Just Above Sunset
April 17, 2005 - What are they Thinking?

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

Via the Associated Press -


[Cardinal Bernard] Law resigned as archbishop of Boston in December 2002 after unsealed court records revealed he had moved predatory clergy among parishes for years without telling parents their children were at risk. He has apologized for his wrongdoing.


Monday’s event –

Disgraced Cardinal Says Memorial Mass for Pope
Philip Pullella and Claudia Parsons - Apr 11, 1:06 PM (ET)


VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The disgraced former archbishop of Boston said a memorial mass for Pope John Paul at the Vatican on Monday as a few protesters outside reminded the world of the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Church.

Cardinal Bernard Law, who said the mass in his capacity as archpriest of a Rome basilica, praised the Pope as a teacher who managed to influence people's lives when he was young and strong but no less so when he was old and frail.

… Outside the basilica, two leaders of a group representing victims of child clerical abuse protested, saying the Church was "rubbing salt in an open wound" by having allowed Law to say the memorial mass.

"He is like the poster child for the sex abuse scandal," said Barbara Blaine who came to Rome on behalf of some 5,600 members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Blaine and Barbara Dorris, who both said they were molested as children, handed out fliers and spoke to a crowd of TV news crews before being escorted off St. Peter's Square by police.

Vatican security officials later escorted them into the church for the mass, which went on without incident. …


Christopher Hitchens provides perspective (my emphases) on last Friday’s funeral -


… the partisans of the late pope have been praising him for his many apologies. He apologized to the Jewish people for the Vatican's glacial coldness during the Final Solution, and for historic filiations between the church and anti-Semitism. He apologized to the Eastern Orthodox Christians, and to the Muslims, for the appalling damage done to civilization by papal advocacy of the Crusades, and by forced conversion and massacre in the Balkans during the church's open alliance with fascism during World War II. He apologized to the world of science and reason by admitting that Galileo should not have been condemned by the Inquisition. These are not small climb-downs, and they do not apply just to the past. They are and were admissions that the Roman Catholic Church has been responsible for the retarding of human development on a colossal scale.

However, "be not afraid." The God-given right of the papacy to make and enforce absolute judgments is not at all at stake. Popes may have been wrong on everything, but they were right in general. By the time the church apologizes for saying that condoms are worse than AIDS, or admits that it was complicit at best in the mass murder in Rwanda, another few generations will have died out. This is almost exactly the sort of stuff with which Communists and their fellow travelers once had to content themselves. There had indeed been "spots on Stalin's sun," as one hack so prettily phrased it. But the leading role of the party was still a sure thing.

Sensing, perhaps, that so many admissions and confessions might sow doubt and unease, Pope John Paul threw himself into the sort of reinforcement that unifies and heartens the flock, or the base. The special sign of this was the mass production of saints and the removal of all obstacles to near-instant canonization and beatification.

This is especially handy for beefing up the faith in outlying regions, where a local hero is considered good for morale. Alas for those who value consistency, some of those canonized were at odds with the larger purpose served by the famous apologies. Cardinal Stepinac of Croatia, for example, had been a clerical ally of the Nazi puppet regime of Ante Pavelic, and had known full well of the vile treatment of Orthodox Christians and Jews under this dispensation. Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer, the creepy founder of Opus Dei, was celebrated for his closeness to Gen. Franco. To make saints of such riffraff is the most obvious form of opportunism.

Seeking to cloud a difficult situation with even more of the fragrance of obscurantism, the pope also resorted to an almost wholesale appropriation of the cult of the Virgin. He openly announced that the bullet that hit him was prevented from taking his life not because of the skill of his physicians, but because its trajectory had been guided by Our Lady. She let the assassin fire and hit, in other words, and only then took action. (This reminds me of Bertrand Russell's comment on the practice of placing covers on the baths in convents so as to avoid offending the sight of God. The creator can see through the roof of the convent, and down into the bathrooms in the basement, but is hopelessly baffled by a sheet of canvas.) Sites such as Fatima, which had been frowned upon by serious Catholics for some years, became objects of adoration and pilgrimage and hysteria. The veneration of the Virgin, and the endlessly repeated mantra of "Totus Tuus" ("Everything for Thee") seemed to many veteran believers to depose Jesus in favor of a Marian idolatry, and even to violate the commandment against graven images.

Finally, if the pope is to have so much credit for the liberation of Eastern Europe, he ought to accept his responsibility for the enslavement of the Middle East. He not only opposed the removal of Saddam Hussein in 2003, but the use of force to get him out of Kuwait in 1991. I have never read any deployment of Augustinian argument, in the latter case, that would not qualify it as a just war. Moreover, the pope made a visit to Damascus not long ago, and sat quietly outside the Grand Mosque while the Assad regime greeted him as one who understood that Muslims and Catholics had a common enemy—in the Jews who had killed Christ. (That he may already have been senescent at this point is not an answer: It is a problem, though, for those who believe that he was Christ's vicar on earth.)

Unbelievers are more merciful and understanding than believers, as well as more rational. We do not believe that the pope will face judgment or eternal punishment for the millions who will die needlessly from AIDS, or for his excusing and sheltering of those who committed the unpardonable sin of raping and torturing children, or for the countless people whose sex lives have been ruined by guilt and shame and who are taught to respect the body only when it is a lifeless cadaver like that of Terri Schiavo. For us, this day is only the interment of an elderly and querulous celibate, who came too late and who stayed too long, and whose primitive ideology did not permit him the true self-criticism that could have saved him, and others less innocent, from so many errors and crimes.


