Friday, 26 January 2018

Baubles, Bangles and the Mile High Club - Pope Francis stumbles (but still isn't as bad as some claim)

[edited 13 April 2018]

Baubles, Bangles, and the Mile High Club

January 2018: I think we can all agree that it has been a difficult month for the Holy Father, and for the Faithful. And while – as usual – much of the hostility and opprobrium is unfair, some of the responsibility definitely stops with him.

Ploughing her own furrow

Lilliane Ploumen, Dutch MP
---photo source: Dutch Parliament--- 
The first was the ‘Plouwen affair’. A Dutch politician, renowned for her promotion of abortion – to the extent that she spearheaded a drive to raise around $400 million for funding of agencies that actively promote ‘reproductive healthcare’ (international NGO-speak for abortion) – was apparently awarded the honour of Knight of the Order of St Gregory. She appeared on Dutch television shortly before Christmas 2017, presenting the medal to the camera and boasting about it, claiming that she was presented with it in recognition of her ‘pro-choice’ services.

For those who have been invested into the Order of St Gregory after a lifetime of service, often in defence of the unborn, this must have come as a very bitter and hard to swallow pill.

The truth is rather more prosaic, although probably not much less hurtful to legitimate recipients.

Entertainment, politics and connections in high places

There have been other (shall we say) ‘uncomfortable’ recipients of the Order in the past: Jimmy Savile, for one. Shortly after he died, he was revealed to have been a serial and wholesale sexual abuser all his working life. He was nominated for and invested in the Order by Cardinal Basil Hume, Archbishop of Westminster. You don’t get any higher or more reputable in the Catholic Church in England and Wales than that.

It has been claimed that people ‘didn’t know’ about Savile’s abuse. Well, the people who were abused certainly did. Those who tried to complain were ignored and/or told to be quiet about it. Staff at the two hospitals with which Savile was most associated – “Jimmy’s” (St James, Leeds) and Stoke Mandeville – also seemed to know about it but complaints never got anywhere. One of the few occasions when I encountered him in person was when he was visiting a home for learning-disabled children in Swansea, S Wales. There was something odd about that visit for someone so publicity-obsessed: it was never widely reported. In my own experience, there were whispers in corners and the subject was changed when that visit was mentioned or his name was brought up.

Personally, I thought he was a creep. There was something deeply unpleasant about him.

Even within the BBC, people in authority knew – or, at least, were deeply suspicious. Sir Roger Jones – a former chairman of Children In Need - said he had been uncomfortable about allowing Savile to have any association with the charity and beefed up its child protection measures to protect itself.

Savile was implicated in goings-on in Haute la Garenne children’s home in Jersey and in the notorious Bryn Estyn children’s home in North Wales, which was exposed as a honeypot for paedophiles and pederasts long before Savile received his Order of St Gregory knighthood – or even his UK knighthood.

There was a failure in due diligence, in the Vatican and in the UK Home Office. A desire to see no evil. He courted the Establishment – including PM Margaret Thatcher and the Royal Family – and they seemed to accept him, like some kind of licensed outsider, a court jester, maybe. When the Establishment is on your side, the opinions of the ‘little people’ no longer matter.

The same the whole world over…

How are those who missed the signs, turned a blind eye or actively covered up treated when the truth emerges? It would appear that, usually, they are promoted. Helen Bowden, who was Head of News and took part in the decision in December 2011 to drop an exposé about Savile that was to be shown on Panorama, was made head of Head of Radio. Peter Rippon, the editor of the programme when the exposé was dropped, was made head of the BBC Online Archive.

The two reporters who compiled the report fared less well. Meirion Jones, a former Panorama producer, is now a freelance. Not the worst job in the world but not a senior BBC job, either.  Liz MacKean, who worked on the Savile story with Jones, left the BBC in April 2014 after 23 years. She has said she felt she no longer had a future there.

So it goes.

Cardinal Hume is dead, God rest his soul. Everyone who knew him personally remarked on what a ‘good man’ he seemed to be. Sometimes, people are too good to recognise evil in others.

The ‘Sun’ king

Rupert Murdoch, Publisher
(Source: Daily Telegraph)
The other recipient of this award who sticks out like a sore thumb for lack of what one would immediately think of as ‘suitability’ – when one looks at the list of hard working Catenians, Knights of St Columba, third-level Order members and so on, anyway – is Rupert Murdoch. It’s hard to think of anyone else who has done more to undermine principled journalism, cheapen women and make sexual exploitation in the name of ‘entertainment’ more mainstream than the Dirty Digger.

He was announced as a Knight of the Order of St Gregory in 1997 and invested in a ceremony presided over by Cardinal Mahony in January 1998 at a ceremony in Los Angeles.

Cardinal Hume made a serious error of judgement with Savile, and so did those in the Holy See who are tasked the checking suitability of candidates for such honours – if there is anyone who is thus charged. But money. Money…

Savile raised a lot of money for Stoke Mandeville Hospital and or other charities – most of which gave him access to potential prey. Murdoch donated large sums of money - $millions, allegedly – to the Los Angeles Archdiocesan Education Fund.

The Order of St Gregory is supposed to be given to people of "unblemished character," including non-Catholics, who have "promoted the interests of society, the Catholic Church, and the Holy See”.

