”As the church develops it faces new challenges and new questions but to say you have to change everything – I don’t agree … I prefer the word ‘repentence’ to [the word] ‘reform’” – Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor on Radio 4′s ‘Today’ Programme, 4 Mar 2013 08:25
O’Connor and C of E chum: ecumenical bigotry
Anyone who heard O’Connor’s semi-coherent, stumbling but strangely confident and supremely complacent performance on the ‘Today’ programme (BBC Radio 4) this morning, will realise that the Roman Catholic hierarchy, of which he is Britain’s leading representative, is quite simply incapable of reform when it comes to matters of sexuality. This is only of concern to atheists like myself insofar as it will perpetuate the misery being inflicted by the Church upon people round the world, and dash the hopes of many decent Catholics who are presently in despair. The immediate issue behind the interview was the de facto admission of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, an outspoken opponent of gay relationships, that he had himself engaged in gay sexual conduct.
But the hypocrisy and self-delusion of this sad man is really the least of it. The Catholic Church’s record on paedophilia, AIDS, womens’ rights and (of course) gay rights are the real issue: as interviewer John Humphrys put it to the wretched O’Connor this morning, “If the abuse that went on in the Catholic Church had gone on in a lay organisation, it would be shut down.”
The AWL’s Sean Matgamna (as ‘John O’Mahony’) wrote this open letter to O’Connor back in 2007, when O’Connor together with the C of E’s Rowan Williams, was trying to interfere in the implementation of Britiain’s sexual orientation equality legislation in order to exempt religious believers:
Dear Mr Murphy O’Connor,
Courage in “Defence of the Faith” is, I suppose, a requirement of your office. Even so, I find it hard not to admire your courage — or bare-faced cheek — in attempting to “lay down the law” to the British government and the people it governs on what legal rights gay people in the UK should have and what legal rights granted to others should be denied them.
You are joined in this by your “brothers in Christ” Rowan Williams and John Sentamu, Archbishops of Canterbury and York respectively.
What you and your Anglican brethren demand here is that in the way it treats gay people, Britain should be ruled by the laws and prejudices of your churches and by men like yourself, who are, to put things plainly, either lifelong celibates or thoroughgoing hypocrites.
You want the state to back you in forcing those who reject your religion, including gay Catholics who reject your teaching on this point, to live by your religious rules. You claim it as a right of conscience for Catholics to be legally empowered to act punitively against those who reject your rules.
In what way is what you demand anything other than a demand for Catholic religious tyranny over gay people, including gay Catholics?
In what way is it not a demand to be given the right to impose your views on others who reject them?
In what way is your demand anything other than an assertion that the rights of gay citizens are less important than the “conscientious” right of Catholics’ to deny them those rights?
The blunt truth is that here you are demanding the right to inflict on others ethical concerns and rules of behaviour which are not theirs but yours! The rights of your religious consciences must, you insist, be elevated above other people’s civil rights!
You attempt to use blackmail, threatening to close down Catholic orphanages if you don’t get your way. That, Mr. Murphy O’Connor, shows how much you really care about the children you present yourself as being so keen to protect from the contamination of love and care by gay foster parents. Doesn’t it? If you are not allowed to inflict your own narrow mindedness on others, then, as far as you are concerned, the orphan children can, so to speak, go to Hell !
It does take courage – or a well-founded brass neck! – for a leader of a minority church to claim in the name of his religious conscience the right of his own co-religionists to determine how society treats others, here gay people. You want the religious tail to wag the large, de-facto secularist dog, Mr Murphy O’Connor!
Your “courage” here is, however, not the courage I have in mind.
For a couple of decades now, your church has repeatedly been shaken by the revelations that in Catholic care homes and schools all across the Western world, children have been subjected to systematic sexual abuse by clerics.
Such scandals have broken out all across the world, from the USA to our own Pope’s Green Ireland.
In Ireland, behind the façade of a bourgeois democracy, your church ruled for most of the 20th century over what was in effect a theocracy. So much so that Ireland was — as a 1950s writer could truly say in the Maynooth seminary’s magazine — like one great monastery, where people’s lives were in every respect governed by religion. That is by priests and bishops!
There, Mr Murphy O’Connor, where people like you ruled over a country to a degree unequalled, probably, since the Middle Ages, you made life a hell for children in the schools which, with minimal “interference” from governments, you ran, and in the orphanages and reformatories where children were at the mercy of priests and nuns.
Former child victims of such sexual mistreatment by Catholic priests and nuns, in Ireland and in many other countries, have brought a vast number of court cases and won large amounts of compensation from your church for its treatment of them when they were helpless small defenceless children.
These victims of sexual abuse have had serious psychological damage done to them. They have gone and still go through adult life blighted by their mistreatment by your priests and, typically by way of saavage violence, nuns.
By priests and nuns who themselves were victims, most of them from early childhood, of religious indoctrination, which induced them to accept a way of religious living built on the repression and condemnation of some of their own most-powerful, and most volcanic, instincts.
One does not have to think their abuse of children anything other than damnable — in your sense and mine! — to feel some sympathy for such people.
