Mollie Wilson O'Reilly
By this author
As I mentioned last month, next week I will be appearing on a panel at the American Bible Society in Manhattan to mark the first anniversary of Francis's papacy -- about which you may have heard a thing or two this week. Cardinal Sean O'Malley, one of the eight advisers on Pope Francis's new "Council of Cardinals," will be speaking, Ken Woodward will be moderating, and I'll be there to respond along with R. R.
If there's an area in which Pope Francis has been a disappointment, it's in responding to the sex-abuse crisis. In most ways he strikes me as a hierarch who is unusually aware of how the Church is perceived by the broader world, and he has done a lot indirectly to repair the damage to the church's credibility that resulted from the sex-abuse scandal. But he has said and done little about the scandal itself, despite his refreshing frankness on so many other issues. And now that he has spoken about the issue, in the interview just published in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, his take is not exactly encouraging.
Here's the relevant excerpt, as reported in Vatican Insider's account:
Speaking about the horrific abuse of children by priests, Francis said “the cases of abuse are terrible because they leave very deep wounds”. Benedict XVI “was very courageous and opened a road, and the Church has done a lot on this route, perhaps more than all others”, he stated. He noted that the statistics reveal the tremendous violence against children, but also that the vast majority of abuse takes place in the milieu of the family and those close to them. The Church is the only public institution to have moved “with transparency and responsibility”, he said; no one else has done as much as it, “but the Church is the only one to be attacked”.
Maybe it's because we're in the middle of another cold snap. Or because I was stuck inside for most of the day with a baby who's teething and a two-year-old having one of those days. Or maybe it's because our heat went out this morning and it was getting awfully chilly indoors by the time the repairman came with the (expensive) new part we needed.
Today's New York Times has a lovely review by art critic Holland Carter of the exhibit Radiant Light: Stained Glass from Canterbury Cathedral, now on view at the Cloisters in upper Manhattan. The windows, originally designed for a shrine to Canterbury's own St. Thomas Becket, depict ancestors of Christ -- most of whom you won't find depicted in many contemporary churches.
I've been reading Paul Vallely's papal biography Pope Francis: Untying the Knots, which I highly recommend to anyone who wants to know more about Jorge Mario Bergolio's background and development. Vallely's research into Bergoglio's career as a Jesuit superior and as a bishop in Argentina is deep and very revealing.
When I heard this morning's news about Francis's plans for fixing the Vatican's finances -- read David Gibson's report for the details -- I immediately recalled a story Vallely tells to illustrate the archbishop's willingness to resort to "unilateral executive action" when it was called for:
When he took over as archbishop the diocese of Buenos Aires was facing not just a financial crisis but a banking scandal. His predecessor, Cardinal Quarracino, had been very close to a prominent family of Argentinian bankers, the Trusso family -- of which the Argentine ambassador to the Holy See was a member.
One of the best things I've read this week is this BuzzFeed profile of Donald Trump by McKay Coppins, who spent a day and a half in the company of the faux politician and professional provocateur in hopes of uncovering why exactly Trump continues to flirt with politics when fewer and fewer people are falling for his act.
Trump’s supposed political aspirations, in particular, inflict upon reporters made to cover them a special sort of journalistic indignity; it’s like hyping the “storm of the century” before a single flake has fallen.
I, of course, am part of the problem. I came to Manchester on the promise that I would be able to catch a ride on Trump’s private jet back to New York (where a real-life blizzard, it turns out, is descending on the city), for the purpose of pressing him on why he is so intent on continuing this charade. But what I found was a man startled by his suddenly fading relevance — and consumed by a desperate need to get it back.
I almost called the piece a "guilty pleasure," because I am already convinced that no one should be giving Donald Trump serious attention. But I don't feel guilty about having enjoyed it, or about recommending it to you, because although Coppins says that he is "part of the problem," he is really doing the world a service in illuminating the problem so well. It should be nearly impossible for anyone to finish reading Coppins's profile and still think Trump is someone to be taken seriously.
