Friday, February 08, 2013

"A CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE": 2 film reviews

There are no children in the 2003 movie about priests called A CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE,  nor are there any Native Americans since it is about the Irish church, but it IS about the abuse of power -- which is always relevant.  Actually, this would be a good vehicle for discussion to separate several problematic aspects of the priesthood.

The main focus is to argue against celibacy as a requirement for priesthood.  (Some religious people try to slide the subject over to “chastity,” which is slightly different.)  The bases are loaded in this story:  those defending celibacy are old white men who plainly have not married God, which is what they purport without realizing what mental pictures someone might form about two powerful old white men in an intimate relationship (God/Jesus as man/boy anyone?).  Rather they married the Church for the power and status -- altogether a nice life -- and loyalty only to the status quo: not rocking the boat.  The lesser authorities think they are enforcing immutable rules from God but the major authority thinks the rules don’t really apply to him.  He does what’s strategic.

The kind of sexuality that must be denied in order to constitute celibacy is left open.  That is, the question of whether celibacy must be the same as virginity, never ever having had any sex at all, is not addressed, except that it seems to be assumed by the community.  It is clear from the plot that the only thing wrong with a “chaste” homosexual relationship (that is, faithful and nurturing) is that the church rules it wrong.  The idea card about Jesus kissing John the Favorite is not played, but the church instituting the celibacy rule in the Eleventh Century is framed in terms of property, authority and greed for wealth that families might claim.  NOT something Jesus prescribed.  Fair enough.

No repellent gay characters exist except for the revelations about high authorities -- these days so usual in terms of secular high authorities that they’ve lost plot punch.  Sex is framed in terms of two straight youngsters, both attractive, and an initiation so innocently seductive (a hayloft with loose hay -- not many of those now) that one reviewer was horrified.  The friends and family of the youngsters are in favor of this and one suggests,  “Why not get out of there and go start your own parish?  You’d have a crowd in the church in no time.”  It worked for Luther.

All same-sex lovers here are male, though there is a lesbian female who despises men and yet is sympathetic to same-sex relationships.  There is just a hint at the problem of age -- an old helpless priest is the instrument of discrimination and cannot get his moral feet under him without losing his home.  One of the most important factors is the rage and helplessness of the protagonist's father, his vulnerability to the church influence on banks and government.  In the end the mask is ripped off the Archbishop so that we see that under the Church is the skull of the Mafia, quite willing to use violence.

This is not child abuse, but it is the template for child abuse, both in the home and in the church.  The same known elements of over-investment in appearance, domination, status plus a hidden vulnerability where the shriveled soul lives, craving some kind of comfort and warmth and instead passing on the suffering.  Hugh Bonneville, before he became responsible for “Downton Abbey” and the family of three girls, is here the voice of the True Christian. (Yes, I know I’m mixing reality and fiction.)  The good guys in this movie wear colored clerical shirts with reverse collars.  They do NOT let them hang open unbuttoned the way Jack Lennon did.

There is a second movie by the same name, which is on YouTube.   This movie IS about child abuse: a BBC documentary about a case in Nebraska in 1990.  It is a rough cut because of being cancelled mysteriously before the editing was finished.   The beginning is a Boys Town case that accuses the Catholic-sponsored beloved institution of corruption and sexual abuse of boys.  This gradually moves over to being an indictment of a small group of Nebraska big shots playing games in Washington DC and using Nebraska boys for sex and drugs.  I suspect this is one source of the constant suspicion of victim testimony, because devastating discrediting accusations were made against these kids (now adults) when they were ready to testify.  The worst tactics were deaths.  Next after that was “blaming the victim” as inherently worthless and predatory trash.  None ever recovered money settlements.  Some left in the night.

For me, a key takeaway came from one of the investigators on the side of the “righteous.”  He remarked,  “This wasn’t just about some old men preying on little boys, it was about really important stuff and major figures in Washington, D.C.”  Seems to me that’s backwards.  The priority ought to be the little boys -- not the important big shots.  But I have no trouble at all understanding what they mean about corrupt state figures playing footsie with Washington, D.C.  That was twenty years ago.  These days the prairie state big shots fly to China and Russia.  The sex, drugs, and kids have probably not changed much.  I come from Portland, OR, where our much admired and progressive mayor was caught “shagging” the teenaged babysitter.  It was hard to believe the newspaper.

This week I’ve watched the first season of a new Swedish crime series called “Annika Bentzon, Crime Reporter.”  It’s fast, gorgeous, and engaging -- even with subtitles.  It appears that the idea of journalists as moralists is an idea that has not worn out, even though some of the major whistleblowers who release incriminating papers have not been treated well in Sweden.  In the BBC “A Conspiracy of Silence,” another source of reform comes from people of color, like the visiting alumni, a black man, who comes to give a lecture.  He explicitly says in the lecture -- which is disrupted almost as soon as it is begun -- that the more farflung and supposedly “young” branches of the Roman Catholic church are far more advanced and sophisticated that the old Brit fossilized center of power, let alone Rome.  So that makes four sources of renewal: media, internal people of conscience, achieving people of color, and the world-wide church.

I’ve also been watching TED clips all day -- those short presentations about cutting edge ideas.  One of them, a man of color, says that we are being asked to assimilate as many bits of information in a day than people in medieval times had to absorb and sort in a year.  This rings true.  It is also one of the reasons I’m living in a small town -- not that I can evade the avalanche, but that I can reduce most of the daily stuff to near-automatic so I can think about major issues.  The Internet makes research easy.

Nevertheless, there is a certain amount of paranoia that sets in.  I’m not so worried about the FBI as I am that some bedraggled eight-year-old, beaten and bloody, will knock on my door late one night.  Maybe he will tell me he is sexually abused.  Luckily, we have a good sheriff who will confront abusers.  I don’t have illusions about such a boy only needing a wash-up and a new set of clothes.  After the hospital, which hopefully won’t discover anything that will mean a lifetime of troubles, there will need to be more than just a foster home that’s sympathetic.  I’m not much impressed by foster homes.  And I know how twisting and distorting any abuse is to a child.

But I think it’s important to try to understand what dynamics in our society make old white men with power think that their reward is permission to torture children.  Why Boys Town in the first place -- created after WWI because of the many abandoned and suffering boys -- and why Jonestown?  I think the questions are linked, if not overlapping.  Good intentions gone not just bad but mad.

No comments: