Monday, July 16, 2012

Just remember, it's nothing to do with the pond, the Mittster or the Catholic Church ...

Responsibility. Involvement. Engagement. Such difficult concepts.

The pond of course operates on the Mitt Romney principle.

The pond hasn't been responsible for the day to day maintenance, operation and running of the pond site for lo, these many years past ...

The pond's owner might be listed as the chief, CEO, head bottle washer, and tea towel carrier, and there might not be anyone else in sight ... but as anyone knows, or has listened to the Mittster, that's merely bureaucratic and administrative, designed to service the needs of overbearing overlords who insist on finicky red tape.

Some cruel people have been having great fun with the Mittster's paperwork dilemma these past few days (Mitt Romney Bain Capital Filings Link Him To Politically Problematic Companies After 1999).

So it comes as a vast relief to the pond, and no doubt to the Mittster if he's ever spent a nanosecond thinking about the Catholic church in Australia, that hapless Cardinal George Pell is in exactly the same boat.

Thanks to Gerard Henderson, we learn that Pell and the church are scapegoats for a multitude of sins.

Now you might think that there is something special in the responsibility and the duty of care that the church owes to the children entrusted to it. That there is an additional burden placed on it to be empathetic to the victims of sexual abuse, and to give them a courteous, caring and dignified hearing, rather than put up the shutters and seek excuses for the behaviour of church workers.

In the same way, for example, that Scouts or Girl Guides or the teaching profession are given special privileges and special duties in relation to children, and therefore should assume that this also carries special responsibilities.

Not if you're Gerard Henderson, who naturally doesn't see the victims of Church power as victims. It's the poor old church that's the victim, hapless, long-suffering, tormented scapegoats:

The special focus on the Catholic Church turns on the fact it is being targeted by disillusioned Catholics along with anti-Christian secularists.

That's right, it's got nothing to do with the way the church has obfuscated, denied and delayed natural justice for victims of church-related sex abuse, it's just disillusioned Catholics and naughty anti-Christian secularists.

Naturally Cardinal Pell is the chief victim.

...when Pell is involved, however indirectly, in a controversy about sexual abuse or any other scandal, there is a tendency to depict him as managing director of Australian Catholicism, responsible for all its sins of commission and omission.
This is not the case - as ABC producers and presenters should know. The formal head of the church is the president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference - Archbishop Denis Hart.

Say what? Naturally the pond immediately rushed off to the web site of the Catholic church in Australia:

The permanent national assembly of Bishops is the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC). The elected President of the ACBC is the Most Reverend Philip E Wilson, Archbishop of Adelaide. Leaders of religious orders also play an important role in the life of the Church, through their permanent body, Catholic Religious Australia. Sr Clare Condon SGS is the current President of that Body. (here)

Oh dear, let's hope that Mark Latham isn't hanging about, because it seems the name of the national head is wreathed in mystery and confusion. According to some Archbishop Wilson was re-elected president of the ACBC in May 2010 (here), but who knows, perhaps Henderson has an insider's heads up ...

Meanwhile, of course, there's the world of real politik, which runs rampant in the church, and here Pell is a major player, not least because of his status as Cardinal and his connection to Rome. In the very same rag for which Henderson scribbles, you could read only a month ago Jane Cadzow's piece on the man under the header Our man in Rome.

First the technicality:

Pell isn't officially the head of the Australian church. Though he is the nation's most senior Catholic cleric, he has never been elected president of the peak body, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. "That's because he is not liked by his fellow bishops," says Chris McGillion, co-author of Our Fathers: What Australian Catholic Priests Really Think About Their Lives and Their Church. "He's too orthodox, too ambitious, too bullying."

Then the reality:

In fact, some of his fellow bishops do like Pell. His old friend Denis Hart, archbishop of Melbourne, for instance, describes him as a man of intellect and integrity, prepared to court unpopularity to get things done. Another close friend, Melbourne bishop Peter Elliott, regrets the "persistent bad-mouthing that goes on".
At any rate, whether or not Pell has the backing of the local hierarchy is almost beside the point. Thanks partly to his pull at the Vatican, partly to sheer force of personality, he is the de facto leader of Australia's more than five million Catholics.

The de facto leader. Ready to talk the talk on climate change, and anything else that passes under his nose, whether he's qualified to say boo to the goose or not.

That's why, when Four Corners went a-hunting in relation to Father F and his sexually abusive ways (Unholy Silence), they went to Pell, and that's why Pell took their call, even though involved in important Church scandals in Rome.

That, and the fact that the crucial meeting between Father F and three priests took place at a Cathedral now well within Pell's purview:

On the 3rd of September 1992 Father F was called to a meeting at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney. What happened at the meeting is crucial to understanding the major flaws in the way the Catholic Church deals in-house with allegations of sexual abuse. The meeting with Father F was presided over by three senior Catholic priests - Father Brian Lucas, Father Wayne Peters and Father John Usher.

The file note of the meeting also apparently resides in the Sydney dioceses, and Pell compounded the issue by claiming one outcome for that crucial meeting, contradicted by a document obtained by Four Corners which told a different story.

Henderson's solution? Reaching out and engaging with those who've suffered at the hands of the church? Not on your nelly. Silence and denial is the way to go:

Pell should never have appeared in the Four Corners program "Unholy Silence", by Geoff Thompson and Mary Ann Jolley, which aired on ABC1 on July 2.

That's right, he should never have appeared, never answered anything in relation to events that took place in the very cathedral where Pell presides. And he should arm himself with paranoia and defensiveness about the ABC in way that's quintessentially Hendersonian:

These days the ABC should be regarded as hostile territory for Catholics who follow the teachings of the Vatican. The ABC is replete with disillusioned current or former Catholics. Also, it provides a cheer squad for the same-sex marriage cause, which is opposed by the Catholic Church - along with some other Christian churches, Islam and the majority of Hindus.