The children in that vast, world-wide archipelago of Catholic orphanages and schools had their childhoods and, many of them, their entire lives, blighted by priests and nuns whose own lives were blighted by trying to live within a rule of life-long celebacy, that was both inhuman and, for large numbers of them, untenable. The children were the victims of that system.
And you Mr Murphy O’Connor, in the name of an international organisation which, in the 20th century, functioned as a sort of International Paedophiles Anonymous — in which priests sought not cure, but licence and abundant supplies of victims – you, instead of questioning in the light of such experience your own beliefs, and the fitness of your church, and of men like yourself, to lay down rules for anyone, you claim the right to penalise gay people for not accepting the rules imposed by the clergy — the rules which so many, so very many, of your clerical brethren honoured in the breach rather than in the compliance!
As Jesus said: First remove the mote from your own eye!
Mr Murphy O’Connor, you cloak your religious prejudices in hypocritical concern for the children. What exactly is it that you fear?
Of course, any properly run adoption or fostering agency will check out the suitability of all potential foster parents, be they hetero or homosexual. It will be on guard, watching for possibilities of abuse, for predatory paedophiles, for potential violence, and so on.
For sure, the record of non-Catholic as well as Catholic foster homes, in Britain and elsewhere, as places where vast number of children were abused in various ways over many decades, does not suggest complacency about such things.
Nor do such terrible incidents as social service workers in deference to “cultural pluralism”, allowing little Victoria Climbie to be murdered by a religious maniac Christian aunt. Decent people can not be satisfied with the state of things in these institutions.
But that is an entirely different issue to the one we are discussing: whether Catholics should be allowed to discriminate against gay would-be foster parents.
Apply your approach to adoption by gay people to other matters of conscience Mr Murphy O’Connor and you will get very strange results.
After all there are still people who think witches with Diabolical power exist, and that they work their malign practices on good Christian people. There are people who believe that Jews, or some Jews, do similar things and that they drink the blood of “Christian children”.
Isn’t it a violation of their religious rights and of their conscience to deny them the right to persecute and kill witches and Jews by burning them alive or by driving stakes into their hearts? The right to act in relation to such obnoxious and sinful people according to their own morals and consciences?
The religion-crazed Christian aunt of the little girl Victoria Climbie did just that with a child her religious beliefs and state of mind led her to brand as a witch possessed by demons. There are, apparently, many small, Africa-rooted Christian churches whose members commonly hold beliefs like this. Why don’t they have the right to act according to their consciences? Why are the consciences of such people less important than the consciences of Catholics like yourself?
Shouldn’t you campaign for Marie Therese Kouao (Victoria’s aunt) to be released from jail?
Why is it right to treat sinful gay people as you want and not right to treat witches in the good old witch-burning time-honoured way? Who decides where the line is drawn?
Vast numbers of women were burned as witches in Europe some hundreds of years ago. Witch-burning was, as I understand it, much more a phenomenon in early Reformation Protestant states than of Catholic Europe. (After all, episcopal urbanity has to be of some use!) But it did happen in Catholic countries too.
And, of course, notoriously, the Catholic Church burned heretics, whenever and wherever it was strong enough to do it. The Catholic church backed or helped initiate the systematic coercion by Louis XIV, after 1685, of French Protestants that almost wiped out Protestantism in France.
Rowan Williams’ and John Sentamu’s church inspired, backed and administered the savage coercion of Irish Catholics, under which your ancestors and mine were condemned to social and legal outlawry for over two hundred years.
For a certainty there are individual lunatics lurking in your Church and in that of Rowan Williams whose consciences would dictate to them that they should now do things like that. Quite apart from the fact that Rowan Williams and yourself would not agree on exactly who should be persecuted, you would not, would you, advocate as a matter of conscientious right, that Catholic (or Protestant) lunatics should be allowed to burn those they thought were witches, kill obnoxious Jews, persecute Protestant, Catholic or Jew or Muslim? Why not? Because you know better?
Because you live in more enlightened times — times in which the desire to continue behaving as your’s and Rowan William’s churches behaved in the past would brand such “traditionalists” as out and out lunatics?
Because you accept that the law that forbids, and would punish severely, such behaviour towards “witches”, Jews, “heretics”, Papists, etc, is a more enlightened law than the laws under which such things were done in the past?
The point, Mr Murphy O’Connor, is that so, too, is the law that now — since very recently, and very belatedly — forbids and would punish violence and discrimination again gay people.
It is a law to regulate citizens’ behaviour according to standards that are, I submit, greatly superior to your own prejudiced, Dark-Ages-rooted, mind and conscience on the rights of gay people.
Nor is your own Catholic morality immutable, as the things of the past which I have mentioned demonstrate.
Older Catholics and ex-Catholics will know very well that articles of faith in which they were educated, and trained to obey, on pain of the threat of damnation, ceased in the 60s and 70s to be Catholic law. Your attitude to gays is part of a complex of teachings on sexuality and procreation of which your attitude to contraception is also part. Such things as your churchs prohibition of contraception will, almost certainly, eventually be jettisoned, like so much in the past.
There are, perhaps, signs of that already.
You make the point, Mr Murphy O’Connor, obviously with Ruth Kelly in mind:
“It would be deeply regrettable if in seeking, quite properly, better to defend the rights of a particular group not to be discriminated against, a climate were to be created in which, for example, some feel free that members of the government are not free to hold public office on the grounds of their faith affiliation.”
