Sunday, April 11, 2010

open letter to jean-luc marion

I’ve been thinking for the past week about the Appel à la vérité, signed by certain French intellectuals, and notably by a philosopher whose name is associated with Derrida, Jean-Luc Marion, and directed – as any call to the truth should be – to the affair now engulfing the Catholic Church.

And I've been thinking I would like to write a letter to Jean-Luc Marion. A letter about his signature, his signing off on, this petition.

One would think such an appeal would concern itself with certain truths that have come to light about the world of children and priests – the world of a certain culture of education, of religious instruction. One would think the truths about this world might be truths that call out. That should be called out. One would think that such a bold appeal – an appeal to the very truth itself, or for the truth – would get down on its knees and examine the ways and wherefores of the truth. Here, for instance, is a truth that needed to be heard. A truth that did not get to cry out. But which was, like the appeal, a matter of signatures, apparently:

“Last month it emerged that in 1975 Cardinal Brady, then a canon lawyer in the diocese of Kilmore, took part in an investigation involving two young people who alleged abuse by Smyth.

He believed both were telling the truth and swore them to secrecy.

He reported his findings to the then bishop of Kilmore Francis McKiernan, who removed from Smyth any rights to exercise priestly ministry in the diocese. The bishop also reported the then Fr Brady’s findings to Smyth’s superiors at the Norbertine abbey in Kilnacrott, Co Cavan.

No one involved informed gardaí or any civil authorities. Smyth continued to abuse children until 1993.”

Of course, the truths here, and our access to them – have indeed suffered Truth can bleed - and if one thinks that Jesus was the truth, this bleeding is not a metaphorical matter. But in deadly earnest.

Here is how this bleeding truth was replied to, by the good Irish Bishops. They have not denied this truth. No, they have simply found that nowadays, the truth, whether it bleeds or not, can always be spun.

THE IRISH Bishops’ Conference yesterday distributed a press release drawing attention to an article published 13 years ago, in which the current controversy surrounding Cardinal Seán Brady was first reported.

The story, which appeared in the London edition of the Sunday Mirror on August 10th, 1997, ran under the headline Archbishop Brady knew about evil Smyth for 22 years; The story that will shock Ireland.

The opening line of the article, by journalist Declan White, reported that archbishop Seán Brady, helped investigate “sex abuse monster” Fr Brendan Smyth.

“He was part of a secret tribunal which failed to notify the police after an altar boy told how pervert priest Smyth had abused him,” it said. It went on to mention one child who Cardinal Brady interviewed about allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated by Smyth in 1975, quoting the man, who they reported lived in England at the time of publication:

“He claims the tribunal told him that such abuse would never happen again and that the church ‘would sort things out’.”

While the article referred to the meeting as a “secret tribunal” there was no specific mention of the oath of secrecy, which it later transpired that two children were required to take.

A spokesman from the Catholic Communications Office said last night that there had been suggestions that the story had been covered up but this was not the case.
“There were questions in the media as to why this issue hadn’t been addressed heretofore ... just to demonstrate that this is not a new story. It was reported in the 1990s.”

Such is the respect of the Catholic Bishops for the truth that they take comfort in the fact that parts of this truth were exposed in 1997. Which of course - as is the way of truth - might make us want to ask questions about the Church response in 1997. One truth leads to another, and all truths, here, lead to silence and dead ends.

Some - not apparently Jean-Luc Marion - might say that this appeal to the truth - the appeal of the Irish Bishops - is childishly dishonest, an insult not only to the truth but to the moral responsibility with which the truth has so often been linked. Some would say that bishops who run a church ought to try to adhere to a moral code somewhat stricter than that of a Chicago Mafioso, pleading double jeapordy. Some might ask for more from the truth – some might ask for more truth itself. But this is to assume that the truth is for all –even children who sign oaths under the eyes of a priest that they will reveal to nobody that another priest raped them. This egalitarianism of the truth is, according to the new appeal for the truth, a childish naivete.

Yet such are the mysteries here that as the truth is called to, it look more and more like a lie. Like a lie piled on another lie. Like a lie upon which a whole career in the church was built. A career that Cardinal Brady sees no particular reason to give away now.

“On Tuesday, the Catholic Church in Ireland released more details about why Cardinal Brady asked the two victims, aged 10 and 14, to sign secrecy agreements.
The church said two boys were asked to sign oaths "to avoid potential collusion" in evidence-gathering.

