Traslation of Manuel Delgado, "La carn dels infants. La usurpació de menors en la imaginació persecutòria", Arxiu d'etnografia de Catalunya, Nº. 9, 1992‑1993, pags. 171-181.
THE FLESH OF THE CHILDREN.
The usurpation of minors in persecutory imagination (II)
By MANUEL DELGADO
University of Barcelona
2. Rome & the soul eaters.
The role of protagonist or complicity that belongs to the Church of Rome regarding their campaigns to detect & capture dissidents, to justify their persecution, as well as the judgment & punishment of all kinds people & groups that were considered deviated, throughout a few centuries of successive persecutory waves in Europe until now, it's often reiterated. This is uncontestable. But it isn't less so, that the Church itself was victim of these mechanisms of persecution & punishment that herself had so often been in charge of executing, manifesting that the persecutory techniques & devices not always have the intent of repressing minorities, but also, even though eventually, of authentic majorities or, if nothing else, groups that differ ideologically from an ample presence in society, the objects of violation of identity. Along this lines we notice that all the revolutionary & reformatory movements that appeared in the continent from the Xith century onwards, which presented as a priority for the changes that they proposed the elimination of the clerical powers, repeated, when they controlled the different situations, identical charges against the members of the Church as the ones that the Church had levelled against them & others before that. This implies that the techniques to treat & define Evil employed by the great historical currents of anti-ecclesiastic violence, behaved as a variant or an anterior modus operandi that, constrained by the ever changing historical contingencies, found now in the monks, nuns & priests new recipients upon whom to apply old blames & corrections, including, naturally, the theft of children.
In this sense, we need to keep in mind the way how one of the monomanias of the Church's anti-ecclesiastic folklore has been, from its early expressions, precisely to point at the convents as places where they carried out homicides & the clandestine exhumation of the fruits of unlawful relationships between the priests & the nuns, imagined as victims of a private network of prostitution in service of the former. To enter into situations well known & close to us, the assaults that were carried out against convents in Catalonia as a consequence of the great violent iconoclast outbursts -1835, 1909, 1936- demonstrated a special concern to uncover & exhibit the coffins where the nuns were buried, in which were found -or it was believed to be found‑ remainders of pregnant women, fetuses & newborns. In his novel, "History of a Parish", Paco Candel tells of the reticence of a young catholic activist -from the avantgarde- to accept that which everyone considered an uncontestable evidence: "And he did not want to believe what they told him about having found convents with mummified pregnant nuns, as well as of newborn babies killed by the priests themselves." (1971:308)
The consistency of this imagination results surprising &, thus, we can find re-editions provided by this anti-catholic disposition that's easy to find in certain American movies & plays of that time. As an example we could name the movie that was presented in Spain with the name "Agnes of God", directed by Norman Jewison, with Jane Fonda as its protagonist & based on the play by the same name from Pielnneir, that portrayed again one of those typical stories of infanticide inside a convent of nuns that so much enjoys the anti-clerical opinion & that was centered in the erotic perversions provided by the Catholic church. Elements of rumor determined to label the church as an assassin of children, last refuge of the same that the jews & witches were accused of & that, from time to time, the news brings afloat again. "El Pais" published on November 26th, 1990 a brief note that said: "Walled in a church. The skeletons of a woman & a child were found between two walls in the church of St. Domenec, Girona, by the workers of a company that was working for the Autonomous University. The bodies had been [walled] about 50 years."
