rights, condemning homosexuality as immoral, opposing gay adoption, and most recently arguing that same-sex marriages would be “harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of those involved”. Last year he was named “bigot of the year” by the gay rights charity Stonewall.

The latest accusations are reported by the BBC in the following way:

The Observer reported that the three priests and one former priest – from the diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh – complained to the Pope’s representative to Britain, nuncio Antonio Mennini, of what they claimed was the cardinal’s inappropriate behaviour towards them in the 1980s.

I suggest you read both articles before we continue.

*

A few issues I’d like to comment on here.  As described above, Cardinal O’Brien has been given the Stonewall “bigot of the year” award for his comments on and attitudes to gay rights.  I’m not sure that hypocrisy is quite the driver here though – at least for O’Brien himself.  In the little I know as a lapsed practitioner of Catholicism and its mores, I’m inclined to believe that the very private – and individually harmful – acts the cardinal in question is now accused of having committed can quite easily fit into his public reactions to their perceived cause.  That we see it as bigotry – even hypocrisy – is of course our right.  This doesn’t mean that O’Brien’s faith can’t lead him to regret the effect that human sexuality might have over some spiritual leader bound by his church’s law not to get involved in its activities.  In fact, if the accusations – which apparently the cardinal strongly denies – were eventually found to be true, it could only clarify his recent call for priests to be allowed to marry, procreate and make family.  Having barely survived a life of repressed sexuality, his final pre-end-of-professional-life request to make more flexible the hard edges of his church could only be admired.  Even if it still left out a substantial part of human experience.

Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t wish he could go further.

There is also another matter that comes to mind.  Again, I’m really not privy to the powerplays of the Roman Catholic Church.  I can only look from the very outside in and try and understand it as I might any other highly hierarchical and corporately organised institution.  But as one of the priests in the Observer report says of the Church’s wider behaviours:

“It tends to cover up and protect the system at all costs,” said one of the complainants. “The church is beautiful, but it has a dark side and that has to do with accountability. If the system is to be improved, maybe it needs to be dismantled a bit.”

And in this I begin to wonder.  That these accusations should come to light just before the election of the next pope, instead of twenty years ago – or even as recently as 2005 when Pope Benedict XVI himself became pope – doesn’t seem an entirely innocent act.  And that comment – “If the system is to be improved, maybe it needs to be dismantled a bit” – is really rather telling, at least for me.  As the Observer also concludes (the bold is mine):

All four have been reluctant to raise their concerns. They are, though, concerned that the church will ignore their complaints, and want the conclave electing the new pope to be “clean”. According to canon law, no cardinal who is eligible to vote can be prevented from doing so.

Does that mean, therefore, that Pope Benedict’s conclave wasn’t “clean”?  And if so, what else is about to tumble out of the papal closets?  And, exactly, why now?

It doesn’t half seem – again, for an outsider attempting to look in – that the Church has outgrown its ability to behave in a reliably correct manner.  Hierarchy has its place, of course – but extreme hierarchy, in the secular world at least, leads to all kinds of abuse.  From the big old-fashioned state to the big new-fashioned corporation, the massive lack of true accountability – and the widespread tendencies to hide and obfuscate abuse in amongst long chains of command – are prevalent in almost every structure out there.  Whether private or public, the same instincts prevail.  Why should the temporal representatives of God be any different?

So is it right to describe Catholics who abuse as bigots and hypocrites?  Not necessarily.  They may simply be human – with all the frailties such a condition implies.  Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t require them to bear witness – as, indeed, we all should do in these lives of ours – to those things of an incompatible nature they have said and done throughout their time on this curiously complex planet.

Inappropriate acts which are clearly incompatible with the all-too-human teachings of a man who was allegedly anything but.


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Feb 232013
 
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I know it shouldn’t any more – but what people say, the words they use and the underlying assumptions such words reveal still has the power to shock me.

Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic, for example, has this to say of the future nature of the priesthood:

“It is a free world and I realise that many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy as they lived out their priesthood and felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and raise a family of their own.”

I notice two things here – both of which serve to shock me.  Firstly, the reassuring reminder that it’s women these free spirits are looking for as companions.  Secondly, that it’s a free world Cardinal O’Brien is observing.

Amazing, isn’t it?  And there was I, thinking the real problem has been a not insignificant number of priests who – through the decades – have demonstrated how they’ve wanted anything but the onerous obligations of marriage and family, when engaging in the perverse delights of illicit flesh.

These words are almost as revealing as the following comments on the poor.  Again, we get a representative of the powers-that-be uncovering their most primitive prejudices:

Germany’s development minister has suggested food tainted with horsemeat should be distributed to the poor.

Dirk Niebel said he supported the proposal by a member of the governing CDU party, and concluded: “We can’t just throw away good food.”

A German church concurs:

[...] Prelate Bernhard Felmberg, the senior representative of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), has backed the proposal.

“We as a Church find the throw-away mentality in our society concerning. How and whether to distribute the products in question would have to be examined,” the priest said.

“But to throw away food that could be consumed without risk is equally bad as false labelling and cannot be a solution.”

Quite.  No solution at all.

So how about, instead, we serve it up for as long as it lasts to all those politicians, church representatives and other moneyed members of society who believe, in their innermost sanctums, that the poor are truly deserving – but only of the crumbs from the high tables that clearly plague us?

This is verily beyond the palest of pales.  If the poor are deserving right now of receiving “tainted” beef, if – as the German development minister argues – “unfortunately there are people [in Germany] for whom it is financially tight, even for food [...]“, then these very same disadvantaged were also just as deserving before recent events took their sorry course.

That the powerful now argue the poor have suddenly become deserving of our charity, and at exactly the same time that metric tonnes of mislabelled horsemeat need to be summarily shifted, is a rank duplicity of the very worst sort.  One hardly needs to be an expert in stratospheric spin to understand that heavy business interests will be pulling in all sorts of favours from their meek and puppet-mastered politicians, as someone tries to salvage as much resource as possible from the disaster.  And what better way than make the poor pay for their poverty?

What better way than via taxpayer-funded graft?

We’re back, I fear, to those prejudiced Tories of yore – for they’re all the same, whatever political allegiances they pointedly profess – who are always trying to slap taxes on plebeian caravans, Cornish pasties and grannies.