Publishing for commercial gain pictures of nude and semi-nude young women, while whipping up self-righteous fury at opposing politicians who also exploit young women, is one thing. Sexual abuse of minors – of anyone vulnerable and impressionable – is another but, to be fair, Murdoch and Savile did not receive their awards for this, and no-one – least of all the men themselves – suggests they did. And I have yet to hear anyone leap to the defence of either and claim they were of ‘unblemished character’.

Rigid definition

But Ms Plouwen goes beyond suggestion, to claim that she received the award for her work promoting abortion, claiming that the Vatican under Pope Francis is ‘less rigid’ about these things.

She wasn’t given it in the same way as Savile and Murdoch: openly and in public ceremony. Hers was part of an ‘exchange of gifts’ to mark the occasion of a diplomatic visit to the Vatican. Such things are far from unknown but, like exchanges of pennants at the start of important international football matches, they are usually mere trinkets, baubles of no worth to anyone but the recipients.

Giving Ms Plouwen a medal denoting membership of an established and (generally) reputable organisation, as part of a goody bag, was a mistake, one that I sincerely hope can be made good. At the very least, it should be made public, from the Papal press office, that the gift conferred no honour or implication of it. Even better would be to publicly ask for it to be returned, as a regrettable mistake has been made.

I fear we may wait a while for that; self-important bureaucracies are not very good at admitting mistakes.

Bishop Barros

While the Plouwen affair cannot be laid at the Pope’s door with total conviction (my belief is that it was a bureaucratic cock-up), the appointment of Bishop Barros is a different matter.

Pope Francis made the appointment himself and knows the bishop personally. The accusations of coverup of sexual abuse involving one Father Fernando Karadima are not new and were widely known when Bp Barros was originally appointed, in 2015. The Pope was, reportedly, advised against the appointment at the time because of accusations of coverup against Barros. He (and a colleague, Bp Valanzuela) have vigorously denied accusations that they witnessed abuse and colluded in cover up. In the bishop’s defence, no evidence has been presented and the testimony against him does not seem to stand up to rigorous examination. [Edit, April 13 2018: Evidence has now been presented and the Pope has issued a lengthy and detailed apology, to the victims and to those he accused of 'calumny']  It also seems to be the case that, despite the fact that the seminary where the abuse occurred being a busy place, with lots of comings and goings, and which produced 40 priests and 5 bishops, it is only those who became bishops who have been accused of coverup; apparently, everyone else was unaware.

There is furious and deep-seated factionalism in the Church in Chile and disagreements like this can be the visible manifestation of political battles being fought out behind the scenes – sometimes quite viciously.

Be that as it may.

The Pope believed Bp Barros and, despite the firestorm and the media’s delight in anything with a whiff of clerical misconduct, he went ahead and appointed him Bishop of Orsono, in 2015. As he had previously been bishop of the Armed Forces this was technically a transfer, not a new appointment.

At the time, it was reported that the allegations relating to Karadima made the appointment “potentially disastrous” and likely to cause trouble in the future.

How right they were.

All that was one thing. The real misstep during the Pope’s recent tour of S America was his public use of the word ‘calumny’ when describing the accusations. He is technically correct; in the absence of evidence against Bishop Barros, then the accusations do represent a grave calumny. However, the nuances of what he actually said will never take precedence over a juicy headline. “Pope accuses victims”; “Pope clashes with abuse survivors”; “Pope Francis sparks outrage”; Pope Francis angers Chile” – really, not a very good picture at all. [edit, April 13 2018: The Pope has apologised for use of the description of the accusations as 'calumny']

It’s hard to know what to recommend. The only thing that will satisfy those who object to Barros is his resignation – but we know that will be seized upon as evidence of guilt. Besides, this beleaguered Pope is very loyal to those he considers friends and will not do anything that could be perceived as betrayal of them. He believes Barros and will stick with him unless and until evidence emerges to contradict his claims of innocence.

It would be better, with hindsight, if the Pope had not moved Barros to Orsono – but then; his enemies and opponents would have found some other stick to beat him with.

Sticks and stones…and words can hurt as well

The real misstep was in seeming to attack the survivors of abuse. We know that he personally feels for and is totally on the side of victims, but he has not been very sure-footed in dealing with the issue, and with perpetrators. His actions have not matched his excellent words.

Does this make him the ‘worst Pope ever’ as some have claimed? Heck, no. In this particular respect, he’s not even the worst this century. Pope St John Paul II was a wonderful Supreme Pontiff but he had a blind spot when it came to accusations of sexual abuse; he appears to have believed that they were baseless calumnies. His experience of the use of such accusations against the clergy by the Nazi and Communist regimes of his youth and before his Pontificate seem to have led him to this belief.
Pope St John Paul II with Mother Theresa
(source: cna)
He would not allow bishops accused of coverups to be moved and, apparently, would not listen to the accusations. It took the election of Pope Benedict – who, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith had seen the evidence – for decisive action to be taken.

Pope John Paul I
at one of very few audiences he was able to conduct
before his untimely death.