It added this would ensure that the complaints could "withstand challenge."
The church statement does not explain why either Cardinal Brady or his superiors at the time did not share their information with the police.” BBC

This is not to say that these truths, in the appeal to truth signed by Jean-Luc Marion, are not given their rightful place in the appeal to the truth. It is to say that their place is, it turns out, as subordinate as that of children ordered to keep a secret. These are the truths of those who are last, and under the new dispensation celebrated by the signatories of the appeal to the truth, those who are last on earth will remain last in the kingdom of heaven, their rapes to be forever put under seal; and all pity, when the seal breaks, to be directed at the real victims in these transactions – the Catholic hierarchy. Which apparently has been instrumental in revealing the truth – a new truth indeed. To quote the beginning of the appeal:

“Les affaires de pédophilie dans l’Église sont, pour tous les catholiques, une source de peine profonde et de douleur extrême. Des membres de la hiérarchie de l’Église ont eu, sur certains dossiers, de graves manquements et dysfonctionnements, et nous saluons la volonté du pape de faire toute la lumière sur ces affaires.”

The pedophilia scandals in the Church are, for all catholics, a source of profound pain and extreme grief. Members of the Church hierarchy have, according to certain dossiers, had grave lacks and dysfunctions, and we salute the will of the pope to throw every light over these affairs.”

Interestingly, the Irish bishops apparently didn’t get the news that it was the Pope's blessed will to the truth was at work here - as we saw above, they have been pointing the exculpatory finger at earlier newspaper reports. Maybe Pope Benedict did not pore over those newspapers when, as Cardinal Ratzinger, it was his job to oversee the functioning of the priesthood – to expel those who violated the rules. Or maybe it was a slow, slow truth – and what could be slower than a truth that has been put under seal? In fact, this truth was so slow that Smythe, who Brady knew was a pedophile, continued to operate for twenty years in Ireland. Ireland is a large island, but one would think that a man who was interested in the truth, and whose story is that the children were asked to shut up for their own good, might even be so interested as to make sure that Smythe was punished to the extent that the Church was willing to go – of course, I am not speaking of going to the authorities. Rape is, after all, a legal offense only for laymen. I am speaking of quietly kicking good father Smythe out of the church.

But - in asking these questions, apparently one shows oneself an enemy to truth, or at least this new view of the truth according to Jean-Luc Marion. And yet, what can I do? Surely a letter, another appeal, and appeal to the appealers, is in order? For surely, such is the infinite force of an appeal to the truth that it will provoke other appeals, appeals without limit, appeals that also might even carry a truth or two. Yet my appeal has, apparently, fallen into the trap that has been laid by the press:

At the same time, we deplore the media obsession and exaggeration which accompanies these scandals. Beyond the right to information, legitimate and democratic, we can’t help but observe with sadness, as Christians but principally as citizens, that numerous medias in our country (and in the Occident in general) treat these scandals with a partiality, distortion or delectation. Of these recourses to generalizations, the portrait of the church which is made in the current press doesn’t correspond to that which is lived by Catholic Christians.”

(Dans le même temps, nous regrettons l’emballement et la surenchère médiatiques qui accompagnent ces affaires. Au-delà du droit à l’information, légitime et démocratique, nous ne pouvons que constater avec tristesse, en tant que chrétiens mais surtout en tant que citoyens, que de nombreux médias dans notre pays (et en Occident en général) traitent ces affaires avec partialité, méconnaissance ou délectation. De raccourcis en généralisations, le portrait de l’Église qui est fait dans la presse actuellement ne correspond pas à ce que vivent les chrétiens catholiques.}

The truth has always done battle with the stereotype, or the hasty generalization. But here one wonders if the truth recognizes in the last lukewarm phrase – "what is lived by catholic Christians" – its alter-ego, the big lie. Or rather, excuse me, the banal lie. The lie being of course that this was not lived by catholic Christians – that the numerous rapes, stories of groping of all type, the preying on children – was not lived by a community of Catholic Christian children. Yet, with the naivete to which the banal lie is heir, this does announce a truth – for how could such things be “lived”?