The faithfulness regarding the historical model from the angle of the anti-clerical discourse is ostensible enough, surely as a result of the equivalence that the protestants established from the very beginning between the persecution of witches & that of catholics, systematically accused of worshipping Satan & obeying the Anti-Christ that had his headquarters in the Vatican. Even in 1936 people were convinced that in the monasteries ritual infanticides were carried out, in the same manner as it was attributed during centuries to the secret societies -real or imaginary- that were persecuted. In the Franciscan Monastery of Berga, the human residues disinterred the summer of that year were publicly presented as creatures victims of ceremonial sacrifices (Cfr. Trepat, 1942:125-135), the same way that the search that, also at that time, was ordered at the hospital of the order of St. Joan de Deu in the Barcelona suburb of Les Corts had as its objective to confirm the information according to which immolations of children had been carried out in that place (Marcos, 1980, 578). The discovery of evidence that showed the perversely anti‑children attitude of the clergy could start uproars as serious as the ones in Madrid, May 1931, when, among the causes that provoked the sacrilegious mutinies & the setting on fire of the convents & religious schools, was the rumor that some nuns had distributed poisoned sweets among the children of one of the city's suburbs.
This demonisation of catholicism being in force, emphasized by the victim's condition of minors, can be seen reflected in such recent events as the atrocious death, in Fall 1990, in the village of Almansa, La Mancha, of a mother who extracted her little girl's intestines through the vagina, during the celebration of a hallucinating para-ecclesiastic exorcism ceremony, notwithstanding of a clear catholic inspiration. Anyway, to show this maintenance of the idea of catholicism as a philosatanic religion that sacrifices children -especially their own-, we don't need to resort to what could sound as fraudulent reminiscents in the heart of a scarcely polished popular religiosity. Again, the hollywoodian folklore, so loyal to the protestant interpretations of that which is understood as the "papal superstitions", provides another very adequate example. We refer to the movie, directed by John Schlesinger with Martin Sheen as the main actor, showed among us with the title "The believers", where they recount a modern day horror story of fathers that sacrifice their own first-born in order to acquire power & that enter a secret society that practiced the violent killing of children, following a devilish religion that presents itself as being inspired in the models, that the film portray as equivalents an indistinct in their inside, of the fantastic primitive rituals of some improbable savages from Sudan, of the saint-worship that the hispanics remain faithful to in New York & the catholicism of the North Americans of Irish descent.
If this atrocious vision of Roman christianity merges with the repertoire of charges -among them, first of all, the one about ritual infanticide- that corresponds to the old European persecutory tradition, another style of accusation directly relates the charges against the Church with those problems that the media, the journalistic literature & the associations dedicated to "rescue" & "de-program" children & adolescents supposedly kidnapped by evil sects transform, nowadays & every so often, into current events with which to satisfy the public demand for the someone's stigmatization.
Resorting to charge the Church with the abduction of minors with intent to prove its participation in the social evil is not only an event not infrequent at all in the European media of the XIXth century & early XX's, but rather, besides playing a very important role in the construction of the contemporary anti‑clerical imaginary, it had actual effects in the politics of the bourgeois' governments towards the ecclesiastic institution, during a time when the Church had already stopped being the trustworthy ally & servant of the states turning into their rival & competitor. One of the primary themes in the official & popular anti-clerical discourse -always parallel- was, in fact, the one that stubbornly pointed at the schools & religious institutions as places where children were preyed to destine them to obscure purposes, which made it urgent to take action in order to return the minors to their families &, through them, to the civilian society.
The preoccupation, that the anti-clericals always experimented vis a vis of the problem regarding the control of the children & adolescents by the clergy, is known. The enormous success obtained by libels such as "The Theft of the Children, Moral Imposture of Catholicism", by Jacobus, originally published in French in 1959 which resulted in editions of vast circulation in several languages -among them Spanish-, demonstrates the virulence of the accusation. The matter was grave, as it implied some sort of complaint against the authority of the father & was contrary to the lawful hierarchy in the core of domestic life as established by the adipic model of the modern family. All the forms of anti-clericalism, from the liberal-bourgeois to the worker & populist's movements, assessed first of all the fight against the schemes through which the nuns & priests seduced & captivated the fantasy of their infantile & juvenile victims, by means of the images & pictures' sensuality, through the sacred stories, through the enchantment of the ceremonies, with the promise of prodigies, & also against the way how the Church was able to forcefully tear the minors off their parents arms, as well, to lock them up in schools & convents for their indoctrination. Books such as "On the Knees of the Church", by Charles Sauvestre, published in 1868, are consecrated, as René Rémond reminds us, "to show that it's mainly the Church that imparts an immoral education & perverts the conscience." (1976:150.) Novels as outstanding in the Spanish literature of the first half of the century as "The Garden of the Monks", by Manuel Azaña, 1927 or, before, A.M.D.G., by Pérez de Ayala, in 1910, are centered around this subject of the danger of the religious schools in regards to the wholesome formation of the children.
