A Roman Holiday


So, there’s wasn’t any Freshly Doug Wednesday this week. I was watching the total eclipse, OK? There’s nothing like an event of that magnitude – and also, brevity – for reminding you how small, insignificant, unremarkable and temporary you are. And how much is going on around you that affects you, but you don’t normally notice. Until the moon gets in the way of the sun for a couple of moments, and reminds you.

There’s not going to be a Freshly Doug Thursday, either. I’m going to have to write a whole separate piece about the Roman Catholic Church today  Indulge me: I’m on holiday. A Roman holiday, it seems.

With the announcement of the Royal Commission (and thanks to everyone who signed the petition) the floodgates have opened and Cardinal Pell is left clinging for dear life to the riverbank.

Let us not forget that the poor man has had little choice – being the ambitious corporate ladder-climber that he is – but to obey orders from above. As this 2003 article in The Guardian lays bare, as long ago as 1962, the then pope (John XXIII, who was not as saintly as Catholics like to think) issued this document, ordering all Catholic bishops around the world to cover up cases of sexual abuse or risk being thrown out of the Church.

1962: more than 50 years of cover-ups and denials of what was already known at the highest levels and throughout the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Remember, this document went to all the Roman Catholic Bishops in the world. In 1962.

Three popes have now been complicit in these crimes: the concealment and facilitation of abuse has been entrenched and endemic throughout the church for at least that long, and the hierarchy do indeed run an organisation an order of magnitude worse than any other. Whatever Pell may say.

And he may have to say more than he would like, or he’ll end up in jail. Notwithstanding his defence of the ‘Seal of the Confessional’ – an image that conjures up the strangely apt image of Pell as an aquatic mammal in a mitre balancing a ball on his head, barking and clapping his flippers – the law of the land takes precedence over god’s law when appearing before a Royal Commission.

In his defence of his church’s behaviour to date, in dealing with sexual abuse, Pell was a mite too clever: he referred to the proportion of known abuses committed by clergy as having been exaggerated. And so it appears, if we compare the numbers of sexually abusive clergy, huge though the total is, with the number of reported child abusers generally.

But the national statistics combine ALL types of abuse – neglect, physical harm and sexual abuse – into one total. I haven’t been able to track down comparative stats of sex abuse alone, but I’m willing to bet they paint a very different picture.

Besides which, Pell’s complaint is offensive: it amounts to saying “Lots of others have been raping kids, guys, so why are you picking on us? We’re only doing what everyone else is doing!”

Talk about judging people by your own standards.

Pell also relied heavily on claims that Professor Patrick Parkinson of Sydney University had twice reviewed the church’s protocols on dealing with sexual abuse and approved them. Professor Parkinson has now withdrawn his support for the protocol because the church never took action against clergy who did not comply with the rules. And he says the church was still covering up abuses as late as 2005, to his knowledge. He called it organised crime.

Related stories have made the Cardinal’s position even more difficult, with yet more systematic abuse of intellectually and physically disabled children by members of the St John of God Order coming to light. No brother from the order has ever been charged or convicted for abusing children in Victoria and the order has never taken any action itself. Yet Pell says he church has done everything it can, and more than most, to clean its filthy house.

The Vatican, meanwhile, is running interference worldwide, stating unequivocally that it will never, ever stop fighting against same-sex marriage, regardless of what governments do. As usual, they imagine themselves to be above the law. Thankfully, they’re about to find out that in Australia at least, that is no longer true. I do hope Pell fancies a martyrs crown more than he fancies the papal tiara.

Robert Bolt has sprung to the church’s defence, cautioning against a witch-hunt. I think a witch-hunt is exactly what we need, because what we are dealing with here is a species of witch-craft: of lives being ruined in order to protect the image of holiness of a worldwide cult organisation. The Vatican and Sea-Org have a great deal in common.

I wonder what Bolt thinks of this story from Ireland. It’s got nothing to do with sex abuse, yet it is symptomatic of the evil perpetrated by the church in a misguided – to put it at its mildest – attempt to protect the imagined purity of the organisation and its adherents.

A woman – not a Catholic – having a miscarriage in a public hospital, died from septicaemia – blood poisoning – because the Catholic doctors refused to remove the diseased foetus from her womb until they could no longer detect its heartbeat. Because that would have been abortion, and against their ‘faith’.

The Twitterverse has since been buzzing with other stories of women in Catholic hospitals – Mercy here in Melbourne has been mentioned – dying, or coming close to it, thanks to the same inflexible attitudes.

Let me say plainly, if the church is offering a public service in a public hospital, they cannot deny any medical procedure on anything other than medical grounds. If they are not prepared to follow that rule, they should get out of the hospital business. Such doctors and nurses should go and exercise their consciences elsewhere, on themselves, not on others.

The job of a hospital is to save lives, not ‘souls’, and ‘religious’ scruples have no place there. A doctor’s faith is not more important than a patient’s life. Instead of healing, these people gambled with a woman’s life to protect their own ideological purity, and lost. She was sacrificed for someone else’s principles. That is inexcusable and, in my book, those doctors and nurses should be on trial for manslaughter.

The rape and maybe even murder of children. The manslaughter of pregnant women. Human sacrifices, and all for the sake of something that looks a lot like witchcraft to me. Witch-hunt? Bring it on!

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)