[An aside: Pope St John Paul II’s reign did not start all that well, when it came to senior appointments. He confirmed Paul Marcinkus as head of the Vatican Bank and even promoted him to Archbishop. He was already being accused of, at the very least, keeping unsavoury company at the time St JPII was elected – and his predecessor, Pope John Paul I. Marcinkus was subsequently deeply tarnished by the P2 Masonic Lodge scandal and the murder of Roberto Calvi, former head of the Banco Amrosiano. 

Roberto Calvi,
former head of Banco Ambrosiano,
pictured before his body was found hanging
from Blackfriars Bridge, London

Archbishop Paul Marcinkus
former head of the Vatican Bank

St JPII also confirmed Cardinal Cody in his position in the Chicago diocese, when he was already the subject of Federal investigation involving misuse of funds, and his relationship with his long-time secretary was an ‘open secret’ and the cause of scandal. She had property holdings that were impossible to have afforded on the basis of her salary and declared financial assets. She also had a son, whose parentage was a matter of debate. 

Cardinal John Cody,
former Archbishop of Chicago
During Cody’s tenure of Chicago, at least $1 million went missing. While he was Treasurer of the US National Council of Catholic Bishops, more than $4 million was unaccounted for in a single year. It was revealed in 1981 that Cody was the subject of a Grand Jury investigation and several indictments. He and his office refused to hand over subpoenaed documents and to respond to investigators’ questions. (See this retrospective from 2003, written at the time Cardinal Law's tenure as Archbishop of Boston was very much in the news.) 

Needless to say, there is also evidence of coverup of child abuse. It would have been more remarkable if there had not been. 

There were also scandals and rumours around Cardinal Tomas O’Fiaich in Ireland and it was claimed that Pope John Paul I was not going to appoint him Bishop of Armagh. Then there was the Bishop of Galway, who – Ireland found out in 1992 – had fathered a child in 1974. 

Etc, etc.

Can you imagine the firestorm if that had been happening today? Notwithstanding Pope St JPII’s charisma and positive characteristics, and they are many?

It’s paradoxical that the one who actually went in to clean up the culture of cover-up and toleration of abuse – Pope Benedict XVI – is the one who seems to have got most stick for it.

Pope Francis is not actually an exception when it comes to missteps; that was Pope Benedict. Pope Francis does seem to attract more in the way of open, venomous and hostile attacks, however.]

Mile High Club

And then there was the in-flight wedding of two airline stewards who had been looking after the Pope’s party during his tour of Chile and Peru. The outrage expressed in some quarters could lead you to think he had done something completely outside Church teaching. There have been claims that the flurry of discussion between Canon lawyers amounts to ‘causing scandal’.

Did he do wrong? Was he rewriting Church law?

No, and no. The suggestion has been made that the Pope did not have the canonical wherewithal to convalidate the marriage of the two flight attendants. He is the Supreme Pontiff, so that argument is seriously bizarre.

Anyone who has actually read Amoris Laetitia should not have been deeply surprised. Civil marriage, ‘living in sin’ and less formal domestic arrangements, and skipping Church wedding ceremonies, are identified as a major problem in the ‘emerging economies’, in South America and Africa especially, but cohabiting is widely practised in the ‘developed world’ as well.

Not sure about that? It’s very clearly laid out, in paragraphs 292-296, with attention being drawn particularly to paragraph 294:

“The choice of a civil marriage or, in many cases, of simple cohabitation, is often not motivated by prejudice or resistance to a sacramental union, but by or contingent situations.” [Relatio Finalis 2015, 71] in such cases, respect also can be shown for those signs of love which in some way reflect God’s own love. We know that there is “a continual increase in the number of those who, after having lived together for a long period, request the celebration of marriage in Church…In some countries, de facto unions are very numerous, not only because of a rejection of values concerning family and matrimony, but primarily because celebrating a marriage is considered too expensive in the social circumstances. As a result, material poverty drives people into these de facto unions.” [Relatio Synodi 2014, 42]. Whatever the case, “all these situations require a constructive response seeking to transform them into opportunities that can lead to the full reality of marriage and family in conformity with the Gospel. These couples need to be welcomed and guided patiently and discreetly.” [Relatio Synodi 2014, 43]. That is how Jesus treated the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-26): he addressed her desire for true love, in order to free her from the darkness in her life and to bring her to the full joy of the Gospel.

It looks pretty clear that it was on that basis that the Pope blessed and convalidated the existing civil marriage of the two flight attendants. Nor was it done on a whim, on either side. The couple were originally scheduled to be married in Church on February 27, 2010. Early in the morning of that day, Chile was struck by an earthquake that measured 8.8 on the Richter scale – that was truly massive. Over 500 people lost their lives; buildings and commerce were damaged as far away as Japan; two leading insurance companies (Swiss Re and Munich Re) estimated that the quake would cost the insurance market between $4 and $7 bn; the cost to the Chilean economy was estimated at  and the anything between $15 and $30 bn by the UN Environment Program.

In the middle of this catastrophe was the (comparatively small) disaster of the church in which the two flight attendants were to be married being completely destroyed. All their preparations lay, quite literally, in ruins.

