Tag Archives: Catholic Church

George Pell. “These people.” Language. Yet Again.

28 May

This admission may not make me popular, however, as I watched Cardinal George Pell front the Victorian government inquiry into child sexual abuse yesterday, I felt an increasing pity for the man.

Pell can be found seriously wanting on any number of his attitudes and statements. It’s clear he has a minimum understanding of, or empathy with, those who’ve endured sexual abuse. The most that can be said for him is that he tries to the best of his extraordinarily limited ability, and that is damning him with very weak praise indeed. One would hope for more humanity, imagination and sincere regret from the country’s most senior member of the Catholic church.

However, it was a very simple phrase Pell used that provoked my deepest and most contemptuous reaction to the man. When speaking of survivors of rape and molestation by his priests, he more than once referred to them as “These people…” He even, at one particularly low point, suggested that “these people” were not always innocent of blame in the situation.

“These people” means people who are not like me, or us. Once again, as I pointed out in this piece on Clementine Ford’s use of “we” and “our” when discussing survivors of sexual and domestic abuse, language is (unconsciously) employed to manufacture a divide between those who have suffered and those who have not, casting the former as “other” who are, because of our experiences, linguistically excluded from the discourse of power and belonging, except as objects of sympathy or, in some instances, derision.

This attitude, widely held I believe towards victims and survivors of all kinds of situations, is what I think of as a vertical system of human relations, rather than a horizontal, or side by side system. Simply by virtue of finding oneself a victim of another, one is in some way made less equal to those who are without that experience. One is assumed to be weakened, and therefore lessened, by the experience of being injured.

Being injured is among many other things, a humiliating experience. It brings into stark relief our vulnerability and powerlessness. It makes obvious how easily our will can be overwhelmed by the will of another, leaving us impotent, weakened and ashamed, whether we’re adults or children when the injuries occur.

It occurs to me that one of the reasons some of the uninjured need to distance themselves from the injured, is that we frighten them. We confront them with the awful reality of the human vulnerability we share. This could have been, could still be,   you. The only way to avoid that reality is to make the injured different. Certain kinds of injuries only happen to “these people.”  Not to “we” or “ours.”

We also see this manifest in our treatment of asylum seekers.

It’s interesting, and rather disheartening, that two people with such disparate views as Clementine Ford and George Pell choose vertical language when speaking of victims/survivors of sexual assaults.

I felt surprisingly little anger as I watched George Pell deliver his inadequate responses to the Victorian government inquiry. I felt extremely weary. I thought I could see, not for the first time, the entire dysfunctional hierarchical system that allows this man, and others like him, to construct a narrative that is corrupt to its core. I don’t only refer to the Catholic church. I’m talking about the corrupt system of human relations that is based on the othering  of one group of human beings to separate them from another, no matter what the grounds. As is demonstrated in our language, this othering is endemic, even in the most apparently well-intentioned.

I’ll have to leave it to others to rage against Pell. I see a crippling, piteous ignorance that will imprison this man for the rest of his life. That this should be so publicly displayed is, to my mind, only to the good. We need to see the characters of men and women who wield power over us, of those who control our discourse and construct our realities. Victims and survivors, most of all, need to see that these emperors have no clothes.

 

Cardinal spin

14 Nov

Happier times: Abbott & Pell breaking bread

In his press conference yesterday, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell gave a compelling display of belligerent bafflement as he wrangled with reality to spin his institution’s appalling record of child sexual abuse as a smear campaign by the media against the church.

It is all an exaggeration, the Cardinal protested, a breathtakingly disingenuous stance given the church’s record in the Hunter Valley alone, which goes something like this:  Four hundred known victims. Eleven clergy tried and convicted since 1995. Six Catholic teachers convicted since 1995. Three priests currently on trial. First priest charged this year with concealing the crimes of another. Twelve priests involved in compensation claims. 

As the conference progressed it became increasingly clear that a significant reason  for Pell supporting the proposed Royal Commission is because he believes it will exonerate the church by proving its clergy are no worse than any other institution’s employees when it comes to sexually assaulting children. “We are not the only cab on the rank,” the Cardinal huffily claimed, and went on to demand that the police check their stats and tell us just how many of the total complaints of child sexual abuse received are made against the Catholic church, because that’s the only way the church will get any justice and by gods, the church deserves justice, for the church has been persecuted.