The point here, though, is that no one has the right to be a minister, and impose their own faith-derived beliefs on those who reject them.
Let us, indeed, take the case of Ruth Kelly.
One could make a strong case in favour of Ruth Kelly. In contrast to most of the Blair Government’s ministers, Kelly, Minister for Women and Equality, and former Education Secretary, comes across as a proper and possibly likeable human being, a bright young woman who has managed to combine having a sizeable brood of kids, still young, with a high flying political career.
On one level, even Kelly’s Catholicism might be taken to recommend her. In contrast with most ministers and most MPs, her affiliations suggest that she believes in something other than her career and getting on in the world. She is a fervent, old-fashioned, practicising Catholic.
Though she approaches things differently, she probably believes, more than most Labour ministers, in some of the values socialists believe in. Catholic Popes have sometimes criticised capitalism for its predatory, cancerous cultural commercialism and its idolatry of the market.
Here too Ruth Kelly stands in favourable contrast with most of her government colleagues and New Labour MPs, whose capacity for belief and care is exhausted by their over-fervent belief in and care for their own careers.
But Ruth Kelly is a member of the militant Catholic cult, Opus Dei (the Work of God) — or as near to membership as a miserable, weak, sinful, inferior woman can get with this organisation. A member of an ultra-Catholic, semi-secret cult that originated in fascist Spain (and the dictatorship of Generalissimo Franco was very much a Catholic dictatorship, just as the civil war through which that dictatorship was established, was on that side very much a Catholic crusade).
Therefore, despite all the things one might say for Ruth Kelly, it is nothing less than an outrage that Kelly should have been Minister for Education, and is now, Minister for Women and Equality, in charge of deciding how the rights accorded to gay people by the British Parliament will be implemented in particular cases such as adoption policy.
Her support for the proposal that Catholic orphanages arranging adoptions and fosterings should be exempt from the legal obligation to treat gay the same as heterosexual couples, is evidence that Kelly is unfitted by her faith to hold such positions.
And of course it isn’t just a question of Kelly’s views. The Prime Minister is a crypto-Catholic, who, like Charles the Second, will formally convert to Catholicism at the end of his career. He, most likely, shares Kelly’s doctrinal guidelines on matters like this. He, after all, appointed her.
Kelly’s successor as Secretary of State for Education, Alan Johnson, is not a member of Opus Dei or even a Catholic. Yet Johnson bowed to Catholic objections to imposing on Catholic and other religious schools an obligation to take in a percentage of non-believers as pupils.
Under pressure, Johnson buckled and settled for vague assurances from yourself, Mr Murphy O’Connor, and others who run the big network of Catholic schools in England.
Believing Muslims do not, as far as I know, dominate the present British government. Yet this wretched government has legislated to outlaw “incitement to religious hatred” — the freedom to criticise, denounce and mock religion — in a desire to placate Muslim leaders, for whom any sharp criticism of Islam is an insult and an outrage. (You, of course, also wanted such legislation. )
Blair and his colleagues thereby showed themselves to be as far from serious liberal thought in their approach to these matters as you yourself are.
Ruth Kelly is important not only because she is a member of Opus Dei in charge of ministries in which her own strong religious beliefs come into conflict with the liberal norms of the society presided over by the New Labour government, but because she dramatises the conflict between liberal social arrangements and serious, believing, Christians, Muslims and others.
She demonstrates how preposterous it is to have Ruth Kelly, or Tony Blair the crypto-Catholic, in government positions where conflict arises between the personal beliefs of the minister and the norms and expectations (and, here, laws!) of an advanced liberal bourgeois democracy such as that in which you and I, Mr Murphy O’Conno, live.
Yet the root problem is not the religious beliefs of individual ministers, or even the Prime Minister. The root problem is the framework of institutions, laws, norms and expectations within which British governments work.
You, Mr Murphy O’Connor, and Ruth Kelly and Tony Blair, can only play the role you are playing in this discussion because British institutions so far lag behind those of France and, even, the USA, in putting organised religion in its proper, subordinate, place — in constitutionally ruling out attempts by the religious to decree how non-believers will live in a common society with them.
Both France and the USA have experienced radical bourgeois-democratic revolutions. Britain, whose bourgeois revolution was made much earlier, in the 17th century, when social and class interests were cloaked in religious garb and expressed in terms of religious dogmas and disputations, is here, simply backward.
Ignorant, bigoted, backwards religion — which is often very anti-Catholic, to be sure — is a great force in the USA. It has given to the world the Magi gift of President George W Bush. They are busily attacking the secularist political traditions of US public life. Even so, the separation of church and state, established in America at the end of the 18th century, remains a great force for public good, despite such antics as Donald Rumsfeld, when he was secretary for defence, holding daily prayer meetings in his office.
By contrast, Britain has a State Church, the Anglican Church, whose titular head is the monarch, the British head of state.
Arguably the worst thing which the Blair government has done in its decade in office has been to encourage the growth of “faith schools”. A later generation, and maybe the present one, will be faced with the consequences of the religious segregation of children — religious segregation which in some cases coincides heavily with ethnic segregation. A terrible price may have to be paid for that.