We’re back, in fact, to those very plebeian sausage rolls.

Money buys everything.

It just doesn’t buy it for everyone.

Now does it?


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Feb 022013
 
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Before I continue, let it be clear: I am a firmly lapsed Catholic.  One of the things that Catholics do to you is make it impossible to unCatholic yourself.  There is always this feeling that one day you will return to the fold.  And even those of us who slide away from its ways may believe, as Chris points out, that this isn’t entirely a bad thing to be entangled by:

[...] Why are religious people often happier than others? A big reason is that religion is a form of insurance, an asset that pays off well in bad states of the world, such as bereavement or unemployment, thus preventing big falls inwell-being. Those who reply that religious belief is irrational are like those who claim that a financial asset is over-priced; the statement is only relevant if holders of the asset come to believe it.

Anyhow.  With all the above caveats about as upfront as is possible, I am minded to dance around yet another curious tale today.  The BBC reports it thus:

Sandwich shop chain Pret A Manger has withdrawn a new “Virgin Mary” brand of crisps following religious complaints.

The firm, with about 350 shops in the UK, launched the spicy tomato crisps – based on the non-alcoholic version of a Bloody Mary cocktail – last week.

This prompted complaints, including from Catholic groups, that it was an offensive reference to Jesus’s mother.

The article in question takes us to a website called Protect the Pope, where its tagline leads us to believe that that it aims to “Protect the Catholic Church through Prayer, Truth and the Law”.  The following comment is then posted by the person who apparently runs the site (the bold is mine):

Protect the Pope comment:  Clive Schlee and Pret A Manger deserve our unreserved thanks for listening to our concerns as Catholics and for acting so quickly to remove the brand of crisps. It seems fitting that Pret A Manger are planning to give any unsold crisps to the homeless. Thanks also to the readers of Protect the Pope for contacting Pret A Manger to express their concerns. God bless you all for your passion and desire to stand up for our Catholic faith.  I’d like to express my special thanks to the reader of Protect the Pope who first brought this news to our attention, but wants to remain anonymous.  One of the things we need to go away and think about is what this incident tells us about how we defend our faith in the future. We’ve been passive for too long in the face of mockery of our faith and discrimination against us as Catholics. We can change things!

As one of the comments to this post points out, the first thought that might come to the mind of (at least) a lapsed Catholic like myself is:

Congratulations on the crisp victory. Now see if you can do something useful such as tackle AIDS in Africa or solve the problem of child mortality or maybe something a bit simpler, maybe see if you can bring child rapists in your organisation to justice. No? Stick to worrying about crisps then as its about your level of usefulness.

Now I repost these comments gingerly, not least because members of my family are devout Catholics.  By nature, I would not share the tone of the last comment and yet am conscious where such unhappiness comes from.  The Daily Record summarised, a while ago, the Church’s inability to deal with paedophilia within its ranks here.  Meanwhile, Wikipedia has the following to say on the matter:

In the United States the 2004 John Jay Report commissioned and funded by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was based on volunteer surveys completed by the Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States. The 2004 John Jay Report was based on a study of 10,667 allegations against 4,392 priests accused of engaging in sexual abuse of a minor between 1950 and 2002.[55]

The surveys filtered provided information from diocesan files on each priest accused of sexual abuse and on each of the priest’s victims to the research team, in a format which did not disclose the names of the accused priests or the dioceses where they worked. The dioceses were encouraged to issue reports of their own based on the surveys that they had completed.

The report stated there were approximately 10,667 reported victims (younger than 18 years) of clergy sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002:

  • Around 81% of these victims were male.
  • Female victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests tended to be younger than the males. Data analyzed by John Jay researchers, shows that the number and proportion of sexual misconduct directed at girls under 8 years old was higher than that experienced by boys the same age.[56]
  • 22.6% were age 10 or younger, 51% were between the ages of 11 and 14, and 27% were between the ages to 15 to 17 years.[57][58][59]
  • A substantial number (almost 2000) of very young children were victimized by priests during this time period.
  • 9,281 victim surveys had information about an investigation. In 6,696 (72%) cases, an investigation of the allegation was carried out. Of these, 4,570 (80%) were substantiated; 1,028 (18%) were unsubstantiated; 83 (1.5%) were found to be false. In 56 cases, priests were reported to deny the allegations.
  • More than 10 percent of these allegations were characterized as not substantiated because diocese or order could not determine whether the alleged abuse actually took place.
  • For approximately 20 percent of the allegations, the priest was deceased or inactive at the time of the receipt of the allegation and typically no investigation was conducted in these circumstances.
  • In 38.4% of allegations, the abuse is alleged to have occurred within a single year, in 21.8% the alleged abuse lasted more than a year but less than 2 years, in 28% between 2 and 4 years, in 10.2% between 5 and 9 years and, in under 1%, 10 or more years.

The 4,392 priests who were accused amount to approximately 4% of the 109,694 priests in active ministry during that time. Of these 4,392, approximately:

  • 56 percent had one reported allegation against them; 27 percent had two or three allegations against them; nearly 14 percent had four to nine allegations against them; 3 percent (149 priests) had 10 or more allegations against them. These 149 priests were responsible for almost 3,000 victims, or 27 percent of the allegations.[57]
  • The allegations were substantiated for 1,872 priests and unsubstantiated for 824 priests. They were thought to be credible for 1,671 priests and not credible for 345 priests. 298 priests and deacons who had been completely exonerated are not included in the study.
  • 50 percent were 35 years of age or younger at the time of the first instance of alleged abuse.[57]
  • Almost 70 percent were ordained before 1970.[57]
  • Fewer than 7 percent were reported to have themselves been victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse as children. Although 19 percent had alcohol or substance abuse problems, 9 percent were reported to have been using drugs or alcohol during the instances of abuse.[57]

So perhaps the bitter accusations we often hear about “child rapists” at the heart of the Church – and which presumably upset the Catholics who complain of mockery and oppression down through the ages – are a mite more understandable in the light of such apparent abuses of trust.  Especially when Wikipedia also reminds us:

