Thursday, March 29, 2012

Declan Lynch: Vatican's version of speaking in tongues just sows confusion

THEY haven't lost it, all the same, with their Apostolic Visitation. 

Straight away, this enquiry by the Visitators from Rome into the dark deeds of the Church in Ireland raised at least two points of confusion. 

So it was working already.

The first point of confusion is around the whole notion of the Visitators presenting themselves as some sort of a higher force, as if the Vatican itself was quite untainted by this culture of sexual abuse on which they were reporting.

They were seeking "the authentic path towards renewal", for all the world like neutral UN observers arriving to look into claims of irregularities in the voting patterns in an election in Mozambique.

A pretty neat move, that, in the circumstances.

And though I personally lost interest around the mid-Nineties in bringing about the downfall of Rome -- it seemed at the time that my work was done -- I have to say that these guys are still pretty good, when they put it all together. There's still a trick in them. 

Because the second point of confusion is perhaps more interesting, if a little less obvious. 

It's about their choice of the word Visitation, to describe what most of us might simply call a visit.

Yes it was definitely a Visitation, not a visit. 

They were Visitators, not visitors.

So who the hell do these Visitators think they are, with their Visitation?

Well, for a start, they think that they know a few things about words, and they'd be right about that. 

The Vatican did not call this a Visitation just because there were no other words handy at the time.

They knew that the grandeur of the word gives off a sense of otherness, a feeling that they are coming from quite a different culture to ours, perhaps even a better one with its Latinate adornments. 

And that any problems which have arisen between us may well be explained by this mutual cultural incomprehension, not by the fact that here is an institution which has been systematically sheltering an extraordinary number of paedophiles for generations.

Most commentators decided that the ornate language was either a bit of a laugh, or just some archaic Vatican usage which need not concern us greatly. 

And of course while they were right at a superficial level, at a deeper level, as usual, they were wrong.

Far from being archaic, the use of fancy words to give a sort of a fragrance to an otherwise ugly scene is utterly modern. It is called corporate bullshit, and it is everywhere now. 

And the Visitators with their Visitation have reminded us that the Vatican has nothing to learn from the executive class and the money-men in general in this area, that in fact it is the other way round -- Rome has been a purveyor of the finest corporate bullshit for the best part of 2,000 years.

Often we complain that the financial services sector seems to be using a language known only to itself, in order to mislead and to bamboozle. 

Yet in Rome, the original white-collar criminals have been using Latin for this very purpose for centuries.

And evidently it is still going strong, with the Visitators noting a certain tendency for priests to hold views which are in conflict with those of the Magisterium -- and naturally, the Magisterium must be obeyed.

Ah, the Magisterium. 

Our financial overlords would love to be able to call on such a word, to declare that the austerity must continue in order to stay on that "authentic path towards renewal", by adhering to a Magisterium.

Only last week there was an odd echo of the Visitators in Goldman Sachs's announcement that it was sacking a load of people in order to "maintain profitability" -- the word used to be "profit", and a perfectly good word it was until the demands of corporate bullshit made it unsustainable, and a longer, fuzzier version was required. 

As visitor became visitator, so profit became profitability. 

And so it goes.

A personal favourite would be the wordplay of one Katherine D'Arcy, who earns her shilling -- and then some -- as a spokesperson for the drinks industry, and who recently explained that drinkers "consume too many of our units in one sitting". 

That may not be Latin, but it is a foreign language to this friend of mine who has been attending meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous for about 14 years, and who says that in all the time he's been there, he has never heard even one person saying that he tended to "consume too many of his units in one sitting".

As for the constant call by the industry to "drink responsibly", the word "responsibly" has that unmistakable whiff of corporate bullshit about it -- "drink less" would do the job quite well, though of course that depends on the job you have in mind. 

I also noted darkly the recent urgings of Patrick Honohan for the banks "to deal more proactively with the situation of over-indebted buy-to-let borrowers no longer able to service the debts they assumed in order to take investment positions..."

Again it's not exactly Latin, but you just know that in the Vatican tongue, they too would "service" a debt, not actually "pay" it.

It has been their way, for a very long time. 

And even after all they've been through, and all that they've put everyone else through, we can only stand in awe of these men, and of their command of the language that they gave the world. 

And of the Magisterium.