Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Droppings from the Catholic Birdcage: "I Saw Goody Proctor with the Devil"

I love every comment in the thread responding to my post yesterday about the busy-busy "somebodies" and poison-pen "tipsters" who are poring over obituaries of late to try to entrap gay employees in Catholic institutions or suspected gay employees in Catholic institutions. Katy's send-up of the hysteria ("Real and suspected gay people are EVERYWHERE," and "I have in my pocket a list of gay folks . . .") is hilarious and spookily appropriate.

Frank asks the right question when he asks what might happen if the hysterical gay witch-hunting thing that now seems to be roiling American Catholicism got turned against the Catholic clergy and hierarchy. Crystal is exactly right in comparing the witch hunting to the McCarthy period, echoing Katy's comment. John is correct beyond the shadow of a doubt: institutions that search out targeted scapegoats on the basis of poison pen letters and anonymous tipsters are toxic. In the extreme.

And skibrs is absolutely right, too: the very same people bashing survivors of clerical sexual abuse are the ones poring over obituaries to find clues an employee of a Catholic institution might be, like Nicholas Coppola in New York, a homosexual who doesn't hide. They're the very same people writing the poison pen letters.

But I have to admit that among all the comments in this thread up to now, it's Mary's that catches my eye above all. She says, 

It won't surprise me at all if I hear "I saw Goody Proctor with the devil!" soon.

Arthur Miller wrote his classic play "The Crucible" in 1953 as a direct response to the McCarthy witch hunts, a period in which a few people at the highest levels of American government were intent on seeing communists everywhere--under beds, lurking in shadows, in Hollywood and the publishing industry, in colleges and classrooms twisting students' minds. Everywhere.

By reminding us of the Salem witch trials, a moment that is arguably as quintessentially American as apple pie, Miller wanted to remind us of the significant damage we do to ourselves as a nation, as a people, as a democratic "brand," when we succumb to the witch-hunting mentality.

It seems some American Catholics still haven't learned this lesson. 

The graphic immediately above is a still shot from the 1996 movie version of Miller's "Crucible," directed by Nicholas Hytner.

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