In the 1950s, Gerald Fitzgerald, the founder of a religious order that treats Roman Catholic priests who molest children, concluded “(such) offenders were unlikely to change and should not be returned to ministry,” and this was discussed with Pope Paul VI (1897 – 1978) and “in correspondence with several bishops.”[6] In 2001, sex abuse cases were first required to be reported to Rome.[7]The Dallas Morning News did a year-long investigation, after the 2002 revelation that cases of abuse were widespread in the Church.[1] The results made public in 2004 showed that even after the public outcry, priests were moved out of the countries where they had been accused and were still in “settings that bring them into contact with children, despite church claims to the contrary.”[1] Among the investigation’s findings is that nearly half of 200 cases “involved clergy who tried to elude law enforcement.”[1] In July 2010, the Vatican doubled the length of time after the 18th birthday of the victim that clergymen can be tried in a church court and streamlined the processes for removing “pedophile priests.”[8][9][10]

What, then, does all the above have to do with a packet of “Virgin Mary” crisps?  Firstly, I hardly think the Catholic Church is truly suffering the oppression which other times seriously engendered.  These, for example, are the kinds of payments the US Church is able to afford today:

The molestation and rape of children by priests in America has resulted in more than $3.3 billion of settlements over the past 15 years, $1.3 billion of that in California. The total is likely to increase as more states follow California and Delaware in relaxing the statute of limitations on these crimes, most of which were reported long after they happened. For an organisation with revenues of $170 billion that might seem manageable. But settlements are made by individual dioceses and religious orders, whose pockets are less deep than those of the church as a whole.

It hardly seems, then, that oppression is the name of the game.  Unless, of course, any of you out there really think that those $3.3 billion of settlements were unjustly – and perhaps indecently – obtained.

Secondly, those who honestly believe that a $170 billion organisation cannot survive the sale of a packet of crisps which indirectly references one of its icons has to be living on another planet (perhaps one that doesn’t circle the sun …).  They do, after all (coarsely I do have to admit), say that any publicity is good publicity.  And I have to say that a packet of crisps, whatever the name, surely can’t be worse than a drip-fed sequence of – you must accept – self-inflicted paedophile stories.

But what I mostly find so distasteful about this whole tale is not the baggage I’ve outlined in this post – a baggage which the Church has been acquiring remorselessly over the past couple of decades.  No.  What I mostly find so distasteful about this whole tale is the helplessness which its devotees clearly feel as their beloved juggernaut of supposedly good deeds careers wildly out of their control.

For as a general rule, the vast majority of Catholics I have met at a personal and one-to-one level are good, kindly, thoughtful and gentle souls.  I would much rather find myself in their presence than many other people I know.  So all I can assume is that the real issue to hand here lies somewhere else – in a far more confusing place.  That a name of a snack should so violently offend can only make me wonder whether Catholics actually feel defenceless not only when faced with the outside world but also when faced with the reality of their own hierarchies.  A thinking person, whether religious or not, cannot fail to see the disjunction between what the Church proclaims is correct and just and how the Church actually behaves.  And perhaps, without realising it, there are many more Catholics who deep down feel unsure if everything is quite right with the representative of God in this world.

A kind of Stockholm syndrome of the religious perhaps?

A syndrome which drives them fiercely to reject all and every negativity from without – even as those from within continue to fester, hardly registered and hardly heard.


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Nov 082012
 
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I was quite shocked this morning to hear that an ex-oil executive was to become the new Archbishop of Canterbury – and wondered idly if the next Pope would be ex-CEO to some nuclear company or other.

Now I’m probably being a little unfair here: there’s no reason an experience of corporate activity can’t prepare one better for dealing with its excesses in relation to the most defenceless in society.  It may, indeed, be true that the gentleman in question has lived outside the ivory tower of religious contemplation.  Down amongst the “dirty dirty” readies us for understanding that reality which may be quite beyond the hermits.

It did make me pause for thought, though. And these are the thoughts that occurred to me.

Let’s take a look at the alleged downsides and upsides of corporate experience more generally.  First the downsides:

  • profit-driven above all – they have little sense of other values and missions that might contribute to long-term gain in society
  • selfish and highly competitive – they conceptualise life as a battle and war, where the enemy can undo one at any time
  • unfaithful to the communities that originally created them – always willing to up sticks and move if tax regimes are better elsewhere, they are generally happy to leave their origins and let them disintegrate in their absence
  • cut-throat employment and salary policies – they are not averse to playing one group of workers against another in order to better drive down the easiest costs to reduce
  • disloyal to their workforces in times of economic downturn – you’ll have spent a lifetime working unpaid extra hours, but this will mean nothing when shareholders must be placated
  • union-busting behemoths – the ultimate control freaks
  • politically illegitimate – they use their profits and massive resources to fund political campaigns in order to improve their tax regimes and reduce their liabilities to the state, even as they happily use the infrastructures such states create

The list could go on – I’m no expert, just a simple observer.  But we can get a feel for what’s going wrong in many parts of corporate-land.  And just remember: the new Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the English, has almost certainly experienced environments which encourage – or have encouraged – the above.

So now – weirdly and dissonantly – onto the upsides I suggest might also exist:

  • evidence-based organisations – they manage huge amounts of data and at their occasional best take logical decisions on transnational scales
  • people-focussed rather than tribal-focussed communities – though they all create the single tribe of company all must be loyal to, within that company it’s occasionally results that count more than ethnicity, sexual orientation or mother tongue: again, where it happens, it happens on a massive scale
  • specialisation – I’m in two minds about this: on the one hand, specialisation makes us necessarily better at what we do; on the other hand, it builds silos of knowledge which unhappily divide us from each other, as well as make it more difficult to identify productive connections between different fields of knowledge
  • repositories of knowhow and good practice – no, they may not always learn from what their workforces have achieved, nor always share effectively their very own intellectual property, but the knowhow and good practice is registered somewhere in their depths – and often manages to improve step-by-step how things are fashioned, engineered and implemented
  • their peaceable instincts – yes, there are many corporates involved up to the hilt not only in warlike discourses but also in war-related activities, but most – the vast majority I would say – look for stability, peace and a steady hand in our civilisations over a churning change and uncertainty: this is not a small virtue in the times we currently inhabit
  • their global perspective – where many if not most politicians turn inward on their nation-states and run their relatively parochial cliques of power with equal gobbets of gusto and reductionism, corporations by their very transnational and expansionary ambitions always turn their eyes towards the wider horizon: in a sense, we have in corporations the colonial impulses of the empires of old – yet with a far greater degree of multiplicity than was ever the case.  That convergent evolution tends to drive them to looking very similar doesn’t remove from our experience of life the reality that a carefully-woven tapestry of internationalised activity does nevertheless exist

To my closing thoughts, then.