They were able to get civilly married some time later and they now have two children. This was not a casual relationship endowed with a Las Vegas-style ‘Elvis’ wedding. The possibility that the Pope could bless their wedding was first mentioned by the wife in an interview in El Mercurio, a Chilean newspaper, that was published on December 19 – a month before the actual event. The Pope himself revealed that the husband spoke to him about the possibility of having their marriage blessed on a flight on January 17, the day before the event, a flight on which the wife was not working. The Pope reports that he undertook a degree of examination – as they had previously scheduled a Church wedding, it appears they had already gone through preparation.

“I questioned them a bit and their answers were clear, it was for life, and they told me they had done the pre-marriage course,” the Pope told reporters. “They were aware that they were in an irregular situation…they were prepared, and if the priest says they are prepared and I decided that they were prepared … the sacraments are for the people. All the conditions were there, that is clear,” he said. So, “why not do it today,” otherwise they could have put it off for another 10 years. [acknowledgement to Catholic Herald]

The ‘Mile High Marriage’ has been described as a ‘stunt’. Well, it was probably designed to attract publicity and as an illustration in practice of what has already been said in Amoris Laetitia. Maybe an unusual demonstration of Church teaching in action but a demonstration of it nonetheless.

Destruction or salvation?

Pope Francis has attracted a lot of opprobrium from a number of quarters, including members of the Church hierarchy and from those who appear to believe that they know at least as much as the Church hierarchy – probably, better. The more he reaches out in mercy, the more he seems to enrage them. While he is far from the first Pope to be attacked, even from within, he is probably the first to have encountered quite such an outbreak of bile, venom and apparent hatred from Social Media.

The Gospels are not short of occasions when Jesus went against the practice and mores of the time. I have mentioned the passage from John about the Woman at the Well; His own disciples appear to have muttered about that. The ‘woman caught in adultery’ (John 8:1-11) is another famous example, which includes the statement ‘neither do I condemn you’ but also the exhortation: ‘go, and sin no more’. The tale begins with the Pharisees clearly trying to catch him out in breaking the Law: he has cured cripples and lepers in the name of God, and even done so on a Sunday!

Jesus’ compassionate and merciful actions shocked the prominent and righteous people of the time, even including his own followers. It appears that the belief that salvation and places in Heaven were only for the pre-qualified and essentially perfect already was widespread back then; it seems to be the case now as well. Jesus made clear, repeatedly, that he was after the one lost sheep that had strayed, much as he cared for the 99 that were safe. Luke 9:54-55 is worth remembering: "Lord, do You want us to call fire down from Heaven to destroy them [even as Elijah did]?" But Jesus turned and rebuked them. And He said:

"You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."

Monday, 28 April 2014

Lies, Damned Lies, and Fixations

The Dissemination of Deception

There are some for whom truth is a tradable commodity, rather than an absolute. It is something to be deployed when deemed helpful and ignored or indeed crushed when it is not. Such things are not new: they have a long history. Pontius Pilate, the ambitious Roman governor of Palestine, said to an innocent victim, “Truth? What is that?”, almost 2000 years ago. More recently, the great actor Robert Vaughan delivered an immortal line in Bullitt, the 1968 movie starring Steve McQueen as a detective who, in the course of a murder investigation, uncovered corruption and conspiracy. 

"Don't be naive, Lieutenant,” Chalmers said. "We both know how careers are made. Integrity is something you sell the public." 

"Don't be naive...Integrity is something we sell the public"

Bullitt was set in San Francisco - neatly coincidental, as there has been an outstanding example of shameless and cynical manipulation of facts - indeed, the promotion of proven falsehood  - emanating from that city, quite recently.

The fun and games of Easter were rudely interrupted by an online article that was drawn to my attention. It accused various ‘bishops in Uganda’ of ‘calling for genocide against gays’. 

Now, I am somewhat uncomfortable with the recent Bill passed into law in Uganda, which prescribes some pretty draconian punishments for active homosexuality. Even given that country’s experience with AIDS - it decimated a generation and made orphans of thousands of children - I do not see any need for such measures as the Ugandan parliament has passed, and President Museveni, as head of state, has signed into law. In the past I campaigned for sexual equality - I can still remember eyes being rolled and subjects changed among my contemporaries as I raised some burning issue or other - and I continue to uphold the principle that what grown adults do in the privacy and comfort of their own homes is between them, their conscience and whatever consenting adults may be around at the time. Genuinely private matters should not be the subject of criminal proceedings. 

Melanie Nathan, disseminator of dishonesty

'Bishops call for gay genocide' - er... no.

Saying that the Ugandan bishops had called for ‘gay genocide’, on Easter Sunday, of all days, looked to be appalling. The accusations were quite specific: that Bishop Charles Wamika, Archbishop of Jinja diocese in Uganda (which is centred on Kampala), delivered a sermon at St. Charles Lwanga Catholic Church on that Sunday, calling for Jinja diocese to be ‘cleared of homosexuals’ and for parents to hand their children over to the authorities if they were homosexual.

Very serious charges.

And totally untrue.

Let’s deal with the specifics. 

First, there is NO St. Charles Lwanga Catholic Church in Jinja diocese or indeed anywhere in Uganda. The nearest one is in Lusaka, Zambia - over 1600 miles away. So, the place where this sermon was supposed to have been delivered does NOT actually exist. The building is not there, or anywhere else within 1000 miles.

