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Dancing pensioners + catholic 'cover up'
In my line of work you often meet people who either really want to talk to you or have no interest in talking at all. Both can be irksome, the former because they have an agenda, the latter because a conversation is like pulling nails. Yesterday, however I got to speak to someone who had no problem speaking her mind but was obviously completely mystified by the sudden attention she was receiving. Erika Schmaltz is the head of an all-female pensioners dance troupe who had just been given a crash course in the madness of the 21st century. She told me that she’d learned the word ‘woke’ for the first time the day before. A friend had explained what it means to her after she unwittingly found herself at the centre of a national media storm. Ms Schmaltz, from Mannheim in Baden-Württemberg, had been invited by the national garden show to perform with her dance troupe at the biennial event. The dancers, who sew their own costumes, planned to perform their newest piece called “dream cruise across the globe.” It involves dance skits with the ladies dressed in kimonos, saris, sombreros and in pharaonic garb. When the national garden show got wind of what they were going to perform, it got cold feet and told them that six of the costumes were unacceptable due to concerns about cultural appropriation. Mr Schmaltz, although completely unaware of the culture wars going on in the national media, dug her heels in nonetheless. “We’ll perform the whole show or nothing at all,” she told them. Before she knew it, every newspaper in the country was covering the story. The garden show quickly backpedalled, insisting it hadn’t tried to censor the pensioners, and invited them for crisis talks. What came out was a compromise in which the ladies agreed not to wear the sombreros (but keep their ponchos) and to take the gold and blue embellishments off the pharaonic clothes so that they would look “more like Arabic workers.” The garden show claimed to be happy with the compromise and the ladies were bumped up to the main stage in return. “It’s all ludicrous,” Schmaltz told me cheerily. But she is clearly politician at heart. “We had to make a compromise, so that no one would lose face.” But she had her read lines, too. “We agreed not to wear black wigs for Japan,” she said, “but we but we’re keeping the kimonos… they were expensive.” Did she have any sympathy for the notion that some audience members may be offended by the “cliched” depictions of their cultures, I asked. Not at all, she replied. Among the hundreds of emails of support she’d received were ones from Indian women who were delighted that her troupe were wearing saris. When they go back to the day job of performing in care homes the wigs and sombreros would be back, she assured me.
Another week, another report into decades of cover-ups of abuse inside the Catholic Church. This time it is the turn of Freiburg, where investigators looked into allegations of sexual assault over seven decades from 1946 onwards. They found the “complete picture of a cover up” over years, as successive archbishops quietly moved predator priests into early retirement without saying why. The team of four investigators were shocked to find the archbishops took a stronger line against priests who had consensual sex with women than ones who preyed on children. This is crazy stuff, but we have become so used to hearing it that it barely causes a ripple these days. Similar reports from Munich and Cologne came to almost identical conclusions about archbishops ignoring victims and refusing to cooperate with law enforcement. One can only imagine what kind of public outcry would ensue were such moral corruption to be unearthed inside Islamic institutions. The ironic thing is that the constant scandal, and the general backwardness of the Vatican, hasn’t even done much to harm the Church’s membership numbers. In contrast, Germany’s protestant church bends over backwards to try and keep up with modern trends. It has long allowed female vicars and lately became the object of public derision for asking its clergy to drive at 100 km/h on the autobahn “to protect the climate.” But the poor descendants of Luther are still losing members at a faster rate than their catholic brethren. Since 2005, the protestant church has lost six million members, the catholic church ‘only’ 4 million.