During the summer of 1993, as I was settling into a short-lived stint as the Read more →
Nanaimo Pride: The Resistance of Memory
During the summer of 1993, as I was settling into a short-lived stint as the first publisher and editor of Xtra! West, Vancouver’s brand-new gay and lesbian biweekly, I received an overstuffed legal-size envelope in the mail from Don Hann.
After Paris: Getting Our Heads Around ISIS
The morning after the Paris attacks, a friend in Jakarta posted the following message on Facebook: Fuck Isis, fuck Al Qaeda, fuck Boko haram, fuck Jemaah Islamiah. Fuck all terrorist[s] in this world. #prayforparis
Somewhere before the one-month point of this seemingly interminable, 78-day federal election campaign, New Democrats awoke to a sobering reality. Few said it openly, but everyone was thinking it: We peaked too early.
Pope Francis and Me: A Fantasy
The scene: A sitting room in the papal residences of Domus Sanctae Marthae, The Vatican.
The ambience: Warm, dim lighting. In the middle of the room between two comfy chairs is a coffee table bearing a plate of fruit, cheese and bread, two wine glasses, and a ceramic decanter filled with the finest Malbec.
Vatican News Flash: Gays Are People, Too
First, all you snickering cynics out there—including my fellow Catholic atheists and otherwise gay brethren—let’s not make fun of what rhymes with “relatio.” Instead, let’s take the Vatican document released today, relatio post disceptationem (Report After Debate), seriously and at face value.
What’s In a Name? Everything.
Last night I was chatting with a friend when we somehow got onto the topic of the Washington Redskins. Now, I’m not much of a football fan, but controversies about race and ethnicity in popular culture tend to hover fairly close to my radar. This one—surrounding the name and logo of the U.S. capital’s NFL team—involves two subjects right up my alley: branding and media optics.
An Independent Newsroom Where Self-Censorship Rules
With the state once again targeting journalists, press freedom in post-dictatorship Myanmar remains elusive. But it’s not just the government that inhibits free expression: the country’s leading independent news daily routinely betrays the ideals of press freedom by promoting hatred against a persecuted minority.
So Long Myanmar, Au Revoir Burma
Back in February, while sitting down for lunch in Mandalay with Karen Connelly, I reminded the award-winning author of The Lizard Cage of something she had said while promoting her 2009 memoir, Burmese Lessons. Connelly had told an interviewer that, after finishing her epic novel, she thought she was “done with Burma”—meaning as a destination, as place to live, and as a subject for writing. However, having found that she had much more to say after excavating her life-changing romance with a Burmese dissident, she knew she was mistaken.
Defying the Politics of Hate
A few months ago, while I was living in Burma, I met a former army captain and engineer from Rakhine State who lived in suburban Rangoon and was doing some interesting things with solar energy. After Saw Hla Pru invited Lune and I to his home in Insein township for a delicious lunch he had cooked with the heat of the sun, I wrote a story about him. Later, the story morphed from a feature about sustainable energy practices into a more poignant tale about Pru’s friendship with a B.C.-based Arakan Muslim man I know through the Pacific Burma Roundtable, Maung Tin.
Welcome to the Post-Totalitarian Disneyland
NAYPYIDAW—Ever since arriving in Myanmar back in September, I have harboured a nagging desire to visit the country’s new capital city. Naypyidaw, unveiled by former dictator Than Shwe in November 2005 (although not actually given its name until four months later), has become somewhat legendary for all the wrong reasons. Apparently it was so unattractive a place that, when the regime invited foreign embassies to relocate from Yangon, Bangladesh was the only country to take them up on it.
The Lady, the Cult, and the Dented Halo
YANGON—Last month, while I was up in Mandalay for the Irrawaddy LitFest, I attended my first public event in the presence of Aung San Suu Kyi. Yes, “The Lady”: Burma’s democracy icon, Nobel laureate, and living legend. Scion of legendary independence hero/martyr Aung San. Exemplar of peaceful, non-violent resistance who spent the better part of two decades under house arrest. Heroine who left behind her family and comfortable life in the West to pursue her destiny as champion for democracy in Burma. That Aung San Suu Kyi.