Even so, put the case against Blair at its strongest, and it is still true that Blair has only built on and expanded existing traditions. Blair has sowed his poisoning crop in a garden that was laid out long before his time.
It is now almost forgotten — you won’t have forgotten it! — what an uproar greeted the proposal at the beginning of the 20th century for the British state to endow Catholic schools. Catholic schools which mainly catered for the children of immigrant (Irish) workers, much as Muslim schools do now.
Paradoxically, then as now, the argument for faith schools, for an intrinsically-divisive, religious-run system of education, for extending support to Catholic, and now to Muslim, schools, rested on the high ground of egalitarianism: the right of Catholics, as now of Muslims, to equal treatment.
Anglican schools were then already endowed, as now, when we discuss Muslim faith schools, thousands of Anglican, Catholic and Jewish state-funded schools already exist. For you, Mr Murphy O’Connor, that is how it should be.
It is a terrible judgement on the backwardness of Britain in such matters – a backwardness which your own involvement in this discussion loudly proclaims – that the separation of church and state was realised in the USA over two hundred years ago and is still unrealised in the UK!
For those of us who reject the idea that the obscurantist doctrines of archaic religions should have any influence in shaping the social laws through which we regulate our lives, a different conclusion follows.
The whole framework needs to be changed!
• The very possibility of any sort of privileging of the viewpoint or the representatives of any religion, the privilege you are now demanding for Catholics when you demand that they should have the right to discriminate against gay people — that possibility should, as far as possible, be eliminated.
• Religion must be made into a private matter in relation to society.
• Religious men and women like yourself must be, in your capacity of religious leaders, excluded from any role in the state system of education greater than that to which you are entitled as an individual citizen having a citizen’s rights.
• Catholic and other religious-run orphanages must become the property of society, rather than what they are now, receptacles in which young and vulnerable children are held at the mercy of religious indoctrinatiors.
• In every area of society, I repeat, the church should be separated from the state.
• The Anglican church should be disestablished, and disendowed, its property must be made public property.
• As part of the separation of church and state, all faith schools should be taken over and turned into secular state schools — schools in which no religion is taught and religion is studied only as comparative religion.
Paradoxically, this would have as one of its effects the strengthening of freedom of religion, which is and must be an inalienable right of the citizen.
Right now, the sniping and speculation about Ruth Kelly’s religion and its possible relationship to her judgements as a minister, is inevitably intrusive. It probes and prods at her and her religion. That is because, under the existing system, her private believes are a legitimate concern of people who know that Kelly’s religion – and yours, and Tony Blair’s — will play a part in the resolution of the current crisis.
Kelly does not have to have a placard around her neck proclaiming that homosexuals are evil and deservedly damned, etc, for people to know very plainly that she has such views and that her views cannot but influence her attitudes.
There will always be some areas in which the practices associated with or forbidden by some religion will, in the interests of others, place some limitations on the practitioner’s role in society.
The idea that a woman with her face veiled should teach was absurd, and the woman concerned was rightly sacked. Even though she had the right as a citizen to wear the veil, she had no right to teach while veiled.
You too, Mr Murphy O’Connor. You have and should retain the right to believe any absurdity you like. And the right to lay down any absurd rules you like for people who voluntarily accept what you, or your Pope, decree, as rules for themselves. You have no right to inflict your own opinions, to cramp and curtail the lives of others by the bigoted imposition on them of rules of living which they reject.
The absurdity of a compulsorily celibate man, part of a large world wide caste of compulsorily celibate men and women, championing the “traditional family”, and demanding sanctions against those who take a different view, is not only a crying, but also a vicious, absurdity!
So too is the whole British system of relationships between the state and the churches.
To adapt a slogan from the women’s movement:
Keep your hands off our bodies, Mr Murphy O’Connor! And our minds!
Perhaps covering up for child abuse, promoting anti-gay bigotry, spreading AIDS throughout the world, and explaining away his organisation’s hatred of 50% of the human race finally wore him out?
“Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”
― Denis Diderot
Justice delayed is justice denied.
Associated Press reports:
A new report is expected to lay bare the extent of responsibility that successive Irish governments must accept for what went on in Magdalene laundries.
An 18-month investigation into the Catholic-run workhouses will formally reveal state involvement and knowledge of the harrowing life women in the institutions endured between 1922 and 1996.
A committee chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, who has since resigned from politics, spent 18 months establishing the role official Ireland played in the for-profit Church-run operation. Survivors have been campaigning for the last 10 years for an apology from state and Church and a transparent compensation scheme.
Over the 74 years, thousands of single mothers and other women were put to work in detention, mostly in industrial for-profit laundries run by nuns from four religious congregations. Each woman had her Christian name changed, her surname unused and most have since died.
James Smith, associate professor at Boston College and member of the Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) advisory board, said: “I hope the Government listen. The women can no longer be held hostage to a political system. Time is of the essence, it is the one commodity many of these women can ill afford.”
Survivors have called for a transparent and non-adversarial compensation process for all to be set up, with pensions, lost wages, health and housing services and redress all accounted for.
Mr Smith said: “Until there is an apology – I have met so many women who will not come forward, and have no intention of engaging in any process – they might still not come forward, but other women might come forward if they get an assurance that they were wronged.”