Maybe, in corporations, we could reasonably argue that they could be a force for weird good, if only we knew how to usefully inflect their overarching motivations.  That most are generally dysfunctional legal persons at the moment is absolutely clear to me.  But that doesn’t mean the people who work in them are necessarily dysfunctional themselves.  Nor does it mean that such networks of communication and operation couldn’t, in some way, somehow, function far more societally than is the case.

For the vision, post-World War II, of a global and unitary world may – in the end – not come from the hand of politicians and their grubby attempts to covet the votes of the people.  Rather, it may come from the properly renewed forces of commerce which, learning how to be social and moral as well as determinedly commercial, acquire the ability to bring us together in one singular tribe of honest people.


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Aug 142012
 
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Wherever I’ve worked, at generally the most humble of levels, I’ve been trained to watch out for conflicts of interest.  But there’s a clear pattern emerging of late, of which this story (in Spanish) (robot English here) is but one example: if you’re powerful, interests never conflict.

In this case, an anti-abortion and anti-gay-marriage judge who’s a member of the Opus Dei organisation sees no reason why he cannot pronounce on an appeal by the Partido Popular (the rancid right-wing party currently running Spanish politics) against the legal periods set out by previous regimes in relation to when and why one can abort.

Abortion is a difficult issue, of course.  But after our own experience of having to weigh up its appropriateness, I would never dare suggest that I should have a right to decide – a priori - on behalf of another.

It was on the occasion of my wife’s second pregnancy.  The local hospital did some tests – and for some reason, asked us to come back the following week to repeat them.

They refused to allege any reason and seemed to be hiding something.  When the results of both sets of tests came through, the conclusion was pretty frightening.  There was, it would appear, a pretty decent chance that our second child would be born spina bifida.  If I remember rightly, and as far as we understood, the consequences ranged from death at birth to a very unhappy childhood and/or limited opportunities to enjoy a fulsome life.

Hurriedly, they organised a distressing test in a Madrid hospital, which involved extracting blood from the umbilical cord – and which, in itself, at least at the time, involved considerable risk to the foetus.  All this time, my wife and I were talking over the potential decision of going ahead with an abortion. It was not a happy time.

The results of the Madrid test were, thankfully, positive and constructive.  The magnetic resonance they carried out showed a fully formed foetus with everything as it should’ve been.  We later discovered – the local hospital had no alternative but to come clean – that an error of calibration of the results had produced the initial scare.

A bad sad time for us both which, in the end, turned out happily.

With that child there was still an almost horrifying birth, as the very same umbilical cord got wrapped around his neck just as he emerged – a blue grey colour; a child of grand fortune indeed.

So all the above is why I would never presume to decide on behalf of a mother whether she should have an abortion or not.

That there are plenty of happy families with spina bifida children is I am sure a truth we should never fail to take on board.  That parents who face such a prospect in varying degrees of difficulty – or, indeed, for any other reasons which may encourage them to think twice – may soon, perhaps, in Spain not be allowed to decide for themselves, and all because a self-confessed anti-abortion and anti-gay-marriage member of Opus Dei has decided he has every right to decide on legal matters relating to abortion, is – however – probably par for the course these days.

These days, powerful people don’t seem to care to keep up appearances.  Their hubris overwhelms any shame they used to feel.  Conspicuous consumption becomes a right – even a twisted duty.

No interests conflict so much as the poor, sick and disabled’s – all the time, as they attempt to survive an evermore Darwinian mindscape.

And meanwhile, the already wealthy see no need to justify their incoherences.

The incoherences of the 21st century.

The new paradigm for being rich.

A century of free education leads to compulsory rugby for the plebs.  And as David so rightly points out in yet another sharp piece on the whys and wherefores of latterday politicking (the bold is mine):

Fact is, private schools do indeed produce proportionately more Olympic medal-winners but they aren’t anything like as good at this as they are at making barristers, journalists, doctors, CEOs or members of Her Majesty’s Government.  That this state of affairs hasn’t led a host of politicians and pundits to call for a reworking of schools’ timetables prompted an uncharitable thought: could it be because they believe running around a track is a more suitable ambition for the lower orders to harbour, rather than having them entertain ideas about running things?

This is war, ladies and gentlemen.  But what’s more, the very worst kind.  Undeclared war by the already powerful against the already weak.

Brazen.  Shameless.  Wicked.  Evil.  Nothing else comes to mind.


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Mar 112012
 
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Marriage isn’t always easy.  Staying together with the same person for decades may have its ups and downs for both parties.  So far, so clichéd.

But a cliché doesn’t mean a falsehood.

Tom and Norman have said masses of good sense on the subject of this post already.  I come very late to the party.  I’d just like to add a couple of sentences here.

I’m a very lapsed Catholic, whose Catholicism at the beginning of this blog’s life can be seen to be quite reverential.  My world was a better world for going to Mass every Sunday.  That I have to admit.  But it wasn’t necessarily a more accurate world.  If I hadn’t lapsed before the cases of child abuse came to light, I would have lapsed for sure as a result.  But I had already begun to lapse before then.  Something didn’t quite click for me as the person I was becoming.

My wife is a Catholic too – a Spanish Catholic.  But her relationship with God has of late become very personal and private.  Perhaps, if I still have a relationship with this deity, that may one day become my way forward.

If it ever happens as described above, I will surely come to realise that the cipher and filter that is the Roman Catholic Church is a gauze which impedes a clearer vision of what God might really mean.

If God does exist, then love is not defined by the sex of its participants but, rather, by the essence of its practice.

And if you are still finding this hard to believe and comprehend, tell me then who is best placed to bring up our youth?  A man who has never given full expression to his love and passion for a woman, who has suffered for his beliefs and sense of self – and who only wants to support people in their real love for one another?  Or a man who has never given full expression to his love and passion for a woman, who has suffered for his beliefs and sense of self – and who only wants to support people in their real love for one another?