Second, Bishop Wamika did not say anything like the words he is reported to have used. He did not make a call for ‘cleansing’ of homosexuals from Jinja or anywhere else. In fact, he did not say anything at all. He did not deliver a sermon that day; he said nothing, either way. A missionary priest delivered the homily at St Joseph’s Cathedral and it made no reference to Uganda’s homosexual law or to LGBT people at all. None.

I found this out after a couple of days of trying - communications in Uganda are not the greatest. I spoke to Bp Wamika personally and can say he was absolute and firm in his rebuttal of the accusations I advised him of.

A lawyer who is a stranger to basic principles

The person on whose blog these accusations had appeared is named as Melanie Nathan, who claims to be a ‘respected lawyer’ and ‘conflict resolution’ mediator. As a lawyer, one would expect her to be acquainted with the basic principle that accusations should be corroborated. My request for such was greeted with “Duh! Context context context….it’s my BLOG! I am BLOGGING” (I have edited)

It took me a while to work out what exactly was meant by that - but it became clear that the perspective of this individual is that truth is not a consideration when engaging in promotion of a particular agenda. When I came up with the Bishop’s rebuttal - and the clarification that the site of this supposed sermon does not actually exist - the invective and abuse was ratcheted up. Ultimately, the information I provided was not published on the blog - a later tweet said that I was blocked because I am "hell-bent on conspiracy”.

Hmmmm. The determination to obscure the truth - and to attack anyone who tries to disseminate it - is quite remarkable and one wonders what is behind it. As one wonders why the commitment to defend, promote and propagate inflammatory, rabble-rousing untruth.

Ms Nathan now lives in San Francisco but is originally from South Africa. As far as I can tell, her emigration came about 15 years ago, when the Majority government was becoming established and was extending measures such as Economic Empowerment, by means of employment monitoring and compliance grading of private companies. How well they scored would impact on their ability to do business in the public sector.

Big bad BOSS

It was all getting to be a far cry from the old days, when BOSS (Bureau of State Security) carried out all sorts of nefarious activities designed to undermine neighbouring countries, to destabilise their economies and to attack and undermine opposition movements at home and abroad. 

I recall Howard Smith, an old comrade from the Anti-Apartheid Movement days, telling me in all seriousness “All white South Africans are racists until proved otherwise”. He meant it.

Nathan explains where Jacob Zuma, President of S Africa, is going wrong. Zuma is a veteran of Umkhonto we Sizhwe (Spear of the Nation), long-time prisoner during the anti-apartheid struggle and a comrade of Mandela.

Things have clearly changed and many whites remained in South Africa, working within the new regime and environment and, clearly, racism is unacceptable. It has been known, however, for prejudices and animosities to manifest themselves in other ways; a campaign against one particular issue can actually be a cover for something else. Hysteria, accusations of savagery, denunciation of black Africans as incapable of complying with ‘advanced standards of behaviour’ and unable to persist with ‘civilised’ laws - it all has a familiar ring to it. A sustained campaign of denunciation, exaggeration, hyperbole, untruths, distortion and downright lies, with elements of rabble-rousing and with sexual overtones is so typical of the tactics that BOSS utilised, back then.

Of course it’s unlikely that an expatriate S African who resorts to hysterical invective and abuse is actually concealing old-fashioned racism under a currently acceptable neo-liberal veneer. 

But it all feels so familiar and I find Howard Smith’s words ringing insistently in my mind. 

Monday, 10 December 2012

Inevitable but Unforeseeable

Another week, another tragedy. What was claimed to be a 'harmless prank' on the other side of the world seems to have led to the death of Jacintha Saldanha, a woman doing her job. It may be coincidence, or course, but would the Australian shock-jocks be without responsibility even if it was?

The radio station management is describing the nurse's suicide as an 'unforeseeable tragedy'. I agree that the particular - such as this incident - is unforeseeable. The general, however - inevitable tragedy somewhere along the line - is totally predictable. This woman's mother-in-law was killed in a manner that was unforeseeable but the frenzy that had built up around her, despite all pleas for responsibility, made some kind of tragedy totally and utterly inevitable.

And now it happens again, with nothing learned - or, if any lessons were genuinely learned at the time, they have been pushed aside by self-interest undiluted by anything resembling enlightenment.

If anything positive does come out of this, it might be a pause for thought for a year or so. But I do not for a moment expect that any outbreak of restraint on behalf the lower reaches of the media will last forever.

I cannot claim to have had a blameless youth and will not try. Like most, if not all of us, I am relieved that my errors and misdemeanours were not played out in public - most of the time.


(You knew that was coming, didn't you?)

I don't think I ever objectified anyone in a Sadian manner, as these two did - and a lot of people to be fair. It has become widespread as we have become more isolated from each other.

Let me explain.

What we saw here was the objectification of other human beings for self-gratification. Let us remember what this was about: a young woman, newly pregnant, is suffering from a particularly severe form of morning sickness - so severe that she has had to be taken to hospital for medication and, especially, to have her fluid levels maintained. The latter was done by intravenous dosage - a drip, quite simply.