It's worth mentioning how some of these affairs resulted in an extraordinary political repercussion & had long term effects in the relations between the secular & the religious powers. The most outstanding case is, without any doubts, the one called "affair Mortara", that moved the European & North-American public opinion around the half of the last century.
On June the 23rd 1858 at ten p.m., a detachment of the pontifical guard arrived at the home of a jewish couple in Bolonia (Italy). They came to take their 6 year old son, Edgard, away, of whom they had received information that he had been secretly baptized, which gave the Church the right to take him away from his jewish environment & to carry him away by force to raise him in the catholic faith. For one thing, the case, which was not quite an isolated one -neither was it the first nor the last of the sort-, posed the problem of the ecclesiastical rights over the hebrew minority; but, even further, served to defer the exhortation that the Church was giving about what was considered the natural family & secular society's rights concerning the formation of the minors. A tempest of protests cropped up everywhere in an anti-clerical offensive without precedents. The liberal & ultramontane press got into bitter polemics & such an event, apparently punctual, put all the diplomacy of that time in motion with the intent of re-enforcing the Franco-Piamontesi alliance & to urge the Italian unity that would be able to finish off the papal State. In the anglo-saxon countries, the issue made the hidden tension between catholics & protestants to raise. A theater play, "The cards' reader", by Victor Sejour, inspired in the affair, obtained a remarkable success in the European stages of the moment & counted with the presence of the French emperor & empress on the day of the debut, in December 1859.
Besides these effects on international politics, what we are interested in right here is to remember that, as René Rémond pointed out, "just the abduction of this jewish boy in Italy did more for the anti-clericalism than the mischiefs or the out of place initiatives of tens of bishops or thousands of priests..." (Op. par.157). The nucleus of the debate did, in effect, take place around the perfidious fashion with which, in the manner attributed to today's "destructive sects", the Church seized, by means of shrewd persuasion or through violence, the children & the adolescents. Napoleon the 3rd's government intervened against that which was considered, according to the instructions passed on to the French ambassador in Rome, as "an outrageous violation of the most essential guarantees upon which rest the respect towards the domestic unit & the paternal authority" (Weill, 1983:105). Finally, Edgard Mortara ended up entering, once he was of age, the order of St. Augustine, fact that did not impede that other affairs, always centered around the catholic robbery of children, followed after the situation that bore his name. The cases named "affair Bluth" & "affair Linnerviel" provoked a generalized indignation that ended up with the liberal opinion requiring that the Church be criminally prosecuted because of this. In a speech given in the Senate in 1865, Rouland repeated the accusations against the religious orders & the type of instruction that they imparted, which led to "perpetuate in our children disagreements & antagonisms" & that "spread among the families an exaggerated proselytism" (Op. par.117).
In 1953, another rather similar case, the one called "affair Finaly", provoked another considerable polemic in France as well, that triggered the dusting off of the case in which Edgard Mortara was the protagonist one century before that. In this case it was a matter of two jewish children, whose parents died while deported by the nazis & who were under the custody of a catholic family, that baptized them. At the end of the war, the relatives of the orphans claimed them to bring them back to Israel, which was authorized by the French administrative authorities. In order to avoid this, the ones that had been in charge of the children helped them to enter Spain through a network of religious institutions. This issue provoked the repetition of the same arguments deployed at the time of the affair Mortara, regarding the clerical anti-semitism as well as, most of all, those that affected the old prestige of the Church as kidnapper of minors. A journalist of that time, Andre Lorulot, wrote in the magazine "La Calotte": "We can see that the kidnapping of the children was seriously organized, & the consigns are well respected by the minions of the 'hierarchy'...Robber of children! Robber of inheritances! This is the whole program of the Roman Catholic Church" (underlined in the original. Rémond, Op. par. 318).
