#848 – Dick Bernard: "Vatigate" on PBS Front Line

We just watched a powerful hour and a half about the Catholic Church – my lifelong Church – on PBS’ Frontline.
Do take the time. You can watch Secrets of the Vatican here.
I will comment later.
UPDATE: Sunday, March 2, 2014
A week ago, prior to knowing that this program would play, came an unusual announcement at my Church, Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. Next Sunday (today), it was announced, was the day of the Annual Catholic Appeal, a long-standing program to raise funds for certain programs, like helping Catholic Schools and the like. Very normal. What was unusual is that the Priest emphasized that this year a specific Foundation had been set up to receive donations so that 100% of the funds would go to the appeal. Trust in the Archdiocese by potential givers is apparently perceived to be low, and they wished to create a firewall of sorts to assure contributors that donations would not be used for other purposes.
Later in the week, the Diocesan paper, The Catholic Spirit, made the same declaration, and today it was repeated again.
How much, if anything, Frontline had to do with this is unknown to me. But it certainly had to have been known as an upcoming event.
We watched the entire Frontline program, and it was indeed compelling.
At the same time, I viewed it from the context of having been an advocate for teachers for an entire career.
Mischief can be made with how data and images are used.
I recall a pretty successful attempt to demonize teacher unions (my own career) by making examples of outrageous teachers who, it was suggested, couldn’t be fired. These few bad examples were made to misrepresent the entire profession, and the union to which they belonged.
In a country with several million public school teachers organized into teacher unions, it is absolutely certain that there will be bad apples somewhere in the batch.
But do they represent the entirety of the profession?
Absolutely not.
And do they at least qualify for due process? Of course.
With this in mind, I watched the kinds of incidents that were the focus of Frontline; what kind of film clips were used, and how often these clips appeared; who spoke and what they said….
Doubtless the program was “fact” based, but was it objective? That is not so sure.
It is possible to cherry pick facts to create a story that is not, in fact, truthful.
And as we who still go to Church know, the Catholic Church, like any institution anywhere, is a complex institution, and it is no more fair to typecast it on the basis of some truly outrageous incidents and people who might in reality be aberrations, rather than representative of the whole.
I have no problem with exposes, but there has to be better context.
The importance of the new Pope to me is that he can, and apparently is, working quietly but publicly to change the tone of leadership ‘at the top’.
This doesn’t mean that his predecessors were evil people.
What it might mean is that things they let fall through the cracks, or may not have felt were important, were crucial oversights, and have created the black-eye that my diocese and the Vatican itself has to deal with.
UPDATE Tuesday March 4, 2014 viewing the film, Philomena:
This afternoon we finally took the time to see the film, Philomena, the extraordinarily powerful film about the efforts of an older woman to find her out-of-wedlock son who had been taken from her at birth at a Convent in Ireland, and was later adopted by Americans.
If you’re one of those who’s been curious about this film, but have not yet seen it, take the time.
Philomena lays out the complexities of humanity, and indeed the dangers of labeling a larger group (say “church” or “nation”) without regarding the individual parts of a whole: the people themselves, at various stages in their own lives.
Life is not simple.
Personally, as I watched, I kept thinking of a statement I had made to a friend a few days ago on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Haiti.
I had been there before the coup, and met several people who were adversely affected, some murdered, or character assassinated or imprisoned for one reason or another, including alleged personal failings.
I remarked, in an e-mail to my friend: “we all have our public, and private, and hidden, lives, I suppose” as simply a general caution, including to myself.
As Philomena and the others portrayed in the film demonstrated powerfully, each of us have our own aspects, unique, and changing over time and circumstance.
Judging becomes risky, but at the same time is unavoidable, and sometimes justified.
See Philomena if you can. You won’t regret it.

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