While we don't think of morning sickness as life-threatening, this young woman's condition was sufficiently serious as to require close monitoring and supervision.

The reaction to that scenario by a normal human being would be sympathy and, by those who have been through pregnancy or have been closely associated with it, a high level of empathy. Any normal, effectively socialised and reasonably well-Adjusted human being would have felt, primarily, a degree of fellow-feeling and would have left the person and their family alone. Maybe, if they were close enough to the people concerned, they would have asked if there was anything they could do and assured them of their willingness to help anytime it was needed. So far, so normal.

To view a woman suffering from body-wracking sickness, losing fluids, in pain and in a hospital where she was receiving close care and attention as an opportunity for self-gratification is not normal, well-adjusted and effectively socialised. It is the behaviour and mental attitude of the Marquis de Sade. I am not talking about the risqué literary character with a taste for a bit of fun involving leather and dungeons. I am talking about the real guy, who objectified his victims and used and abused them for his own gratification, whose behaviour was so bad his own family locked him up before he caused the death of someone from his own class (servants had already died - he was reported to have been enraged by that; the ideal victim does not die like that but remains to provide the master repeat pleasure). When the Revolution came, he was freed because, naively, the Revolutionaries thought he was some kind of radical who challenged the class structure of his day. Within a few months they locked him up again.

This young woman - Kate Middleton, let her have a name - was seen by these people in Australia as an object for their gratification - good audience ratings, that warm fuzzy feeling the terminally narcissistic get when they are the centre of attention. She was not a person, she was a 'royal', a 'legitimate target', to get a rise from. Being a 'royal' meant that it deserved it. In hospital? The very vulnerability made it more attractive - there would be fewer problems of access. And if anyone bleated about its exploitation - well, it would be their fault for allowing it to be exploited.

The behaviour of the two Aussie shock-jocks is not that of normal, socially adjusted people. One expects a degree of narcissism in the media; it would not function without it. Similarly, we expect a degree of aggressiveness in everyday commerce; competition would not exist without it. However, the point of socialisation is to keep these things within bounds, so society can continue to function in a social, co-operative manner. The danger with liberality is that it can be abused, to the detriment of society generally. Occasional occurrences can be tolerated; they don't threaten the fabric of society. So long as they are not rewarded and, intentionally and directly or not, held up as examples for those still learning to follow.

We have seen objectification for self-gratification on both sides of the world. In this country, the form it has recently taken that has raised most eyebrows is exemplified by Jimmy Savile, who constructed an entire career for a perverted gratification. And it is getting clearer every day that he was not alone.

One thing that characterises people who behave in a Sadian psychotic way is the extent of their self-pity when frustrated - when caught, held responsible and denied their outlet. The Marquis de Safe is reported to have alternated between rage and 'piteous weeping' - but the only feelings he ever displayed were for himself. He had no empathy for others. When he was locked up, his writings were full of the rage of a caged beast, frustrated that he was being kept from the torture and abuse that he believed were his entitlement. He viewed all others - even his family - as inferior to himself and nothing more than the means to gratification.

We have:
Lack of remorse
Failure to understand what is wrong in their actions
When caught, mewling self-pity - "It was unforeseeable""I feel so gutted". Catered to by their employers, of course.

Do you really want people exhibiting this sort of psychotic behaviour wandering around, unrestricted? If they effectively get away with this, how long before the next 'unacceptable' incident, which will be expected to be accepted, brushed aside and moved on?

Some people say they feel sorry for them and how a 'harmless prank' went wrong. Well, I don't see it as a harmless prank. But I do feel slightly sorry for them, I concede. I feel sorry for the crippling of their psyche sometime in the past, that led them to think and believe this was acceptable. I would not allow them out unaccompanied.

To me, the death of the nurse was an inevitability, as I indicated previously. The real tragedy is ongoing - a society that, even if only in part, sees this kind of behaviour - Sadian psychoses - as acceptable.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Wow - a very busy day.

In between writing and research about plastic bottles, industrial clean-up and challenges involved in financing commercial transport, has been the tragedy of Savita Halappanavar. At the request of Mark Lambert I wrote a column that he kindly hosted on his blog, which gets a lot more hits than mine! He was then challenged about it and one person, apparently, went so far as to strongly suggest that he should take it down. I can understand one side of the debate getting seriously huffy - after all, if Mrs Halappanavar did not die from the effects of Catholic teaching and being denied an abortion, then the wind in their sails is reduced the slightest zephyr. 

When I began to investigate I thought I would uncover confirmation of medical malpractice or incompetence. (Yes, I went in with some prejudgements already in place. Mea culpa. ) Instead, I discovered an unavoidable tragedy and a matter for concern far away from the current hysterical arguments. Nothing to do with abortion and everything to do with unresponsive medical infections.

Just in case things change, i am going to publish here again the original column hosted by Mark. The Weeping Gargoyle took issue with it and I put my rebuttal below, along with a link to the Gargoyle's post.

(Gosh. One tries to spread a little light in place of heat and it don't work!)

Who stands to gain from tragedy?

If you can’t find evidence of a conspiracy then you aren't looking hard enough…

There is a need to stop this side of David Icke (WELL this side of David Icke) but, sometimes, conspiracy theories turn out to hold water.

