Tag Archives: Catholic Church

In which Pell crosses to the other side of the road

4 Mar

Good Samaritan

He Qi: The Good Samaritan

 

Over the last few days of his questioning at the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, Cardinal George Pell demonstrated the opposite of what his saviour, Jesus Christ, taught about helping those in need. Pell has proved himself to be about as far from the Good Samaritan as it is possible to get:

Luke 10:25-37 New International Version (NIV)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

In his lack of action on the sexual abuse of children that occurred under his nose, Pell took the position of the Levite and the priest in the parable, and crossed to the other side of the road. Pell didn’t perceive it to be his in his job description that he was required to take any action on their behalf, or indeed, to even acquaint himself with the nature of the abuses to which they were subjected.

It is a powerful indictment of the Catholic church globally that such a man is reputedly the third “most important” member of it.

This church obsessively occupies itself with what it perceives as the sins of homosexuality, abortion and still, in some parts of the world, the sin of contraception. Yet it is, apparently, incapable of adequately acknowledging and addressing the crimes against humanity committed under its aegis, on the bodies and minds of children in its care.

I’m not a follower of religion, but the above biblical extract seems to me to apply to anyone, not simply “believers” who imagine rewards in an afterlife. This is what makes Jesus interesting: so much of what he reportedly stated is basic decency. It is on this level that Pell is an abysmal failure, and that failure is compounded by his life’s dedication to a religious organisation founded on belief in Christ’s teachings.

For all his learning, for all the masses he has and will continue to celebrate and participate in, Cardinal Pell has failed on the most fundamental level of human decency. He’s crossed to the other side of the road when he saw a child enduring dreadful suffering, not once but innumerable times. This shepherd showed absolutely no mercy to the most vulnerable in his flock.

He could have done otherwise. Had he spoken out, he almost certainly would not be the third most important catholic in the world. But he might be a decent human being.

I think we can all guess at what Jesus would have said to the Cardinal, and it wouldn’t have been, good chap, you followed canon law to the letter.

Well, now Cardinal Pell, you’re beginning to smell…

19 Feb

 

Cardinal Pell Three

 

It’s reported this evening that Cardinal George Pell is the subject of a twelve month investigation by Victoria Police over allegations of child sexual abuse, dating from the time he was a priest to when he became Archbishop of Melbourne.

Pell has issued a furious statement, demanding an investigation into Victoria Police leakages, and denying the allegations. The full transcript of this statement is in the above link.

In his statement Pell refers to an allegation of sexual molestation made against him in 2002, referred to as the Philip Island allegation. This series of alleged incidents with one complainant was the subject of a church inquiry, headed by retired Victorian Supreme Court Judge A.J. Southwell, who was selected and paid by the church to conduct the inquiry, within terms of reference set by the church. Southwell found that both Pell and the complainant appeared to be speaking the truth, and he could not find substantial grounds to proceed with the complaint.

Pell claims to have been “exonerated” by this inquiry, however a Sydney Morning Herald editorial saw it otherwise:

Mr Southwell’s conclusion is exquisitely balanced. He accepts “that the complainant, when giving evidence of molesting, gave the impression that he was speaking honestly from an actual recollection”. However, he says Dr Pell “also gave me the impression he was speaking the truth”. A significant part of Mr Southwell’s report concerns the standard of proof; because he considered what was alleged against Dr Pell as serious, he was inclined to apply a strict burden, akin to the “beyond reasonable doubt” of criminal proceedings. That helped Dr Pell. It also made Mr Southwell’s careful conclusion – that he could not be “satisfied that the complaint has been established” – rather less than a complete exoneration.

It’s not known if the allegations currently under investigation by Victoria Police include this one. They are referred to as “numerous” in initial reports, as well as having occurred throughout a considerable time frame, as Pell worked his way up the church hierarchy from priest to Archbishop.

Victoria Police have also issued a statement this evening, saying they do not comment on specific allegations.

In case anyone has forgotten how ruthless Pell has been in his pursuit of child sex abuse survivors who’ve attempted to obtain justice, it’s worth re-reading the John Ellis case in which Pell’s legal team managed to obtain the verdict that victims can’t sue the Catholic church (it doesn’t exist in law) or the trustees (who aren’t responsible for supervising priests) but only the offending priest (dead) or the offending priest’s supervising bishop (also dead). Pell also instructed his lawyers to pursue Ellis for costs.

