Debunking the icons

An “Icon” has been defined in the New Oxford American Dictionary as an “object of uncritical devotion” …  and also as “a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something.”

John Unitas

For me, George Herman “Babe” Ruth and Muhammad Ali are by far my top sports’ icons, with Baltimore Colts great, John Unitas a close third. In American history, it would be General George Washington, followed by President Abraham Lincoln, with General George Patton bringing up the rear. In the realm of professional movie actors: I like the Australian Russell Crowe and the British actress, Emily Blunt, with the actor, Jamie Foxx, a close third.

From time to time, however, some of the icons of the great mass of the people are tarnished and fall quickly from grace for a variety of reasons. Mostly it’s because of egregious conduct of their own making. We’ve seen a lot of that lately.

In show business, we’ve had Roman Polanski, convicted child molester; Bill Cosby, multiple sexual assault charges; and Paul Reubens, aka “Pee Wee” Herman, obscene behavior in a porno movie theater. All three, so to speak, fell on their own sword.

In the political arena, the late Spiro T. Agnew, ex-V.P. of the United States; the late Walter “Wally” Orlinsky, former President of the Baltimore City Council; and Sheila Dixon, former Mayor of Baltimore, are three examples of icons who crashed at the top of their game. In their cases, greed was a factor in ending their careers. I’m sure the reader can thing of many more examples.

With respect to iconic institutions, the Roman Catholic Church in the United States may have taken the hardest hit of all. The massive scandal involving its pedophile priests abusing children came close to bringing it to its knees. Although, it’s true to a much lesser extent, Protestant clergy and Jewish Rabbis, haven’t been immune from this type of wrongdoing.

Sheila Dixon

There are, however, thousands of cases documenting pedophile Catholic priests sexually abusing children in this country, and others. How long will it take for the Church, as an institution, to recover — spiritually, financially and otherwise — from this shocking, revolting and debilitating scandal? Your guess is as good as any.

Much will depend on its coming fully clean, fairly compensating victims, expelling the priestly wrongdoers and requiring the Bishops who cover-up the scandals to, finally, face the music.

Take what happened in the archdiocese of Boston as Exhibit “A”. It was discovered by the Boston Globe newspaper that there had been a pattern of abuse of children by parish priests in Boston going back to the mid-1990s, that had been ignored by the Bishops. Here.

An award-winning movie, “Spotlight,” was made about the priest pedophile scandal in Boston. Based on the top-notch investigative reporting done by reporters at the Boston Globe,

it won two Oscars in 2015, including best picture.

Cardinal Bernard Law, who was in charge of the archdiocese, when this firestorm erupted, resigned in December, 2002. He denied that he had covered up the serial priestly wrongdoing (Here).

Many don’t believe him. They say that Cardinal Law needs to own up to his role in this scandal. Windy Bill O’Reilly, a Rightwing Catholic, said he thinks that Law “belongs in prison,” and that the then-Pope John Paul II, “utterly failed to deal with the crisis.”

Like O’Reilly, there are more hardliners on this issue from both the Right and Left side of the spectrum. Many of them won’t be satisfied until Cardinal Law confesses completely to his role in this matter and does public penance in each and every parish in the archdiocese of Boston. Nothing less will suffice for them.

I have personally known two young men who were abused by priests in South Baltimore. One of them became an alcoholic, the other, tragically, committed suicide. Of course, there were many more victims of these predatory clerics.

Huff Post blogger, and author, Annie Stein, on December 12, 2015, let loose her strong views on this subject.  Her commentary was appropriately entitled: “Beasts of our Nation.” She added this compelling line, which she directed at the Vatican, who may still be hiding clerical criminals, “For the love of Christ punish the bastards!”

Shifting gears to a local spiritual leader in Baltimore – Bishop Heather Cook, in the Episcopal Church, pleaded guilty to a hit and run automobile charge while driving drunk on Roland Avenue. The accident took the life of a cyclist, Tom Palermo. Cook was forced to resign as result of the notorious case and was sentenced on October 27, 2015, to seven years in a state prison. Cook had been the first female bishop in the history of the Episcopal diocese of Maryland.

Jumping to the bigger scene. Even the supposedly impregnable National Security Establishment has suffered a stab in the back to its iconic image as the protector of state secrets.

A former Navy intelligence officer for the government, Jonathan Pollard, who is Jewish, pleaded guilty in 1987, to spying for Israel and giving it “top-secret, classified information.” He received a life sentence for his gross violation of the “Espionage Act.” He served 30 years in a federal slammer and was paroled on November 20, 2015.

Philip Giraldi

Pollard, an avowed Zionist, cannot leave the U.S. for five years. He has been granted citizenship in Israel and “a public square” in Jerusalem has been named in his honor by his advocates in Israel. His supporters in this country, such as ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), implied Pollard’s spying wasn’t that harmful to the U.S. Others, however, strongly disagree with that view.

Pundit Philip Giraldi, an ex-CIA counter-terrorism specialist, said that Pollard “did more damage to the United States than any spy in history and it was genuine damage …” Here. Our National Security Establishment has, undoubtedly, learned some bitter, and costly, lessons from the Pollard spying case.

As for the general public (myself included) with its tendency to make icons out of individuals and institutions, let me suggest that it is time for a sea change. This is so, especially in the rocky era of Fake News, Alt-Facts and the Trump/Pence Gang. Let us have MORE, not less, skepticism about our putative heroes.

Author’s Note: Bill Hughes is a Baltimore-based author, actor and photojournalist.

Top photo: The iconic Lincoln Memorial (Wikipedia)