The death of Savita Halappanavar is a tragedy that became a catastrophe for her family – that much is crystal clear and pretty much everyone can agree on it. But then things get murkier and murkier. There are agendas at work and the hint of something rather nasty at large.

Mrs Halappanavar died of an antibiotic-resistant infection, specifically e.coli ESBL. She did not die from an abortion, from being denied an abortion, from Catholic teaching or from a confused legal system in Ireland. 


ESBL stands for Extended Spectrum Beta-Lactamase positive gram negative bacteria. It is resistant to most strains of antibiotics. One of my informants told me: “… the antibiotics given were to no avail…two things can happen if it doesn't respond to treatment. Either the body's immune system deals with it in the normal way and wins or the bug defeats the immune system and the patient develops an overwhelming septicaemia, leading to septic shock. The kidneys start to fail and the blood pressure starts to fall.” They then go on and die – the mortality rate is massive.

The great concern – or what should be the concern – is that e.Coli ESBL and other antibiotic-resistant infections are now at large in the community. Previously, such things were limited to identifiably higher-risk areas: hospitals themselves; food processing (slaughterhouses in particular); and farms, where slurry is often used as a fertilizer. But Mrs Halappanavar was a dentist. 


Instead of being concerned that untreatable infections are in the community as a whole and spreading, the debate has been hijacked by special-interest groups. But it is worse than that.

It is proving to be very difficult to get the truth of the fatal infection into the mainstream news media; they are only interested in the abortion angle – if they remain interested at all. As for the medics I have spoken to – they are all concerned for their careers. Getting information has been like pulling teeth. I cannot mention names or attribute their comments even to ‘a doctor/nurse/paramedic at x/y/z hospital/surgery/healthcare trust’. I can’t even mention the area they live and practice; they are frightened of being traced and found out. That could have been put down to the fear that they were passing on hearsay and gossip – but the same story has come from multiple sources. It passes the usual tests of corroboration.


I am getting a message pretty loud and clear that speaking out about this, that going public with the 'wrong' message may very well impact upon an individual's career. "Most people are afraid to comment..." one of my informants has said. Some of my informants are coming towards the end of their careers and are slightly more inclined to speak out but even then there is a great deal of caution. There appears to be real, tangible fear.

Is it a conspiracy? Well, in my experience, you don’t often find doctors and nurses so frightened for their jobs. Patient confidentiality is always respected, of course, but there is so much out in the open now that confidentiality is not an issue. It is odd – very odd – that the ‘pro-choice’ group whose press release triggered off this furore seems to have known about the incident for some days, had access to medical information that was not at the time in the public domain and was, therefore, supposedly confidential. It had the chance to tee up its members and supporters that a major story was about to break. 


It happened shortly after a Marie Stopes facility opened in Northern Ireland, and soon after an RTE broadcast of an undercover investigation that revealed pregnancy advisory services are behaving in an illegal and dangerous manner. One of my informants has pointed out that the consultant in charge of the deceased lady is actually English and mentioned casually that it was unusual to see people coming in from the UK - that the traffic is usually the other way. " may be because she has an agenda", they said. They may be appallingly right. As someone said, there is a lot of money to be made from abortions, as the UK and US experience demonstrates.

The tragedy of Mrs Halappanavar and the ensuing fuss has arrived very conveniently to overwhelm the negative programme - who now remembers it at all - in a tide of prejudice, misinformation and lynch-mob hysteria.

I had to ask some rather distasteful questions to get to the truth and got some fleas in my ear for suggesting the possibility of racism or gender-selective illegally-procured abortion! And then the gates began to crack open, the information started to flow but the fear of my informants has become almost tangible. The enquiry looked like the sort of stitch-up from the old days; it was almost laughable. Now the widowed husband has got a lawyer and is involved in setting the terms of reference of the enquiry – which hasn’t even started yet. If his wishes are not abided by, then he will not allow his deceased wife’s records to be released. I hesitate before making this observation but, of course, if no-one is responsible, if it was a tragic death that was unpreventable, then some interests will be frustrated. There are interests in finding someone or something to blame. Which means that there will be horsetrading going on to make sure it lands in the ‘right’ place. As I said, if you can’t find evidence of a conspiracy then you aren’t looking hard enough. 


A Doctor Clair, from Cork, has had the courage to speak out publicly, in the form of a letter to the Irish examiner that was published on Tuesday 20 November. He is almost alone at the moment but one hopes his letter will get wider publicity. Readers of this blog should disseminate it as widely as they can.

This was originally published on Mark Lambert's blog, here:

My response to The Thirsty Gargoyle's criticism ( was submitted in two pieces. Here it is in all its glory:

Hi, Greg

We do not know each other, I can confirm. Why, you do not even know how to spell my name correctly (It's Ruari. Short for the Argyll Gaelic name but that's what I do to make things easier for the English...)

I was not aware of Dr Clair's letter in the Examiner until Mark Lambert drew my attention to it on Wednesday morning, after I had semi-prepared the information that ultimately appeared on his blog as a guest post. He will be able to confirm that I had been trying to confirm the particular strain of antibiotic-resistant bacterium for some days. I had not told anyone what I had been advised it was, in order to avoid even being seen to be bringing undue influence to bear.