Indeed, such are the philosophical heights we have ascended to. This should attract - appeal to - our Jean-Luc Marion as he makes a successful career – a living – of being much lauded, of having a seat at the University of Chicago and the honor of being a member of the Academie Francais. He certainly lives. Yet it is a life in which he might think to take time out – I would think maybe one thousand or one hundred thousand times the time he took to affix his signature to this appeal to the truth – to ask himself a few questions about the living and the dead in his church.

I am reminded of a passage in Simone Weil’s Enracinement – a book she wrote as she was contemplating becoming part of that living community of Catholic Christians – a passage which, though about the social experience of labor, might have some small, small relevance here. Weil balances the need to be rooted with the society of deracinement – a society that is produced, Weil believes, when all threads to the past are systematically snipped. And in working out her “program” for what should be done about this, she speaks, naturally, of the working class – whose children, in Ireland, were, as we know, subjected to the tender mercies of the Christian Brothers in the 1950s. She writes this:

The concrete list of the workers griefs offered that of things to modify. First, it is necessary to suppress the shock that the small child receives at twelve or thirteen, who goes from the school and enters the factory. Certain workers would be completely happy if that shock had not forever left an always painful wound; but they do not know themselves that their suffering comes from the past. The child at school, a good or bad student, was a being whose existence was recognized, whom one sought to develop, with whom one made an appeal to his best sentiments. The next day he becomes a supplement to a machine, a little less than a thing, and nobody cares if he obeys from the lowest motives so long as he obeys. Most workers have been subjected to the impression at least in this moment of their life of no longer existing, accompanied by a sort of inner vertigo, that intellectuals or the bourgeois, even in the greatest suffering, rarely have the occasion to get acquainted with.”

Ah, that moment of no longer existing – could this be the secret that is put under seal by a certain man who now wears, and seems intent on continuing to wear, his Cardinal’s regalia? But Jean-Luc Marion might point out that many,many expressions of regret have poured out of the Vatican by the man who has the "will" to “throw light on these affairs” - especially after the light has been thrown on them from other sources. And regret has been expressed by Cardinal Brady as well. Such heartfelt words! God himself doesn't ask for so much!

One notices, however, that the deep grief and regret felt by the signers of the appeal, including you, Jean-Luc Marion, has not resulted in any specific citation of the matter at hand. The appearance of the 'facts", the object of scandal, has been discretely pluralized and made into "affairs". Dreadful, no doubt, but not the kind of things to pollute an appeal to the truth. And yet, suppose, just suppose, that these scandals created a lifelong wound. Suppose even, as truth cries to truth, wound cries to wound - and abuse seeks to replicate itself in the next generation and the next. Suppose for a moment that Weil is right, and that the oppression of the factory system creates a feeling of inexistence - and suppose such blows against the child who, good or bad student, has been led to believe that he or she is recognized, comes from the teacher himself, whose power is expended in destroying utterly that confidence that one can be recognized.

And yet here I am going on like this when the appealers have already said how they were pained. They were pained for three paragraphs. They were pained, but more painful has been the 'delectations' of the press. So much is not said about pain in this appeal! Or even, for an appeal to the truth, about truth. It is admirably brief. One would almost think that the truth being appealed to might look at the grief felt by the signatories as pro forma. One might almost think that, in the attack on the press, you – Jean-Luc Marion – are not signing an appeal to the truth at all, but rather an appeal to allow the most powerful to escape with no sense of what they have done in the past, and no limit to what they can do in the future. In short, it is an appeal that stems from a lack of contrition so profound, from a feeling of worldly security that is so guarded on all sides against any question, any invasion, that it reverses one of Jesus’ sayings:

“Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?”

For if, of course, the stone and serpent were given, regrettably, a reasonable number of years ago, and it was not the further responsibility of he who gave the stone and the serpent to oversee the boy who received them, how can he - Cardinal Brady - be blamed? And so hard he has worked to become Cardinal! Think of his sacrifices.

Well, I can think of nothing more to say to you, Jean-Luc Marion (if this were an open letter) who have given your signature and, apparently, know all about the truth that is “lived” by the Catholic Christian community.

And yet, doesn’t that truth that is actually a lie turn sour in your stomach? Have you really studied and worked hard yourself - like Cardinal Brady, becoming an important man - to do this kind of cover work for a corrupt establishment? Is this “truth” really worth the bargain here, spoken of by Christ, for which one trades a certain piece of the truth - the soul - for the world?
Roger Gathman

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