Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I have finished going over the new John Jay College of Criminal Justice (JJCCJ) Report  on Catholic clergy abuse of minors.

JJCCJ did a Report in 2003 and I posted on it here.

When I put up my recent Post about the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Review Board I did not know that the release of the Jay Report would come within a couple of days (as so often in organized advocacy type things, there is a curious flavor of ‘coincidence’ to all these sudden flurries of ‘news’). But the second Jay Report is out now and it’s created an interesting pattern of uproars.

I’m going to go over it – although only to pick out the bits I think are interesting; this is not a Post that will seek to review and digest the entire Report. (It’s 152 pages long, with many graphs and charts.)

As always with Adobe formats, the link to the text gives you two sets of page numbers: the first page number is the one assigned by the Adobe system, and the second is the number of the page as it appears printed in the document. Thus for example, page 118-126 means Adobe page 118 and text-page 126; they are the same page.

There was an article in the ‘New York Times’ that garnered almost 450 comments and if you look at them you can get a sense of how people (at least, people who read that paper) process information.

A second article is also interesting. In the first place it follows the first article in insinuating that since the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) “paid for” the Report, then the Report is suspect; a Comment adds that the USCCB only used its own files, as if that were also proof that the whole thing is a USCCB ‘fix’ and is ‘rigged’. But while the bishops paid a hefty portion of the bill, the government and other sources also paid a share. And I think this is all a clear example of how the game works: the Catholic Church has been targeted so it is the ‘necessary monster’ and therefore ANYthing it does has to be put in a negative light. Had the USCCB refused to pay anything and refused to turn over its files to the JJCCJ researchers, then we can be sure that the Bishops would have been raked over the coals for that.

The ‘Times’ is also in a huff because the Report declares the priest-abuse crisis – as a crisis – to have peaked and passed. And that upsets the ‘Times’, I think, because this crisis has been a chunk of beisbol that been bery bery good to the ‘Times’ (champion of secularist liberalism as it has evolved in this country) and the ‘Boston Globe’, its Boston subsidiary that broached the most recent phase of the eerily recurring ‘crisis’ almost a decade ago (Jan. 2, 2002). The ‘Times’ article refers to 2002 as if it were just the other day – as perhaps it and its readers wish it were. (In those days – in illo tempore as the old Latin of the Gospels would put it – the ‘Times’ was also rah-rahing for the invasion of Iraq.)

The ‘Times’ sniffs that one of the most “controversial” findings is represented in a mountain-shaped graph that shows reported cases of priest-abuse indicating a peak of the incidents in the 1960s and 1970s and declining downwards since the 1980s. It is not impressed. With facts? With numbers? With simply counting up the actual reports and doing the math?

But of course, if this graph is accurate, then it raises a whole mess of unpleasant questions which no doubt the ‘Times’ would prefer that people not think about. The graph is not-Correct, that is to say, and perhaps ‘unhelpful’ and ‘insensitive’; and the reality that the researchers did some actual counting and tallying of actual facts is not really what fourth-level advocacy (where you aren’t simply trying to inform the public but rather you want to purposely manipulate it with an eye to pressuring politicians and legislators) is in the business of doing. Lenin, famously, was not interested in finding out how many Russians might actually want his brand of revolutionary Utopia; that’s not what revolutionaries are in business for. He knew it was the right thing for them, and what they wanted would merely be an ‘irrelevant fact’ that would only get in the way. He would, to use later deconstructionist terminology, ‘explode their paradigm’ and make them see the new ‘reality’ – the explosions to come from the barrel of a gun wielded by his Cheka, his secret revolutionary police. Terror was the ticket – and that was OK because Terror inflicted in a good cause is a good thing … and Law must not be allowed to obstruct it.  

At any rate, as we shall see, there is much food for thought in the reality that many who back in 2003 praised the first John Jay Report for ‘proving’ how awful and huge the priest-abuse crisis was, are now suddenly condemning JJCCJ for being a cheap, lying dupe and tool of the ever-sleazy USCCB and all its pomps and all its butt-covering works. Funny how the night moves.

I also came across a mention somewhere about SNAP, the group that started out being an organization seeking to represent survivors of those abused by priests. It was, I recall, on the point of folding a few years ago; one researcher sought to find out if its national office was getting (kickback) funds from attorneys who made millions representing priest-abuse survivors in those nifty lawsuits (against the dioceses and their insurers, not against the individual accused priests) and the national office refused to say. The organization has since branched out a couple of times: against Southern Baptist minister-abusers (and I can’t think of a more fearsome engine of retribution and wrath than a Southern Baptist under full sail with all guns run out and cleared for action) and then against any and all clergy who abuse, and now, for all practical purposes, to offer solace and perhaps the name of a good lawyer to anyone anywhere who has ever been abused by anyone in any sort of authority. Which perhaps will give it a new lease on life, on the off-chance that the cat is out of the bag about the Catholic ‘crisis’.

But enough of the preliminaries and let’s get to the Report.

The Report limits itself to the abuse of minors by priests (2-10). There is some problem, the Report acknowledges, with the fact that the age of minority changed throughout the period covered by the Report, the years 1950-2009.

The Report offers the remarkably sane and informed observation that ‘celibacy’ – refraining from sexual activity in all forms – is a “commitment” required of all priests, but it is not a “condition”. Meaning that this is the commitment all priests are required to make, though – being human like their parishioners and all other humans – the priest can be expected to fail to some extent, sort of like anybody else, including – say – Presidents in the Oval Office. (And NO, I am not here insinuating a claim that abusing anybody sexually is OK because priests are human and humans are notorious for not being perfect … but there is a rather profound human reality in there somewhere.

I recall a comment once a couple of years ago made by an email poster who reported to have been abused by a priest and ‘lost the faith’ because this commenter had been raised to see the parish-priest as a “king”; that image being derived from part of the ordination ritual that referred to Melchisedech. Being Catholic myself, I can’t recall ever thinking of my parish priest as a king, although the old pastor may have taken that bit rather too seriously, as did more than one old-school Cardinal back in the day. Boston’s Cardinal O’Connell, I think, actually saw himself as an Irish clerical version of the Holy Roman Emperor (therefore, alas, still subject to the Pope), though his successor Cardinal Cushing jauntily referred to the obligatory limo as “the boat”.)

According to all the known reports and cases, the incidences of claimed abuse of minors peaked by the 1970s and declined noticeably thereafter, clearly so by the mid-1980s (46-54). Today “almost all cases” now are claimed to have occurred “decades earlier”. Whether this is the result of the curious workings of ‘traumatic repressed memory’ or rather a reflection of the remarkably hospitable legal atmosphere in which remunerative claims can be received with almost no chance of clearly establishing their truth after the passage of so much time … is an interesting question and neatly unanswerable in any factual way.

Also of great interest is the Report’s dismissal of ‘celibacy’ as a cause of abuse since it remains a constant factor throughout the covered period and before; as the Report notes, it has been a constant since the 12th century, so it can’t be seen as an operative factor – let alone a significant causal factor – in  the ‘spike’ of the 1960s and 1970s when, as the Report also notes, there was a great deal of sexual ‘change’ going on everywhere in society (mostly in the direction of It’s Reely Reely Groovy and an absolute essential for total human fulfillment and adult functioning).

This is bound to rile up one key demographic helping to fuel the ‘crisis’: those within and outside of the Church who want to see married clergy and/or female clergy. But if other religions are also experiencing pastoral sexual abuse, and they have a married clergy, then how could ‘celibacy’ be a substantial causal factor since marriage doesn’t seem to impede sexual abuse either … ? And then there is that recent example of a married President … but I digress.

The Report has made one substantial allowance which skews its numbers, I think – although it admits that it had no other choice. In trying to establish a base-line for the number of interactions between priests and minors (against which incidents of abuse and percentages could be calculated) it admits that it had to take some verifiable number, so it took the number of confirmations a parish had every year. (25-33) Thus if there were x number of confirmations in the country in a given year, and then y number of incidents of abuse, one could derive a factually based percentage of abuse. Sort of like taking the total number of passenger miles an airline flies in a year, and then the number of fatalities, and you come up with some number (usually something like 0.000xxx) as the airline’s passenger-safety factor.

