“Happily, I think most of Australia was enjoying [and] delighting in the beauty and goodness of these young people and the hope for us doing these sorts of things better in the future, as we saw last night, rather than dwelling crankily, as a few people are doing, on old wounds.” ~ Bishop Anthony Fisher, World Youth Day Coordinator, July 16, 2008, commenting on attempts by victim advocates to use the occasion to draw attention to sexual abuse by clergy.
Blah blah blah blah blah… I seem to be losing interest in blogging — at any length. Maybe it’s a temporary lapse or maybe I should just quit.
A few things.
Following Joolya’s announcement on Monday of a Royal Commission into child sex abuse, Cardinal George Pell (above, entering court as a character witness for and alongside of paedophile Catholic priest Gerald Ridsdale in May, 1993) declared that The Media has been engaged in a campaign to demonise The Church by exaggerating the size of such abuse committed by Catholic clergy. His message will no doubt appeal to some among his flock but sadly for Pell it doesn’t appear to have gained much support among the wider population: the 7.30 Report (November 13) provides an excellent summary of his statement and the response. That said:
The truth is, Pell doesn’t need the ear of a prime minister to put his stamp on Australian life. The Catholic Church is by far the biggest non-government organisation in the country, and since he bestrides it like a colossus, he already wields considerable clout. “Australia is 26 per cent Catholic,” he pointed out in a speech he gave in Ireland last year. “We are now the largest denomination, having passed the Anglicans.
“We have a huge network of services: we educate 20 per cent of all Australians in our schools, operate 24 per cent of hospitals, we provide 55 per cent of palliative care … There are also a couple of Catholic universities and an immense welfare system, mostly financed by the government.”
An investigation by BRW magazine in 2006 put the Catholic Church’s revenue in Australia for the previous year near $16.2 billion, all tax-exempt. It is Australia’s biggest private property owner and non-government employer, with more than 150,000 people on its payroll.
Of course, while the Church seemingly possesses enormous wealth and power and enjoys tax-exempt status (“Unlike most other not-for-profit groups, religious groups do not have to file income tax returns and, contrary to the practice in most other countries, they do not have to pay tax on commercial businesses or pay capital gains tax on the sale of assets”) it’s also able to avoid collective legal and financial responsibility for the rape and assault committed by its employees.
And That’s Official.
In 2007 in the case of John Ellis v Cardinal Pell the Catholic Church gained a landmark ruling in the NSW Court of Appeal that effectively meant the church could not itself be held financially responsible for historical sexual abuse committed by its priests.
The Church argued, and the Court held, that the Church’s assets, which are controlled by a set of property trusts, cannot be accessed by victims of sexual abuse. With the accused priest either penniless or deceased, and the Church itself not being a legal entity able to be sued in its own right, victims of sexual abuse are left with no legal remedy.
Which is not to suggest that the Church has not offered victims some token forms of compensation — under processes lauded by its defenders as just and compassionate and which, coincidentally, are cheap and avoid both unnecessary publicity and the necessity of paying for the slightly higher sums needed in order to vigorously defend those accused in the courts. (In which context, see also (former) Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox’s allegations of sabotage of police investigations by Church and police hierarchy.) Note also that, despite having conducted many hundreds of investigations into such criminality among its priesthood, according to police the Church has failed to alert them to a single instance of such abuse, a practice seemingly in accord with general policy on such matters, examined in some detail by Geoffrey Robertson in his 2010 book The Case of the Pope.
To the best of my knowledge, Royce Communications is responsible for attempting to rehabilitate the Catholic brand (meaning media relations, media training, publicity, marketing, branding, imaging and design, social marketing, government relations, policomms, crisis and issues management, attitudinal research, change management blah blah blah). On Twitter, Reverend Grebo suggested that they promote Father Bob Maguire as the face of The Church. This is not a bad idea, but one obviously not without its problems, not least of which is the fact that Bob’s hardly in a position to influence Church policy, or be regarded as in a position to speak on behalf of the clergy — unlike, say, Cardinal Pell.
In the media, The Usual Suspects — Piers Akerman, Miranda Devine, Gerard Henderson, Greg Sheridan, et al, supplemented by folks like the ABC’s Stephen Scott, perhaps — may be relied upon to launch a counter-attack (and indeed have already commenced doing so), while in politics, The Mad Monk and Joe Hockey — who declared the idea of a Royal Commission “ridiculous” — are in a slightly more difficult bind (for obvious reasons). loon pond provides generally incisive and often amusing commentary on this mob, tho’ perhaps with too frequent resort to ellipses… Otherwise, youse can read what “the only DLP pollie elected to federal parliament for four decades” reckons here.
See also : Church & State & Suicide & Survival (April 13, 2012) | Suffer the Children : Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church (August 5, 2011).