Local comedian Catherine Deveny got a letter from
the government Twitter the other day. She opened it, read it, it said they were suckers she may wanna remove a tweet she done re Sydney Archbishop George Pell — else she too might be sued for defamation. (See : Pell in threat to sue Twitter, Nathan Partenza, The Age, May 9, 2012 | Cardinal backs away from threat to sue Twitter, Nathan Partenza, The Age, May 8, 2012.)
Deveny’s offending tweet made reference to a meme generated by Pell’s appearance on the ABC’s Q&A (April 9, 2012) when he, in turn, made reference, inter alia, to ‘preparing some young English boys… for First Communion’:
MICHAEL MATTY: Is it okay to tell a child that God doesn’t exist?
TONY JONES: Richard Dawkins?
RICHARD DAWKINS: I think it is okay to tell a child the truth but I would prefer to encourage a child to make up her own mind and to think about the evidence and to believe things when there is evidence. What I think is not okay, what I think is deeply immoral, is to tell a child that when she dies if she’s not good she’s going to go to hell. That seems to me to be mental child abuse and an utter disgrace.
TONY JONES: Okay.
GEORGE PELL: I remember when I was in England we were preparing some young English boys, they were from very…
GEORGE PELL: Preparing them for…
TONY JONES: Come on.
GEORGE PELL: Thank you. Preparing them for the first communion…
Pell’s remark prompted some tittering among the LIVE! studio audience; indicative, perhaps, of the general mood when Catholic priests make reference to ‘preparing boys’: a product of the ongoing series of scandals involving the rape and abuse of Catholic children by Catholic clergy (rape and abuse which, incidentally, prompted recently-retired State Labor MP Bronwyn Pike to produce a somewhat bizarre treatment of her own).
Deveny has written some thoughts on the matter (as well as re-published the legal exchange) here.
Pell’s threat naturally brings to mind that of fellow morals crusader Melinda Tankard Reist, who in January threatened to sue blogger Jennifer Wilson for allegedly defamatory remarks she made on her blog (regarding Reist’s religious convictions and their supposed political implications).
Speaking of convictions, last week eleven men — mostly former pupils at St Alipius Primary Skool for Boys in Ballarat — made an application in the County Court for compensation for their rape and abuse as Catholic schoolchildren by Christian Brother Robert Best. The Catholic Church spent millions on defending the paedophile, but it remains to be seen if the Church is willing to pick up the tab should the application be successful. It’s also an open question if the Church will undertake to fulfill additional (moral) obligations incurred during the lengthy process of bringing Best to court for his crimes. Thus:
During the church’s lengthy delaying tactics (and after church lawyers had been fighting victims in the committal hearings), one of the 14 victims took his own life. This victim (Damien, aged 48 in 2009) had encountered Best as a schoolboy in Ballarat in the 1970s. According to Damien’s family, he had been damaged not only by Best’s crimes but also by the church’s long record of harbouring and protecting Best.
Damien was survived by a teenage daughter in her early teens. It remains to be seen whether the Catholic Church will recognise its responsibilities to this child (and, if so, to what extent).
Church ideology and rhetoric (cf. Pike) suggest that the answer to this question is ‘yes’; Church practice — that is, The Church in that other dimension known as The Real World — suggest that the answer is ‘no’. And of course, the more dead former victims, the less money the Church (and its insurers) potentially have to part with.
As for St Alipius, Best was one of a nest of Catholic child rapists who took up residence there, including Father Gerard Ridsdale (see : Ballarat’s good men of the cloth, Peter Ellingsen, The Age, June 14, 2002). When Ridsdale was first summonsed to court to face charges in May 1993, Pell — who in Ballarat in the early 1970s shared a house with the rapist — appeared by his side as a “family friend” and “support person”. “By Ridsdale’s third court case, in 2006, his convictions involved a total of 40 children (comprising 39 boys and one girl), aged between six and 16, who were sexually assaulted between 1961 and 1987. These are not Ridsdale’s only victims — they are merely those who eventually spoke to the police.”
Ridsdale is scheduled for release as early as next year… though I somehow doubt Pell will be waiting outside the prison to escort him to his new abode.