BUT the possibilities for priestly interaction with minors in a parish are, I think, vastly larger than simply confirmation classes. CCD classes, sacramental preparation classes (confession, first communion), extracurricular activities (band, parish teams, dramatic plays, and so forth). I think that if you use that number as a baseline, and then apply to it the number of abuse allegations of all sorts, you find an incidents per passenger mile (if I may) and thus a safety percentage, better than any airline; something along the lines of 0.00000xx. The Report couldn’t do this because so many of the interactions are not documented, but you can imagine for yourself.

As it is, I think 3.4 percent of the 110,000 or so priests serving between 1950-2009 had an allegation made against them. From which you have to make allowances for false allegations and perhaps also for the severity of the violation according to the definition of ‘abuse’.

Again, this is not to minimize any actual abuse, but simply to put the matter in some perspective.

Among currently reported cases, 975 are claimed to have taken place between 1985 and 1989; 253 between 1995 and 1999; and 73 between 2004 and 2008 (47-55). This reflects a rather noticeable decline in incidences, although whether because the Church’s strengthened policies are beginning to have an effect or because more recent timeframes are more susceptible to being investigated (and possibly disproven) or both is hard to determine factually.

There has been some comment on various sites about the age of pubescence (53-61). The Report takes the age of 11 for boys; advocates claim that the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual (DSM) uses the age of 13; the higher age would increase the number of ‘pedophile’ cases. Pubescence determines whether a perpetrator would be at least partially suitable for the diagnosis of pedophile (sex with prepubescent children) or an ephebophile (sex with post-pubescent children). There are other factors that would have to be considered as well in order to make a clinical determination; current media and Mania shorthand about ‘pedophiles’ is not well-based in clinical knowledge. And in any case, the Report notes, research with incarcerated sex-offenders does not find that those diagnoses are generally applicable – which raises a whole bunch of interesting questions on its own.

But on that ground – that pubescence in boys is generally held in the literature nowadays to be 11 (the current edition of the DSM dates from 1994, although it was updated somewhat in 2000) – the Report finds that four out of five minors abused in any way were post-pubescent.

Thus, the Report tallies that of all reported abuse cases, 3.8% could be eligible for clinical consideration of ‘pedophile’ and “18.9% as ephebophile”. (55-63) (The diagnosis requires at least two victims; diagnosis cannot be made on the basis of a single victim.)

This then does not include priests who only had one reported incident of abuse (however defined)*, which is still a valid object of scrutiny but does not of itself rise to a clinical diagnosis.

In fact, the Report notes, most priests who abuse minors do not qualify for diagnosis of either a paraphilia (one of several forms of unconventional and unhealthy sexual preoccupation and/or expression) or pedophilia. (74-82) Nor, the Report goes on, are most of them gay.

You can see where this type of finding (discovery?) will be gall and wormwood to a number of ‘interests’. Those who are for one reason or another deeply gratified and satisfied to think and speak of legions of ‘pedophile priests’ must now impugn the Report or be constantly reminded by some little voice inside themselves that one of their favorite imprecations is not necessarily true at all. Those who would very much like to blame the whole thing on ‘gays in the priesthood’ are equally discomfited since “the clinical data do not support this finding” either.  And, not surprisingly, there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Of even more significance formally, the Report notes that there are few actual markers that will accurately distinguish between who is and isn’t possessed of the potential to be an ‘abuser’ of children from those who ‘abuse’ adults. (74-82) This raises questions about just how one can ground ‘prevention’ as it is currently being demanded: with no clinical markers of proven accuracy and reliability, then how does one identify whom is to be ‘prevented’? One begins to scent, however faintly, the distinctly fetid odor of witchcraft trials, where – for all practical purposes – it was up to the ‘feelings’ of the judges or examiners, backed up by some semblance of ‘proof-tests’ (see my immediately previous Post).

The Report notes that there is a discrepancy – and not a small one – between the general national approach to ‘sex abuse’ at the time of the commission of the alleged acts and the period starting about 1980 as ‘victimology’ began to take hold and more focus was brought to bear on the matter of what constitutes abuse, the damage it causes in short and long term, and what should be done about it. (75-83)(And again, let me say that I agree with the position that overt genital activity of any sort was a crime then regardless of the state of psychological and clinical knowledge; a handy guideline, which would not have been beyond the grasp of any priest in any era, would have been: is what you are doing now something you wouldn’t mind the local sheriff or bishop seeing?)

The bishops did not start to receive wide reports until the early 1990s (an era familiar to the SO community generally). Which is not to say that they handled matters any better than, say, the military and National Command Authority handled Iraq … although that doesn’t at all let them off the hook. But as the Report continues, the bishops individually and organizationally were not well versed in how to handle the welter of complicated problems which arose, then lit to white heat in 2002 by “the extraordinary media attention”.  

In that year, following the January ‘Boston Globe’ series, 3300 allegations were received. Further, and this is an interesting bit, whereas in the 1980s even the public focus was on the offending priest, the new 2002 wave focused on the bishops themselves.

I think this may well have been the result of the application of a principle of expanding civil regulatory-law practice known as ‘respondeat superior’ (Latin for ‘let the superior respond' to the charge): if an agent of a corporation commits an infraction, the corporation is responsible EVEN IF the agent violated the corporate policy and norms in committing the infraction. Devised by enterprising attorneys to ‘go after’ corporations and make it easier for individuals to recover damages, it essentially held that if, say, an agent of Megalith Industries violated specific and government-compliant Megalith rules and regulations, the government could still hold Megalith and its CEO responsible. Applied to tort practice, a lawsuit could thus be brought against the corporate leadership (and its Insurers) even though the individually offending agent of Megalith had broken Megalith’s own regulations. The original idea had been that this would be a dandy way for the government to force CEOs and corporate leadership not only to adopt government-desired rules but also to make sure that they kept up the pressure on employees to follow them. But it must have been clear even then that the possibility for mischief was substantial.

Thus, I think, the 2002 phase of this ever-recurring focus on the Catholic Church was simultaneously to bring pressure of all sorts on the bishops themselves and also to open up the deep-pockets of the Church and its Insurers to claims (that, neatly, would be made in a superheated atmosphere of Mania: public uproar continually stoked, evidentiary rules weakened and Statutes of Limitation ditto, and all manner of ‘science’ that claimed abuse ‘harm’ was ‘traumatic’, even if ‘repressed’. As a purely legal gambit, it was inspired.

All of which offered much aid and support to the assorted ‘interests’ within and outside of the Church who very much wanted its moral authority and credibility taken down a peg or ten.

(And again, I am not here suggesting that genuine cases of abuse did not take place. But this whole matter is far from a clear and simple ‘field’ – thus not at all like an old 17th century battlefield where you could see all the pieces in play with one quick sweep of your telescope from the hill over yonder.)

Almost too innocently, in reviewing the development of abuser ‘therapy’ in the 1970s and 1980s, the Report notes that polygraphs were brought into play in the 1990s (that decade again) to help therapists ‘ensure compliance’, but that – as if there were no connection – ‘therapy’ fell off in the 1990s. (80-88) This can hardly be surprising. It was a decade when the therapeutic privacy was legally withdrawn from persons seeking help for many kinds of sex-offensive behaviors; definitions of what was now considered to be (and to have been) eligible for classification as ‘abuse’ were expanding almost monthly; Registries were being erected and put on the Internet; and the ‘science’ supporting it all had a heavy flavor of ‘anecdote’ and ‘intuition’ and pre-determined ‘discoveries’ made by eager ‘researchers’ formal and informal. And the laws were also expanding at a rate that would have put the Third Reich’s race-law whizz-kids to shame: often, because of the ‘emergency’, taking effect upon passage before they could even be published to the citizenry.

Indeed, the Report’s tally indicates that 94% of the allegated offenses between 1950 and 2009 had taken place before 1990. (79-87)

Priests, as the Report notes, could be deprived of vocation and living for less and less serious or even clear offenses. The ‘scientific’ discovery, eagerly grasped by legislators, that sex-offender recidivism was the highest of all the crime categories, and that ‘sex offenders’ were essentially untreatable in any realistic timeframe fed into this.