What a classy way to conflate and confuse an issue. While ostensibly writing about sex abuse, drag in same-sex marriage, and Islamics and Hindus as allies.

And here's how you practise the ancient art of demanding a bowl of water and washing your hands:

When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. (here).

Here's how you do it today, Henderson style:

What Four Corners failed to make clear is that Pell is not responsible for dioceses other than the one over which he presides - Sydney. Moreover, no archbishops or bishops are responsible for the activities within religious orders of priests, sisters or brothers. They have provincials who report directly to Rome.

Yep, nobody's responsible for nothing.

Strangely, when you read biblical commentators, they give Pontius Pilate a bad rap for his behaviour:

...the mere washing of his hands did not free him from guilt. He was "bound" as a magistrate to free an innocent man; and whatever might be the clamour of the Jews, "he" was guilty at the bar of God for suffering the holy Saviour to be led to execution, in order to gratify the malice of enraged priests and the clamors of a tumultuous populace.
See ye to it - That is, take it upon yourselves. You are responsible for it, if you put him to death.

See to it, ye are responsible for it.

The Catholic church has over the years been particularly adept at avoiding responsibility by having confusing power structures, and an abundance of people willing to wash their hands and deny responsibility, all the way up to its antipodean man in Rome. That's also why it's been particularly inept in dealing with victims, because there's no one been willing to claim responsibility and to act. Instead the favourite denialist tactic has been the Gerard Henderson turtle routine.

Retreat into silence, blame others - the ABC, secularists, disillusioned Catholics, the victims themselves - anyone and anything other than the Catholic church.

There have been many versions of the Catholic catechism over the years, but this version has something to say about freedom and responsibility:

1731 Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility. By free will one shapes one's own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.
1732 As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach.
1733 The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin."28
1734 Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary. Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts. (trot off to the Vatican for more guff here).

Uh huh. Responsibility, freedom and the road to the slavery of sin. Perhaps Henderson should attend to that the next time he says the rosary.

In the meantime, he keeps on seeking to find scapegoats - any old scapegoats will do. For example, he also makes mention and blames the NSW police and NSW court officials for inaction, and in the process conveniently elides over this little piece of the Four Corners program:

GEOFF THOMPSON: Police arrested Father F in August 1987, for abuse of Damian Jurd. The priest's identity was suppressed. He was charged with five counts of indecent assault and six of sexual intercourse without consent. It went to a committal hearing in 1988.
Damian Jurd's allegations of sexual abuse ended up here at Narrabri courthouse, where a magistrate was asked to weigh the testimony of a wayward youth against that of a Catholic priest.
Church authorities did not approach other altar boys they knew could have supported Damian's case. Instead, no expense was spared defending the accused priest. The Church engaged arguably Australia's top Queens Counsel at the time, Chester Porter, to represent Father F in this country courthouse.
Damian Jurd, now aged 15 and with a criminal record, offered his testimony alone.
DAMIAN JURD (voiceover): I said "Stop it" and he asked "Why?" He kept doing it... He started groaning and he rolled onto his side and he started touching himself... I just buried my head in the pillow, buried my face in the pillow and cried.
GEOFF THOMPSON: A jury would never hear Damian's evidence - the magistrate decided it would be rejected when set against the word of Father F.
MAGISTRATE (voiceover): He has no previous convictions and he is a Catholic priest - and obviously Damian must come out second best there.

No expense was spared. One of the top QC's in the land against the word of a fifteen year old country kid!

No desire to get at the truth, and now the kid is dead by his own hand after a tortured life, and Henderson choses to blame anyone and everyone except the agents of the Catholic church that had the duty of care.

What a contemptible shocker his column is today, made all the more contemptible by pretending everything was made right by the meeting in 1992, when in fact after the 1988 trial, Father F went on saying mass for four years, and now strolls the streets of Armidale, never punished for his crimes.

Henderson compounds the folly by quoting psychiatrist Tanveer Ahmed out of context, when Ahmed - on the program cited - said that a Royal Commission was warranted. (here).

And Henderson disgraces himself by dragging in the recent conviction of Jerry Sandusky and paedophilia at Toomelah, as if it's some kind of excuse that football coaches, aunts and uncles, aboriginal people and others commit the same crime.

It's not an excuse, it's no excuse at all, and you can imagine how the pond might land robbing a bank, and using the excuse that bank robbery had in the past been done by football coaches and aboriginal people. It's an inexcusable, childish relativism teachers hear all the time.

"But miss, he was doing it too". "That doesn't mean it's okay for you to be doing it. Now wash out your mouth with soap and say you're sorry".

Henderson might think he's doing the Catholic church a service by manning the barricades, putting up the barriers, and embarking on further denialism and blame-shifting, but in fact he's doing the church a profound disservice. As its agents have done these past forty years ...

Here's hoping that Mark Latham takes Henderson to the cleaners. Not that there's much chance that even dry cleaning fluid would help cleanse Henderson, and lead him to insight, compassion, care and humility ...

(Below: and so to the obligatory cartoons, including at bottom a Steve Bell).

1 comment:

  1. What Gerard doesn't seem to understand is that people in general are sick and tired of pompous, pious, self-righteous, self-indulgent and criminal behaviour being sanctioned as "institutionalised" godliness. The kind of "institutionalised" godliness that judges, discriminates and inflicts harm on others. You'd think that those who believe that Jesus died for their sins, would be nothing short of humble, when believing that someone gave his life for them. Instead this act of (metaphorical)selflessness seems to have created an elitist group who think they are the chosen ones, and their role in life is to mount a legal defense against a child victim instead of kneeling before that victim and offering support and asking for forgiveness...Gerard included.


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