It is an indication of the morally parlous state the Catholic church is in, if George Pell is its most senior member, and the best spokesperson they can come up with. The man obviously has no grasp of the magnitude of the problem and is blinded by his loyalty not to his god, but to his institution. If ever there was a time a bloke should ask himself what would Jesus say, this is it for the Cardinal.

Just what the Royal Commission will achieve is an unknown, however what the promise of a commission has already achieved is validation of the suffering of survivors of institutional childhood sexual abuse. The offences against them are being acknowledged as serious enough to warrant outrage, and there is overwhelming support for a public accounting.

There is another group of survivors, of whom I am one, who are the victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by family, friends and acquaintances. For many of us there is no hope of justice, and we have had to learn to live with this reality. I am deeply relieved that institutional sexual abuse is finally receiving the scrutiny it deserves, because my life experience is also validated by this acknowledgement, even though my story can’t be told within a commission’s terms of reference, and the perpetrator and his enablers can’t be held accountable. I want to see a profound cultural change in attitudes towards the sexual abuse of children, and I believe we are on the way at last. This is grounds enough for rejoicing.

If the Australian Catholic church wants to get on board with this change, they first need to get rid of George Pell as their leader. His sickening whining is a disgrace. Pell is yet another example of the angry ageing Anglo male who just doesn’t get it. Like the rest of his ilk, he’s a boil on the arse of progress.

Pell claims a “disproportionate attack on the church”

12 Nov

The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, today claimed that calls for a royal commission into the sexual abuse of children by priests and brothers  are a “disproportionate attack on the church.”

Pell goes on to claim that the Catholic church is not the only culprit, or the only community producing culprits, and that the sordid history of coverups, removal of offenders from one school, parish, diocese or state to another is no indication of a systemic failing in the church.

If this widespread protection of sexual offenders isn’t an indication of systemic moral and criminal collapse, I’d like to know what is.

There is no doubt that the Catholic church is not the only culprit, and that sexual abuse of children occurs in other institutions and indeed, within families and friendship circles. I fail to see why this tragic reality is an argument for letting the Catholic church off the hook. “He did it too” is hardly a rational justification for avoiding investigation.

The phrase “disproportionate attack” is an apt description not of proposed moves against the Catholic church, but of the crimes perpetrated by its priests and brothers against children. Cardinal Pell continues to confirm suspicions in the wider society that he just doesn’t get it. His priority is his church, not the children who suffered abuse perpetrated by members of the church community.

Given the nature of these attacks, their prevalence, and their disastrous long-term effects on the lives of victims, it is hard to imagine how any “attack” on the Catholic church could be seen as “disproportionate” to the crimes it has allowed to be committed, unchecked, for decades.

Indeed, I would argue the Church is not being “attacked” at all, rather it is being called to account for these crimes. This accounting may well go on for some time, and may well increase in its rigour. However, nothing that is done to the Church or its hierarchy will come anywhere near the damage and havoc created in the lives of victims and their families.

Sexual abuse of a child is a crime. Anyone who sexually abuses a child is a criminal. Anyone who covers up the crime is also a criminal. George Pell continues his efforts to minimise the role of the Church in enabling circumstances in which a network of criminal pedophiles could continue their vile practices for years. He does this because his loyalty is to his church, not to his God, who according to scriptures would see anyone who offends a little one tossed into the sea with a millstone round his neck.

George Pell’s loyalty and devotion is to an institution, an institution that appears increasingly corrupt in its convoluted efforts to avoid legal scrutiny, and increasingly divorced from the passionate ideals of its prophet, Jesus.

As Leonard Cohen puts it: “It was you who built the temple, it was you who covered up my face…”

What is “disproportionate” is the Catholic church’s resistance to a Royal Commission. What is “disproportionate” are protests by the like of Joe Hockey, Bill Shorten and others who attempt to conceal their objections to a royal commission behind a faux concern for the church’s victims. In so doing, they contribute to the repression and suppression that has allowed these crimes to continue, unchecked. Victims of child sexual abuse live with the consequences for the rest of their lives. Silence and denial are not their friends. Transparency  and accountability won’t entirely take away the pain, but they will go a long way towards easing the torments of life after childhood sexual abuse.

