Sexual Terror in Action

by BINOY KAMPMARK

Cardinal George Pell is a terrier of the wrong sort. Combative for the Catholic church, he does the Pope’s bidding down under with a loud bark and occasional bite.  Much of it has proven disastrous for the Church’s reputation in Australia and elsewhere.  That particular institution is very much in the spotlight of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sexual Child Abuse, and things are not going well. Before Victorian parliamentarians, Pell demonstrated, as he has done for so long, that he shows a distinct “sociopathic lack of empathy” for his victims.

Certainly, for Pell, a degree of blamelessness has been cultivated.  This might well be his own interior justification.  The abusive, institutional mechanism that so typified the church institutions might well have been a cultural monstrosity – but Pell was immune to it.  Or at least, that’s the impression he gives. Governance, and action, are not necessarily the same thing in the Pell book of revelations.

His response, for example, to questioning about why the former Melbourne archbishop Frank Little did conceal instances of abuse is suggestive of that.  “Yes, archbishop Little did cover up but he inherited a situation where there were no protocols and no procedures and, for some strange reason, he never spoke to anybody about it” (The Australian, May 28).  The suggestion is specious, if for no other reason that the Catholic church remains one of the most protocol driven institutions on the planet, a hybrid creature of legal sophistication.  Errors and heresies are noted; behaviour punished, when required. When necessary, bad behaviour has been concealed.

The sociopathic appellation was aptly coined by Anthony Foster, whose daughters had been raped by a priest.  Pell’s response to the man, given in a furniture storage room at a Melbourne presbytery, was not one of much emotion.  When shown a picture of Emma, one of the daughters who ultimately killed herself, Pell said blandly, “Hmmm, she’s changed, hasn’t she?” (The Age, Nov 23, 2012).

Then, the terrier sprung into action.  “If you don’t like what we are doing, take us to court.”  This is the Pell script, one of inscribed institutional violence and protection when necessary. Dissent will be quashed, and detractors punished.  But those engaged in criminal acts…  Well, that’s just something else.  Canon law is a formidable shield, and one that continues to resist the incursions of Parliament and the common law. The current inquiry in Victoria is largely based on teasing out the links of a “Catholic mafia” that systematically frustrated police attempts to account for abuses.

Every concession to inappropriate, and in some causes fraudulent practices adopted by church institutions to complaints of abuse, is always qualified with a steel-like resistance. Pell has expressed his apologies that there was repeated sexual abuse of children, notably those taking place at the hands of priests and lay teachers connected with the church. He even goes so far as to admit that the church handled matters poorly some 25 years ago when a series of complaints came out of the rotting woodwork.

Before Victoria’s parliamentarians, he conceded that “lives have been blighted.” In his mind there was “no doubt about it that these crimes have contributed to many suicides” (The Australian, May 28).  But, while being fully apologetic and “absolutely sorry” for those clergy responsible for abuse, the culture of silence had to be seen differently.  “The primary motivation would have been to respect the reputation of the church.”  There was no inkling that this “mess” was “widespread”.

Once, however, he took that stance, terrier Pell assumed his aggressive posture. As Jack Waterford, editor-at-large at The Canberra Times observed, he did act decisively in setting up a mechanism of dealing with the abuses.  Abusers were identified and punished; victims were embraced, at least to a degree.  Job done, which is precisely why Pell has assumed a legalist posture that takes issue with the continued insistence on church mismanagement.

Some of his colleagues have done the same thing – Bishop Anthony Fisher, and the archbishop of Canberra, Mark Coleridge, for example, assuming stern rebuking positions of victims who remind them about what happened and continue to do so. Both men have taken issue with that they see as bleating on the part of the abused, the unnecessary spirit of “vengeance that drives them and conspires with the culture of violence”.  But the victims, far from speaking to a culture of vengeance, have sought one defining attribute so often missing in Church governance: the presence of accountability in the face of violence that was normalised, ever present yet concealed.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman