Editor's Note: We know the above illustration has nothing to do with today's comment, but since this is the last post for the month of November 2014 -- the fifth anniversary of the SGG School Scandal -- we just had to publish another memorial image of what brought Dannie's cult down and prompted the long series of articles that led to today's topic. "One Hand's" mood must get really sour when he thinks about the "principal," who has laid so much at his creaking doorway.
The past exudes legend: one can't make pure clay of time's mud. There is no life that can be recaptured wholly as it was. Which is to say that all biography is ultimately fiction. Malamud
This week and next, we'll examine the probative value of this very late testimony to see whether it merits any consideration in the decades-long dispute. Through informed imagination, let's look this week at what our clerical eyewitness's state of mind might have been on that fateful Tuesday so many, many years ago.
Perhaps our Johnny-come-lately witness awoke early that summer morn from a restive sleep. Surely the anticipation of the grand occasion had preoccupied him in the preceding week: Today, June 29, 1976, his young soul will again be indelibly marked, as it had been first at his baptism and later (as some would hold) at his subdiaconal ordination. This day's diaconate would mean he would soon be a Roman Catholic priest, the envy of angels, an alter Christus, with the power to celebrate Mass both for the living and the dead in the name of the Lord.
It will prove a very busy, psychologically stressful morning. Europe was sweltering under a major heat wave in 1976, and the air may have already turned enervating. Entering the crowded sacristy, he encounters a whirlwind of activity: masters of ceremony busily whispering last-minute instructions, senior clergy earnestly conferring among themselves, ordinands hurriedly vesting, servers scurrying about, seminarians entering and exiting.
Likewise, his conscious mind is hectic: he has to rehearse his ceremonial responsibilities all the while trying to control his exuberant emotions. Yet everything about him is a cause for distraction. The chapel is ablaze with the day's liturgical color. The revered archbishop, vested in splendid pontificals, flanked by his attendants, stands at the center of it all. Our impressionable witness knows he must not disappoint the great man! He must focus with singular -- correction: with obsessive -- care on the rôle he has to play in today's ancient and awesome sacred drama.
As the ordination Mass with its solemn dignity begins, our youthful witness mayhap loses himself for an instant amid the ritual beauty. Just in time, however, he manages to reclaim his self-possession at the Collect for the Ordinands. Now, his hour is at hand. He must concentrate on what he is required to do. By all that's holy, he cannot disappoint the good archbishop. Soon, however, overcome with anticipation and nerves, he forsakes the private rehearsals, surrendering his will and attention to the sober direction of the vigilant MC's. He has faith in them. And in the legendary archbishop. Lying prostrate with eyes closed during the litany, he may have dozed off for a spell -- something many ordinands experience -- adrift in lilting chant, suspended in sacred space.
At length, the moment arrives for his ordination to the diaconate. He almost doesn't recognize his Christian name in Latin form when the notary bids him to step forward, but, recovering, he replies in a quavering voice: "Adsum!" Approaching the imposing archbishop face to face becomes an out-of-body experience as he completes each ritual action with the welcome assistance from skilled hands, watchful eyes, and sotto voce directives.
When he returns to his place as he makes way for the candidates for the priesthood, he feels a little lightheaded. His heart, he observes, is racing. A rushing noise resonates in his head, muffling the cadences of the confident archbishop: it's as though unseen hands were pressing a massive conch shell to each ear. As he tries without success to focus, the rite of priestly ordination passes before him in a benign haze. His mind is all joy, gratitude, and benediction. He has done his part for the saintly archbishop, who by God's good grace had made it possible for him to be sitting there, a deacon of the Roman Catholic Church. Floating on a buoyant cloud of relief, he may have just then noticed he was a bit peckish, for he had been fasting. He could look forward to a good lunch, a nice glass (or two) of wine, and sincere congratulations.
There's no reason to spoil that golden hour by small-mindedly scrutinizing every gesture the courageous prelate makes. Who, anyway, would be so impious as to presume to second-guess the well-practiced archbishop? He'd done this many times before. Besides, our young witness wouldn't have been able to, even if he had so desired. At the time, Écône was no center of deep liturgical study, and, as we know, seminarians have much more to learn than the rubrics of the Pontificale Romanum.
It's the Gestalt of the unfolding rite that intrudes upon his spinning consciousness, not the minutiæ. What's most important is that the masterful archbishop could never err in these matters. Moreover, to be brutally frank, in the midst of so much ennobling solemnity, why would he even let his rapt attention stray to light upon a squat, foreign vulgarian, the obnoxious and chattering "door" mouse whom his fellow Europeans had so often mocked?
No, he will cast his admiring gaze upon the venerable archbishop's fatherly visage, or perhaps he will follow with evanescent interest the gesturing ministers. He will imagine the day in the not-too-far-off future when he himself, resplendent in folded chasuble, will kneel before this giant of the Catholic Church to receive the august power of the priesthood. Consequently, it's only common sense to suppose he won't have noticed whether the archbishop imposed both hands, or just one.
He won't care either way. The archbishop is ALWAYS RIGHT. He could do no wrong in those years. And anyway, how could our witness really affirm with certitude what the archbishop actually did after witnessing all the other clergy impose their hands immediately afterwards? Furthermore, we must consider the influence of his many memories of other ordinations where the archbishop performed the rite flawlessly. If he received his minor as well as major orders at Écône, he would have been witnessed the ceremony so often that he might have filled in details missing from the 1976 fiasco. So crowded a mental picture after so long a time could easily have induced an episode of paramnesia, leading him to believe that he saw the archbishop use two hands, when in fact the great man had acted amiss and employed but one.
The mind plays so many tricks on us when we try to recall after the long march of years complex events saturated with emotion, doesn't it?
THE BOTTOM LINE: The circumstances argue against the admissibility of this European's statement. The statement, therefore, merits suppression. Bear in mind that the moment of imposition was so fleeting that it may not have registered at all on his conscious mind, such that what he "remembers" now could well be a fiction contrived by unconscious bias and wishful hindsight. Additionally, consider, too, that our witness might not have thought anything was wrong when the archbishop imposed just one hand, so it stands to reason that he "remembered" that nothing went wrong in 1976.
The great man had just imposed one hand on his head at his diaconal ordination, and the great man, as everyone at the seminary thought then and in the years that followed, was beyond a serious mistakes. And when the mistake did come to light, the Écône party-line assured everyone that all was right in their world. That's why those who knew what really happened never thought to protest.
It would be difficult for a prudent man today to admit such circumstantially compromised eyewitness testimony even if the witness had affirmed it way back in 1976, immediately after the ceremony. However, it is impossible to give this testimony, albeit offered in good faith, any credence at all when the witness delivers it half a Biblical lifetime after the event took place.