Religious orders the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity ran laundries at Drumcondra and Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin, the Sisters of Mercy in Galway and Dun Laoghaire, the Religious Sisters of Charity in Donnybrook, Dublin, and Cork, and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Limerick, Cork, Waterford and New Ross.
JFM is aware of at least 988 women who are buried in laundry plots in cemeteries across Ireland and therefore must have stayed for life. Mass graves have been identified in Mount St Lawrence Cemetery in Limerick, Glasnevin in Dublin, Sunday’s Well in Cork and at sites in Galway.
The inquiry into the Magdalene scandal was finally prompted by a report from the United Nations Committee Against Torture in June 2011. It called for prosecutions where necessary and compensation to surviving women.
The Irish blogger Bock The Robber has been covering this scandal for several years. Here’s what s/he wrote in June of last year:
As usual, it has taken outside pressure to force acknowledgement of the imprisonment, torture and degradation inflicted on Irish women by this State and by the nuns who carried out the abuse. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has published a report condemning Ireland for a crime. Women who had children outside of marriage, or who might simply have been perceived as having a bright, cheerful spirit, were abducted by State agents and imprisoned for ever more.
The disgracefully-misnamed Magdalene laundries broke the spirit of thousands of women, enslaving them for the financial gain of warped, sexually-frustrated nuns who inflicted their vindictive self-hatred on these helpless prisoners.
Ireland being what it is, the government excluded the nuns’ gulags from the terms of reference of the Ryan report, no doubt hoping that the problem would go away as the former prisoners became older and more frail, but there it still is, an indictment on the confessional nature of this State from its foundation.
Let nobody tell you that the nuns and the priests and the brothers saved the State money by imprisoning these people.
They did not.
The religious orders made a handsome profit from their prisoners, through slavery. And if they got a little sexual kick along the way, so much the better.
We have to acknowledge that the nuns who ran these prisons were deeply disturbed individuals, but their disorder seems to be widespread, and not just among those who controlled the Magdalene laundries. There’s a creepy commonality in the stories told by women who attended nun-run schools, of violence, vindictiveness and small-minded cruelty.
The motif of the keys is the one that stands out most strongly. Many women, including members of my own family, and also survivors of the laundries, describe being struck on the knuckles with bunches of keys by enraged nuns. And this punishment always seems to have been administered coldly.
What was wrong with these women that made them so cruel, so callous and so angry?
In my opinion, it isn’t natural to live your entire life without sex, and I think the experience derailed them, but maybe that’s just me being a dirty bastard. I don’t think so, though, and neither did the old women I grew up among who used to say the same thing, in less explicit terms.
I think these nuns, and all the other hated torturers in the schools and the laundries were so cruel because they were completely screwed up by being who and what they were. And I think they took it out on the poor unfortunates who fell into their insane grip.
The sooner the crime of the Magdalene laundries is exposed, the better. There are still nuns out there, walking around, who tortured, beat, enslaved and humiliated other women in the name of Christianity. They should be held accountable now.
We have to exorcise all the ghosts haunting modern Ireland, until we finally acknowledge the disgrace that happened after independence, where absolute power was handed over to one church.
Until we do that, Ireland will never achieve maturity as a nation.
Previously : The Magdalene Laundries
All Bock posts on the Ryan Report
All Bock posts on the Murphy Report
The present crisis at the BBC is probably more serious than any in its history. Even the “honourable” departure of “Incurious George” Enwistle has turned into a fiasco, what with the indefensible £450,000 payoff after 53 days in the job. More heads seem certain to roll, including the scratch team at Newsnight responsible for elementary journalistic errors that would have embarrassed a student newspaper, and (if the gloating Murdoch press has its way) the Corporation’s chairman Chris Patton.
In this febrile atmosphere, two essential points need to be constantly bourne in mind:
1/ It was John Humphrys’ merciless interrogation of Entwistle on the Today programme that played a big part in bringing matters to a head and effectively forced the wretched man’s resignation. What other media organisation would allow one of its jounalists to publicly humiliate the boss in that way? Can you imagine such a thing happening in, say, News Corp?
2/ The crucial matter remains child abuse, and the large number of victims who dare not come forward, or who are not believed when they do. The loathsome David Mellor’s description of Steve Messham (an unreliable witness, for sure, but most certainly a genuine victim) as a “weirdo” shows the degree of prejudice and ruling-class closing of ranks, that victims are often up against. It’s come to something when it takes another Tory, the former children’s minister Tim Loughton, to point out (in today’s Guardian) what should be obvious: “We’re forgetting that this whole issue is not about management of the BBC, it’s not about the Leveson inquiry, and it’s not about celebrities and politicians. It’s about the fact that a lot of children have been abused over many years and many of them have never had their stories believed or investigated.”
Hear, bloody hear.
Tonight at 10.35 something extraordinary will happen: a TV programme will call into question the competence and integrity of its own Chief Editor.
BBC Panorama will air the fact that BBC Newsnight journalists (notably reporter Liz MacKean and producer Meirion Jones) do not accept the explanation given by the Corporation’s top brass for having pulled Newsnight‘s Savile exposé in December of last year. The clear implication will be that pressure was brought to bear from the very top of the Corporation to pull the film.