I can’t imagine what a decent bishop was to do: the options were to throw even the most incredibly accused into that lion-pit or somehow try to … what? Send him to therapy, presuming that he would not (perhaps on the advice of prudent legal counsel) ‘clam up’ to prevent the creation of treatment files that could become evidence against him in court? Extract a promise that he wouldn’t do anything ever again? (I am not thinking here of actual rape or genital assault.)

Even a decent and modestly courageous bishop would have been over a terrible barrel in trying to figure out what to do. Which is what happens in times of Mania.

The Report notes that the Church’s organizational response was no better than other large American institutions such as schools, hospitals, businesses, and the police.  (91-99)

However, the Report notes, the Church developed substantial reforms under the pressure of all this ‘attention’. (93-101) Which makes you wonder: why aren’t all the erstwhile ‘concerned’ interests happy that they have apparently succeeded? One might entertain the dark thought that many of these ‘interests’ were not exactly hoping that the Church would emerge from all this stronger and more efficacious than before and that the clergy would be substantially improved through the enhanced training.

That the Church did so only ‘under pressure’ hardly seem to qualify as a substantial cause for complaint. What organization – what individual even – doesn’t like to change until somehow it or he or she has to? If the fact that pressure had to be applied to effect change is a substantial proof of social unsuitability for an organization, then what organization in the country is worthy of trust and credibility? The whole idea of pressure-politics and indeed Identity Politics is that you always have to bring some pressure to get changes made.

And, as the Report notes, Catholics – pace the claims of some of the ‘survivors’ that they have lost their faith and can never go to church or believe in God again – remain devoted to their Church and their faith and trust in their priests. (93-101)

The Report recounts the development of ‘victimology’ since the 1960s in this country and also makes the point that the amount of psychological and life-problems suffered by those claiming to have been abused constitutes a “public health problem”. (94-102) This public-health angle is one that has become more evident in a number of areas in recent years: coffee, smoking, sugary or fatty foods and even internet and virtual-reality electronic games are among the many issues that are bruited as being public-health issues. Formally, it opens up all sorts of government-involvement (and funding) angles. If you think about it, there is little that could not qualify. And while it is certainly true that those adults who claim childhood abuse carry a notable and statistically significant number of diagnoses for life-problems (for which help is surely justified), there is no clear line of causality between the alleged abuse and the life-problems. Which to some minds is thinking wayyy too much, but there it is.

The Report accepts matter-of-factly the existence of the Traumatogenic theory of childhood abuse (about which I Posted recently in regard to Susan Clancy’s recent book). (97-105) It clearly isn’t looking to take on a validity-assessment of all the victimological claims and theories that are currently out there. Fair enough, given its responsibility and task, but readers should also be aware that the entire victimological-science area is fraught with questions; this is not to say that there is no such thing as ‘victimization’, but rather that it does no good in the long run for the nation and the government to start creating policies and laws when it isn’t quite sure what’s actually going on or how the dynamics of the problem work. (Look what happened with Iraq and Afghanistan; or the economy.)

Not to bring politics into this site, but I think it’s worthwhile here to recall that it was Marx, in the eleventh of his “Theses on Feuerbach”,  who asserted that the goal of Communist thought is not to understand the world but to change the world. Given the queasy reality that one of the roots of much of post-1968 ‘liberalism’ here and in Europe has been the ‘revolutionary’ purpose of changing the world (through deconstruction, transgressive self-assertion, creative destruction, exploding the old paradigms, and etcetera and etcetera and etcetera)  … given all that, it’s important to see how – weirdly and lethally – some of the most poisonous fruit of the Communist tree was inhaled by (and injected into) the American democratic and deliberative ethos. Change and emergency change was enacted into policy and law without any real deliberation, not only by the public (which was largely excluded from the whole process) but by the legislators and ‘experts’ and ‘advocates’ inside the Beltway.

If it seems like the Beltway pols must have been one thoroughly dopey bunch to get the country entangled in this mess of bad stuff, an alternative explanation must now also be imagined: the pols were merely assured by pressure groups that ‘thinking’ in order to understand was obstructionist and unnecessary; it was only required that the legislators ‘change’ things – and the sooner and deeper, the better.

Thus I don’t think it’s enough to say that the SO Mania is only a ‘moral panic’, although there is certainly that element in it. Rather, I think that the SO Mania has been one of the first large-scale efforts to radically change the national ethos under the influence of philosophical and operational presumptions that come from some dark place that is hell and gone from vital and essential American principles.**

In regard to the clear decline in new cases, the Report asserts that “some mechanism other than the criminal justice system” had to play a part (since, I suppose, so few of all these many ‘priest-cases’ actually came to actual trial, such as these types of trials are). (117-125) The Report surmises that the publicity and new awareness has kept those who might have been potential victims away from ‘potential’ situations, which may well have some truth to it. The possibility that priests are better trained is also real, however; and so is the less happy thought that priests are simply not getting involved with the parish youth as much as they used to.

The Report believes that a “prevention model” should be employed to protect minors. (117-125) If that means that you enhance priest training, and alert persons are in place to respond to any possible early ‘warning signs’ that’s fine. When it comes to any sort of examination of priests by the various Boards in place in dioceses, especially (see my recent Philadelphia Post) in matters where no actual abusive action took place, I would tend to be much more cautious. As that Post indicated, there is a tendency to become a tad Inquisitorial – not to put too fine a point on it – when dedicated ‘preventers’ start looking into thoughts and predispositions, a murky area for any Western approach to law (which has punished acts, not thoughts or possible or inferred ‘tendencies’). After all, to prevent auto deaths it would be best to have far far more stringent licensing regulations and perhaps outlaw private motor vehicles completely. ‘Total’ or ‘perfect’ are not words that correspond to human beings in any way, shape or form. (Which is something the Church has known for a couple of millennia now: the ‘counsels of perfection’ are precisely named that: ‘counsels’, not ‘orders’.)

And this is especially so when the ‘therapeutic’ and the ‘legal’ (civil, criminal, or canonical) are now so lethally mixed and confused in the Mania.

The Report’s Final Summary and Conclusions and Recommendations start on page 118-126) and you can look at them for yourself. The Report is not a hard read and while it conforms to the form and general approach of a scientific report, it is written for lay readers. (And I, for one, give thanks for that.)

So that’s my take on the new Jay Report.


*The 2002 Catholic Bishops ‘Charter for the protection of children and young people’ casts a very wide definitional net: “sexual abuse includes contacts or interactions between an individual under the age of eighteen (a minor) and an adult, when the minor is being used as an object of sexual gratification for the adult. A minor is considered abused whether or not this activity involves explicit force, genital or physical contact, or discernible harmful outcome, and regardless of who is the initiator of the contact.”

This is an admirably broad conception, and quite useful for purposes of therapy, spiritual confession or direction, or as a guideline for an individual priest to ‘examine his conscience’. As a legal definition, it has its difficulties, however. And since Diocesan Review Boards can recommend serious ministerial limitations that would activate canon-law protections for an accused, then you can see how complicated these things can get. It is hardly inconceivable that a priest with no actual incidences of abuse but who mentions to a therapist or spiritual adviser that he has to work to keep his imagination on the straight and narrow (and has, successfully) might easily wind up as a candidate for permanent removal from ministry.

**Of course, given that Marx was a thorough-going materialist and considered religion to be nothing more than the “opium of the people” it isn’t hard to see where any ‘paradigm’ or ‘ethos’ that drew deeply from the Marxist well is going to consider religion as an enemy of the New Order; and a rival as well, since the materialist and Marxist paradigm and ethos precisely take the metaphysical position that there is no metaphysical Beyond – hence any organized religion (and Catholicism is still one of the biggest on the ranch) is going to pose a threat simply by existing as an alternative way of construing one’s life and the life of the polity. And it is exactly here that I think there is to be found a deep and profound motivation for the continuing efforts to delegitimize or weaken the Catholic Church.

This is NOT, of course, to suggest that there were no cases of genuine abuse or that the Church hierarchy was not initially inept at handling the cases that arose. I am NOT trying to insinuate that the whole priest-abuse and Church-leadership crisis is (or was, anyway) merely the result of political-philosophical hostility on the part of secular and materialist interests that want to eliminate the influence of a rival. But there is this inescapable connection that must be factored in.