 

Pedophile priests make a mockery of confession

18 Jul

The Victorian inquiry into the handling of child sex abuse by religious groups poses this question in its submission guide: “To what extent should the reporting of suspicions of abuse be circumscribed by laws, customs and ethical codes of religions?”

Currently, the Catholic church regards confession as sacrosanct, and forbids its priests from revealing anything told to them during the performance of the confessional sacrament. Should an offending priest confess that he has raped and or sexually molested a child, his confessor is bound to keep his admission confidential. The priest escapes trial and punishment by the legal system, and is free to continue his criminal practices without fear of discovery and retribution.

No doubt the religious would argue that the mental and emotional anguish of facing the wrath of the sacred is far worse than anything incurred by facing the wrath of the profane. I can imagine suffering such self-inflicted spiritual torment, however my question is, why would anyone consider this punishment enough? Surely the offending priest must be made to face both his God and the wrath of the human world?

I’m reminded of the story of Jesus, who when asked if believers should pay taxes remarked “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God, that which is God’s.” In other words, if you are going to traffic in Caesar’s coin in order to obtain what to you are benefits of some kind, then of course you   must be prepared to pay  Caesar’s taxes. It isn’t too much of a stretch to understand this as advice  on how to deal with far more than taxes. For example, if you are going to indulge yourself in exploiting children for your sexual satisfaction then you must be prepared to accept the human and worldly consequences of your human and worldly activity. You must render unto Caesar’s law that to which the law of Caesar is entitled, as well as answering to your god.

But I’m no theologian, and no doubt someone will tell me I can’t make that extrapolation. To which I would respond, why not?

Quite what punishment is inflicted upon the sexual offender by his confessor remains unknown, also subject to confidentiality . His crimes and his punishments are gilded with the sanctity of the confessional, and he remains unaccountable to any human being.

The Catholic church places its own laws (laws it then ascribes to God) above all else. This is unsatisfactory from any number of perspectives, not least that it places Catholic criminals beyond the reach of the law of the land. As we can see from the sad history of the serial offenders, these men don’t stop raping and sodomizing children, even, presumably, after they’ve confessed their crimes, done whatever the Catholic church regards as adequate penance for their crimes, and accepted forgiveness. They continue to offend against children, and they do it for years and years and years. Confession and penance means less than nothing to them. They make a mockery of their own rituals.

Perhaps they don’t confess their crimes in the first place? We have no way of knowing.

The victims of the pedophile priests are completely ignored. There is no concern for them, no efforts to assist them or rescue them from further rape and exploitation, because under the seal of the confessional, the perpetrator must be completely protected. The perpetrator’s rights to confidential confession trump children’s rights to be safe from sexual attackers. In what universe is this acceptable?

Father Frank Brennan, so far the only prominent Catholic priest to have fronted up to the ABC 7.30 Report to discuss these matters, declared that he would go to jail before revealing anything told to him under the seal of the confessional. Well, let him. Let the jails fill up with priests who’ve raped children, and priests who have protected priests who raped children so that they can continue raping children. I can say with the authority of experience that a few months in jail for Father Brennan or any other priest is as nothing, compared to being a raped child.

Pedophile priests make a mockery of the sanctity of confession, and a mockery of their God. Every priest who protects them adds to this mockery.

If priests continue to choose to put the law of their church before the well-being of children in their care, then jail would seem to me a reasonable outcome. The offences are committed in the spiritual and the human sphere, yet punished only in the spiritual. This is not good enough. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. God is already getting more than his fair share.

Is there an elephant in your room?

10 Jul

Today’s guest post is by Stewart Hase. 

Is that an elephant that I see?

Elephants are big people. In fact, you would not want one to sit on your sandwich.  You would think an elephant is too big to ignore. But there are zillions of elephants, everywhere you look, but we pretend they’re not there: it’s the elephant in the room phenomenon.

