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Wwhy, despite his best efforts, Bruce Springsteen's take on September 11 is ultimately a let-down; and how the Catholic Church in the US is experiencing simultaneous accountancy problems and sex abuse scandals
Eamonn McCann, 21 Aug 2002
Springsteen’s take on September 11 is a whole lot better than some of us had dreaded. The album is too earnest to be great art, but at least we don’t reach for the sick-bag, as we had to do following contemplation of last year’s schmaltz-fest from McCartney, Bono, etc.
If the songs on The Rising are reflective and personal rather than challenging or political, well, that’s Springsteen’s way. He has always projected himself as on the side of the marginalised and mistreated but never hinted at an ideological conclusion from these commitments. And he has always been passionate about his Americanness, the sort of man who can speak angrily for hours about the racism, militarism and class bigotry of US society and go on, literally without pausing for breath, to proclaim that the US of A is the best god-damn nation on earth. The art of populist patriotism is inevitably criss-crossed with such contradiction. Many jeered at Reagan when he thought to adopt ‘Born In The USA’ as his re-election anthem in 1984, but it wasn’t as outlandish a notion as all that.
As the bard of blue-collar Americana, Springsteen was the appropriate man to memorialise September 11 in another, related respect. The Economist, one of the books of the bible of the global ruling class, observed recently that, “One poorly-kept secret of every Upper East Side dinner-party since September 11 is how few of the victims were members of New York’s upper crust. Most of the up-market investment banks had moved out of the World Trade Centre long before. Only 330 of the known victims were from Manhattan.”
On the other hand, the Twin Towers housed the offices of a number of municipal authorities – the NY Port Authority, for example. Many of the rescuers came running pell-mell from adjacent building sites. The worst-hit areas were the working-class neighbourhoods which typically supply municipal workers, cops, fire-fighters, construction workers. The Brooklyn writer Danny Cassidy has suggested that as many as 20 percent of the victims were trade unionists, a remarkable figure, given the relatively low level of unionisation in the US workforce generally. Such folk have been the narrators of almost all of Springsteen’s first-person songs.
Still, he wasn’t singing for Michael Franti. The former Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy man hit all the right discordant notes at the world music festival at the Hollywood Bowl a few weeks back, opening his act with a mocking impersonation of George W. Bush driveling that, “You are either with us or with the terrorists.” This was like telling people they had a choice between eating at McDonald’s and eating at Wendy’s, snarled Franti. He was neither with Bush nor with “the terrorists”, he told the 20,000 capacity crowd. He was against terrorism and state militarism and particularly against bombing in which innocent civilians were killed. “Power to the peaceful”, he roared in conclusion, and was cheered to the echo.
The point is – it’s been made here before in relation to Ani DiFranco’s unflinching on-stage assault on militarism in the immediate aftermath of September 11 – that it is possible in popular art in the US today to stand firm against big-power imperialism and to find wide resonance. The image of the American people as an undifferentiated mass of unthinking super-patriots is common to the Right and to many sections of the Left. It is as accurate as Julie Burchill’s entertaining view of the Irish.
It is because he doesn’t enclose this truth, too, that, for all the tender dignity of songs like ‘You’re Missing’, and despite Springsteen’s own undiminished personal cred, The Rising, in the end, must be accounted something of a let-down.
The local press reports that Catholics in the diocese of Palm Beach, Florida, are “reeling” from revelations that their last two bishops, both of whom resigned after being exposed as sex-abusers, had also been covering up the theft of diocesan funds. It’s just one thing after the other with some people.
It emerges that Bishop J. Keith Symons, having learned in 1994 that his chief financial officer, Robert Schattie, had dipped into the church treasury to the tune of $280,000, agreed not to tell a soul about it in exchange for an agreement whereby Schattie, 54, would repay the money at $200 a month – a schedule that would have seen restitution finally reached in 120 years. In the event, Schattie quit paying after four months. But Symons, nevertheless, kept his side of the bargain.
The story surfaced last month when Schattie’s former wife, Darlene Kott, called local reporters and provided them with copies of correspondence between the two reprobates. Ms. Kott said her former husband had told her that Symons would never go to the police because the bishop knew that he knew that the bishop, too, had had his hand in the till to fund personal commitments.
Bishop Anthony O’Connell became aware of Schattie’s embezzlement and Symons’ cover-up upon his appointment in 1999 following the exposure of Symons’ earlier abuse of five seminarians. O’Connell continued the cover-up until his own fall from grace in March this year when he admitted the sexual assault of a teenager.
Ms. Kott told reporters that she’d decided to speak out after hearing diocesan officials assuring worried Catholics that, with O’Connell gone, there were no further skeletons in the diocesan cupboard.
Her former husband was charged on July 18th with stealing $10,000 from the Jewish community centre where he’d gone to work after leaving his job with the diocese. The Jewish group had called the police the day it discovered the money was missing.
The story throws interesting light on reports of financial jiggery-pokery in other US dioceses in recent years. Embezzlement scandals shook the church in the early 1990s in, at least, Vermont, Colorado, Delaware, California and New York. More recently, Catholics in a string of dioceses have been shocked to learn of secret payments having been made from Church funds to abuse victims in exchange for silence.
Francis Butler, the president of Fadica, a national association of rich Catholics which raises $200 million a year for the church, has said of the Palm Beach revelations: “We’ve been seriously shaken by this. We have this sinking feeling that what is happening there may not be an isolated situation.”
In June, Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee resigned after confessing under pressure that he had paid $450,000 from church coffers to buy the silence of a man who had accused him of sexual assault. Other Catholic dioceses are experiencing simultaneous accountancy problems and sex abuse scandals. The Boston Archdiocese – where Cardinal Bernard Law has become a virtual recluse as he tries to avoid questions about moving abusive priests between parishes – has slashed its staff by a third and is reportedly close to bankruptcy.
Shouldn’t the various inquiries into the church’s handling of the sex abuse scandal in Ireland be compelling the production not only of papers relating to allegations of abuse but of the financial records of each diocese so that they can be combed for any sign of unusual transactions?