Pell, confessor and mentor to sacked Prime Minister Tony Abbott, is now safe in the Vatican, beyond the threat of extradition treaties.

I wonder how those who leapt to Pell’s defence after Tim Minchin’s protest song are feeling right now.

Of course we can’t possibly comment on Pell’s guilt or innocence. It is interesting, however, that Victoria Police have seen fit to devote twelve months of their time so far, to investigating complaints.

 

Ummm....

Thanks to my good Twitter friend Comrade Nick for this image of Anthony Hopkins in the role of Hannibal Lecter. Again, I can’t possibly comment. 

 

The heart of Cardinal Pell

12 Dec

Pell. Image by James Croucher

 

Cardinal George Pell certainly has a heart condition, one that has been apparent to even the most casual observer for some considerable time.

It could be thought of as heartlessness or a lack of heart in his attitude to survivors of sexual abuse by priests of Pell’s church. Pell has consistently placed victims and survivors second, third and fourth to the requirements and reputation of the religious institution that has fed, watered and lavishly nurtured him.

Yesterday, Pell’s lawyers advised the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sex Abuse that Pell would be unable to appear before the Commission to be questioned as arranged, due to a heart condition that makes long-haul flight too great a risk to his health. Inquiry chair Justice Peter McClellan refused to accept Pell’s evidence via video link, instead postponing his appearance until March 2016 when it is hoped the heart of Cardinal Pell will have recovered sufficiently to allow him to travel from Rome to Ballarat.

It’s a measure of Pell’s character that this news has been greeted with scorn, derision, disbelief and contempt. If he is indeed seriously ill, nobody much cares, and few are prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Pell is between a rock and a hard place. If he doesn’t appear before the Commission to answer hard questions, his guilt will be assumed and he forfeits an opportunity to exonerate himself. If he does appear, his alleged guilt may well be exposed as real. Either way, public opinion has so turned against the Cardinal that he has become a despised figure, of whom even some catholics are deeply ashamed.

All of this is as nothing, compared to the destruction and pain wrought upon children by priests of Pell’s church, some of whom he publicly supported. Beside this, the Cardinal’s mental, emotional, spiritual and physical discomfort is as nothing.

It seems to me that a person’s character is defined by their willingness to front up and be accountable for their actions and inactions; never an easy experience, but what are we if we can’t or won’t do that?

Oh, and Pell was also confessor and mentor to failed Prime Minister and failed priest Tony Abbott (Just saying). (Not that it means anything). (Unless you want it to). (I’m done now).

 

Politics, policy makers, and religion.

6 Sep
Religion vs politics. Ruth Clotworthy

Religion vs politics. Ruth Clotworthy

 

Last time Sheep ventured into this territory I was threatened with defamation action, however, undeterred, we’re going there again.

If you argue that a politician’s religious beliefs don’t affect his or her attitudes to policy, firstly consider this exchange between Catholic Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Qanda’s Tony Jones on refugees and immigration, back in the days when Abbott was LOTO and not too lily-livered to front up to an unpredictable live audience.

Note: It’s a measure of a leader’s failure that he becomes less available to unpredictable audiences, not more. In case you need another example of his failure but you probably don’t 

TONY ABBOTT: …Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone. I mean Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.

TONY JONES: It’s quite an interesting analogy because, as you know, and a whip was used on that occasion to drive people out of the temple. You know, if that’s the analogy you’re choosing, should we take it at face value?

TONY ABBOTT: No. No. I’m just saying that, look, Jesus was the best man who ever lived but that doesn’t mean that he said yes to everyone, that he was permissive to everything, and this idea that Jesus would say to every person who wanted to come to Australia, “Fine”, the door is open, I just don’t think is necessarily right. But let’s not verbal Jesus. I mean, he’s not here to defend himself.

Now read this piece titled “Scott Morrison and the conveniently comforting doctrine of predestination,” written when Morrison was Immigration Minister.

Briefly, the doctrine of predestination followed by Morrison’s Pentecostal faith claims that god has determined whether or not you will be saved before even you are born. Your material status in the world identifies you as chosen or rejected by God. Wealth, standing and comfort identify you as chosen. Poverty, lack of standing and misery confirm you as rejected. Therefore, the chosen do not have to feel anything other than pity and contempt for the rejected: according to the doctrine of predestination, it’s futile to attempt to improve their lot because god has already decided their fate. Indeed, attempting to improve the lives of those god has already rejected is an affront to god.