The image of the Church as a perverse association dedicated to snatch & retain children illegally was reproduced in Spain with a vehemence & efficacy as a persecutory argument not less remarkable. The atmosphere of reject & denouncing of what was understood to be the clerical kidnapping of children & adolescents propitiated the extraordinary political & civil scandal triggered by the debut in Madrid, in January the 30th 1901, & in Barcelona, June the 5th of the same year, of the theater play by Benito Pérez Galdós "Electra". A polemic that was centered around the disclosing of how the clergy took children away lying to them about an ample spectrum of political currents that had as a common denominator the radical anti-clericalism: socialists, anarchists, republicans, liberals, etc., that, in any case, required the disintegration of the religious institutions dedicated to the indoctrination & proselytism of children & youth.
In some declarations given to the Canarian press, the same author explained that the purpose of the play was to combat the "insidious & malevolent influence on the conscience" (mentioned by Montero-Paulson, 1988:208). To do this, the play narrates the story of Electra, a maid, hardly a child, spontaneous & vivacious -a noble savage-, in the words of Galdós himself, that loves above everything to live her freedom. She finds what is presented to us as her "natural master", Máximo, a widower with two sons that dedicates his life to science -is owner of a laboratory- & falls in love with the freshness & vitality of the girl. His intention is to mold the "virgin character" of the youngster, directing it towards rationalist attitudes & separating her from the perturbing effects of idleness. At this time comes into the scene Salvador Pantoja, an old & fanatical devout, Electra's uncle, that lies to her & causes her to lose her mind to accomplish his ignoble objective: to make her enter in a convent as a novice. The related story -that, obviously results in the recovering of the girl & her reintegration with the one that is portrayed as being her true owner- is an allegory easily recognizable of the competitiveness that the "two Spains" established over the control of the youth & of women. Electra's youth & Máximo's father-husband's profile allow this double meaning, as the protagonist is an immature creature overcomed through the lies of the religious irrationality, but also as a future wife alienated by the intriguing activity of the priests & their allies. Very much along the lines, as a matter of fact, of the very strong misogyny bias of the XIXth century's anti-clericalism, as cultured as popular, that founded its convictions in the fact that the Church easily manipulated the female soul in the topic, characteristically chauvinist, that women suffer from a chronic incapacity to think by themselves (regarding the relation between misogyny & the anti-clerical ideology, see Delgado, 1993). Being, this, a situation that we should ask ourselves if it has really changed, considering that all the studies of "destructive sects" -authentic revivals of the "Malleus Maleficarum" & of the witch-hunt handbooks-insist on cautioning that housewives are in a condition of "risk group" concerning the advertising of the new malevolent societies.
The effects of the play spread out in different fronts. On one hand, it helped Pérez Galdós to pass from a disregarded situation within the literary community to that of near leadership of an entire generation -very specially formed by Maeztu, Baroja & Azorín- who had precisely in the magazine "Electra" one of their main means of expression. But the incidence of the play was such that not only a cultural-agitating magazine got its name, but there were also watches "Electra", pills "Electra", syrup "Electra", etc. The discussion in the press between clericals & anti-clericals was very intense, & the debut in Barcelona caused grave uproars, triggered, as the anarchist Pedro Vallina (1968:59‑61) admitted in his memoirs, by a false Jesuit provocation plotted by Vallina himself & the federalist doctor Rossend Candell. All the historians that have dealt with the processes that ended with the events of the Tragic Week of Barcelona (such as Ullman, 1972:49-52; Alvarez Junco, 1990:397-400; or Romero-Maura, 1989: 165-166) have pointed out the importance of the bitter debates about the play, in the formation of a very heavy atmosphere against the Church, from the evil deeds of which it was charged with &, especially, of taking advantage of the purity, full of ingenuity, of the infantile & juvenile minds.