For I’m inclined to believe that, in some things at least, Roman Catholic priests, gays and lesbians have far more in common the one with the other than any of the sides is prepared to contemplate.  Drill down to their real experiences – and we may find on more than one occasion that the suffering each may have survived, in order to be the real individuals they were all along, is not all that dissimilar.

The question really is, which of the two sides is being more honest with itself as a result of those experiences – and is, therefore, better placed to participate sincerely and constructively in society? 

Which of the two is exhibiting such a fearless attachment to the truth?

And who – for example – would you rather care for your children?

When it comes down to it, it’s the people who count.  Not their sex – or their religious or political beliefs.  You convince me you’re essentially good and can truly be trusted – and that’s all I’ll ever need in order to believe in you.

So the day a Roman Catholic priest is able to marry his her boyfriend girlfriend in my local church is the day I shall once more darken the doors of that church – for that will be the day God and the Church coincide as one.

A day which shall make me forever happy and at peace.

A day which shall signpost a true humanity at large.


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Nov 122011
 
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I read this story from the Mail today almost as soon as it was published.  I thought it might be wise to wait and see.  Even after everything that has happened, and even after everything we’ve all written, I did wonder if this was just one accusation too far.  James Murdoch and his NLP-like ways of disconcerting his verbal opposition, his carefully open body language, his convincingly couched appeals for reasonableness to those others sidelined in attendance as awful accusations were declaimed by Tom Watson, as well as Murdoch’s oh so appealing naivete in the face of a dreadfully suspicious world, all still continued to make me wonder if he – and by extension the Murdochs in general – were truly as bad as they are painted.

But the news continues to dribble out.  First from that Mail story I link to above:

The latest twist in the case emerged 24 hours after Mr Murdoch – the son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch – was grilled for two and a half hours on Thursday by a House of Commons select committee.

In a bruising second appearance before the Culture Committee, he insisted he had not learned until recently that the practice of illegally eavesdropping on private phone messages went beyond a single ‘rogue reporter’.

Then Andrew Neil tweets that:

Source close to R Murdoch tells me emails uncovered by police in India (see today’s Daily Mail) potentially ‘devastating’ for James M down.

Only for Tom Watson to confirm this incredible piece of information barely an hour and a half ago:

“Every Single Member Of The Committee Investigating [Phone Hacking] Were Followed By Private Eyes” http://t.co/TJKBnBZW 6 months ago!

Meanwhile, my attention is drawn to this similarly ongoing story – and it occurred to me a thought experiment really might not come amiss.  It describes how alleged abusive behaviours at a Catholic school were being investigated by the Church itself – an exercise which in the words of one observer was akin to putting “Dracula in charge of a blood bank”.  In a more recent report on the outcome of an external investigation into these selfsame accusations, we get this text:

The report’s key recommendation was that Ealing abbey monks lose control of St Benedict’s. It listed 21 abuse cases since 1970 with Carlile saying the form of governance was “wholly outdated and demonstrably unacceptable”.

The report said: “In a school where there has been abuse, mostly – but not exclusively – as a result of the activities of the monastic community, any semblance of a conflict of interest, of lack of independent scrutiny, must be removed.”

“Primary fault lies with the abusers, in the abject failure of personal responsibility, in breach of their sacred vows … and in breach of all professional standards and of the criminal law.

“Secondary fault can be shared by the monastic community, in its lengthy and culpable failure to deal with what at times must have been evident behaviour placing children at risk; and what at all times was a failure to recognise the sinful temptations that might attract some with monastic vocations.”

Historic fault also lay with the trustees and the school for their failure to understand and prepare for the possibility of abuse with training and solid procedures for “unpalatable eventualities”.

In his criticism of school governance, Carlile wrote that the existing structure lacked “independence, transparency, accountability and diversity, and is drawn from too narrow a group of people”.

So let’s rewrite that just a little – and see how it might pan out as template for – say – a massive global news-gathering corporation called Miljenko’s News:

The report’s key recommendation was that the Miljenko and his inner circle lose control of Miljenko’s News. It listed thousands of phone- and computer-hacking cases since 1999 with the report’s author saying the form of governance was “wholly outdated and demonstrably unacceptable”.

The report said: “In a corporation where there has been abuse, mostly – but not exclusively – as a result of the activities of its editorial community, any semblance of a conflict of interest, of lack of independent scrutiny, must be removed.”

“Primary fault lies with the abusers, in the abject failure of personal responsibility, in breach of their legal responsibilities … and in breach of all professional standards and of the criminal law.

“Secondary fault can be shared by its board and top management, in its lengthy and culpable failure to deal with what at times must have been evident behaviour placing the public and democratic discourse at risk; and what at all times was a failure to recognise the awful temptations that might attract some with corporate vocations.”

Historic fault also lay with with the shareholders – especially the institutional ones – for their failure to understand and prepare for the possibility of abuse with training and solid procedures for “unpalatable eventualities”.

In his criticism of corporate governance, the report’s author wrote that the existing structure lacked “independence, transparency, accountability and diversity, and is drawn from too narrow a group of people”.

For two things occur to me, you see.  What surprises me, first, given that the original version of our thought experiment tonight describes how a corporate body like the Catholic Church would allegedly appear to have been consistently allowing the abuse of children since 1970, is that this story is not grabbing the headlines this weekend as much as Mr Murdoch’s also alleged – and perhaps ethically analogous – disregard for what is admittedly an utterly different set of public and private mores.

Just remember the litany however.  Thousands of alleged cases of phone-hacking, uninvestigated by the British police for almost a decade; families like that of Milly Dowler absolutely led down the garden path of cruelly raised hopes; a body politic pulverised by Murdoch Sr’s total control over its democracy; and now, if Watson and Greenslade are to be believed, a surveillance of lawyers and MPs which continued well into 2011.

Whilst it was supposed News International was cooperating with the authorities.

Talk of Dracula being in charge of the blood bank.

*

What surprises me more, however, and after all, is that if such a report as the one we read above can be written on an institution as mighty as the Catholic Church, especially in the uncompromising tone we clearly can detect and note, why – then – cannot we do the same in relation to News International? 

And sooner rather than later?

Murdochs, monks and dirty habits.

There’s no getting away from them.

Closed environments, shuttered communities, organisations where money is no object.

And there was once a man called Jesus all people would probably have been proud to have in their belief systems.

Just as there was once a Murdoch called Keith all journalists would probably have been proud to have in their profession.

