Editor's Note: This is the second of our two-part series aimed at discrediting the statement of a European priest, who swore "before God" -- and some 35 years after the fact! -- that the notorious June 29, 1976, priestly ordination took place at Écône without defect. Last week we demonstrated how common sense assures us his testimony is highly suspect. This week we'll summarize the scientific findings and forensic insights that argue compellingly why traditional Catholics of good conscience should ignore this priest's statement. N.B. At the end of today's post, we have a special announcement, both in English and in Spanish.
Defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges all are aware of the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. In fact, the forgetting curve begins to drop off swiftly after 20 minutes. Thereafter, it continues to decline exponentially until the second day, where it levels off at a considerably reduced accuracy. Moreover, the inevitable decay of memory is irreversible: the more that time goes by, the greater the likelihood of faulty remembrance. This means that earlier testimony is, on the whole, more accurate than later testimony. Consequently, the longer the interval, the greater the probability that post-event information will become confused with the target memory. Indeed, with the passage of time, memory is increasingly susceptible to contamination.
Human memory, as Bartlett showed in 1932, is reconstructive. A witness uses several sources to reconstruct a memory, only one of which is the actual memory itself. Our memories have gaps. To fill in the gaps, we recruit prior knowledge, expectations, biases, attitudes, prejudices, and information fed to us by others. Once our recollection has been contaminated, it's impossible to recover the original memory intact.
As well-founded research teaches, we don't record and recall memories as we would store and play back sounds and images on a recording device. We store the gist of any memory in a way that makes sense to us. Our mind organizes -- makes sense of -- the information by forming our memories into schemata or units of knowledge corresponding to stereotypes of people, places, things, and circumstances. We then use these schemata to predict outcomes of near-term events as well as to plot the courses of action we should undertake.
To the extent that the schemata can be influenced by our values, unconsciously unacceptable information can be distorted so as to accommodate the schemata we have created. Our mind makes an effort to reduce dissonance by adjusting our memories to our knowledge and understanding of the world. All this is to say that we often alter our memories to make them more meaningful to us, to shape them in accordance with our firmly fixed beliefs.
Inasmuch as human memory is so malleable, it's fair to say that no one can put any stock in the European priest's jurat regarding the 1976 ordination, even if he did sign it solemnly "before God." Quite frankly, thirty-five years is too long an interval to wait, so it's easy to see the schemata at work in this case: Holding the archbishop in such high esteem, this hero-worshiping priest could not fit the well-reported fact of the one-handed ordination into his stubborn belief in the venerable prelate's unerring competence.
For this man, the archbishop still towers over the traditional Catholic world from his lofty pedestal. To admit that this heroic figure -- perhaps even a saint -- had made a serious mistake was simply too unthinkable. Our witness's human memory, compromised by the suggestions of partisans and possibly aided by unconscious transference (confusing one event for another), reconstructed the priestly ordination rite of June 29, 1976, so that it would make sense to him, the great archbishop's starstruck acolyte. Since he could not comprehend his hero's making so grave an error, his reconstructed "memory" came to rescue his challenged understanding. The desperate and unscrupulous defenders of one-handed orders simply took advantage of his psychological dependence and the unreliability of human memory to support their now utterly defeated position.
THE BOTTOM LINE: We cannot take, without a grain of salt, the European priest's sworn statement. There are too many threats to its reliability. Both common sense and awareness of the inherent weakness of tardy eyewitness testimony lead the prudent man and woman to reject it out of hand. Anyone who appeals to this priest's statement stands impeached before Catholics of good will and sound intellect.
La semana entrante, Pistrina publicará la versión en inglés de la refutación muy anticipada de la obra fracasada del "Tonto Toño