The Conversation Pt. 2
James T. Fisher June 14, 2007 - 5:02pm
Always love Jean's posts but "not sure even we understand why we're like we are" brought me back up here but don't blame Jean. I KNOW I don't understand why we're like we are and that must be editorial 'we' since no persons of Irishness have authorized me to speak for them while a number have urged me over the years to zip it (OK it's true an "Irish nun"--that was like official title-- in first grade SS. Simon and Jude School Pittsburgh did tape mouth shut but please hear this: I LOVED Catholic school; it was Catholic home I struggled--that's home-home not Catholic Home--and yestdy's post actually cited guy that thanked nun for smacking him; that was all). I promise a clear hypothesis will be introduced in the body of this post.
Now decades after having 'made peace' with Catholic home various circumstances mostly grounded in autism school placement issues plus some concerns for care of elders brought us (Catholic home) back together only this time Chinese-American wife (professional blogger Kristina Chew see www.autismvox.com) is in mix in addition to 10 y.o. Chinese/Irishman squarely located on autism spectrum. I'm still hoping my wonderful cousin and friend Bobby Fisher (of Wedding Crashers screenwrite fame) will play this for comedy someday: take a third generation Ivy League-educated Bay Area Chinese American woman...let's just say heavy steady diet of Brian Friel plays have maybe helped just a tad beyond that K. can tell her story; as for me, my mind is like that proverbial bad nabe; it should not be entered alone perhaps that's why God invented the blogosphere.
I worked on a project for 8 yrs it was not til yr 7 I understood it was about violence on the Irish-Catholic waterfront; it was under this portable dispensation I was born and raised. Enough about me, let's turn to my good friend Jim G. who prefers I use his melodious surname but I've demurred. Jim G. is world's leading if unpublished 'On the Waterfront' expert; years after we met from common interest we were driving down the Jackie Robinson (formerly Interboro Pkwy; we were definitely inter-boro) when religion issue suddenly arose and just as quickly I knew the Conversation was near. It's a conversation I've been party to at regular intervals since the late 70s--no tears folks, then or now--that in Jim G's case begins and ends in late 60s at large RC high school in one of the boroughs where students that were sent to detention could barter there way out of two hours standing within a narrow square by playing game called 'Tea-Time" (I still wonder if it was Tee-Time) in which detainee was free to go once having run a gauntlet of male/lay teachers wielding those long pointer sticks as clubs. Whack whack whack and on your way son. (Now this was what we might call an 'industrial' model of RC school: your finer religious orders would rarely subject charges to such treatment both from principle and in the interest surely of future donor-relations.)
All this is just so much boo-hoo stuff, of course, were it not for fact that for next, say, 3-5 hundred years historians and others will be mulling events in US Catholic life to discern just what went awry (beginning with question: why was sex abuse--so widely reported by early 90s--largely treated as so much boo-hoo stuff by lots of us for full decade let's face it: if not things would be different no?). But Jim G. wasn't sex-abused though a good friend was by the bros. that ran his school. Decades later Jim G. read newspaper account of sex abuse charges against a bro. from that same community at school in a different state and discovered M.O. was totally identical: the bros. would bring guys in one at time for queries that might begin 'how do you get along with girls' etc...Jim G. is one street-smart guy knew just what to say to get out; friend not so lucky.
Jim G. has thesis about detention: those most likely to be sent up were guys that showed inordinate interest in outside-culture (Jimi Hendrix; Citizen Kane) at time when inside-culture was really straining to hold itself together. He also believes violence/sex abuse was of a systemic piece. I have but a mere hypothesis: to really understand sex abuse issue we must start with something over which no one will be sued, no dioceses bankrupted if only in part because it was so pervasive: not an 'event' or 'action' but an ethos in which a kind of routinized low-intensity dull brutality was sustained by a code of silence whose inviolability worked as a given.
I am continually amazed at how much ink is spilled over what somebody else might think about Catholicism while we still rarely ponder, well, what does Brando/Terry Malloy scream down to Johnny Friendly on the plank leading to the 'Hoboken Yacht Club'..."and you did it to Charlie, one of your own!" And as Father Pete Barry reminded Terry the previous evening: done it to a hundred guys better than Charlie. And the thesis--amazing I'm making a straight assertion!--of this waterfront book I did is that the real-life social-justice-crusading 'waterfront priest' John Corridan, S.J. was almost wholly rejected by 'his own' on the Irish waterfront; it was only thanks to Budd Schulberg and other non-Catholics (and I know Budd will not concur in this judgment) with whom Corridan worked that his powerful message covered the waterfront even as the dockworkers to whom he devoted his apostolate voted not once but twice to re-certify their mobbed-up union; a crew that enforced a code of silence like no other and was militantly backed by powerful West Side monsignor/Port Chaplain.
Now, there are also plenty complicated historical reasons for Corridan's travail. I always figured that's what historians do: complicate issues. These issues above are complicated issues. When I was in grad. school I liked to poke fun at theorists of gender/sexuality that talked about things like power relations, violence, codes of silence etc. I'm making very very modest amends here: I acted like an idiot. I'd be most grateful to learn of discussions/treatments of Catholic/clerical/hierarchical sex abuse issue (only one of course among many institutions facing such issue) that takes seriously questions of violence, brutality, codes of silence as factors in prolonging terrible ordeal.