I can’t resist this. I came across one of the old ‘Star Trek’ movies yesterday: Kirk asks Scotty how much time the ship will need to spend in the repair facility; 8 weeks, says Scotty, but for you, Admiral, I’ll have it done in 2; Kirk asks Scotty:  do you always multiply your repair estimates by a factor of 4?; all the time, replies Scotty – it keeps up my reputation as a miracle worker.

It occurs to me that grossly overstating the threat from SOs and the number of SOs (on top of the assumption that they are all wild, incorrigible, and diabolically malevolent) serves several interests: the public is suitably stampeded, the advocates are numerously ‘justified’ in whatever they demand; and the enforcers are simultaneously turned into ‘heroes’ AND prove themselves as marvelous enforcers every time they catch even one of these rampaging monsters. In an era of ‘deal’ politics, that is simply wayyy too much ‘goodness’ for any deal-brokering pol to pass up.


It’s also a curious twist that for at least the past 40-plus years the Catholic Church has been speaking strongly against unrestrained sexual activity, which is a core element in the ‘liberation’ of the totally-autonomous individual as currently envisioned in Correct thought.  Paul VI was roundly derided for his stance in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (so much so that he never wrote another one in the remaining decade of his reign). John Paul II also incurred much opprobrium for his consistent stance that sexual activity outside of marriage is in many essential ways harmful to the full development of the human being.  (He also delivered some truly amazing thoughts about mutual orgasm in marriage being related to the life of the Trinity and the Godhead.)

The Church’s position has consistently been that sex – even more than violence – is an insidiously powerful temptation to ‘give oneself over’ to pleasure with no context of responsibility or obligation. I have previously used the imagery of a warship commander and I do so here again: it’s a whole lotta fun to order a full salvo of missiles and watch those puppies go streaking up into the sky; it’s also nice – but alas rare unless you can get a recording craft in proper position – to see those thingies blow stuff up downrange.

BUT that is precisely why naval discipline requires that a commanding officer doesn’t indulge in that professional but also visceral ‘pleasure’ without very serious and grave reason: explosions, as the military knows, have consequences, and not all of them are good or foreseeable or controllable.

Sex is kinda the same thing: great fun to do and seems like just the thing to do at the moment, but then there are consequences. And not simply consequences that a handy device or dose can ‘take care of’. The individual becomes habitualized to some powerful but not necessarily constructive (to self, others or society) behaviors that are better hemmed about with at least some of the same serious and deliberate care that naval commanders give to the firing of their weapons-arrays.  Nor do we like police officers going around firing off their service weapons without at least some professional assessment.

To the Boomers – if memory serves – this approach to sex was all baloney: sex  was groovy, liberating, great fun, and when you’re young (and American?) who really cares about ‘consequences’ let alone deeply-rooted habits that affect all sorts of levels of the self that don’t show up in a mirror or in your favorite photos of yourself?

Curious, perhaps, that Americans are now as porny for military weaponry ‘explosions’ as they are for ‘hooking up’ in sex.

So the Church – staffed by humans rather than legions of feathered angel-warriors  who don’t seem to have any inner attraction to sex (and I am sure that somewhere in the archives there are ancient transcripts of discussions about THAT point) – has been making a speed-bump of itself through consistently warning about the hugely underestimated power and potential misuse of sex.

Which doesn’t endear it to assorted interests that would very much like to see the sex and the weapons-explosions.

Again, none of this is intended to insinuate that there has been no sex-abuse on the part of some priests; but it’s important, I think, to get as full and clear a picture as possible of all the factors in play, whether on or above or under the table.


I had mentioned in the main text of the Post that there were going to be a number of ‘interests’ who would not be pleased by the Report.

On the ‘Revealer’ site , a religious-opinion site of a Lefty lean, under the heading of ‘Timeless’ on the home-page, you can access several articles that indicate one major group that is verrrrry unhappy indeed.

In these articles, especially the one by Frances Kissling, former President of ‘Catholics for Choice’ and now a Visiting Scholar somewhere, it becomes clear that the cause of feminism within the Catholic Church is not well-served by the Report at all.

Among the points in hers and the other articles in the mini-series on the Revealer site, the Jay Report is tainted because it was paid-for by the Bishops (although one writer tries to pooh-pooh the government’s fiscal contribution because the government “has no interest in the outcome” – whereas the Bishops had hired John Jay to do a whitewash); the researchers are simply the hired-flunkies of the Bishops. Why the government would pay anything for a Report in which it had no interest is a question the writer doesn’t bother to address.

And that the whole problem is not really one of priests and ‘sex’, but rather of “hierarchy and patriarchy”. And that comment should indicate that there is a powerful organized ‘interest’ for whom the Catholic sex-abuse issue has been a chunk of beisbol that not only been bery bery good to them but also provided a hefty bat with which to flail the Church in the service of their agenda’s demands. A bat – a weapon – that the Report now threatens to take away.

Because the only “real reform” is that women be ordained as priests (and consecrated as bishops, I imagine, will be the next thing). Or – as one writer puts it as a “concession on a single issue” – the Church must yield its position on “celibacy requirements, the ban on birth control, the ban on women as priests”. You can see what this ‘interest’ is looking for here.

It ties all this into the ‘sex abuse’ crisis because really it’s not actually about ‘sex’ at all, but about “power and dominance” by a patriarchy that is also (for red-blooded American lovers of democracy) a  “top-down hierarchy and an absolute monarchy”. And therefore, deploying all the classic “rape-as-power” tropes (although very few of the cases involved actual rape), the articles seek to establish that the only “real reform” (as opposed to the piddling oversight Boards and such that are now in place) is for the full feminist agenda to be accepted by the Church forthwith. Only THAT would indicate that the Church is acting “in good faith”. That the Church has more sex-abuse prevention safeguards and oversight in place than probably any other organization in the country doesn’t seem to count for anything with these writers. In fact, it should be seen, they say, as pretty much just  ‘window-dressing’ and part of an ongoing “process” to “protect the image of the American bishops”.

And who can forget Lenin’s absolute opposition to the workers’ “trade unionism” because ‘reforming’ the system would do nothing; only utter ‘revolution’ (according to Lenin’s vision of it, and nobody else’s was to be allowed) would be an acceptable outcome for Russia and its workers and peasants.

But no – the sex abuse crisis will continue as long as “male” abuse of hierarchical power is allowed to continue. So therefore only the full feminist agenda for the Church can be acceptable as the Correct solution to the still-present-tense “crisis”.

Even more amazingly, one author goes as far as to say that IF ONLY the Church would make that “concession on a single issue” mentioned above, then the Church would be treated much more kindly in the press because of its “good faith”. The writer seems to realize – as I have been mentioning as well – that there are dynamics linking the sustained media-attention and the agendas of various politically influential advocacy ‘interests’; and that if you do what it wants you to do, the media will lay off. As my aged grandmother used to say: At least Jesse James had a gun; you KNEW when you were being held-up. The Capone organization would also use such a quid-pro-quo offer to get you to see things their way; you were advised not to refuse their offer.

There is only modest reference to the actual numbers of cases and so forth that the Report rather exhaustively toted up and explains. Indeed, making the best of unpleasant ‘facts’ (which, famously, “don’t matter” in advocacy circles – especially if they don’t support your agenda), the Report is pooh-poohed as “number-crunching”. It’s not a matter of what is actually happening, in other words; the advocates are out to “disintegrate a paradigm” here, and so – channeling Lenin – inconvenient facts and numbers shouldn’t be allowed to obstruct the Glorious Cause.

In regard to the conclusion, based on the actual reports and numbers, that the abuse-crisis as a crisis is now a matter of “historical” significance but no longer a major emergency, there is the now-standard cry – echoing a certain US military organization’s favorite come-back – that the Church and John Jay should “tell it to the survivors” (who, of course, must be considered as always telling the truth and as having no “mercenary interest” in bringing lawsuits – although so often the huge sums garnered in ‘settlements’ are also bruited as proof-positive that terrible things happened).