How the mighty fall.

And how very far.


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Nov 092011
 
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This was what the Catholic Church was attempting to argue this summer:

The Roman Catholic Church is taking the unprecedented step of arguing in court that is is not responsible for sexual abuse committed by its priests, arguing that the relationship between a Catholic priest and the bishop of the local diocese is not an employment relationship and therefore the diocese does not have vicarious liability.

The court case in question did not focus so much on the example of abuse which provoked examination of the issue but, rather, this:

However the hearing this week will not deal with the allegations of abuse at all, but will centre on the ‘corporate responsibility’ of the church in abuse cases.

If the claim is upheld, the church will be found legally responsible for the sexual abuse committed by their priests.

What really shocks about the stance, of course, is that a church – of all entities – should care to avoid responsibility for such disgraceful acts against the integrity of vulnerable human beings.  But there you have it: a corporate body will always behave like a corporate body – even when it’s a church.

As yesterday’s report from the same news organisation goes on to summarise:

The Catholic church has always argued that it is not “vicariously liable” for the actions of priests. In a three-day hearing in July before Mr Justice Alastair MacDuff, the church argued that priests are not employees. They said there was no contract of employment, that priests paid self-employed taxes and that the positions were never advertised.

Anyhow, yesterday we were spared further embarrassment (I say embarrassment because although I am a lapsed Catholic, I do even now feel a certain responsibility for what the Church declaims).  This video tells us everything we need to know.

And, just to make it absolutely clear, below we have about as much clarity from the judge himself as we could hope for:

“[Father Wilfred Baldwin, who is accused of abuse] was so appointed in order to do [the Church's] work, to undertake the ministry on behalf of the defendants to fulfil that role… He was directed into the community with that full authority and was given free reign to act as representative of the church,” the ruling read.

“He had immense power handed to him by the defendants. It was they who appointed him to the position of trust which (if the allegations be proved) he so abused.”

However, as the video points out, it would appear not to be clear enough for a corporate body – and so the Church has decided to appeal.  It has also declined to speak to the media as a result.

Which all reminds me of the behaviours of Big Tobacco and Big Media as portrayed in the excellent film “The Insider”.  The closed and hidden nature of their functioning encouraged the kind of corrupt and two-faced actions we witness today in the Church.

The Spanish stolen babies case (more here from a personal standpoint) is just one more example.

One wonders what would have happened to any other organisation which had committed the kind of crimes the Church has been accused of turning a blind eye to.

Imagine, in fact, if – instead of the Pope – the Church was headed up by the Murdochs …

Would we still be talking about the finer matters and technicalities of employment law?  I don’t think so.

Too big to fail then?  Is the Church a religious equivalent of the banking system?  Have we all been suffering under the massive impact of an example of moral insider trading?  I wonder.


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Oct 212011
 
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The recent revelations in Spain about the tens of thousands of babies who – at the hands of doctors and the Catholic Church – were stolen from their biological parents for both ideological and pecuniary reasons, and in a period that stretched from Franco’s ascendancy to power to as late as the 1990s, is still reverberating terribly in my self.

As we do in such moments, there is a tendency – almost a primeval impulse – to review one’s whole past.  A veil does indeed drop away – and in its place we suffer from the darkest of shadows.  This post will not, therefore, be a considered piece.  For what I need, right now, is somewhere to register disorganised thoughts.

For example.  I remember, shortly after my firstborn was born, how I decided to reduce my working-hours to only ten.  In the light of the fact that my boss – an affable but occasionally dictatorial Frenchman – was a notable member of Opus Dei, lived in the flats which this Catholic religious order had in the city I was living in at the time, was well-known for his kindnesses to children in general and had himself a large family as befitted such a profile, I thought nothing of asking him if I could work fewer hours for a while – in order to take care of the new addition to our family and spend that precious time we could never regain.

This request was, of course, granted – I felt with grace and certain favour.  And thus it was that I thought nothing more of it.  Until, that is, a Spanish friend from my Russian class told me – in confidence – that she’d been told that someone had contracted a private investigator to follow me around.  The alleged motive?  To ensure, essentially, that I was actually looking after my son and not using the spare time to set up a company.

This was so laughable I simply did not believe it.  Could not believe it.  Refused to believe it.  I was a humble English teacher with barely four years of experience; had only ever taught in a small night school which, essentially, was going nowhere.

It’s true I had only recently joined full-time the company I then began to work for.  And having joined full-time, at that time in Spain’s history, a sudden request by a man to reduce hours to carry out childcare responsibilities was possibly going to be judged a little out of the normal.  But enough to get involved in all this other stuff?

And yet if someone were capable of doing things like this, what else did they know, do and sanction?

Later, I heard stories of bags of cash crossing the Spanish-French frontier.  All sorts of strange behaviours which my English upbringing simply didn’t prepare me for.  I was driven to a nervous breakdown by the behaviour of the Frenchman’s Spanish successor, who weaved an oppressive and unhealthy friendship with myself to the point where all the reality which I perceived was denied – as he suggested I was going slowly mad and would shortly need to see a psychiatrist.  The reality was, however, as I had seen and perceived it – for even one of his unwilling business partners once buttonholed me in the street, saying:

“I don’t know how he does it.  I go into a meeting with him – ready to threaten him with a red card.  He sits there, owing me payments which go back months; even years.  And yet, twenty minutes later he’s told me a few sob stories – and, like twenty times before, I’ve gone and believed every word.”

And this Spanish successor, who fooled us all for so long, who claimed for so long to be my friend, who in a sense played the same oppressive role which my own English upbringing had – in part – apported my sensitive soul … well, it was a mantra of his that – almost proudly – he would repeat over and over again: how, as an ex-bank worker himself, he knew how to fool the banks into believing he was still solvent: how he moved money from here to there; oh, he knew how they never looked at the detail: just looked at the movement, the movement here and there. 

He thought he was so clever as he built an empire on the sands of inside behaviours.

Which is why, as I think back over these unhappy and connected people I knew, I just can’t help beginning to think that if 300,000 babies were really stolen from their biological parents by the Spanish Catholic Church, by the doctors that is, by the very people we should expect to be able to trust, how then is it even conceivable that these people who once called themselves my colleagues and friends knew absolutely nothing about what was really going on?