Those who heard Newsnight editor Peter Rippon trying to explain away the decision, or who read his original blog account (now amended) of the reasoning behind the decision, already know that his ’explanation’ stinks. But for nearly three weeks the Beeb’s official line on the matter held firm in its denial and compacency – which makes Rippon’s ”decision” (allegedly forced on him by the new director general George Entwistle) to “stand aside” today and the admission that his account was “inaccurate or incomplete” all the more remarkable.
In tonight’s Panorama, Liz MacKean will state that she knew at the time the Newsnight report was nearing completion on 30th November of last year, that the previously supportive Rippon had changed his mind and would not be prepared to see the film aired. She does not, it seems, offer any explanation as to why Rippon backed down, and Panorama has no proof that any pressure was brought to bear on Rippon.
It’s hard to escape the obvious explanation: the BBC had a number of grovelling “tribute” shows scheduled to celebrate the national treasure, tireless charity worker and serial paedophile Savile over the Christmas period. The Newsnight exposé would have been, to say the least, a bit embarrassing.
But now comes the most interesting bit: what did the new BBC director general (at the time head of BBC TV) George Entwistle, know about the allegations against Savile and the Newsnight report in the period immediately before the film was pulled?
According to Panorama, Helen Boaden (head of BBC news), warned Entwistle in December that something was about to be broadcast on Newsnight, that might cause him to have to re-think his planned Savile tributes over Christmas. Entwistle acknowledges that this conversation happened, but insists that he didn’t ask Boaden for further details – something that I am not alone in finding difficult to believe.
What we know for sure is that shortly after that convesation, Rippon pulled the programme and later gave reasons for doing so that have now been withdrawn as untrue (sorry: “inaccurate or incomplete”).
Naturally, the Murdoch press, the Mail and the Tories are having a field-day at the Beeb’s expense over the Savile affair as a whole, the Newsnight business in particular, and the BBC’s monumental mishandling of the whole fiasco. And it has to be admitted that the Corporation’s compacency, dishonesty and ineptitude has played into the hands of its enemies. If today’s reports that BBC has been briefing against its own Newsnight journalists are true, then heads will have to roll, starting with Enwistle’s.
But it must be borne in mind that tonights’s Panorama will be something that no commercial broadcaster would ever allow: a devastating and potentially career-threatening attack upon its own senior management. It was encroaching commercialism (ie: the imperative to protect Savile’s reputation during and after his life) within the BBC that got it into this mess in the first place. It’s the public service ethos (to be demonstrated by Panorama tonight) that may yet save it.
Jimmy Savile was clearly a disgusting and degenerate excuse for a human being. Claims from the BBC (notably former DG Mark Thompson) to the effect that no-one there had the slightest idea about Savile’s child abuse, are, quite literally, incredible. Almost as unlikely are the denials from Thompson and Newsnight editor Peter Rippon, that last year’s Newsnight exposé of Saville was pulled because it would have made a sick joke of the three tribute programmes honouring Savile that the BBC had ready to air over Christmas.
Yes, you only had to look at the grotesque figure of Savile and listen to his droning, witless voice, to guess that he was a total creep and sleeze-ball. But Savile’s crimes (now surely proven beyond reasonable doubt or cries of “he’s not here to defend himself”) would appear to be just the tip of the iceberg. Every day seems to bring new revelations that make it clear that Savile’s paedophilia was just one manifestation (albeit an extreme one) of a culture of gross sexism and tolerance of sexual abuse that existed in the BBC Light Entertainment department from the late 1960′s (ie the creation on Radio 1) up until at least the mid-1990′s and the end of the ‘Smashie and Nicey‘ era. And there are those who are suggesting it may not have completely ended then, either.
Janet Street-Porter, for instance describes in today’s Mail (see previous link) how Jim Moir, Head of (BBC) Light Entertainment in the 1980′s once addressed a committee meeing at which Street-Porter was the only woman present, by announcing “Well chaps, I’m going to put my dick on the table.” It was, of course, merely a figure of speech. But a telling one. Other female broadcasters (notably Liz Kershaw and Sandi Toksvig) who were at the Corporation in the in the 1970′s and 80′s have now come forward with accounts of sexual harassment, while a Sunday Times reporter, Camilla Long, claims she was groped by Dave Lee (“Hairy Cornflake”) Travis after interviewing him in June of this year. The recurring theme of all these stories is that such behaviour was considered normal and acceptable and anyone who complained would be regarded as strange (or worse, a lesbian).
But, of course, there is a qualitative difference between the sexual harassment of adult women (reprehensible as that is) and the crime of paedophilia, isn’t there? Maybe so. Or maybe they’re just different points on a continuum. Either way, there is every reason to assume that paedophilia at the BBC and, indeed, throughout the world of pop music and light entertainment in the 1970′s and 80′s, went well beyond the loathsome working class oik Saville. After all, even that doyen of twee, middle-class naughty-but-nice smugness, John Peel, boasted in newspaper interviews and his Sounds magazine column, of his penchant for under-aged girls. I would submit that the picture below, in its way, is almost as disturbing as what we’re hearing about Savile.*
*Naturally, this has upset Peel’s adoring fans, who rally to his defence here.