I can’t imagine that on top of its own doctrinal concerns, the leadership of the Universal Church hasn’t noticed that American women-in-power have now amassed a not particularly spotless record of awfulness: Janet Reno’s violent destruction of the Waco complex and all its women and children in order to “save the children”; Madeleine Albright’s observation that a rather large number of collateral losses to civilians (women and children included) would be “acceptable” to effect ‘regime change’; Hillary Clinton’s ongoing support of the frakkulently death-dealing military misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan (where those benighted populations will continue to be ‘helped’ with military occupation until the full ‘womens’ agenda is accepted; and the several highly-placed females in the World Health Organization who have colluded with Big Pharma in foisting lethally dangerous drugs on the populations of developing nations. The feminist dampdream of matriarchal power as “benevolent” seems not to be quite the Utopia that its cadres like to spin. The Church might wonder if it’s wise to invite that vampire (Vampiress? Vampirix?) through the front door.

Although it is none-too-subtly suggested that to do so would no doubt help increase the numbers of Catholics, who are reportedly abandoning the Church (although whether because of the sex-abuse crisis, or ‘patriarchy’, or as the consequence of a general societal infatuation with more vivid and extreme religious affiliations … is a question apparently too inconvenient to deal with). As if the Catholic Church was primarily concerned with ‘keeping numbers up’ and conforming itself in whatever ways necessary to keep up the membership – which has led the mainstream American Protestant denominations into the Correct Valley of Decline and Irrelevance.

I mention all this to the SO Community to highlight how the SO Mania can be used – and is being used – for the purposes of groups that are not primarily concerned with anything except finding pretexts for their own agendas.

Friday, May 20, 2011


By a curious coincidence, the article I considered in the immediately preceding Post was followed within two days by the publication of a second Report on Catholic clergy abuse of minors conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which had published its first such Report in 2003. I am presently reviewing the text of this second Report and will Post on it shortly.

But I have to take time to share with you a longish essay on witchcraft trials in Europe. It was published as a chapter (105 pages or so) in 1841 by one Charles Mackay, LLD, as part of his book entitled “Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”.*

In his Introduction to the 1980 edition, Andrew Tobias recalls an observation by the late financier Bernard Baruch, made in 1932. Baruch noticed how swarms of insects or birds will suddenly rise from a resting position on the ground and take to the air in a remarkably complex synchronized and instantaneous mass motion, as if some bond existed between them that guided their mass-action. “What made them do that?” Baruch wondered.

Tobias had been a graduate student at Harvard Business School doing research on chain letters, but got to thinking about fads (chain letters and roller-skates were of interest to him at the time) and how they seem to grip large swaths of society.

Baruch had recalled Friedrich Schiller: “Anyone taken as an individual is tolerably sensible and reasonable – as a member of a crowd, he at once becomes a blockhead”. And that got Tobias to thinking that “there are lynch mobs and there are crusades, there are runs on banks and fires where, if only people hadn’t panicked, they all would have escaped with their lives”. Thus he moved from considering ‘the hustle’ dance-craze to far more serious instances of collective human crazed-ness.

Tobias quotes Baruch – who made his fortune in finance – noticing that in stock-crazes individuals who had been taught as children that “two plus two equals four” suddenly become convinced in their myriads that actually “two and two can equal five”.

Among numerous historical crazes Mackay examines, he spends a hundred pages on his chapter entitled “The Witch Mania”. I want to share just a few points that are relevant to the SO Mania of our own unhappy day.

Mackay looks at the 250 years between 1450 and 1700 in Europe. He notes that the ancient Mosaic prescription “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” suffered in translation to English, through Latin, from the ancient Hebrew (with possible excursions into various modes of Greek): the word in the ancient Hebrew actually means “poisoner, divineress, a dabbler in spells and a fortune-teller”. To the ancient Hebrews, building a relationship with their new-found single God, such reliance on efforts to ‘get ahead’ of God’s plan (a form of insider-trading, perhaps) by appealing perhaps to other unseen forces from the older religious practices, would have been a serious threat to the task of converting the Hebrews to a covenant relationship with the God of Sinai and the Commandments. But the idea of persons uniting with other gods, or with the Devil (not really a fully formed concept as an oppositional force to God at that time) would not have been involved at all. (“Satan”, as you may recall, seemed to be part of the Divine staff – his job to test faith – as seen in the Book of Job.)

But in the late Medieval era “Europe, for a period of two centuries and a half, brooded upon the idea, not only that departed spirits walked the earth, but that men [human beings] had the power to summon evil spirits to their aid to work woe upon their fellows. An epidemic terror seized upon nations, no man thought himself secure, either in his person or his possessions, from the machinations of the devil and his agents. Every calamity that befell him he attributed to a witch.”

The monks of the Dark Ages had characterized the Devil as an impish, loutish spirit, who was always seeking to mess up your life but who could be outwitted by the faithful adherence to Christian principles, virtues, and discipline. But Milton, in his magnificent “Paradise Lost” had given the Devil an awful and awesome countenance, a Being of such noble – if dark – grandeur that he appeared (one of the problems with Milton’s work) to be more serious and ‘real’ than the forces of Good. And an enticing alternative to desperate humans trying to make their way in the nasty, sharp, brutish, and short lives that most Europeans of those centuries were condemned to lead; if the Devil might offer a short-cut or a way-around the powerlessness of the human condition, and in a way that promised more immediate payback and reward than the far-too-patient God of Christianity, well … who knows how many might be tempted to take up the offer?

In the process of winnowing out those among them who weren’t playing by religion’s and society’s rules, Mackay notes how “devilish men became seeking to combat the devil”.

One enterprising thinker, perhaps hoping to allay fears that the Devil and his sub-demons were everywhere, calculated that there were no more than 7,405,926 of the beasties, divided into 72 battalions. But I doubt his thoughts offered much consolation.

Throughout Europe in those 250 years, spanning both the pre-and-post Reformation moment, religious groups both Catholic and Protestant, in the name of good order and with an eye to establishing some working connection with the growing power of national monarchs and governments, went after the Devil. I would add that the growing influence of ‘science’, and its ability to explain matters that previously had been assumed to be directly caused by God, also agitated many.

Charlemagne, around 800, newly crowned by the Pope as Holy Roman Emperor, was the first major power – religious or civil – to outlaw the burning of witches “after the manner of the pagans”, perhaps with a shrewd eye to cementing his alliance with Christendom as he simultaneously sought to impose order on his diverse and unruly subjects. Religion seemed to him a very helpful force for establishing and sustaining social and political order among the wrack and ruin and fractured European polities of the Dark Ages. And he recognized that it would not be easy to build a new polity among the Germanic populations that still held to their darkling, pre-Christian ways: those ways harbored a too-quick violence, one that could not be predictably controlled and that would sustain an ongoing threat of instability within the new polity he sought to create.

Yet throughout the next 900 years, with that intensified spike from 1450 to 1700, the charge of witchcraft demonstrated its political utility as not simply individuals but entire groups were obliterated on the basis of charges of mass-witchcraft. Mackay uses the examples of the Frieslanders in the early 1200s, one of the last remaining Anglo-Saxon type tribal polities who insisted on governing themselves without interference from feudal nobles or religious authorities – they were finally accused of witchcraft en masse, the local Archbishop (of Bremen) teamed up with the Count of Oldenburg, mobs were incited to attack them and were repulsed, whereupon the Archbishop induced the Pope to declare them “heretics and witches” and declare a crusade, troops were sent, and the deed was done.

Between 1307 and 1313 Philip IV of France took a hankering to the vast lands and wealth of the formally established Order of the Knights Templar, an ‘international’ Order of fighting-monks that had participated strongly in the defense of Christendom against the Moors. With no other excuse to credibly be lodged against them, Philip – who had induced the Pope to share in the spoils and declare them outcast throughout Europe – had them all accused of witchcraft (and child sex abuse, and with boys) and burned or otherwise done away with, while confiscating all of their lands and wealth for the royal treasury.

And in the end it was a charge of witchcraft that rid the English of Joan of Arc in 1429.