*

As a footnote to this curate’s egg of a post, another random thought.

We took our firstborn to the nuns’ kindergarten pretty early on in his life – as, indeed, is still the Spanish custom.  All through the first year, he cried when we left him and he cried when we picked him up.

Every time we picked him up, he carried with him a strong smell of cologne.

We never noticed this really; never wondered to ask.

Until late on in the year when one day we discovered he’d been placed in the naughty corner for not drinking his orange juice.

This was when we discovered he’d spent the whole year being forced to drink an orange juice he didn’t want – only to then sick it up as children do.

And so instead of telling us what was happening to this barely two-year-old child, the nuns spent the year covering up the evidence with judiciously applied cologne.

We took him out of the kindergarten the following year and placed him in an excellent one nearby – run by kind, professional and loving young women.

Two things you should know, before I finish today: the first, my eldest son has never – and I mean never – drunk orange juice since then.

And the second?  If your child cries when he is out of your sight, and cries when he sees you on his return – don’t wait a year to see if it’s your fault.  Your child needs your love – not the cologne of a nun.


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Oct 202011
 
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Peter brought this video to my attention today.  I’d heard of the story but – to be honest – had not really paid much attention to it.  I’m sorry I didn’t.  We should all bear witness to its awful injustices.

And the Catholic Church needs to say some very substantial prayers.

Watch this video and prepare to be truly shocked.

http://youtu.be/Z7mJWh7OuzI


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Aug 212011
 
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The Roman Catholic Church has had a well-documented recent history of child abuse – as well as it would seem, at least according to some in the Irish Republic, a certain resistance to cooperating with the authorities in bringing those responsible to book:

“The rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’.”

Pretty poor stuff.  Meanwhile, at a distance, via Spanish TV news, I am currently witnessing the conclusion to the so-called “Jornada Mundial de la Juventud” (JMJ) (in Spanish) – loosely translated this means World Youth Day.  Around a million pilgrims have attended the event – and, if we dared to see it in purely political terms, this might be interpreted as a massive public relations’ victory for the aforementioned religious grouping in what is an evermore secular nation such as Spain.

Whilst in the light of what’s happened in relation to the “management” of institutionally unhappy news, we might go even further and describe this kind of event as spin.

If we were so inclined.


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Sep 182010
 
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Simon Heffer writes powerfully on the subject of tolerance here.  He even writes from an appropriately self-confessed position of theologically absent participant.  Worth reading.  Even if you really cannot find it within yourself to agree with everything he says.

If I argue so strongly against taking pyramidal positions in politics, how can I be comfortable in a church which requires adhesion to a rigid hierarchy any tinpot dictatorship might be perfectly proud to run with?

No.

Before you fume, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that the Catholic Church is a tinpot dictatorship, though these words from Heffer are priceless.  Firstly, he says:

[...] The Pope and his adherents are entitled (at least, so far as I am concerned) to their view that secularism is bad. I even had some sympathy with the cardinal who called us a Third World country, though my reasons are, I suspect, not the same as his. However, countries far less secular than ours are not inevitably happier, safer, more settled places than the United Kingdom.

Only to go on to point out that:

Mexico is a country of devout and active Roman Catholics. It is also one of the world’s most criminal, dangerous and failed states. Italy, the home of the Catholic Church, is half controlled by the mafia, half by its sleazeball of a prime minister, who despite being the wrong side of 70, drives a coach and four through his Church’s doctrine of sexual morality.

Elements of the Catholic Church were actively supportive of IRA murderers in Northern Ireland and turn a blind eye to organised crime by the American mafia.

And all that is before we get on to the hideous scar left on the lives of countless people by paedophile priests all over the world, whom the Church has only disciplined when absolutely forced to do so – and then inadequately.

What I object to most, however, as is my wont, are the structures of impositional power so casually and unquestioningly employed by the Church’s hierarchy through what I would see more as hidebound tradition than a desire to understand and apply the Word of God.

I do not use the word “hypocrisy” lightly – but the behaviours our attention has been brought to are undeniably hypocritical.

As well as, quite precisely, in bad faith.

At least with respect to those individuals whose misdemeanours – through diligent reporting alone – have crept unwillingly out of the woodwork. 

I believe the Pope has now described the crimes of child abuse in question as being of an “unspeakable” nature.  I do wonder, however, if that has been precisely the problem: if only someone had cared to speak out in time, then surely so many of these “unspeakable” crimes could have been – and indeed would have been – prevented.

Unhappily, the Church has shown itself to be in no way anticipatory or proactive in its desire to rid its body of scandal.  Indeed, some of the earlier stories that surfaced in the media seemed to lead one to believe that the Church’s main objective was more to rid itself of those it might define as scandalmongers rather than attempt, in any meaningful way, to root out underlying failings.

A typical reaction of a corporate organisation is to want to do away with the whistleblower before the public finds out.

The Catholic Church is no different.

Heffer then argues that:

I can understand why this makes atheists angry. It makes many who believe in God angry, too. And I know the Pope has, both as pontiff and in previous roles in the hierarchy, been culpable, especially in the matter of child-molesting priests. But none of this merits the silly over-reaction by self-advertising unbelievers that has greeted his visit, and which has threatened to compromise our reputation as a civilised and hospitable country.

Maybe not.

But even so.

The very fact that we have a mastodontic organisation where the private good of the many is lost in amongst the actions of the now very public few is reason enough to feel more than a little inhospitable to the Pope.  It’s not the numbers of rotten cardinals, priests and nuns that count – but, rather, where exactly on the strata of hierarchies they are found to be abusing their trust.

For that is the real weakness of a pyramid.  Where it goes bad anywhere near the top, it goes very quickly bad.  Self-interest and a desire to defend what is actually a hugely fragile superstructure overtake any latent instincts to do good.  And if you are at the top, you count for far more than any “nobody” below you.

You get used to believing it, in fact.

What’s wrong with the Catholic Church can be summed up in this exchange from Twitter tonight.  First my own:

@Phillip_Blond I think any Catholic is brought up to trust rigidly hierarchical structure quite absolutely. That trust now shattered.

And perceptively, Phillip Blond’s rejoinder:

@eiohel agreed that’s why catholicism itself must blend hierarchy with democracy it must become more civil

For that is precisely where the Catholic Church needs to learn its most broad-ranging lessons.  If, that is, it is ever to rescue itself from that incessant blight of both figurative and literal navel-gazing.