NB: it is clearly the case that a lot of the current attacks on the BBC in the wake of the Savile revelations, are coming from sources like the Murdoch press (the Sunday Times, especially) and the Mail, that have their own commercial and ideological reasons for wanting to knock the Beeb. But that doesn’t mean that what they’ve published is untrue, or should be down-played. I’ve made extensive use of material from both these sources in what I’ve written above - JM
Rod Liddle is one of those people, like Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Littlejohn, about whom I rarely comment, here or anywhere else. Partly because these people are such utter cocks that comment is generally otiose. Also because getting lefties and liberals annoyed is exacly what these people aim for (he only does it to annoy / because he knows it teases) and I don’t want to play into their hands.
(Rod Liddle is associate editor of The Spectator. He writes a weekly column in the magazine, as well as contributing to The Sunday Times and The Sun).
Nevertheless, I feel obliged to draw your attention to a piece in this week’s Specator where Mr Liddle appears not just to excuse the sexual exploitation of pupils by teachers, but to confess (or boast) that had he become a teacher…well, read an excerpt for yourself:
“I never found out [what sort of teacher I'd be] because the one thing stopping me from being a teacher was that I could not remotely conceive of not trying to shag the kids. It seemed to me to be virtually impossible not to, and I was convinced that I’d be right in there, on day one. We’re talking secondry school level here, by the way – and even then I don’t think I’d have dabbled much below year ten, as it is now called. I just thought we ought to clear that up early on. At my old comprehensive school a few teachers were known to be schtupping the pupils: one of them, a female teacher who was extremely foxy in a Pot Noodle scuzzy kind of way — she copped off with some fifth-form lad, and another teacher (a man with a guitar and a faux rebellious attitude) gained the affections of an extremely attractive fourth-form girl. As pupils, we didn’t remotely mind about this and both teachers were very popular. But I knew, when I was considering my career options, that this sort of behaviour was definitely frowned upon by the authorities and that I would not last the week in my new job. Frowned upon, although not much more, I ought to say — certainly not the deranged howling that is kicked up these days, the fury and the righteous anger.”
NB: The Sexual Offences Act, 2003 makes it a criminal offence for a teacher to have any form of sexual contact with any pupil at their school who is below the age of 18, even if the pupil is above the legal age of consent. Such “abuse of a position of trust” also applies to carers and trainers of young people under the age of 18 in any other institution.
Above: Fraser: pompous, sanctimonious and ignorant
“Yet the circumcision of babies cuts against one of the basic assumptions of the liberal mindset. Informed consent lies at the heart of choice and choice lies at the heart of the liberal society. Without informed consent, circumcision is regarded as a form of violence and a violation of the fundamental rights of the child. Which is why I regard the liberal mindset as a diminished form of the moral imagination. There is more to right and wrong than mere choice.
“Indeed, making choice the gold standard in every circumstance is to concede to the moral language of capitalism” Giles Fraser in today’s (print) Graun.
You can read the rest of Fraser’s drivel here.
In his sanctimonious but incoherent attempt to justify violence against babies and toddlers in the name of “identity” Fraser never gets round the central issue that he himself raised early in the piece: that the child has no rights in the matter, no ability to choose and no means of protecting himself from this physical violation. The thought inevitably arises: would he make the same case for female circumcision, which (it is argued) is also central to certain cultures?
Of course, both male and female cicumcision is child abuse, plain and simple.
Fraser’s half-baked attempt to denigrate children’s rights (ie: “choice”) as somehow symptomatic of “the moral language of capitalism” and “liberalism” with “no sense of history” just shows how backward and ignorant this semi-educated but pompous ex-SWP’er-turned god-botherer is. And how debased his conception of “morality” is.
Mind you, the fact that he himself is circumcised as a result of being part-Jewish, comes in handy when turning a blind eye to the CofE’s antisemitism and claiming to be some sort of authority on Israel/Palestine.
“Circumcision identifies me” is the title of the piece in the Graun‘s print edition today. To which I’d reply, not entirely Giles: in most respects you remain a complete prick.
From the British Humanist Association:
Free School due to open in September 2012 will ‘teach creation as a scientific theory’
A Free School due to open in September 2012 intends to ‘teach creation as a scientific theory’, the British Humanist Association (BHA) can reveal. Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland, currently a private all-through school but approved last October by the Department for Education to open as a Free School from this September, has a ‘Creation Policy’ on its website in which they ‘affirm that to believe in God’s creation of the world is an entirely respectable position scientifically and rationally.’
Grindon Hall’s Creation Policy starts off by explaining that:
We will affirm the fact that “God created the world and everything in it”. We will affirm that he did so “ex nihilo” – out of nothing.
We believe that God, as sovereign Lord of the universe, is capable of creating the world in a few 24-hour days, or over a period of millions of years.
It goes on to state that the school does ‘not share the rigid creationist’s insistence on a literalistic interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis’ and that ‘We are therefore very happy to believe that God could have created the world in six days. But we do not feel that it is helpful to affirm it as an unarguable fact.’
