03May

Scandal at OV’s: part 2

Yesterday we highlighted how the venerable school of Old Vatacanians has suffered a crisis ever since it embarked on a modernisation project in the 1960’s. Several staff members became disenchanted with the proven curriculum of their founder, Mr. Logos, and have been colluding with rivals (Mr. Luther and Mr. World) to bring down the school from within. Worst still some of these renegades have been found guilty of terrible abuse bringing the school into disrepute and damaging confidence in the process. Faced with this mess the old headmaster, Mr. Benedictus, took early retirement and a new man was elected- one Mr. Argentinus…

Mr. Argentinus caused quite the stir when elected. For the first time in history he refused to appear for first assembly in academic dress preferring to turn up in mufti. It was a divisive move. Staff members and pupils most faithful to the vision of Mr. Logos felt outraged, whilst those hungering for a new curriculum were delighted. But more sinister yet was the fact that disgraced former teacher, Mr. Marx, was suddenly back from private study leave standing proudly at the side of the new headmaster. A move which did nothing to allay the fears of his critics.

Things went from bad to worse when Mr. Argentinus announced his promotions from within the staff. Inexplicably the new heads of subjects included several school figures mired in lavender scandal. From Mr. Paglia the art teacher who had commissioned a homo-erotic mural in a classroom to Mr Maradiaga, the bursar, rumoured to have spent the school dinner money on hiring some company after dark. Those not personally linked to sandal were nevertheless chosen from amongst the staff most enamoured with breaking away from the traditional curriculum as laid down by Mr. Logos. It is little wonder that the tongues of the PTA were soon wagging and a general sense of mutiny, chaos and confusion fell over the school. There has been infighting ever since.

Mr. Argentinus has, in fairness, proved an excellent salesman for the school. Rarely missing a photo opportunity he soon gained the admiration of the local press. Labelling him ‘ever so ‘umble’ he has become something of a media darling. This has paid off for Mr. Argentinus. Because whilst many of the senior staff are indeed worried about his leadership skills they are nevertheless grateful that those nasty stories about the school have ceased. Being more in love with the institution of the school than in education generally they seem happy to look the other way as infighting continues, turning a blind eye to obvious abuses just so long as they retain preferment, a school house and can lead a quiet life.

Mr. Argentinus is not only favoured by the press. Those who have never stepped foot in the school think he is admirable. Because his politics chimes with their own they view him as a necessary reformer. And as for the staff at Old Lutherians- they cannot get enough of Mr. Argentinus, who is ever happy to assure them that their own break-away school is every bit as good as his own, suggesting Mr. Logos would love it. Which is strange because Mr. Logos was at pains to explain he only believed there should be one school?

Mr. Argentinus’ flirtation with non school members does not end there. Recently he stepped over the county border to praise bitter old rivals, Old Mohammedanians, which proved a step too far for the old Latin master, Mr. Americanus, who immediately wrote to the board of governors demanding answers. Mr. Americanus hasn’t taught the boys for some time having been dismissed by Mr. Argentinus who, despite preaching to the boys about mercy every day, doesn’t practice it where critics are concerned.

And so it is that the longer Mr Argentinus has ruled the more he has proved a divisive figure. ‘The Marmite of headmasters’ as one boy quipped! Another bemoaned that he was an illusive figure, never explaining his teaching methods but ever hinting, by gesture and tone, that he sides with the renegades who want to overhaul the curriculum of Mr. Logos and replace it with something new.

A handful of outspoken staff members, from amongst those who oppose his leadership, even go so far as to suggest that Mr. Argentinus and his band forced old Mr. Benedictus out of office quite deliberately. Others have written to the governors to complain about questionable appointments. Which brings us to this term and the nub of the matter. Clearly the school is in crisis. Clearly the new head, regardless of his many gifts and faults, is proving one of the most divisive figures in its history. But what should be done? How can Mr. Argentinus quell the storm and bring some unity and hope to the school?