I was told it was an antibiotic-resistant infection last Friday and got the name of e.coli ESBL on Saturday. I spent nearly four days (off and on - I have a living to earn as well!) seeking to confirm that this was indeed the infection that killed the unfortunate Mrs Hallapanavar and, specifically, that it was not O104:H4, the strain in the 2011 German outbreak that killed 24 people and infected more than 2400. I wanted to confirm that particularly because O104:H4 deploys a particularly effective 'poison pill' defence: it dies quite readily under attack from antibiotics but, as it dies, cells burst and release intense toxins that overwhelm the body's defence mechanisms. As the standard treatment for a pregnant woman presenting with pains symptomatic of bacterial infection is antibiotics, if it had been O104:H4, the cure would have killed her, very quickly.

Had that been the case then, with years of experience, I would understand the fears that could be found to be leading to a cover-up. But it was not O104:H4, it was an EBSL.

In the course of my investigation I asked some pretty  impertinent questions, including enquiries about possible racism and, maybe, cultural influences, including the possibility of procurement of an illegal abortion for the purposes of gender selection. (The racism enquiries were in both directions, btw). I got some pretty strong fleas in my ear for doing so. Like it or not, the suggestion that racism had something to do with the case was rebutted in the strongest possible terms.

I conducted enquiries as exhaustive as they could be, Greg. I did not go off the deep end - I held back from publishing for days in order to confirm what I had been told. I did not (he said, gently) go off down the road that this was about medical incompetence.

Oh, bugger gently. Greg, you talked about medical incompetence in your blog of 14 November. I quote: "... it seems to me that at least on the basis of the facts as reported, this was a straightforward and stomach-churning case of shocking -- possibly even criminal -- medical malpractice with a tragic outcome."

You leaped to medical malpractice; I didn't. I spent days trying to find out what actually happened.

Does that make me a better person than you? I don’t know you so I cannot say. All I can say is that I think I have displayed at least as much level-headedness as you accuse Mark Lambert of possessing. In the middle of this firestorm, I went looking for reliable testimony.

I found it, and I also found fear and trepidation. I will not apologise for saying that, because it is the truth. People are concerned. I asked a few days ago why the Irish government had not raised the possibility of incurable infection, a possibility of which I was already aware. I have not had a satisfactory explanation. I have had shrugs and shiftiness, sidelong glances and slippery looks, but no satisfactory explanation.


When I said, If you can't find evidence of a conspiracy then you aren't looking hard enough, it was intended to raise a smile - but a knowing smile, to be a joke 'on the square', if you like. The old idea that once is happenstance, twice is coincidence and thrice is conspiracy may not always be true but it's worth bearing in mind when headline-consuming firestorms erupt. There may very well be no connection at all between Marie Stopes opening a clinic in Northern Ireland; RTE broadcasting an undercover investigation revealing illegal and dangerous practices in advisory services in Ireland; and the fact that a lobby group appears to have had advance notice of this case, as well as access to confidential patient records. In fact, there probably isn't - it's all just coincidence. Forget I mentioned it.

I agree with you that "... pro-choicers shouldn't be jumping to the conclusion that Savita died because she was denied a termination of pregnancy or because of any supposed uncertainty in Irish law,"

And I certainly agree that "...neither should pro-lifers be asserting that she definitely didn't die for those reasons..." That's why I spent days researching and investigating - past the point where I could have sold the story to mainstream media, btw. (I make my living as a journalist so not selling stories or leads causes me physical as well as financial pain).

However, we draw apart when you talk of "...grabbing at the claim that she died because of some subcontinental superbug." "Subcontinental" implies that this strain of e.coli is restricted to, or originated in this case from, India. That is incorrect and there is no proof of it. A concern among the Irish medics I spoke to is that, far from being restricted to the Subcontinent, this bug has become established in the general public in Ireland. And it isn't a 'superbug' - just an example of evolution at work. There will be many more and we should all be concerned about that reality.

Actually, 'that reality' is my real concern. An informant said to me that they believed it was not a coincidence that the UK's Chief Medical Officer had chosen to release a major paper on antibiotic-resistant infections last week. Did you miss it? Catch up at

If resistance to antibiotics spreads further into the bacterial field, we will be back to the 1930s. Infections we think of as minor will, once again, be killers. All this stuff about whether the law in Ireland needs to be revised is so much eyewash.

Greg, you got to a truth in your post on 18 November, headlined "Paper Doesn't refuse Ink, as my Dad says". A crucial truth was buried in the middle of Kitty Holland's article, to whit: "Whether the fact that Savita had been refused a termination was a factor in her death has yet to be established."

That is a classic 'not me guv' defence: search the article and you will find no absolute accusation that the lack of an abortion killed Mrs Hallapanava; indeed, you can find this note of caution where no-one will look for it - except you, to your credit. 

You think Kitty Holland has no agenda?

Yes, I am pro-life but I was initially going into this story looking for confirmation of my expectation that it was about medical malpractice and misunderstanding of Catholic teaching, as well as Irish medical ethics. And that a dreadful coincidence of those two had led to this woman's catastrophic death.

That is not what I found. I stand by what I said on Mark's blog.