If you’re like me, a decent bloody human being who follows a moral code of not doing horrific acts, then you would have been delighted by the news of George Pell’s guilty verdict. He was accused of sexually assaulting two young boys in 1996, one of whom died of a heroin overdose in 2014 and the other who has not allowed his identity to be disclosed during or after the proceedings. An expected and satisfying result, it also led to a myriad of golden Betoota Advocate articles, with the simplest succinctly summing up the general attitude: “See Ya Later Cunt”. (Pardon the language). But not everyone was pleased with this result, to the disgust of all aforementioned decent humans.
The Vatican’s response so far has been to strip him of his role as treasurer but to maintain his title of Cardinal for the time being. Despite the large gathering Pope Francis spoke to in an effort to talk about the global epidemic of sexual abuse in the Church, no real action has taken place. Cases of abuse against children and, now increasingly, nuns (heralded by the hashtag “nunstoo”) have gained worldwide notoriety as investigations into the conduct of certain members of the Church have taken place.
While discussing it openly, no matter how graphic or disturbing, is a chance to remedy the issue and bring it to light, the Church has been slow on the uptake, and in some cases still in absolute denial. There were those who were asked in church to donate to help fund Pell’s legal defence, and quite frankly I hope anyone who did feels wretched about their choice. In no way can one reconcile a defence of Pell’s ‘innocence’ and a faith in any religious doctrine.
This is in no way a representation of the Church as a whole, but the documented cases of abuse and knowingly covering it up is an immediate issue that everyone needs to work together to solve. One part of this that received massive attention after the Royal Commission regarding sexual abuse was finished was the removal of the seal of confession when this arises. Anything that is confessed remains between the one confessing and the priest, and this confidentiality applies even in cases of lawbreaking. People defended the confessional, even in the context of someone admitting they were the perpetrator of abuse.
This is one thing that needs drastic overhaul – under no circumstances should religious law or customs take precedent over reporting the confessions of criminal activity, especially of this scale, and absolutely should not take precedent over the rights of the victims for justice. This isn’t the only example of the Church toying with their power over the law and State, and no small part of this is its ties with many powerful political figures.
John Howard and Tony Abbott, arguably the two worst Prime Ministers we have had in the last 30 years, have, unsurprisingly but abhorrently, stepped forward in defence of Pell. Howard has given a glowing character reference for Pell in his upcoming appeal next week, while Abbott called Pell and regarded the verdict a devastating blow to a friend. That alone should speak volumes for the moral compass of our current government and the Coalition parties as a whole. Two former Prime Ministers of this country, one which threw aside the prospect of a Royal Commission in 2003 (Howard), both had close ties with the rising Catholic figure Pell. Morrison, while talking about feeling bad for the victims and their families and of taking away Pell’s Order of Australia honour, has been a stalwart defender of his religious beliefs playing a role in his politics.
That is not good enough. The same Church that (again, I generalise, I do not mean the entirety of the Church or its members) decries homosexuality, that decries abortion, that decries (to a lesser extent) promiscuity of any kind, is the same Church now in defence of Pell and other such filth. As a matter of principle, I do not believe the authority of the Church should have any sway on an individual or the State at all, and all this situation does is further consolidate that conviction. The Church’s influence in politics is egregious enough on its own, with such vitriolic rhetoric as we saw in the anti-SSM campaign, or anti-Safe Schools campaigns. But to dare champion these restrictive and controlling measures onto the populace while simultaneously housing what many are now calling one of the largest paedophile rings in history (claims that may need to be checked, but the point rings true) is the height of hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy.
If anyone, especially the Coalition and the Church themselves, are serious about making changes, complete reform is required. Church power needs to be severed from the State. Outside of protections for freedom of religion and protections against discrimination, the State and its elected bodies should not be dictating policies and laws in tandem with religious beliefs. This includes clashes between religious rules and the law, such as the confidentiality of the confessional. There is no issue I can see with maintaining it, but when such confessions contain admissions of crimes such as abuse or violence, etc. then not reporting it should also hold charges. One’s religion should not be a legitimate reason to shield oneself from the law.
The Church has a lot of work to do on a global scale to regain any credibility on issues of sex, and our politicians need to work of firmly setting aside their religious beliefs when on the job. As if we needed more reason to vote out the Coalition, the wretches of their recent history are dredged back up in full support of a now convicted paedophile. Your vote will say more than you think it will about who you are and what you will accept, intentionally or not. Remember this when we vote in May.