Myamar Women: Sticking With the Union
YANGON—On Sunday March 9, I attended an International Women’s Day (IWD) event in the Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone, part of a sprawling suburb located across the Hlaing River on the western outskirts of Myanmar’s largest city. Some 270 women, mostly garment factory workers, got the day off so they could attend an information session on self-empowerment and women’s rights.
Myanmar Literature’s Divided House
MANDALAY—I was all set to headline this blog entry “The Barefoot Lit Fest”: a reference to the unusual decision to hold an international authors gathering in the halls of an ancient Buddhist pagoda, where shoes and socks must be left at the door. But then the Myanmar government got in the way.
Learning to Cope in a ‘Trauma Society’
Meet Saw Thet Tun. As a student in 1988, he was involved in the pro-democracy movement. A few years later, the authorities caught up with him. Now, look at his right eye. Looks normal, right? But it’s useless. He lost all its vision during the nineteen years he spent as a political prisoner.
The Best of Burma: A Reader’s List
Since Lune and I arrived in Myanmar in September, a few people have asked me what they should read about this fascinating country. In no particular order, and with some comments included, I’ve compiled a selection from the books I’ve read.
Jack Sproule: Spirit of the Trickster
My recent book, The Trial of Pope Benedict: Joseph Ratzinger and the Vatican’s Assault on Reason, Compassion, and Human Dignity (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2013), was dedicated to Father Jack Sproule, a priest who served in the Vancouver Island diocese while I was growing up. The following essay I wrote about Jack appears in the winter edition of the Island Catholic News….
A Pox on Both Their Houses
YANGON—To borrow from a favourite line by Captain Willard in “Apocalypse Now,” sometimes the bullshit piles up so fast in Thailand that you need wings to stay above it.
The “bullshit” in this case—as in the 2008 and 2010 rounds of political gridlock in the kingdom—is the braying and sloganeering of both “red shirt” and “yellow shirt” sides in a series of anti-government demonstrations and pro-government pushback rallies that have once again turned fatal with the death of a protester in Bangkok on Saturday.
The Ghosts of Atrocities Past
YANGON—For countries emerging from lengthy periods of totalitarian rule, one measure of good democratic health is the extent to which government is willing to acknowledge historic wrongs. The more public and visible the gesture, the thinking goes, the faster the country and its citizens can come to terms with the dark legacies of violence and oppression.
Rereading Orwell: The Burden of Circumstance
A few days ago, I started re-reading George Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays. Every so often it’s good to revisit authors who’ve had a profound influence on one’s own writing, and my fiftieth birthday seemed like the right moment to dip back into Orwell, who has always been a touchstone.
Bomb Blasts a Dark Omen
YANGON—On Tuesday morning, I received a message from a friend in Vancouver I had just wished a happy birthday.
“Thanks Dan,” she said, “I hope you’re having a blast in Yangon.”
I winced at the unintended irony: my friend had no way of knowing that Yangon had just been shaken by a series of bomb blasts.
The Elephant in Myanmar’s Room
YANGON—Last week, Myanmar was officially handed the chairmanship of the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a one-year term that begins on January 1. Myanmar waited longer than any other member state for this honour—the first seventeen years of its membership, to be precise. There are those who would argue that it should have waited even longer, given the slow pace of reform under the former military dictatorship. Still others would say that Myanmar should never have been invited to join the influential bloc in the first place.
The Post-Dictatorship Newsroom
YANGON—The independent newspaper I’m working for is located in a six-storey low-rise just two blocks from our apartment. The English edition is on the fifth floor, where foreign staffers enjoy an air-conditioned room while local reporters and translators share a long, two-sided bank of open cubicles in the main hallway.
