The setting was excellent, sumptuous even. Some of the papers were very good. Old friends were there, new ones were made, and lots of interesting discussion took place outside the conference venue. But as Dan Porter has already reported, there were such deep and irredeemable flaws in this conference that it must be pronounced a total failure. And more ...
It was an unmitigated disgrace -- a fascist sham of a conference and a betrayal of the American sense of fairness and letting everyone have a chance to say their piece. Amstarís true colors were in evidence at this Dallas meeting, in the form of an armed guard (in a uniform like a state trooper's) at the door and on occasions INSIDE the conference hall, standing at the wall midway to the front, posing an unspoken but very obvious and heavy-handed presence to enforce adherence to the order imposed by the organization. Why did we not collectively protest this outrageous, fascist maneuver when it first reared its ugly head?
The iron fisted control of this conference is one that is UNHEARD OF at academic and scientific conferences. I put the question to three senior colleagues at the university here, professors in engineering, science and history, and all of them agreed instantly that a conference where papers are presented but questions from the floor not allowed is weird, something none of them had ever encountered in well over one hundred conferences all over the world, even in countries not noted for their freedom of speech. When I told them of the presence of the armed guard, all of them expressed disbelief that such a thing could happen at a supposedly scholarly conference, not to mention one devoted to Christís reputed burial cloth!
Further, requiring questions to be submitted in writing, only to read out by the chair at the last session, is equally unheard of, and nothing more than blatant censorship. The reason given by Amstar, that there was no time for questions from the floor, is patent nonsense. The purpose of this show conference was to provide a safe environment for the Turin delegation to pontificate, with no possibility of being disputed or shown to be incorrect. Even the two and a half hour final session labeled "discussion" was no such thing, but a veritable farce in which questions were sidestepped and official pronouncements were made. To cite one of the most blatant examples, one question asked how the two views on whether the C-14 sample area was re-woven could be resolved. Flury-Lemberg responded with this: "There is no re-weaving. There is no re-woven area on the Shroud." Someone dared to voice the comment that this did not answer the question. Mike Minor responded: "The next question is ..."
And so it went. There was no discussion at the "discussion session", and 40 minutes ahead of the time given in the schedule, Minor announced that the last question had been dealt with and the conference was closed. No call for comments or questions from the floor, though there was time to spare. It could not have been more of a farce!
The only moments of real discourse were the two evening sessions, when some of the Amstar officials and Turin delegation were not present. After the Ray Rogers video, in which he strongly denounced the 2002 "restoration," when it was clear that some free discussion was going to take place, Ghiberti and Karlheinz Dietz got up and walked out. Baima and Flury-Lemberg had not even bothered to attend. The next night, during the presentation by Joe Marino and Sue Benford on the re-weaving issue, no one from the Turinese delegation and only Tom DíMuhala from Amstar was present.
What is most objectionable about Ghibertiís performance is that in his paper the day before he had said: "Discussion and exchange of ideas is good; polemics and personal attacks are not." But when the first opportunity for discussion arose, he took off.
What was most objectionable about the Turin delegationís performance was their total blindness to and/or disregard of the many serious criticisms that have been aired over the "restoration." Flury-Lembergís paper repeated paragraphs straight out of her book; Barberis offered nothing more than fuzzy platitudes and repetition of Flury-Lembergís claims; Ghiberti and Baima more platitudes. None of them replied to any of the criticisms posted on shroud.com and they seemed unaware of them. A video they presented even showed the scraping of the "poker holes" and the lamp shining unattended on the Shroud while Ghiberti stood in front of it talking about measures being taken to preserve the relic. Either they did not know or they did not care about the criticisms that had been raised specifically concerning these two horrific scenes.
The low point of the conference was the insertion of an unscheduled presentation by Flury-Lemberg entitled "Correcting Misstatements about the Restoration." As she went to the podium the armed guard took up a position on the wall near me, and glanced at me repeatedly during her talk. This struck me as so ridiculous that I smiled and nodded when I caught his eye. I should have raised a point of order right then and there, at the risk of a karate chop! The format of the presentation was what the Australians call "Dorothy Dix questions": Minor asked Flury-Lemberg a series of questions, some legitimate and some totally phoney. She gave the answers as if pronouncing ex cathedra. At some questions, such as "Was the Shroud Washed?", she expressed horror and answered "No. Of course not. How could we?" One was tempted to shout back : "The same way you scraped away vital evidence without even realizing it."
In the end the only value of this conference was in meeting other Shroud researchers and the private discussions with them. For this Dan Porterís wonderful suite served an excellent venue. It contrasted totally with the rigidity and arrogant pontificating that characterized the conference.
Amstar does not represent American sindonology, and it barely represents the three individuals who comprise it. As someone remarked at the end of the conference, Amstar is dead. It has shown itself willing to adopt the most extreme and highly objectionable measures merely to ensure that the sensitivities of the Turin delegation were not ruffled. This sort of kowtowing is unacceptable, and this conference revealed Amstar for what it really is. This so-called "American association" should now pass away from the scene, or be dismissed as irrelevant to the pursuit of Shroud studies.
Hon. Research Fellow
Centre of Asian Studies
University of Hong Kong