By the late 1400s European Christendom was beginning to demonstrate the increasing dissension that would lead in the early 1500s to Luther, Calvin, and the Protestant Reformation: the Waldensians were only the most substantial of a welter of popular groups seeking to form themselves along the lines of their own reading of the Bible, free of what they saw as the encrustation of the Papacy and the developed dogmas and doctrines of the now highly-organized Catholic Church. There was even an Anti-Christ or two (Mackay mentions Florimond) who rose up to declare himself the arbiter of the end-times, calling for repentance and reformation and inveighing against the ecclesiastical order generally. (A sticky point, since the Crown and the aristocracy theoretically still derived its own authority from God – you could see where the governing powers were a little concerned for themselves.)

In 1488, Pope Innocent VIII  - realizing that the charge of ‘heresy’ didn’t have quite the oomph it had previously had in Christendom – mixed ‘heresy’ and ‘witchcraft’ and issued a Bull against them both. He was, I would say, playing with fire here: human beings as individuals, and thus the societies in which they combine and the cultures which they develop, are never very far from primal darknesses; the human brain hasn’t been around so long that it has fully evolved from deep unease and fears, especially of the dark and the unseen. Europe was easily inflammable if one sought to set a match to those dark primalities and regress things back to primeval fear that palpably excited the most ancient parts of the human brain.

It may have seemed to him a whizzbang bit of ‘strategizing’: combating the more or less conceptual and abstract charge of heresy by connecting it to the far more inflammable motivating and mobilizing fear of witchcraft, especially if the witches – as they must be – lived right in your own town and neighborhood and were consorting with the Devil to inflict harm on your life, family, property and possessions. And – no doubt Innocent was advised – the whole thing might reinvigorate people’s faith in religion.

So much ‘strategy’; so little wisdom. But it was an emergency.

Neatly, since the dissident religious groups often gathered in small meetings, at night when they couldn’t be seen, usually out beyond town in the woods, and read the Bible on their own, then witches were to be identified as going out of town into the woods at night, signing the Devil’s Book, having a convivial good time amongst themselves, and then coming back into town refreshed to do their mischief. This was a strategy that couldn’t miss on the local level.

While the Lutheran, Calvinist, and Presbyterian (Knox in Scotland) church polities would take the witchcraft gambit to its most intense heights, it is here with Innocent’s Bull that Mackay marks the beginning of the European “Witchcraft Mania”.

Almost immediately, in addition to Catholic Inquisitors who were now tasked with finding witches as well as heretics, and civil governing authorities who had to cooperate with them (until the Reformation, when civil authority got into the game on its own authority, so to speak), there arose self-declared ‘witch-finders’, itinerant ‘experts’ (so they claimed) who went from village to town offering their services (for a fee) to expose and ‘prove’ witches.

All were guided by a hefty handbook first published in 1486, the “Malleus Maleficarum” – the Hammer of Witches. Among other matters, the book provided a standard set of questions that anyone could put to an accused witch. As Mackay shrewdly notes, as the years went on, the similarity of witches’ ‘confessions’ was taken as proof that witchcraft and witches did exist; BUT, he realizes, the similarity of the confessions comes from the fact that they were all asked the same standard questions from that same book. An early example of improper and illogical conclusions drawn from ‘facts’ that were themselves dubious in the first place that are then used to prove what was also questionable to begin with.

Another ‘proof’ of the existence of witchcraft was that friends and relatives merely looked on as the accused was very publicly burned; but Mackay again shrewdly notes that in “the epidemic”, it was a given that “pity was dangerous”: to demonstrate any sympathy whatsoever for a witch was to guarantee that you would be burned yourself forthwith. Sympathy for a witch was prima facie evidence of your own devilish connections. If dubious trials at the hands of Maniacal magistrates according to the impossibly rigged ‘evidence’ rules enforced by witch-finders were the fate of accused witches, sympathizers who wept or cried out at the public burning might simply be grabbed by the crowd and tossed onto the already-roaring pyre.

Mackay notes that there were “few acquittals”. But then the evidentiary procedures included ‘spectral evidence’ – the unsupported claim of an accusing victim that s/he could see what the magistrates and onlookers could not see – and such ‘ordeals’ as tossing the accused, bound by ropes, into a pond, where if s/he sank s/he was innocent and if s/he remained afloat s/he was guilty. And no magistrate could be sure that if he acquitted the accused then he himself would not be accused of being a witch.

There were few bright spots of rationality. In 1589 the Parliament of Paris sent a special commission of doctors and jurists to examine a gaggle of old crones sentenced to be burned. The commission reported back that the convicted were “poor, stupid, or insane” and some of them were eager for death simply to escape the tortures that were standard procedure for getting ‘confessions’. These people, the commission concluded, “needed medicine more than punishment”.

But in England in 1541 a new twist was added: it became a civil crime to use witchcraft to harm anyone; and by 1562 the Statute of Elizabeth made simply being a witch a crime (thus an offense against the  state and not simply a sin or a religious offense). In his formal public prayers for the monarch, Bishop Jewell actually prayed that she be preserved from witches.

But while the newly centralizing monarchies could pass national laws, they still couldn’t guarantee that their visions underlying those laws would be carried out. In Huntingdon County a man (one Mr. Throgmorton) went onto the property of an old crone (one Mother Samuel, who lived there with her husband and daughter) who was informally accused of giving his taunting children glaring looks, forcibly took her to his own house, and applied his own ‘witch test’: his wife, his taunting children, and the wife of the local squire (Lady Cromwell) were there to stick long pins into her to see if she would bleed. The squire’s wife also ripped hair out of Mother Samuel’s head to be burned as a charm by Mrs. Throgmorton to protect the children from “spells”. Exasperated and terrified, Mother Samuel cursed her tormentors, which only made things worse.

A year later Lady Cromwell died; local experts noted that it was exactly “a year and a quarter” after the curse. At which point the squire himself, Sir Samuel Cromwell, forcibly took her to the Throgmorton house and demanded that she publicly order her impish fiends to withdraw from the vicinity and away from the children. Thinking perhaps to put an end to things, old Mother Samuel did as she was bid, which only provided legal proof that she was indeed what they had been accusing her of being: a witch.

She, her husband and her child were immediately arrested and taken to prison. As part of the trial process all three were tortured: her husband and daughter refused to admit complicity even though Mother Samuel had not only admitted her own acts but implicated them; the daughter refused to claim pregnancy (it was considered bad form to hang a pregnant witch until she had given birth). In a pathetic but poignant effort to save herself for a little longer, the old crone declared that she herself was pregnant, which provided a bit of comic relief to the court. And in mirthful or wrathful spirits the court  hanged all three on April 7, 1593.

In Scotland, home of the dour and utterly unmirthful Presbyterian Kirk, the preachers of that glumly zealous Reform went Innocent VIII one better: accused witches were not interrogated by the Inquisition (which had been an apparatus of the hated Romish and Papist church) but rather special authority was simply sent to local authorities and even clergy to conduct witchcraft trials and impose death-sentences.

Nor did it slow things down when even noble ladies, even Countesses, were accused, as well as one Lord Justice-Clerk for Scotland, Sir Lewis Ballantyne, who was himself accused of wizardry when he demanded of one accused warlock that the man conjure up the Devil so that the Lord Justice-Clerk could see for himself. Apparently Sir Lewis was sufficiently impressed with the result that he died soon thereafter, though whether from actually seeing the Devil or from the shock of finding himself accused nobody can say. The Scots don’t dabble when it comes to serious matters and witchcraft was both a crime against the state and an offense to the purity of a God whose grimly zealous servants made Catholics seem like summer-campers.

Meanwhile the Scots King, James VI, had gone over to Denmark by ship to fetch his new bride, the Princess of Denmark, a Protestant. The royal convoy was almost wrecked in a storm on the way back in May, 1590. An accused witch – young and comely, rather unusually – was suddenly put forth to the King as being responsible for his almost being drowned: the Devil was so fearful of a righteous Protestant becoming Queen that satanic orders went out to the young witch to take all available personnel, put to sea, and conjure up a storm to prevent such a threat to Satan’s Scottish operations.