In families, elephants in the room range from the worst kind, such as family incest, to the more harmless (except to her) cupboard drinking of Aunt Mildred.  Everyone knows what is happening, in the case of incest it may even be the mother, but often no-one speaks up or takes action. Humans are even reluctant to say anything about relatively small matters such as offensive or antisocial behaviour, being let down by a friend or that what someone is doing might in fact be a poor choice: what I call the ‘zit on the nose’ phenomenon.

We just don’t like to tell people bad things.

It takes courage to act. Largely, humans dislike conflict mainly because it creates a huge amount of anxiety, which is extremely uncomfortable and to be avoided at all costs. There is also the fall out that might involve fractured relationships, being disliked and rejection. We like to be liked or as Albert Ellis says, we are love slobs. Better to remain in the inner circle with a nasty secret that being a pariah and morally or ethically intact. After all, it is family.

Elephants love living in organisations too where they are ignored with an even greater intensity than in families. You’d think it was the other way around given the emotional factor in a family setting but it is likely that there are huge emotional investments in the organisations in which we work and play.

Again, there is a huge range when it comes to severity and impact. There are organisations in which there is institutionalised corruption and bullying, for example, that goes on unchecked. In some cases the organisations acknowledge that there is a problem, such as paedophilia in the Catholic Church and bullying in the Australian defence forces, but still nothing is done. Its as if the elephant has been let out in the garden for feeding time.

Poor behaviour is one of the more common elephants in the room. Here I am not referring to poor performance, which often gets picked up at performance review time but to what amounts to anti-social behaviour. Every organisation or organisational unit has at least one person who behaves in ways that causes reactions from mild irritation to motional catharsis.

This is an even bigger problem when the person is a manager. You might find, for example, a very senior person is a dreadful bully but he is allowed to get away with it. The result is a culture of bullying that runs right through the organisation. People are, understandably, reluctant to speak up and people who do in fact blow the whistle on high level abuse or corruption do not have a good time if it, as the research on whistle-blowers shows.

We might think that, well, if its not a big thing then let it go. So what if the boss or someone else in the team tells lies, doesn’t keep promises, doesn’t listen, fails to communicate information, gets a little irritated, ignores people, is not a team player or is just plain rude. It doesn’t matter.

Well, it does, Employee engagement is a critical factor in job satisfaction and, we know that both these effect performance. Employees can easily become disengaged by elephants in the room. They sap motivation, destroy loyalty, disintegrate faith and hope, distinguish innovation and create a culture of mistrust. Elephants in teams can completely undermine effectiveness.

When we let someone get away with poor behaviour we being a co-dependent. We are implicitly saying that all is fine, that we approve and the behaviour will continue. And we’ll complain: a co-dependent victim.

All it takes is courage.

Also relevant to this topic is Stewart’s earlier post here on workplace bullying

Dr Stewart Hase

Guest author Dr Stewart Hase is a registered psychologist and has a doctorate in organisational behaviour as well as a BA, Diploma of Psychology, and a Master of Arts (Hons) in psychology.Stewart blogs at stewarthase.blogspot.com


When the going gets tough where are the child advocates?

5 Jul

Child advocate Julie Gale of Kids Free 2B Kids, and advocate for girls Melinda Tankard Reist, have thus far been strangely silent on the Four Corners report on child sexual abuse in the Catholic church. As of ten minutes ago, I could find nothing on either of their websites.

While this particular program focused on the young male victims of pederast priests, young girls have also suffered their unwelcome and terrifying attentions, and one can legitimately assume that these crimes against the young of both genders fall within the ambit of the two child advocates.

Both women work tirelessly to halt what they perceive as the sexualisation, objectification and pornification of children and women in the media. While this is a legitimate concern in some instances, compared to the literal sexualisation and objectification of children perpetrated by pedophile rapists, Playboy flogging necklaces to little girls pales into insignificance. Particularly as a responsible adult is presumably involved in the purchase of these baubles, while no responsible adult is involved in the sodomization and rape of little girls and little boys.

Of course, we all have our own particular sphere of interest and expertise, and I’m not prescribing what Ms Gale and Ms Reist’s sphere should be. I am, however, gobsmacked that as very public child advocates with a very high profile in their field, they apparently don’t feel the need to comment on the Four Corners’ revelations on their websites.

There are no innocent bystanders when it comes to the abuse of children, and those who remain silent enable its continuation. The responsibility to speak is particularly onerous when one has a public platform as a child advocate.