It’s impossible to argue that the religious beliefs of these two men have not affected their political judgements, not only in the matter of asylum seekers and refugees. However, asylum seeker policies illustrate with stark clarity how religious beliefs can be used as justification for barbarous practices, by Christians as well as by other religions.

At least twelve of Abbott’s cabinet of nineteen are Christians, and eight of them are Catholics. The LNP candidate for the West Australian seat of Canning, Andrew Hastie, recently blasted a journalist from Perth Now, who put to him questions about his own religious beliefs, the beliefs of his father, a Presbyterian theologian with interests in creationism, and a blog posted under the byline of Hastie’s wife Ruth, in which Christian opposition to same-sex marriage is outlined. Hastie responded emotionally and publicly to the journalist’s private email inquiry on these topics, angrily warning media they could go after him but they’d better not go after his family, and finally claiming that personal religious beliefs have no relevance to politics and he won’t answer any more questions on the topic.

I have no interest in anyone’s religious practices unless she or he is  in a position to affect and legislate public policy, and then I have a great deal of interest in the beliefs they hold.

When a religious individual in a position of influence claims their beliefs will not affect their political decisions, this indicates at the very least a disturbing capacity for duplicity: the Christian religion is a proselytising religion, its followers are exhorted to demonstrate their faith and to live out that faith in every aspect of their lives, unashamedly bearing witness. They must therefore either betray their Christian principles, or betray the secular voter, as they cannot feasibly hold faith with both.

There’s a vast chasm between the philosophies of the man Jesus, and the teachings of religions such as those followed by many of our politicians. Religions are constructed by men to further their self-interests. It ought to be a fundamental requirement of aspiring politicians and policy makers that they disclose any religious beliefs they hold. It isn’t a private matter, when you’re charged with determining the nature and course of a society.

 

 

Thanks to @davispg for links and inspiration

 

 

Perpetrators and enablers. Abbott’s deafening silence.

28 May

Catholic church

 

Watching convicted pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale give evidence at the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse yesterday was not easy, yet his appearance emphasised, as I believe is the Commission’s intention, the reality that his crimes did not take place in a vacuum. They were perpetrated within a community, and others in Ridsdale’s community knew of them, though the offender is unclear as to how many knew what, and how much. It might be more accurate to note that it is unclear how many members of Ridsdale’s community are prepared to admit what they knew or suspected. However, it seems that his crimes were known by at least one of his superiors, who did absolutely nothing to help either Ridsdale or his victims and who bears a terrible responsibility for the suffering of hundreds of children over decades because of his lack of intervention.

Revealing his own connection with Ridsdale on Radio National Breakfast, journalist Paul Bongiornio noted that pedophiles are extremely good at hiding their activities, and hardly likely to boast about them. He made a comparison with a partner who carries on daily life with his or her spouse whilst conducting an affair: the spouse can be completely unaware of the betrayal, even while living in an intimate relationship. It’s not surprising, then, that those who like Bongiornio shared a house and a community with Ridsdale had no idea of the man’s predilections, and the extent to which he was acting them out.

It was, I have to admit, a comparison that hadn’t occurred to me but on reflection I see that the two activities have much in common: secrecy, the thrill of the illicit, the ability to behave in a profoundly duplicitous manner, the talent to present one face to those closest, whilst concealing from them powerful and secret sexual desires and acts. Obviously there are also differences, but to take Bongiornio’s point, people are infinitely capable of constructing and living double lives, and it has become a cliché to exclaim, when the next door neighbour is found to have dead bodies buried in the cellar, oh, he seemed like such a nice quiet man.

What is incontestable is that senior members of the Catholic church worldwide knew of the activities of their pedophile priests and did nothing to help and protect the victims, or to assist their profoundly disturbed clergy. They enabled priests. They created the conditions in which it was possible for the priests to continue to abuse and destroy lives.

As I watched Ridsdale I thought, this didn’t have to happen. All the hundreds of children he abused did not have to suffer, for the rest of their lives, his appalling attacks and their ongoing aftermath. Multiply that by how many thousands globally who also did not have to suffer if only, if only those who knew about the pedophile priests had not enabled them, and created the climate in which they could continue wreaking their awful havoc on the young.