Yes.  The lessons it must learn are from that secular society in all its glories which the Church is so happy to easily condemn.

Of course I’d hasten to add that I would never dare to suggest it should acquire from secular society a quite foreign set of dogmas and beliefs – though it might be nice if the Church could (for example) occasionally see its way to understanding other ways of loving as just another example of the Lord’s own desire for life’s experiences to inhabit areas of difference, change and honest experimentation.

A journey with uncertain but sincere destination rather than a blind belief in a fixed state of mind.

In general, that is to say, an acting in good faith.

Love, after all, simply is.

Wouldn’t you say?

*

So it is that I would argue where the Church must learn from the secular is not in relation to its attitudes – for attitudes cannot change without changing systems.

If the Church cared to simply transplant a 21st century set of ways of doing and seeing into a medieval power structure such as it – in common with many other corporate bodies – employs, we would get absolutely nowhere.

In fact, we would probably take several steps backwards.

Dogmas and beliefs, no.  At least not yet.  But organisational tools, yes.  Here we have a fighting chance.

This is where the Church must learn from the secular: in how it marshals power – how it structures relationships and organises its adherents.

In this, those of us who find ourselves in the political adventure that is the Labour Party and its current process of renewal are perhaps not all that removed from those who would profess the faith of Roman Catholicism.

Both groups of followers have been abused savagely by their leaders – morally and institutionally.

Both groups of followers have exhibited a far greater appetite to do what is right in times of stricken conscience than those in charge have ever cared to exhibit.  In the case of the Labour Party, we have the Iraq War as a clear example.  In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, all those examples of child abuse so consistently covered up.

Pyramids are not safe ways of organising grand institutions.  They create and encourage foolish and destructive behaviours.  Bad practice can spread rapidly.  Good practice leaves by the front door – sickened by what it sees and by what is permitted.

Lip service gets paid.

Those “yes men and women” rule the roost.

And all this time, the grassroots learns it must go about its business supinely.

So it is that I am a lapsed Catholic.

And even now my socialism finds itself a little guarded.


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Apr 112010
 
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Corporations create their own religions.  They have leaders who are generally untouchable, and inevitably upbeat.  They have departments dedicated exclusively to brainwashing individuals who start out as simple workers but who, if all goes well, soon become fanatical followers of this or that (whatever’s the flavour of the month, in fact – generally depends on who’s building which empire at the time): in the vast majority of companies such evangelising departments go by the nondescript abbreviation of HR, or, occasionally, by the oxymoron of Communication.

(Now wouldn’t you just love to work for a company honest enough to call its Communication department its Monologue department – or, alternatively, forward-looking enough to have the right to call it the Dialogue division?)

Then, of course, behind these corporate religions, there is the most important group of individuals of all: that is to say, the shareholders.  In this aspect, most Western corporations are much more like the multi-deity belief systems of cultures we might pooh-pooh as primitive than our own incredibly irrational cobbling together of superstition that is that hyper-hypocritical Christianity, which manages, astonishingly, inventively and incoherently, to integrate seamlessly with a latterday world of manic consumerism – and, through its many charities and fund-raising activities, at the same time live off its outer reaches.

Shareholders are to corporations what gods are to true religions.  (I suppose this must be said with at least one caveat to hand: some shareholders are clearly more godlike than others; that is to say, more equal than others.)  They act out of self-interest, they are all-seeing and omniscient – and they know, quite awfully, that to be kind you must be cruel.  It is thus quite clear that, in so many things, a corporate entity is frighteningly similar to religious organisations we would believe ourselves quite easily capable of resisting the temptation to ever go near.  Is it really so very surprising, then, that religious organisations can also appear frighteningly similar to corporations?

In the latest scandals to affect the Catholic church, and the hierarchy’s inability to see beyond its own rotting reputation, I am reminded of how Toyota’s ways of working and seeing the world led to it internally glorifying the savings of hundreds of millions of dollars whilst recalls were resisted in the lead-up to the recent braking and acceleration issues.  Corporations defend their own lack of integrity quite beyond what any objective assessment of reality would suggest was the case – because, essentially, I suppose, they are gigantic sales operations, and sales operations rapidly become used to the idea that if you say and believe enough, reality soon obediently acquiesces.

After my nervous breakdown, I was very vulnerable and returned to the Church in quite a big way.  I went to Mass every Sunday – even found myself returning to the difficult and trying rite of Confession on a couple of not unnotable occasions (occasions which, I have to observe, nevertheless failed to lift my fallen spirits as I had expected – perhaps I should’ve taken note sooner of this not inconsequential piece of data).  I stopped going a couple of years ago, though people very dear to me continue to avail themselves of this outlet for their religious instincts – and I am unwilling to criticise or indeed attempt in any big or small way to argue them out of this most personal choice.

Anyhow, as my corporate world collapsed around me during the financial services sector crises of the past two years, so my resistance to play a public and fulsome part in any other large organisation began to increase.  No.  I’m not saying I lost my faith in the Catholic Church because the hedge funds roundly messed us all around.  Not exactly.

But you can see where I’m coming from, can’t you?  Big is not better, not if our criteria involve sincerity, honesty, frankness, objectivity and humility.  Where layers of vested interests accumulate, so dinosaur-like behaviours impose themselves.

Above all, save your reputation before your soul.

Now how many large organisations can have claimed to do the latter before the former?  Tell me that.

I think, uneasily, I am inclined to believe in God.  Perhaps it is something that my age leads me to need to cling to.  Perhaps I cannot shake off my schizoid upbringing entirely; my damned ability to see both sides of a question even as I find myself arguing more one than the other just takes me over.  But, as I continue to give God the benefit of the doubt, His corporate manifestations on this godless earth are becoming evermore resistible.

And this means in all spheres.

Perhaps politics too.

I stumbled across the concept of “hyperlocal” on Twitter just this afternoon.  This is definitely something I need to investigate further.

Meanwhile, not a god but a hero all the same: Tom Watson’s digital pledges here.  Tom needs our support – partly because he is brave but mainly because he is right.

And essentially because he is not in the pocket of corporate religions – as some others in this debate currently find themselves.


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