Sacristans and Justice

One of the jobs yours truly has at the monastery is sacristan. For the last 6 to 9 months I have taken on washing and ironing the smaller of the sacred linens—purificators, lavabo towels, corporals and amices. The housekeeping staff do the bigger cloths for the altar and credence tables.

By way of aside, let me note the recent rise in the use of virulent lipstick. The number of purificators with strong lipstick stains makes the process of the sacred wash more difficult as I have to search out the stained cloths and add some stain remover, which is successful about 90% of the time. The need for thick applications of lipstick for Mass is beyond me. But I digress…

So one of the things that makes the labour bearable on a Sunday afternoon, after a busy morning, is to watch a little something on the computer while I wield the hot-iron and spray clouds of starch. Today a documentary seemed in order. A Youtube search brought up a documentary entitled Abused: The Untold Story (on Youtube minus the last couple of minutes, or still on BBC iPlayer for the next 10 days). It is a BBC documentary centring on a number of victims of abuse at the hands of Jimmy Saville and two other (convicted) abusers. It is the better sort of topical documentary, eschewing gratuitous sentimentality and sensationalism. It is very powerful, and very disturbing.

Its greatest benefit for me is the insight that these victims were not seeking money, but the release of being believed. The expression of that desire is almost a mantra in the documentary (well, it is in my absorption of it). There are some heart-rending moments especially as the documentary follows one case in real time. One thing that the dispassionate observer might not truly comprehend is the magnified effect of trauma on a juvenile. A juvenile rarely, if ever, has the experience or emotional capacity to interpret the experience of abuse in a manageable way.

The glaring failure of the documentary was in its uncritical assessment of the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Yewtree, which was formed in the wake of the Saville revelations. The BBC show its successes. But over the last year we have seen evidence of its failures, as zeal obscured good judgment and, at times, justice. None of this is alluded to. Perhaps it was not wholly relevant to the case studies that are the focus of the documentary. But still, for balance some mention should have been made. Just as true victims have not been believed, some falsely accused have not been believed.

As to the falsely accused, or more particularly the wrongly convicted, there was a link related to this documentary displayed in Youtube, to a documentary called Dream Killer. This deals with the murder conviction of 19 year old Ryan Ferguson in Missouri in 2003, for the 2001 murder of Kent Heitholt. Normally I find most American documentaries on such emotive topics to be emotionally manipulative, sensationalised and sentimentalised. This breaks that mould; it is superb. Even the hotshot lawyer who brings about the breakthrough is likeable and moderate in her bearing.

We follow the case from the murder through the police investigation and then the 10 year campaign by Ryan’s parents to have him freed. It is a frightening example of wrongful conviction and official misconduct. That is illuminating enough. The real revelation is the character of Ryan’s parents, doggedly determined to vindicate his innocence, and the unflappable character of Ryan himself. Though the main plot has a happy ending, it is not all bathed in golden glow. There is an insight into the toll it has taken on Ryan, an insight that is not over-worked. And of course, Mr Heitholt’s killer is yet to be detected.

Watching both of these documentaries got me through the ironing but are a little psycho-emotionally taxing. There are lovely moments and searing ones. But both merit watching as they offer insights into how dysfunctional our societies can be, beneath the slick packaging.

These-Stone-Walls-Fr-Gordon-J-MacRaeIt reminds me that Fr Gordon MacRae still languishes in gaol in New Hampshire, the victim of what appears to be a miscarriage of justice at the hands of both state and Church. Unless justice steps in, he is unlikely to see freedom before he dies. He has a blog that has become his priestly ministry, These Stone Walls. Pray for him, and for all victims of injustice, and for all victims of sexual abuse.

How small my troubles now seem…


3 thoughts on “Sacristans and Justice

  1. the lipstick got me Father—I fear I will now always consider what is applied prior to those more scared moments of life 🙂
    and yet we are brought from the frivolous to the more dramatic in our lives—the stories of those who have spent decades in prisons and due to now the modern use of DNA testing, immediately clears them—10 years, 25 years…a boy becomes a man and often times, an old man.
    I can’t imagine living knowing that I was innocent, yet was locked away from life because others simply didn’t believe me–there have even been those who were executed who were later exonerated–too little too late…
    it is a sobering thought…


  2. Linen(real linen) should be boiled with soap or laundry detergent in a saucepan or container large enough for the linens to have enough room to float (if they touch the bottom they will burn). This will not only ensure lipstick is removed safely but also make the linens sparkling white.


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