I cannot imagine a more destructive form of sexualisation, objectification and pornification of children than sexual abuse.

Ms Gale’s motto, according to her website, is “What we allow is what we approve.” Indeed, that is so. Silence implies tacit approval. Or lack of courage. Or fear. Or cowardice. It really doesn’t imply concern or interest. Silence by those who should speak out causes untold damage to children already grievously harmed. Self-described child advocates ought to be at the forefront of protest, at the very least with an acknowledgment and expression of concern, and an intention to raise awareness.

Both Ms Gale and Ms Reist have a commendable record of success at persuading various commercial interests to stop selling this or that on the grounds that the product is damaging to children’s sexual develoment and self image. They have the infrastructure in place and the following, to launch a huge campaign on behalf of children who are being sexually abused. They have the means to launch a petition for a royal commission into the Catholic church’s abuse, and its cover up of that abuse. If they choose to use their power for that good. It would take an hour or so at the most. Then they could go back to their main interest: images of sexualisation, objectification and pornification, rather than the real thing in our own back yards.

Time to walk the talk, ladies?

Abbott on Pell: “One of the greatest churchmen Australia has seen.”

4 Jul

When I saw Cardinal Pell on Qanda a couple of months ago, I felt a kind of  appalled pity for the man.

Pity, I hasten to add, is not an emotion I enjoy, based as it is in disinterested contempt, and complete lack of interest in its object’s fate. When I pity someone, they are pretty much dead to me.

Pell seemed subject to moments of confusion and rather bad judgement.

Then, in the ABC Four Corners report this past Monday on the sexual abuse of children by priests of his church, Pell again seemed quite out of his depth, and rigidly adhering to a well-worn script.

Pell clings to his belief in the word of three priests, even though there is very strong evidence to the contrary, including an admission in court by an accused rapist, Father F, that he did indeed perform some of the criminal acts of which he stands accused.

Pell was himself accused of sexually molesting a child,as is discussed here in an 2008 interview conducted by ABC journalist Ali Moore with former priest and now commentator Dr Paul Collins. Reading this 2008 interview I was struck by the similarities. Four years later, Cardinal Pell does not seem to have changed his perspective, in spite of more ghastly revelations about the behaviours of his priests, and the number of suicides thought to be related to sexual abuse.

I’m sometimes undecided as to who is the worst offender: the perpetrator or those who cover up for the perpetrator. I can only imagine the number of little kids whose lives would have been so different if the church authorities who knew about the pederasts in their ranks had taken proper action. Proper action in this instance is informing the police, however the Catholic church seems loathe to concede that sexually molesting a child is a crime, and treat it accordingly.

I note here that Cardinal Pell was very, very quick to threaten legal action against Catherine Deveney when he felt she had slandered him in a tweet. His reputation apparently warranted the protection of the law, unlike the lives of the children whose rape and molestation his church failed to report to the police.

As far as the mistreatment of children is concerned, I’m of the opinion that there are no innocent bystanders. Everyone who has anything to do with children professionally is required by law to report suspicions of abuse. This ought to include the Catholic church. When anyone knows something bad is happening to a child and keeps it quiet, she or he is enabling the perpetrators. The church takes that one step further and protects them as well.

It is my hope that like the US, it will be possible in this country to charge Catholic bishops and hold them criminally liable for the behaviours of the priests they supervise.

In the meantime I take my hat off to the ABC journalists who are persisting with this story, as well as other stories of child abuse. As a survivor, it does my heart good to know there are people willing to pursue these criminals and uncover their crimes. It is very difficult to speak about these things when you’ve endured them. We need others to help. We need others to confront and challenge those who would be innocent bystanders, and in their denial and silence, enable abuse to continue. I know it’s awful to have to listen to these things. But it is far, far worse to experience them.  Thank you to everyone with the courage to listen and care, and say so.

Finally, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is credited here with having described Cardinal George Pell as ” one of the greatest churchmen Australia has seen.” If this is a measure of Abbott’s ability to judge character, and an example of someone he profoundly admires, I fear even more for our future should he become the next Prime Minister.

Tony Abbott, trainee priest, St Patrick’s Seminary

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