And yet, at the same time, Coppins has managed to draw a credible portrait of the human side of Donald Trump: needy, vain, desperately insecure, but also generous with his wealth and anxious to please. He's not just a con artist like, say, Glenn Beck; he seems to believe his own hype -- he seems to need to believe it. He's a living cartoon, like the miserable rich man in a children's story about how money doesn't bring happiness. His buffoonery is so over-the-top that it's hard to understand why anyone still plays along: he's a compulsive self-promoter (and by the same token a compulsive liar); he has no shame about his failure to follow through on any of the grandiose claims he has made (tracking down the "truth" behind Barack Obama's Hawaiian birth; demonstrating that his wealth is greater than the most generous estimates; winning or even competing in any political contest). And yet he seems unable to accept the consequences of his cartoonish behavior -- namely, being a punch line. As Coppins tells it, Trump lives in a Truman Show-style bubble surrounded by people who treat him like the universally admired, well-respected eminence grise he seems to want to be. It's a bubble he created and personally maintains, and yet he seems unable to see through the illusion. And although he insists on seeing all of his press, any negative commentary, any suggestion that perhaps the emperor might have no clothes, sends him into an angry fit. The profile is very funny, but also, in its way, tragic.
There's one detail I want to examine more closely here:
It's a big week of meetings for Francis -- his first big chance to follow through on expectations that he will be collaborative and consultative in his exercise of power, and that he will effect some much-needed reforms in Rome. Catholic News Service was tweeting updates bright and early: "Next Monday and Tuesday, meetings of the secretariat of the synod of bishops and the 15-member cardinals’ council on economic affairs....
In an earlier post I linked to this L.A. Times roundup of short-sighted critical reactions to the Beatles' first U.S. appearance, fifty years ago this week. It all reminded me of a favorite passage from Muriel Spark's short stories (in this case, from the 1967 story "Alice Long's Dachshunds"):
Sister Monica has said that there is no harm in the Beatles, and then Mamie felt indignant because it showed Sister Monica did not properly appreciate them. She ought to lump them together with things like whisky, smoking, and sex; the Beatles are quite good enough to be forbidden.
Commonweal didn't properly appreciate the Beatles at first, either, though it didn't get around to mentioning them until September 4, 1964. Then, the editors wrote:
Is there any connection between the fact that the Beatles' latest movie received good reviews in New York and Clare Boothe Luce's candidacy for U.S. Senator? As of yet there is no evidence; but, it is said, the FBI is investigating.
Ho ho. But to be fair, it took a lot of people by surprise when A Hard Day's Night -- not just the "latest" but the first Beatles movie, released in July '64 -- was met with critical acclaim. It didn't have to be good to be a financial success, after all. But good it was. Commonweal's film critic, Philip T. Hartung, contributed his own bemused but positive review in the magazine's next issue (September 18, 1964): "No doubt the biggest surprise of the summer was an English film, A Hard Day's Night, in which the Beatles turned up and proved that these four lads have more than so-so voices and mops of hair.... They are completely unpretentious and have sense enough to make fun of themselves along with everyone else."
Of all the commemorations of the Beatles' arrival on these shores fifty years ago, my favorite is this roundup of hilarious-in-retrospect negative critical reactions, compiled by Cary Schneider at the Los Angeles Times. While teenagers were falling over each other to get a glimpse of a Beatle (and paying good money for mop-top novelty wigs), cultural critics were trying to outdo one another in expressing contempt for the flash-in-the-pan Fab Four.
That critics would have rolled their eyes at the hype is understandable. That they would have gone out of their way to proclaim the Beatles' music without merit is bizarre. And yet, as this roundup shows, one serious person after another declared confidently that the group owed no part of its fame to talent: "Not even their mothers would claim that they sing well," sniffed the L.A. Times. William F. Buckley, as usual putting a little too much effort into seeming totally above it all, proclaimed, "They are so unbelievably horrible, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art that they qualify as crowned heads of anti-music, even as the imposter popes went down in history as 'anti-popes.'" And Newsweek said, "Musically they are a near disaster, guitars and drums slamming out a merciless beat that does away with secondary rhythms, harmony and melody."
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