Pope Francis: Numero Uno Paradigm-Buster
Earlier this year when I signed the book deal for The Trial of Pope Benedict, I was convinced that this would be the end of all my writing about popes—and the Roman Catholic Church, for that matter.
Take a Pill
YANGON—A few nights ago, I didn’t sleep very well. When I began to shiver, Lune checked my forehead and wrapped an extra blanket around me. He said I had a fever. The next morning, I woke up with a low-grade headache. “This is it,” I thought, my Woody Allen-ish hypochondria going into overdrive.
Hurry Up and Wait
YANGON—“Try not to do more than one thing a day in Myanmar,” Kay sighed one night, as we waited in vain for a good connection to g-mail at a local Internet shop. “You might be disappointed.”
Good Morning, Myanmar!
YANGON—Well, it took a quarter of a century, but I’m finally here. Finally seeing a country that, ever since that certain famous uprising in 1988, has captured my imagination, altered my thinking about things like freedom and dissent, and even gifted me my life partner—all without the benefit of once having visited.
Daniel Gawthrop tells all on “The God Show”
If they ever make a movie, “The Vatican”, the promo text goes, you know who may play the villain? Pope Benedict XVI.
Veteran U.S. radio broadcaster Pat McMahon interviews Daniel Gawthrop about his new book, The Trial of Pope Benedict. Their free-wheeling discussion covers everything from the promise of Vatican II to the Great Disillusionment, from closeted gay Curial bishops to how Pope Francis might end up playing the hero.
Podcast on 92.3 KTAR-FM, “The Voice of Arizona,” on Sunday, June 30, 2013.
The Trial of Pope Benedict launched
VANCOUVER—About seventy-five friends, colleagues, Gawthrop family members, fellow writers, and other readers showed up at Pat’s Pub on June 25 to celebrate the launch of The Trial of Pope Benedict, and the early reviews are in. Visit Daniel’s blog for more details.
“An eye-opening account of corruption and secrecy” – Kirkus Reviews
“An intelligent reflection on the lost opportunities of Vatican II” – Vancouver Sun
“Nicely skewers the Ratzingerian mindset”– Stan Persky, author of Reading the 21st Century
“Heartbreaking and magisterial”– Terry Glavin, author of Come from the Shadows
Twenty-six years ago, Daniel Gawthrop left the Roman Catholic Church. Today, he describes himself as an openly gay atheist and “cultural Catholic,” a term he roughly borrows from Graham Greene to denote a continuing identity with Catholic ways of thinking. While he has left the institution of the Church, Gawthrop profoundly believes in the potential of progressive Catholic traditions, such as those embodied in the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), to foster supportive, inclusive communities and advocate social change. The problem, he says, is that the contemporary Catholic Church has moved markedly away from liberation theology and towards a toxic, medieval theology and a hierarchy of secrecy. Gawthrop identifies Joseph Ratzinger, the man who would be Pope Benedict XVI, as the central agent in the Church’s current devolution.
An exhaustively researched work by a conscientious objector, The Trial of Pope Benedict invokes the spirit of Archbishop Romero (the martyr of El Salvador) in speaking truth to power. With the creativity of theologian Matthew Fox and the skepticism of Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Gawthrop crafts a persuasive, necessary critique of the most powerful and secretive religious institution in the world, examining Ratzinger’s career in all its controversy. Neither a hateful diatribe nor a knee-jerk response to headlines, The Trial of Pope Benedict carefully and intelligently illuminates Ratzinger’s outdated, aggressive positions on women and homosexuality, as well as his profound silence on the Church’s recent financial and sex scandal crises.
As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI settles into his surprising retirement, Gawthrop argues that Ratzinger must not be allowed diplomatic immunity from the many scandals that have rocked the Vatican. He also offers insight into newly elected Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) and provocative ideas on how the Church can transform itself as a means to restore the faith of its disenchanted followers.