"Electra" was the catalyst of a whole state of being that clamored for the minors to be spared from the seducing mystic of catholicism & from the evil plans of the priests to gain control over them, usurping the prerogative that secular society which was becoming hegemonic in Spain, as well as the State, had ascribed to themselves already. Before the debut in Barcelona, in March the 31st, 1901, in one of the most important anti-clerical gatherings held until then in the city -the unitary meeting held in the Monumental, before 12.000 people-, one of the speakers, the lerrouxist Eleuterio Chico, committed the imprudence of explaining a similar case that was taking place at that very moment in a religious center of the city. Immediately this provoked in the public that was gathered there the desire to solve the problem right then, assaulting the denounced convent in order to rescue the victim. At the end of the meeting the mob tried to attack the Jesuit school of Casp street. One month later, on the first of May, the Marist's school of St. Andreu was assaulted. A worker aroused the people gathered there by telling them:"Worse than the bourgeois are some that martyr our children, & these are the Marists, let's go there!" (these events are referred to by Romero‑Maura, Op. par. 173-174).
Before & after the fictitious "affair Electra" some other similar real life cases happened that provided to the play of Galdós a high dose of realism. A little before the played was shown for the first time, Girona lived a very similar situation in the citizen's campaign "asking for the freedom of the detained" Anna Llompart, "kidnapped" in a nunnery "despite being 15 years of age". The case called "affair Ubao" reached it's peak in the process celebrated just a few days after the debut of "Electra" in Madrid. Adelaida Ubao was a young girl that joined as a novice while being underage, after having ran away from home, in a convent of the Slaves of Jesus' Heart. According to what was said, it was her Jesuit confessor that sadduceously convinced her. The parents wanted to take her out alleging that she had been object of a malicious influence & imputing to the priest that was responsible of the girl's flight the charge of "moral kidnapping". The political dimensions of the process were enormous, among other things because the defensor of the presumed moral kidnapper was an outstanding conservative politician -La Cierva or Maura according to Ullman & Romero-Maura respectively-, while the republican Salmerón took up the representation of the parents & the boyfriend. The process ended up with the victory of the free thinkers' cause, fact that did not prevent the girl from re-entering the order once she was of age. A very similar case ‑although with infinitely less repercussions- to the one denounced in the press which had as protagonist the fifteen year old girl Gemma Sanz, held against the will of the parents -but not her own- in a school from the Opus Dei in Barcelona, in December 1989. In the Spring of 1993, the press from the Valencian country resounded a real re-edition of the affair Electra, whose protagonist was an adolescent "retained" by the Carmelites to who was forbidden to see her parents & even a priest friend of the family, that offered himself to mediate between the latter & the kidnappers.
As we can see, the tone & trend of the argumentations addressed against the Roman Church during the most aggressive periods of the history of anti-clericalism are exactly the same as the ones that today's media exhibits to refer to the so called "destructive sects". In booth cases, the stigma of those that are considered enemies of society places upon them firstly the imputation of robbers of children & practitioners of some sort of moral substitute of cannibalism, in that it is the spirit of the minors -tender & appetizing as their flesh- which is eaten by their predators. This does not imply that the literally carnal dimension has disappeared from the charges against the radical anti-socials. If the kitchen of children does not deserve credibility in today's persecutory fantasy, there is a different form of physical appropriation of infantile flesh that can compare with it as an unequivocal sign of the most repugnant & ineffable of all abominations: that which the lover of minors, the pedophile, represents for the social imaginary of infamy.