Montreal Gazette - Canada May 7, 2011
Series finds sex abuse hiding in many faiths
By BILL BROWNSTEIN, The Gazette
Last year, I was extolling the comic merits of the British TV series Doc Martin to an equally jaded crony. When said cynic asked where he could catch this show, I, somewhat meekly, told him it was on Vision TV.
He howled. And howled. Like many others - like myself before, in fact - he had presumed without having ever watched anything on Vision TV that this was the "holy roller network, God's cheerleader," that it offered little more than televangelists of dubious nature.
I tried to assure him that the cantankerous Doc Martin - magnificently portrayed by Martin Clunes - would never be mistaken for any kind of cheerleader, let alone for a religious figure. That there was nothing socially redeemable about the man. That the show contained no spiritual message whatsoever.
And soon my friend was hooked. As have been so many other (sorry) converts. And not just to Doc Martin, but to a slew of other shows - like Absolutely Fabulous, EastEnders and (groan) Benny Hill - which can also be scoped on Vision TV.
Admittedly, there are those among us who approach anything with Vision in its title with a certain degree of skepticism. All the more so here, since Vision TV promotes itself rather dryly and unfairly as just a multi-faith, multi-cultural outlet. Nothing really alluring about that description.
And yet it is on Vision TV where viewers can watch Sex Scandals in Religion, a most provocative four-part original series, beginning Monday at 10: 30 p.m. The focus is on cheerleaders for various deities, but not on the spiritual enlightenment they are supposed to be bringing to their respective flocks.
As series narrator Gordon Pinsent points out, sex scandals are not limited to those already widely reported excesses of the Catholic Church. In fact, the Toronto-based Gogent/Bender production team heads off to less expected places in its exposé. It reports on scandals involving mullahs in Iran, Orthodox Jewish rabbis in Brooklyn and Winnipeg, a bogus Buddhist master, and a hypocritical Baptist preacher in Atlanta. [see links section below for related articles]
Staggering yet sobering stuff that viewers might expect to find on a 60 Minutes or PBS probe.
In Monday's debut, In The Name of the Ayatollah, an Iranian woman recounts her horrific ordeal as state agents raped and tortured her. Her crime was that her boyfriend is a student leader, who had the temerity to protest against his country's rulers. Also subjected to the same shocking treatment is a man whose only apparent "crime" is being gay.
A former henchman for the regime confirms both testimonies that fellow agents have been directed by mullahs to instill the fear of God into dissenters by raping and torturing them. Plus, they are informed that they will be spiritually rewarded for their efforts. Naturally, the government denies any wrongdoing, suggesting it's all some antiIranian conspiracy. Until, that is, the son of a government leader dies in prison under suspicious circumstances, and an investigation of sorts is opened.
No less disturbing is the Wall of Silence episode, airing May 16. As the title suggests, a community-wide cover-up takes place in Orthodox Jewish enclaves in both Brooklyn and Winnipeg, where young boys report sexual abuses allegedly committed by two rabbis. Rather than remove the accused, leaders victimize the children and their families and seek to ostracize them. Evidently, the image of the community is more important than crimes committed.
Particularly poignant is the story of Daniel Levin, son of Globe and Mail books editor Martin Levin. Traumatized by his molestation as an 8-year-old, allegedly at the hands of a Winnipeg rabbi, Daniel suffered from severe depression and later took his own life.
Though many tend to equate Buddhism with only bliss, such is not the case with one revered master, who is said to have taken advantage of his situation by taking sexual advantage of some female followers. In the Name of Enlightenment - airing May 23 - picks up on the notso-enlightened path of Sogyal Rinpoche, who allegedly tells women he has had his way with that they will "burn in hell" if they report his abuses. They don't burn - so much for his divine connections.
What makes In the Name of the Lord - airing May 30 - so alarming is that its subject, Bishop Eddie Long, is a charismatic and wildly homophobic Southern preacher, who is accused of sexually molesting fatherless boys in his flock. At his pulpit, Long decries homosexuality as an affront against God, yet he sees no contradiction in apparently abusing boys.
Long's response is that he feels "like David against Goliath." But playing on Biblical parables doesn't cut it here. Or anywhere else in this eye-opening series.
Yet more proof that Vision TV is not what some might have assumed it to be: Infidelity, another compelling four-part series, premiering Monday at 10 p.m. on the network. Subjects tackled are Men in Affairs, Women in Affairs, Open Marriages and Sex Addiction. Not to be confused for a Billy Graham crusade.
On the subject of sex, Donovan King, one of my fave anarchist preachers, joined by city burlesque queen Velma Candyass, will be conducting a 90-minute tour of the city's red-light district - or what's left of it - Sunday at 4 p.m.
King and Candyass (sounds like a super name for a law firm) have been on the front lines in trying to save the Main from "Disneyfication" and to restore the heritage of the fabled red-light district, once the cultural epicentre of our Sin City.
"Though the Quartier des Spectacles rises from the ashes of the storied red-light district, the area has not entirely disappeared," claims King, who has been conducting Haunted Walks in Old Montreal the last five years. "This walk looks at the infamous district from the glory days of New France, right through Prohibition and into the 21st century, and all the attempts by political leaders to clean it up."
King, quite the history buff, notes that the district's roots were in New France centuries back. "That's when the Cabaret de la Folleville was put on trial by religious authorities. They accused its madam of witchcraft three times in trials. She was acquitted every time, allegedly because some of the prosecuting clergy also used the services."
Sounds like the making of another dynamite Vision TV probe.
Participants in the walking tour of the red-light district are to meet Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Midway Bar and Salon, 1219 St. Laurent Blvd. To confirm, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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