However, it is clear that the school genuinely believes that there is genuine scientific controversy around whether or not God created the Universe and the world. The policy then explains:
we vigorously challenge the unscientific certainty often claimed by scientists surrounding the so-called “Big Bang” and origins generally.
We believe that no scientific theory provides – or ever will provide – a satisfactory explanation of origins, i.e. why the world appeared, and how nothing became something in the first place.
We will teach evolution as an established scientific principle, as far as it goes.
We will teach creation as a scientific theory and we will always affirm very clearly our position as Christians, i.e. that Christians believe that God’s creation of the world is not just a theory but a fact with eternal consequences for our planet and for every person who has ever lived on it.
We will affirm that to believe in God’s creation of the world is an entirely respectable position scientifically and rationally.
BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘Grindon Hall Christian School is a classic example of the so-called “teach the controversy” approach, often used by American creationist groups to get creationism taught in schools. Creationists do not argue that evolution should be taught; they simply argue that there is genuine scientific debate over the origins of the Universe and the Earth, and that therefore creationism should be taught alongside evolution.
‘The issue with the “teach the controversy” approach is that there is no scientific controversy over evolution and creationism: the scientific consensus is overwhelmingly in favour of evolution.
‘Michael Gove said that he was “crystal clear that teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact”. So it is startling to see two Free Schools that intend to teach creationism in RE and one that intends to teach creationism as a valid scientific theory. Either the scrutiny to which bids are being subjected is inadequate, or the government’s policy statements are untrue.’
For further comment or information, please contact Andrew Copson on 07534 248596.
Yesterday afternoon the BHA posted a facility through which people could write to their MPs or Michael Gove. By today, over 1,000 emails had been sent: http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/what-you-can-do-to-help/creationist-free-schools
Read the previous press release on Exemplar Academy, Creationists approved to open Free School in 2013, 13 July 2012: http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/1076
In 2011, the BHA came together with 30 leading scientists and educators and four other organisations to launch ‘Teach evolution, not creationism!’ Read the statement from scientists including Sir David Attenborough, Professor Richard Dawkins and Professor Michael Reiss, and organisations including the BHA, the Association for Science Education, the British Science Association, the Campaign for Science and Engineering and Ekklesia: http://evolutionnotcreationism.org.uk/
View the BHA-backed Government e-petition on the same subject: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/1617
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on countering creationism: http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/countering-creationism
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.
NB: From The Guardian: “A third of the free schools approved by the government to open from September next year are faith schools, including one turned down by ministers last year because of concerns that it would teach creationism.” Read the rest here.
H-t: Stroppy Bird
“I don’t do blame.. you cannot stop the death of children” – S. Shoesmith, BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme, 28 May 2011
If I was a friend of, or adviser to, Sharon Shoesmith, I’d strongly urge her to stop giving interviews. Radio interviews in particular. Every time she opens her mouth, millions of listeners are antagonised and enraged. Her former colleagues and other professionals who’ve worked with her say she’s a highly capable manager with a strong commitment to children’s services. On the radio, she comes over as spectacularly arrogant, self-righteous and lacking in even a scintilla of self-awareness. Her extraordinary performance on this morning’s Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme is not the first time she’s displayed an alarming lack of humility, remorse or compassion. She put on a similar performance when interviewed on ‘Women’s Hour’ in February 2009, much to the consternation of Mumsnet commenters at the time.
This outstandingly unsympathetic woman emerged from her victory in the appeal court yesterday with a disgusting display of triumphalism (“‘I’m over the moon. Absolutely thrilled’) and only a passing mention of her “sorrow” at the death of baby Peter Connelly, thrown in almost as an afterthought.
Having got all that off my chest, I have to say that there is no doubt that Shoesmith was unfairly dismissed. Prior to her dismissal she was denied due process. No disciplinary procedure was followed. Her dismissal was announced on TV by Ed Balls, thus forcing the hand of her actual employers, Haringay Council. As Lord Justice Kay said after the judgement, “This is not to say that I consider Ms Shoesmith to be blameless or that I have a view as to the extent of her or anyone else’s blameworthiness. That is not the business of this court…Whatever her shortcomings may have been (and, I repeat, I cannot say), she was entitled to be treated lawfully and fairly and not simply and summarily scapegoated.”
In other words, this was what employment lawyers call a “Polkey” victory, after the landmark case of Polkey v A.E. Dayton Services Ltd, which established the principle that a failure to carry out a reasonable and proper procedure alone can constitute an unfair dismissal, even if carrying out a proper procedure would have made no difference to the final outcome.
Ms Shoesmith will not be re-instated, but is now widely expected to receive arrears of her £133,000 pa salary from the date of her dismissal in December 2008, plus pension contributions for that period.
I’m not familiar with Court of Appeal compensation rules, but at an employment tribunal, a case won purely on the “Polkey” principle, where the tribunal believes the dismissal would have happened even had a proper procedure been followed, will result in massively reduced compensation: usually down to six weeks’ pay (the time, it is estimated, that a proper procedure would have taken).
As Ms Shoesmith has stated that it was “justice not money” that lay behind her legal challenge, perhaps she’ll now publicly announce that she is willing to accept compensation of, say, £15,346 plus pension contributions?
than 50 injuries on Shoesmith’s watch. But she refuses to accept responsibiliy.