March 14th, 2010

[PHOTO] Toronto Reference Library

The Toronto Reference Library is one of my favourite places in Toronto. Located just north of Yonger and Bloor, the Reference Library is the biggest library I've seen and the nucleus of the extensive Toronto Public Library system, a large nondescript brick building with some skylights from the outside, but a vast space inside, five stories of books and shelves and public-access computers and archives, all wrapped in curves around a central space. One day, I decided to take some pictures.

Toronto Reference Library (1)

From the floor, the elevator that rises five stories looks like a spine.

Toronto Reference Library (2)

Looking across from the fifth floor the stories rise and the ivy--fake--drapes down most academically.

Toronto Reference Library (3)

Looking down from the fifth floor, the stairs curve and the terraces fall neatly into place.

Toronto Reference Library (4)

This is a shot looking down from the third floor, by the elevator.

Toronto Reference Library (5)

This is a shot taken from midway up the elevator--call it two and a half stories up.

Toronto Reference Library (6)

Am I wrong to find the curves of the stairs almost erotic?
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[FORUM] How do you balance authority against dissent?

Most of the people reading this are probably familiar with the worsening of the child sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church's continental European territories.

The Vatican's campaign to defend the Pope's reputation and his resolve to combat clergy abuse of minors followed acknowledgment by the Munich archdiocese that it had transferred a suspected pedophile priest to community work while Benedict was archbishop there in the early 1980s.

Benedict is also under fire for a 2001 church directive he wrote while a Vatican cardinal, instructing bishops to keep abuse cases confidential.

Germany's justice minister has blamed the directive for what she called a "wall of silence" preventing prosecution.

But Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Holy See's so-called prosecutor for clergy sex abuse cases, decried what he called "false and defamatory" contentions that Benedict had promoted a "policy of cover-up."

At the Vatican, rules on handling sexual abuse were "never understood as a ban on making a complaint to civil authorities," Scicluna told the church-affiliated Italian daily Avvenire.

But Irish bishops have said the document was widely taken to mean they shouldn't go to police.

Ireland was the first country in Europe to confront the church's worldwide custom of shielding pedophile priests from the law and public scandal. Now that legacy of suppressed childhood horror is being confronted elsewhere, and victims of abuse are finally breaking social taboos and confronting the clergy to face its demons.

The recent spread of claims into the Netherlands, Austria and Italy has analysts and churchmen wondering how deep the scandal runs, which nation will be touched next.

"You have to presume that the cover-up of abuse exists everywhere, to one extent or another," said David Quinn, director of a Christian think-tank, the Iona Institute, that seeks to promote family values in Ireland.

Quinn noted that stories of systemic physical, sexual and emotional abuse circulated privately in Irish society for decades, but only moved above-ground in the mid-1990s when a former altar boy and an orphanage survivor went public with lawsuits and exposés of how priests and nuns tormented them with impunity.

"A lot comes down to: When does that first victim gather the courage to come forward into the spotlight?" Quinn said. "It seems to take that trigger event, the lone voice who says what so many kept silent so long. That's basically happening now in Germany."

The repeated statements by representatives of the Church blaming a permissive society are so wrong-headed as to be funny. Surely the right to rape children didn't feature in the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Surely it isn't too much to hold the Church, as an agency that by its self-definition, to a higher standard. ed been surely it's not too much to expect that the Church as a moral exemplar. Notwithstanding that, as MacLean's pointed out in a cover article back in December, abusive priests are only a small minority of the whole, holding the Church to a higher standard seems entirely appropriate. Especially when the Church has been engaging in coverups that harmed more childrne. What Voltaire wrote about necessary intolerance came to my mind.

One of the most remarkable examples of fanaticism is found in a small Danish sect, whose principle was excellent. They desired to secure eternal salvation for their brethren; but the consequences of the principle were peculiar. They knew that all infants which die unbaptised are damned, and that those which are so fortunate as to die immediately after baptism enjoy eternal glory. They therefore proceeded to kill all the newly-baptised boys and girls that they could find. No doubt this was a way of securing for them the highest conceivable happiness and preserving them from the sin and misery of this life. But these charitable folk forgot that it is not lawful to do a little evil that a great good may follow; that they had no right to the lives of these children; that the majority of parents are carnal enough to prefer to keep their children rather than see them slain in order to enter paradise; and that the magistrate has to punish homicide, even when it is done with a good intention.

In the end, as the first article quoted made the point, it was only when parishoners ended their previous compliant relationship with the Church hierarchy and began actively questioning, sharing their experiences with everyone without respecting previous sanctions, that all this was no longer repressed and came to light. I'm not Roman Catholic by upbringing, but my father and his side of the family is, and I've always been attracted to Roman Catholicism (the idea, perhaps). I know what the sex abuse scandals did to my father's faith, and how it hurt so many people, and how their faith is always going to be marked--if it survives at all--by a critical distance from officialdom. That's how I've been influenced, at any rate.But. At the same time, hierarchies and authority are very useful in that they actively maintain the traditions which keep a belief system from decaying into incoherence.

So, thoughts? Any belief system--not only religion, but nationalism, say--needs to maintain a creative tension between authority and dissent if it's to avoid fossilization, but how is this balance to be reached?