The King was kind of flattered that the Devil would consider him one of the greatest enemies of the Infernal Realm; while he considered witches to be “extreme lyars” he also believed everything they confessed under torture. He would write his own version of the “Malleus Malificarum”, entitled “Demonology” in 1597 (in the original spelling it is ‘Daemonologie’), thus letting the Scots know that both King and Kirk were hell-bent on supporting the war on witches.

And in the war on witches, it was OK to do ‘whatever it takes’. One accused gentleman named Cunningham passed all the tests (meaning, amazingly, that he survived all the standard tortures – which certainly should have been proof for the existence of God if not also the Devil) and fainted. They brought him around, and as he began to revive woozily, the torture-staff asked him to sign a form (perhaps suggesting that it was a Release from Liability). He did so in a verrry shaky hand, and it turned out to have been a full confession. They were darker times; things like that don’t happen in the modern West.

The witch-finders continued to ride circuit, ready to apply the ‘pricking’ test: if you found any spot on the accused’s body that was insensitive to pain and did not bleed, then the person was a witch. Any spot at all. In those days, especially among the elderly, and perhaps especially if they were a bit under the weather from some prior torture-testing, you were pretty much guaranteed to find a spot. And so you made your living.

Later in the Mania, in 1678, Sir George Mackenzie, the Lord Advocate and a devout believer in the existence of witches, recalled in his book “Criminal Law” that as a young justice he had gone to interview an old crone accused of witchcraft. He thought she was “a silly creature”, but she told him “under secrecy, that she had not confessed because she was guilty, but being a poor creature, who wrought for her meat, and being defamed for a witch, she knew she should starve, for no person thereafter would either give her meat or lodging, and that all men would beat her and set dogs at her, and that, therefore, she desired to be out of the world”.

Mackay observes that “Sir George, though not wholly elevated above the prejudices of his age upon this subject, was clear-sighted enough to see the danger to society of the undue encouragement given to the witch prosecutions. He was convinced that three-fourths of them were unjust and unfounded”. They were darker times, but people seemed, from time to time, to be able to see with an eerie and acute clarity that has yet to be seen in this electric and dazzling Age.

But the King had gone to great pains in 1597 to defend his book. In the Introduction he wanted to “resolve the doubting hearts of many” (who, that is to say, thought the whole thing was more or less of a Mania). Those who denied the possibility of witchcraft he accused of committing “the sin of the Sadducees in denying of spirits” (thus putting those who were in any way skeptical of witchcraft in the same general category of ‘Christ-killers’ – a surefire ticket to a poor and marginalized life in a society monitored by the Scottish Kirk). And about a certain German doctor named Wierus, who sought to try to explain the actions of the accused in such a way as to make them less a matter of witchcraft, the King asserts that the doctor “plainly betrays himself to have been one of that profession [of witches]”; in other words, if you try to understand them, then you’re one of them. Dark times – then and now.

It would be a great sin, the King goes on, “to spare the life, and not strike whom God bids strike, and so severely punish in so odious a treason against God, is not only unlawful but doubtless a great sin”.

Mackay, writing in 1841, relates that the King also asserts that “the crime is so abominable, that it may be proved by evidence which would not be received against any other offenders – young children who knew not the nature of an oath, and persons of an infamous character being sufficient witnesses against them”. You have to ask yourself if modern-day SO Mania advocates had actually gone and read James VI’s 1597 treatise on Demonology and simply copied his ideas almost verbatim. But I don’t think so. It wasn’t necessary for modern day types to go back to read James VI. The same darkling and primal dynamics were at work among the modern-day types, and bucking against the same Western rules of evidence (even though those rules were still aborning in 1597, and were taken for granted in 1997).

Mackay goes on with a marvelously straight face: “But lest the innocent should be accused of a crime so difficult to be acquitted of, he [the King] recommends that in all cases the ordeals [the torture tests] should be resorted to”. Specifically, the King reposes great confidence in the evidentiary value of the prickling test and the floating-on-water test (as well as the aforementioned children and the persons of low character). You can almost imagine why the American Framers, two hundred years later, might have felt that government-by-inherited-Crown might not guarantee government by the brighter candles in the chandelier. (Not that the current electoral processes seem to be providing much better, if the SO Mania Regime legislation is any indicator.)

Looking thus over the Scottish situation, Mackay concludes that “When such doctrines as these were openly promulgated by the highest authority in the realm, and who, in promulgating them, flattered but did not force public opinion”, and when the Kirk saw fit to support him zealously, this “sad delusion” could continue to spread until people expected to find “witches and wizards” everywhere they looked.

Things didn’t get much better when James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603.

In 1634 the son of a wood-cutter, a boy named Robinson, in Lancashire, took to accusing one Mother Dickenson of being a witch and that he had seen her in the company of many other local witches. He told the story so well that he was officially escorted around the county, pointing out ‘witches’ whom he had seen. Twenty were arrested and eight – including Mother Dickenson – executed accordingly merely upon his word alone (‘trust the children’ indeed). He was never brought to trial for his perjury, Mackay notes; indeed, his father started his own cottage-industry by threatening wealthy persons with accusation by his son if they did not pay him off. Well, it was extortion, but in a good cause … some might say. I would not say that this behavior of the father’s was in any way ‘modern’; rather, the same dark and primal venalities that exist in the human self along with the dark and irrational fears were capable and are capable of seeping forth and taking root anytime that the protective casing of genuine Law is fractured, let alone when it is fractured under official auspices.

One fellow, Matthew Hopkins, styled himself “Witch Finder General” and thus accredited as an ‘expert’ began to ply his trade in 1644 in the County of Essex. He made sure to present himself to any magistrate presiding over the trial of witches, “these cattle” as he called the accused, and guaranteed that he could produce any ‘evidence’ required to satisfy law and soothe conscience. Entrepreneurial to a fault, he expanded his operations to the Counties of Norfolk, Huntingdon, and Sussex, bringing sixty to the stake in one year. His preferred test was the ‘swimming’ test, which was merely a new name for the old scam: if they sink they’re innocent, if they don’t sink they’re guilty.

He also liked the Lord’s Prayer test: based on the assumption that no witch could stomach reciting the Lord’s Prayer perfectly, you told the accused – who by that time was no doubt not in the best frame of mind – that his or her life depended on a totally perfect recitation of the Prayer. Then you sat back, staring at them in the presence of magistrates, guards, torturers, onlookers and whoever else, and waited for the merest hesitation or stumble or lisp or tremble in the voice. It was said to produce very efficient results.

Like any successful professional, he traveled with assistants, by carriage, and always stayed at the best lodgings available. The price was twenty shillings a head plus all expenses regardless of the outcome of a case, and a bonus for a successful prosecution. Beisbol been bery bery good to him!

He oversaw the destruction of a retired clergyman, over 70, who had been rector of the parish in Framingham, Suffolk, for half a century. And who was an avowed royalist at a time when England was not well-disposed to monarchy during the Civil War. Deploying the panoply of that era’s Mania regime, Hopkins got the old man so confused (or, I would say, discouraged in the power of rationality to defend himself) that he confessed to being a closet-wizard. On his way to the scaffold, the old rector begged that the funeral service be read for him. This was denied. And so the old man went to the scaffold, reciting the entire Church funeral service from memory as he was about to be hanged as a wizard.  None of his former parishioners, whom he had served for fifty years, dared to speak up.

One woman was overheard by one of these experts talking to herself; he had been walking by her door. Confronted, she said she had a silly habit of talking to herself – her neighbors even corroborated it. But the ‘expert’ declared that only witches talked to themselves, got an order for a ‘pricking’, which was ‘successful’, and she was – as the court records briskly note – “convict and brynt”.

On the Continent, a French jurist and thinker named Bodinus, who enjoyed a large reputation in the 17th century, spoke about the Mania with a Gallic candor we today can only admire: “The trial of this offence must not be conducted like other crimes. Whoever adheres to the ordinary course of justice perverts the spirit of the law, both divine and human. He who is accused of sorcery should never be acquitted, unless the malice of the prosecutor be clearer than the sun; for it is so difficult to bring full proof of this secret crime, that out of a million of witches not one would be convicted if the usual course were followed!” [Italics mine; exclamation point his]

And once again you have to ask yourself if the modern day Maniacs hadn’t gone back and read this old material. The take-away, I would say, is this: Beware those who come to you in sheep’s clothing, saying that the integrity of the Law must be sacrificed because this is such an emergency and so baaad a crime. They are not simply trying to sell you something; they are – whether they know it or not – undermining the foundations of society and inviting and probably guaranteeing a regression to darker and more primitive things.