It isn’t possible to overestimate the guilt and responsibility of the enablers. I have no sympathy for Ridsdale, but I did think as I watched this man, now in his eighties, attempt to give an accounting of himself to the Royal Commission, that he did deserve assistance from his superiors as far back as the nineteen sixties when his crimes first were brought to their attention. They owed him guidance, advice, treatment, and even prosecution for his crimes against children. Instead, they let him loose, shunting him from parish to parish, an out-of-control pedophile with a mind so deranged and distorted he thought his desire for “closeness” was appropriately expressed and gratified by terrifying and damaging the young in his care.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott remarked yesterday, in connection with those who leave Australia to fight in foreign wars and will lose citizenship as a consequence of their choices, that “A crime is a crime is a crime.” I continue to be astounded on a daily basis that the Prime Minister remains so uncharacteristically silent on the crimes committed by pedophile priests and the superiors who enabled them. Abbott is a staunch Catholic, and a great friend of Cardinal George Pell, who was also Abbott’s confessor. Surely the Prime Minister, who has such enviable clarity on the nature of crime, ought to be passing some comment on the crimes committed by pedophile priest and their enablers on such a massive scale over so many decades? Were Abbott not so outspoken on practically every other crime that comes to public attention, his silence on this one would seem unremarkable, however, we have come to expect his moral opinion on just about everything of note, bar the criminal priests and their enablers within his own church.

On entitlement and celibacy

23 May

entitlement

A sense of entitlement is listed as one of the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which seems so obvious you probably don’t need to go to the DSM-5 or the Mayo Clinic webpage to find that out.

Over the last couple of years there’s been debate as to whether or not celibacy requirements in the Catholic church contribute to the sexual abuse by priests of children in their charge. Personally, I think that theory is ridiculous and a red herring.  There are plenty of child sex offenders who are not Catholic priests and not celibate.

(How utterly awful it is to continually acknowledge the prevalence of this crime.)

It takes a particular type of psycho sexual mindset to cause a man or woman, (though male offenders far exceed female) to seek sexual gratification from the body of a child, and many offenders engage in adult sexual relationships as well as preying on children.

What is common to all of them, I’d argue, is a sense of entitlement. Child sex abusers feel entitled to gratify their desires, regardless of the effects on the life of their victim. This sense of entitlement is not, of course, peculiar to child sex offenders: anyone who acts upon another as if he or she is a means to an end is exercising a sense of entitlement that allows them to disregard the effects of their actions, and focus solely on their own gratification.

The Catholic church is unlikely to admit that it attracts narcissistic personalities, given that its  purpose and mission is service. That human paradox is of a depth and complexity greater even than the fantasies of god, faith, belief and transubstantiation.

A sense of entitlement takes many forms, feeling chosen by god is just one of them, but they all have in common a feeling of superiority, perhaps an overcompensation for deeper feelings of inferiority, if you want to use the psychoanalytic rather than the moral framework to deconstruct the narcissist.

Whatever the perils of enforced celibacy, and I imagine they are many, it is reductionist and simplistic to claim that priests sexually abuse children because of those vows. It takes a particular kind of attachment to secrecy, danger, duplicity, power, self-gratification, self-delusion and compartmentalisation, as well as the ability to care not one jot for the life of the child you abuse to construct the personality of the child sex abuser, not the vow of celibacy. It may well be easier for the church to look to celibacy as a cause, rather than admit that the psycho sexual dysfunction of so many who join its ranks precedes any vows of celibacy they may take.

The sense of entitlement is a scourge.  Not only as it manifests in those who abuse children, but wherever it rears its head, in all situations where people are used as a means to another’s end. Politicians can be leading entitlement practitioners, indeed, a sense of entitlement is almost entirely normalised in Western culture, to the extent that it is virtually invisible.

Whether everyone with a sense of entitlement is also a narcissist is up for discussion, though it would appear to be the most significant symptom of that disorder.

Is narcissism a necessary component of capitalism? Is patriarchy inherently narcissistic? Is the Christian god a narcissist? Do helicopter parents create narcissistic children? Are you entitled to exploit me to get what you think you need? Are we entitled to destroy the planet in order to get what we think we need to have?

If we can manage nothing else at least we have to ask the questions, because the sense of entitlement is, one way and another, perhaps currently the most destructive of human characteristics. It is not one we are born with, we are encultured into the attitude to a greater or lesser degree, damaging the sense of common vulnerability and humanity that might otherwise ameliorate narcissistic impulses.

This is what the Catholic church needs to investigate. Celibacy may well bring all kinds of challenges, but the sexual abuse of children is a deeper, greater darkness that cannot be explained away by the church denying adults a mature sexual life.

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.

 

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