Sunday, 25 November 2012

Turning children into trash

Two films are playing here on what appear at first glance to be separate topics: pedophile priests and the notorious 1989 Central Park jogger rape case.

But in fact, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God by Alex Gibney and the new Ken Burns documentary, The Central Park Five, treat exactly the same subject from different angles—how easy it is in our supposedly child-worshipping culture to take vulnerable youth, have them for breakfast, spit them out and then wash our collective hands of responsibility. That is, if you belong to one of the powerful institutions that will protect you from the consequences like the police or the Catholic Church.

In the Central Park case, police and city authorities needed to solve the brutal rape and near-murder of a young woman jogging through the park on a summer evening. Detectives found five usable suspects ages 14 to 16 and intimidated them into making phony statements through threats and all-night grilling sessions. False confessions are better understood now, but at the time the idea that a ‘wolfpack’ of rampaging black teens were responsible for the attack on a white female fit the stereotype and the narrative the city thirsted for. Crime, punishment, psychological safety restored—who cares if it’s true? It was ‘truthy’ as Colbert would say, and that was enough.

A school for the deaf in Wisconsin was the site of decades of serial child molestation, made doubly heinous by the calculated use of children who literally could not speak up. Father Murphy even may have targeted specific boys whose parents did not know American Sign Language. But the creepiest part of the film is how eager those around Murphy and above him in the church hierarchy were to push the business under the rug. His elderly housekeeper is outraged that the adult abuse survivors would dare to confront him in person about something ‘from long ago’ rather than ‘forgive’ the perpetrator like good Catholic boys.

One can conjure easily the defense that ‘pro-life’ types and defenders of childhood innocence would formulate upon seeing these accounts, and in fact there is already a campaign from the Murdochian right-wingers to defend the Central Park 5 cops and suggest that the exonerated boys—now men of 40—were accomplices to the real rapist even if they didn’t do the things they confessed to. The cops must be shown to have acted properly at all costs, and Bloomberg even now is trying desperately to fight off the civil damages suit moving glacially through the courts. After not cooperating with Ken Burns’ documentary, the city of New York promptly tried to subpoena his unused film to snare some contradictory evidence and buttress their case.

Gibney shows that the current Pope directly assisted in the suppression of damaging revelations and never ordered the principal diddler of boys in the Wisconsin case to be defrocked. Protecting the priestly caste was and is the Vatican’s priority, not succor to their victims. In this regard the two mighty institutions exposed in these films are mirror images of each other: Mafia-like structures whose mission is to ensure that shit flows only downward and no noxious fumes reach the top.

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