Bodinus was matched by a French entrepreneurial ‘expert’ who styled himself “The Grand Judge of Witches for the Territory of St. Claude”, and who had put together his own handbook (copies for sale at the back of the wagon, no doubt) consisting of 70 guidelines. Among them: the mere suspicion of witchcraft justifies immediate arrest (sort of like Swedish sex offense law today) and torture of the suspect; if the suspect mutters to himself, looks down at the ground, doesn’t shed tears … then any of these behaviors is proof-positive sign of guilt; in all cases, the evidence of a child should be taken over the evidence of a parent (children being more trustable, apparently); and persons of bad character who would in normal cases never be believed upon their word alone are to be completely believed if they claim to have been bewitched or if they claim to have knowledge of any other bewitchment. Does any of this not sound familiar?

In Wurzburg, where a three-line ditty supposed to be a witches’ incantation had become public knowledge, 3 boys aged 10 to 15 were buried alive for running around town chanting the ditty at the top of their lungs (something kids did before X-boxes and skateboards). Maniacs and their Manias have no sense of humor, or proportion, or context. (And there’s an incoherence to it: if the Devil can get by with teenagers simply chanting the words for the heck of it, why go to all the trouble of recruiting and sustaining a complex international network of witches, wizards, and warlocks?)

More ominously, one German law enforcement authority came up with a remarkably diabolic plan: faced with an obstinate old woman who refused to confess she was a witch even after torture, they had one of their number dress up in a bear’s skin, with horns and tail and carrying a pitchfork, wait until the torture-wracked old woman was asleep in the middle of the night, enter the darkened cell, wake her, and announce that he was the Devil. And that he would instantly spirit her out of this hell-hole if she simply acknowledged his lordship over her. Half-asleep but the presence seeming so real, she got to her knees and acknowledged him. Whereupon the hidden witnesses turned up the torches, informed her she had just confessed and provided her own death warrant, had a good laugh, and retired to the local brew-house for a few pints and a jovial re-hashing of the story of their own strategic brilliance.


Things like this happen when agents of the law can earnestly and solemnly declaim that they would never execute anybody until the person confessed – even if it meant twenty torture sessions to do the job.

Here and there, though, as the 17th century went on, some decency and integrity began to re-assert itself. The Duke of Brunswick and the Archbishop-Elector of Mainz talked things over and came to the conclusion that there was unconscionable cruelty in the way accused witches were dealt with, and that no decent judge should ever consider a confession obtained through the infliction of pain, and that you couldn’t coherently claim to take the Devil as telling the truth in a confession in the first place or think that the Old Deceiver would hold himself bound by an oath to God in a human court, and on the basis of stuff like that go and execute somebody – or a whole lot of somebodies.

The Archbishop-Elector noted ruefully that he had two highly popular Jesuits in the area who were zealous witch-hunters and they kept whipping people up to a frenzy. The Duke devised a marvelous plan: he invited the two Jesuits to accompany him to interview an old woman accused of witchcraft. Through careful questioning he got the woman to acknowledge not only that she was a witch but that she had seen two priests at a recent coven gathering  -in fact, the very two priests in the cell here with her now.

The Duke calmly turned to the priests with a look that said You know what happens to you now, right?

The Jesuits experienced a genuine Damascus Moment as they realized that under the rules they themselves had been supporting, there was absolutely no way in hell (so to speak) that they could defend themselves, and began babbling.

The Duke smiled and admitted the old crone had been coached and it was all a set-up. But he hoped that the Reverend Fathers had seen the true state of affairs as to this whole witchcraft thing.

They had.

One of them, Frederick Spee, went out forthwith and wrote “Cautio Criminalis”, a book exposing the horrors of witch-trials. The Archbishop-Elector then saw his way clear to abolishing witchcraft trials in his domains, and so did the Duke of Brunswick and other lords. We have yet to see that sort of acuity here.

In France, in 1670, Louis XIV commuted the sentences of a number of women whom the courts of Normandy had condemned to death for riding broomsticks and attending witches’ conventions. The Parliament of Rouen sent a remonstrance to the Sun-King, basically asking him to reconsider because the glory of God, public safety, and the good of the nation required that these women be executed so as to deter others from taking up the same type of activities, and it has for a long time been “the general opinion of all nations and of the ancients” that things should go this way. And they also wanted him to reaffirm that the crime of witchcraft should enjoy no right of appeal to the King or the Parliament of Paris or anybody else.

Louis not only disregarded their Remonstrance, but ordered an end to witchcraft trials in France unless attached to some other, more provable, crime.

In regard to the Salem Witch Trials here in 1692 (by which time things were dying down in Europe), Mackay makes two interesting observations.

First, that the Indian tribes, observing the madness, wondered why it was that the Great Spirit sent witches against the English settlers but not against the French settlers just to the north. One wonders what conclusions the tribes drew from that odd reality, and how it affected their approach to things.

Second, considering the sheriff who pressed old Giles Corey to death under stones for NOT confessing to be a witch, Mackay opines that the fellow “hoped to merit heaven by making earth a hell” (quoting Byron). The take-away here is, I would say, that one should be very very careful when deciding to cut loose and make earth a hell: hell (or Hell) has a way of not staying in the box designed for it by eager and zealous humans, no matter how much ‘strategizing’ they’ve done to put a ‘deal’ together.

The revolutionary reformers in the Leninist mode were eager to make hell on earth in order to then break through to heaven on earth. The assorted religious warriors here, there, and everywhere seek to make earth a hell for those whom it has been deputized by heaven to ‘smite’ and thus they hope to enjoy a little more ‘heaven’ by doing heaven’s work for it.

Even JFK in his inaugural now half a century ago left a little too much conceptual space between the words when he declaimed that “God’s work must truly be our own”. Did he mean that we must make God’s work our own? Or that God must make His work conform to what we would like to see work? Or that God’s work is by definition America’s work – and/or vice versa?

The Witch Mania demonstrated at great cost in innocent blood that the Devil couldn’t be caged by any human devices; and that humans, when relying on their own primal darkness to struggle against the Original Primal Darkness simply wind up adding more darkness to the world and – thus – furthering the Devil’s work exponentially. Hell, like combat, sucks in and transforms the very Virtue that one started out seeking to defend (or spread). If you adopt the Devil’s ways to fight the Devil, then YOU wind up being the house divided against itself, which Jesus – as Lincoln reminded everybody – pointed out could not stand for long. The wise ruler – as Jesus also noted – should take great care in making sober and realistic calculations before embarking on such a venture. Because there would be costs, deep and dark ones, that might be more than could be borne, and consequences that might be irreversible.

Irreversible consequences are something Americans aren’t really comfortable thinking about, let alone irreversible negative consequences. In this the American Maniacs are genuinely in the American grain: like a Hollywood movie, everything is going to work out in the end and no damage done (to the good guys, anyway). As one currently popular movie has it: you can be an innocent teen and die and still watch things, and even come back to enjoy ice cream and even some time with your friends – because God just wants you to be happy like a kid on a Friday afternoon in May when exams are over and school is just about out for the summer.

This is a kid’s view of life, and a kid who hasn’t really read Grimm’s fairy tales in their original version.

If there is no sense of darkness – in ourselves and in the world we make – then there is no sense of the huge and awesome and awful stakes involved in being human and in conducting a mature human life in a society and culture that seeks not to prevent every possible instance of darkness in every person, but rather to cage the large Darkness that can be generated, and unleashed, when many humans yield to their personal darkness and pool each of their individual dark streams into a Torrent, amplifying their own dark potentials into a Tsunami that will not simply sweep the streets clean, but sweep them away altogether.


*It was republished in 1980 by Three Rivers Press, a division of Crown Publishing Group. Its ISBN is 0-517-88433-X. My copy is a 740 page paperback.