Ah, not nice.

But for the larger perspective of what going on see this -

A Culture of Death, Not Life
Frank Rich, New York Times, April 10, 2005

What we see in America on television now -


Mortality - the more graphic, the merrier - is the biggest thing going in America. Between Terri Schiavo and the pope, we've feasted on decomposing bodies for almost a solid month now. The carefully edited, three-year-old video loops of Ms. Schiavo may have been worthless as medical evidence but as necro-porn their ubiquity rivaled that of TV's top entertainment franchise, the all-forensics-all-the-time "CSI." To help us visualize the dying John Paul, another Fox star, Geraldo Rivera, brought on Dr. Michael Baden, the go-to cadaver expert from the JonBenet Ramsey, Chandra Levy and Laci Peterson mediathons, to contrast His Holiness's cortex with Ms. Schiavo's.

As sponsors line up to buy time on "CSI," so celebrity deaths have become a marvelous opportunity for beatific self-promotion by news and political stars alike. Tim Russert showed a video of his papal encounter on a "Meet the Press" where one of the guests, unchallenged, gave John Paul an A-plus for his handling of the church's sex abuse scandal. Jesse Jackson, staking out a new career as the angel of deathotainment, hit the trifecta: in rapid succession he appeared with the Schindlers at their daughter's hospice in Florida, eulogized Johnnie Cochran on "Larry King Live" and reminisced about his own papal audience with MSNBC's Keith Olbermann.

What's disturbing about this spectacle is not so much its tastelessness; America will always have a fatal attraction to sideshows. What's unsettling is the nastier agenda that lies far less than six feet under the surface. Once the culture of death at its most virulent intersects with politicians in power, it starts to inflict damage on the living.


Ah, think of Keats –

I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Called him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!

Yeah, yeah. Bit this is different. The media and our leaders are up to something.

To cite Rich -


When those leaders, led by the Bush brothers, wallow in this culture, they do a bait-and-switch and claim to be upholding John Paul's vision of a "culture of life." This has to be one of the biggest shams of all time. Yes, these politicians oppose abortion, but the number of abortions has in fact been going down steadily in America under both Republican and Democratic presidents since 1990 - some 40 percent in all. The same cannot be said of American infant fatalities, AIDS cases and war casualties - all up in the George W. Bush years. Meanwhile, potentially lifesaving phenomena like condom-conscious sex education and federally run stem-cell research are in shackles.

This agenda is synergistic with the entertainment culture of Mr. Bush's base: No one does the culture of death with more of a vengeance - literally so - than the doomsday right. The "Left Behind" novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins all but pant for the bloody demise of nonbelievers at Armageddon. And now, as Eric J. Greenberg has reported in The Forward, there's even a children's auxiliary: a 40-title series, "Left Behind: The Kids," that warns Jewish children of the hell that awaits them if they don't convert before it's too late. Eleven million copies have been sold on top of the original series' 60 million.

These fables are of a piece with the violent take on Christianity popularized by "The Passion of the Christ." Though Mel Gibson brought a less gory version, with the unfortunate title "The Passion Recut," to some 1,000 theaters for Easter in response to supposed popular demand, there was no demand. (Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that at many screens the film sold fewer than 50 tickets the entire opening weekend.) "Passion" fans want the full scourging, and at the height of the protests outside the Schiavo hospice, a TV was hooked up so the assembled could get revved up by watching the grisly original on DVD.

As they did so, Mr. Gibson interjected himself into the case by giving an interview to Sean Hannity asserting that "big guys" could "whip a judge" if they really wanted to stop the "state-sanctioned murder" of Ms. Schiavo. He was evoking his punishment of choice in "The Passion," figuratively, no doubt. It was only a day later that one such big guy, Tom DeLay, gave Mr. Gibson's notion his official imprimatur by vowing retribution against any judges who don't practice the faith-based jurisprudence of which he approves.


Ah, it’s all death, all the time!

As for Rome?


If there's one lesson to take away from the saturation coverage of the pope, it is how relatively enlightened he was compared with the men in business suits ruling Washington. Our leaders are not only to the right of most Americans (at least three-quarters of whom opposed Congressional intervention in the Schiavo case) but even to the right of most American evangelical Christians (most of whom favored the removal of Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube, according to Time magazine). They are also, like Mel Gibson and the fiery nun of "Revelations," to the right of the largely conservative pontiff they say they revere. This is true not only on such issues as the war in Iraq and the death penalty but also on the core belief of how life began. Though the president of the United States believes that the jury is still out on evolution, John Paul in 1996 officially declared that "fresh knowledge leads to recognition of the theory of evolution as more than just a hypothesis."

We don't know the identity of the corpse that will follow the pope in riveting the nation's attention. What we do know is that the reality show we've made of death has jumped the shark, turning from a soporific television diversion into the cultural embodiment of the apocalyptic right's growing theocratic crusade.


So much for the culture of life.

Here’s a contrast. Atlas at Saint Patrick’s in Manhattan last weekend…

Click here for separate image...


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....