The answer has to be this: Mr. Argentinus must answer the letters sent to governors and be candid about both his vision and methodology. But to date he steadfastly refuses. The letters sit unopened on his desk. He prefers to allow his trusted allies to smear the letter writers and act as if the matters these letters raise are of no importance at all. Now this tactic might work short term, it certainly ensures that many of his doubters are too afraid to speak out. But it will not work long term. Why? Because every day that the letters remain unanswered is another day his authority is reasonably questioned. Which is to state that a lack of answers, from one who very job is to provide answers, inevitably smacks of desperation. It rather gives the impression he might be unable, rather than just unwilling, to defend his actions and agenda. If he can answer the charges – why doesn’t he?

The other problem with the approach being taken is that the parents of the school are not stupid as many of the teachers imagine. And many of them, sickened by the abuse and frustrated by the confusion, have recently threatened to withdraw their children altogether or else hold back on paying the fees.

And understand that many of the teachers, in private if not in public, are also grumbling about the leadership and confusion. One detects that unless the letters are dealt with soon, and honourably, then the divisions will only increase. Modernisation is permissible within Old Vatacanians but only if it can be shown, without doubt, to be in fidelity to the original vision of Mr. Logos.

At the time of going to press Mr. Argentinus still refuses to engage with his critics. He continues to call for mercy whilst delivering a daily message to the boys about the evil of rigid critics. He continues to hint at making changes that will change Old Vatacanians forever and indeed to making those changes. In the last few weeks he downgraded the office for academia whilst increasing the budget for visits…

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2 thoughts on “Scandal at OV’s: part 2

  1. Congratulations, Father Ed, on your two-episode parable. There may not (yet?) be a ‘de jure’ schism in the Church, but we seem to be very close to a ‘de facto’ schism, and your parable is a clear reflection of this.

    But you have omitted one significant fact, and it would have fitted in rather well with your school metaphor in the following way. You failed to tell us that the ‘OV’ school roll had fallen substantially in recent years. In fact there are now so few pupils regularly attending that several of the classrooms, both in the new 1960s building and the traditional old building are derelict and out of use, and the situation has not been helped by the difficulty that the school has had in recent decades in recruiting new staff. To move from metaphor back to reality, the current crisis in the Church may or may not be as serious as things were for the Church in 1054 or 1521, but the big difference surely is that today hardly anybody is interested. The Church and indeed Christianity more generally are no longer central to European culture as they were in the 11th and 16th centuries. Indeed the number of people who BOTH attend Mass each Sunday AND believe traditional Catholic teaching on ‘artificial’ contraception and other aspects of sexual morality constitutes well under 20% of those who think of themselves as Catholic, and represents only a tiny, tiny fraction of the population as a whole.

    I would say, though, that you have got one thing very badly wrong in your parable. In both episodes you seem to imply that the abuse scandal was a product of the 1960s. For example in episode 2 we read “… the venerable school of Old Vatacanians has suffered a crisis ever since it embarked on a modernisation project in the 1960s… some of these renegades have been found guilty of terrible abuse bringing the school into disrepute and damaging confidence.”

    How much proof of pre-1960 abuse do you need before you will accept that sexual/physical/psychological/financial abuse was well established in the Church a long time before Vatican 2 and the ’swinging sixties’? For example:

    1. Marcial Maciel, probably the most notorious priest of the 20th century, was abusing seminarians at least as early as 1956, and quite possibly for a long time before that.
    2. Two of the most prolific priest abusers ever, James Porter and Lawrence Murphy started abusing, respectively, in 1953 and (approximately) 1950. (I should add that both of these admitted their abuse and are, like Maciel, now deceased.)
    3. The practice of babies being abducted from vulnerable mothers in Irish Catholic mother and baby homes to be trafficked/sold to well-off Americans was well established shortly after the second world war.
    4. Christian Brothers were beating up schoolboys in Ireland, including my own father, by the 1930s, and probably for a long time before that.

    Surely it flies in the face of the facts to suggest that the pre-1960 Catholic Church had “an impeccable reputation” and consisted of people “respected as outstanding citizens”, with the exception of just a few bad apples like the “infamous Martin Luther” and the “naughty Mr Alexander” (to quote from the first episode of your parable).

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