Why Xenophon was wrong, and at home with Tim

15 Sep

There are several arguments to be made against Nick Xenophon‘s decision to name a priest accused of rape in the Senate last night. Some of them can be found here in the Punch.

But for me the stand-out objection is that the alleged victim, Archbishop John Hepworth, didn’t want him to, and asked him not to.

The aftermath of rape is complex for a victim. Many are left with a frightening and unsettling sense of having lost all control over their bodies and their being, and of being rendered utterly powerless in the face of another’s will.

One of the ways a victim can become a survivor and reclaim his or her sovereignty is to have control over if and when they speak about their experiences, the manner in which they choose to do that, to whom they wish to do that, and what exactly they wish to say. Xenophon took all this away from John Hepworth when he over-rode the Archbishop’s wishes, solely to satisfy his own sense of outrage.  In this, he further abused a man we know has great credibility as a rape victim of two other priests.

This is not Senator Xenophon’s tragedy. He has no right at all to attempt to determine the course of its unfolding. His first duty was to John Hepworth. What he did was disregarding of Hepworth’s express wishes, it was disempowering to a man already struggling with great pain, and it was abusive.

Xenophon claims he faced a great moral dilemma in deciding whether or not to name the alleged rapist. No, he didn’t. It was dead easy. He just had to listen to the alleged victim, and nothing and nobody else.

In respect for John Hepworth’s wishes I will not name the priest, and ask that any commenters also refrain from naming him.

At home with Julia seems to be shaping up as a cri de couer on behalf of househusbands, oops sorry, house de factos. Maybe it should be called Home Alone – one man’s story because it’s all about Tim, with the PM cast as the neglectful if well-meaning career driven partner.

The storyline last night was unspeakable. The device of the three young boys appearing intermittently to comment on proceedings like a Greek chorus is lifted straight from ABC TV’s Doc Martin series in which the neurotic doctor is stalked and hounded by a bunch of gloriously cheeky giggling adolescent girls. It worked beautifully in Doc Martin, it’s appallingly bad in At Home.

Why, I ask. Why did they do this? What is the point, what does it mean, when will it end?

8 Responses to “Why Xenophon was wrong, and at home with Tim”

  1. David Horton September 15, 2011 at 11:37 am #

    I’ve wrestled with the Xenophon action. Normally I have got a bit of time for him, a man of principles I think. But on this occasion I dunno. I think parliamentary privilege is a very fine tool to be used carefully and sparingly and I’m not sure this was the right use. On the other hand if this really has been going on for four years it needed a circuit breaker – the catholic church shouldn’t get to decide if laws have been broken and whether or when they will act. On the other hand the relationship of Hepworth to this church and the messy Anglican split adds a dimension that makes parliamentary intervention perhaps unwise. On the other hand if Hepworth’s account of old and recent history is accurate he may well have need a helping hand even if he thought he could handle it alone. On the other hand if the accused is innocent then he has been treated very badly by Xenophon.

    Remarkably difficult for all concerned.


    • Jennifer Wilson September 15, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

      Yes, I agree, but the fact remains Hepworth did expressly ask Xenophon not to name the priest, and the church now claims Hepworth himself said he wasn’t ready to deal with the matter until February this year, so maybe the church didn’t leave it in abeyance for four years after all.

      I admire Xenophon, still do, and I’m sure he wanted to do what he considered the best thing for Hepworth. But what I wrote still stands – it isn’t helpful to take control out of a victim’s hands in these matters, especially when they’ve asked that you don’t. Probably my professional training and clinical experience influencing me, but to me Hepworth’s request should have been Xenophon’s first consideration.


  2. Steve at the Pub September 15, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    Mr. Xenophon was originally “single-issue”, if you like, almost provincial joke limited to South Australia. The he got elected to federal parliament, and as he comments on, or becomes involved in, policy beyond his single issue, he is revealing himself to be a lightweight.

    Principle & conviction he’s got in spades. It is judgement that he lacks. And lacks in spades.


    • Jennifer Wilson September 15, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

      I don’t agree that he’s a lightweight, I think it takes some talent to hold your own as an Independent in federal parliament. Xenophon far outstrips many others who are protected by the safety net of their parties.

      And who among us hasn’t made a bad judgement or two? Or three, or four, or like the PM, loads.


      • Steve at the Pub September 15, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

        I’ll amend “lightweight” to: “doesn’t think through to the consequences of his actions” and “has callous disregard for others”


  3. paul walter September 16, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

    Very misguided of Xenophon. At the worst, people might take Hepworth to be be a pervert, rather than a victim, particularly if tabloid media wants to play games with the event.
    Actually, the churches are themselves to some degree to blame for their current predicament. Their nonsenses over contraception and rigidity of thinking on some political and social issues; the perception that they are part of the establishment and no longer people’s advocates, created the scepticism that lead to the exposure of widespread paedophilia, contempt for the flock and resulting contempt for religion from the reacting public.
    But what’s really exacerbated this over the last decade or two has been the seeming reluctance of church authorities to take on the networks of abuse created by the odd culture at seminaries and the like, to the extent that it would create some sort of soul searching and accomodation to reality within the staid old hierarchies.
    That incidents involving the violation of children keep showing up and then cover-ups in the wake instigated by church authorities, so long after the initial problems were identified, would be at the base of Xenophon’s sharp “hurry up” call for them to “lift their game”, as to the weeding out of perpetrators.
    Perhaps church authorities have a different doctrinal interpretation to what “suffer the little children” might mean to the one I got reading the NT, where kids were to be protected from harm, with dire consequences for offenders, rather than seen as fun-fodder for some self- imagined clerical elite.
    Being a South Australian, I’d say Xenophon is part of a growing trend in independents being elected as voters become more disenchanted with the big parties.
    Certainly, the good thing about senates and upper houses is that quota systems seem to improve the chances of atypical types outside of the constraints of party discipline and ideological hegemony being elected and its often the case that these will draw attention to issues conveniently ignored by the big parties for political rather than ethical reasons.
    On the other hand you also get cranks and opportunists getting through (Fred Nile?), but the main political parties are full of nutters also. From what I can gather, Xenophon has informal links with with the smaller “small l” liberal faction here in SA, he’s reasonably slick and yes, often an opportunist- aren’t they all- but at least he’s not some Alan Jones/ John Laws type.


    • Jennifer Wilson September 16, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

      I think the churches are entirely to blame for their current predicament. I sometimes think of that warning from Christ about what will happen to anyone who harms a hair on the head of a little one, better he have a millstone round his neck and be thrown into the sea? And I wonder how the churches reconcile their practices with that.

      Not that anything Christ said is of much consequence to religious bureaucrats.

      It will be a dreadful day indeed when there are no Independents, no matter that some bizarre individuals get up, that’s a price worth paying.

      Xenophon made a bad decision, but he isn’t the bloody anti Christ. He’s got a lot more bad decisions to make before he catches up with Julia Gillard.

      I seem to be in a very bad mood today!!


  4. AinNT September 20, 2011 at 11:35 am #

    I think Xenophon was right in forcing the issue, the various churches world wide has been reluctant to act at all on allegations of abuse. To my knowledge there has never been a case when a church leader has been pro-active on addressing this issue unless forced to by public or political pressure.
    IMHO The principle of the greater good applies here and the church did nothing to indicate any action would be taken without the Senator taking action.


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