The Papal apology for clerical abuse in Australia

Kim has some excellent analysis of where it fails to hit the mark over at LP. Two major problems:

  1. the setting of the apology (a mass for seminarians and clergy/religious orders only) reflects an inward focus on dealing with abuse as a problem for the Church internally with the victims and their families left outside the process (symbolically yesterday as well as actually in practise).
  2. the pope ascribed clerical abuse to a very odd cause (shifts in moral teaching of theology in seminaries, WTF?) that reeks more than a little of simply being yet another stick that the conservative theologians will use to bash the already dwindling arm of progressive theologians.

Kim also notes the galling hypocrisy of News Limited (I know, shocked, aren’t you?) in their coverage of the victims and families who are speaking out (links are those supplied by Kim).

It’s probably significant that all those who have been claiming that the demands of victims for justice are politically motivated, or whatever, pass over in silence the case of Emma Foster, preferring to concentrate their rhetorical venom on [Anthony] Jones – whom no doubt they see as a weak target. They’re also ignoring the appalling remarks of Bishop Anthony Fisher. There’s a big contrast between the special pleading and victim blaming of the conservative media here and the “outrage” over an unclothed photograph of a 13 year old in the Bill Henson photos controversy. Seemingly, an artistic image of a naked 13 year old is a much more urgent matter for moral angst than the vastly inadequate response of a powerful and conservative institution to the repeated rape of a 12 year old girl.

Related Reading: the Hoyden About Town archive of WYD posts [link] and Bill Henson posts [link].

Categories: arts & entertainment, culture wars, ethics & philosophy, media, religion, social justice

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8 replies

  1. For me the problem (apart from failing to talk to victims about what it was they needed to hear and see done) was that the ‘apology’ failed to acknowledge that the broader church has failed so comprehensively to prevent or punish abusers. The priests and brothers who assault parishoners are bad enough, but clergy who know and fail to report, or control the movements of abusers are complicit. There was no acknowledgement of the covering up that repeatedly happened/still happens. The church’s attitude that a child abuser in Melbourne is best dealt with by being sent to Fiji to work in schools there.

  2. There’s another layer of hypocrisy in that none of the people squabbling over adult representations of children seem to be aware of, or at least interested in examining the ways in which children’s self-representations are given limited credence in for example the criminal and family courts. I notice also that a new Pre-school education program in SA designed to empower children with the knowledge and ability to recognize and disclose abuse is being met with the same misguided “let kids be kids” objections (in comments).
    Only a deeply distorted patriarchal society would make the issue of adult’s representations of children a cause celebre while simultaneously kicking against attempts to empower children on the one hand and dismissing children’s own accounts of their experiences as inherently unreliable or engaging in victim blaming on the other.
    This is a short excerpt from Dr. Caroline Taylor’s Court Licensed Abuse regarding a 1995 trial involving severe intrafamilial abuse:

    In the same trial, the defense barrister claimed that the number of allegations of “incest” detailed in the complainant’s counseling files placed her evidence outside the boundaries of “normality.” This line of argument prompted the judge to draw an analogy between her history of sexual abuse and the conduct of a prostitute, leading the defense barrister to retort that “even a prostitute would not have sex with so many members of her own family.” The analogy aside, the notion that it is the girl child who engaged in sexual intercourse, rather than the one who is violated by adult males, remains one of the many ways in which “incest” is identified and discussed in legal discourse.

    News Limited, having cast itself as a defender of the Catholic faith, is engaging in a practice which is dignified as a legitimate form of defense by the courts.

  3. Pearson’s piece in the weekend Oz castigates Lateline for its leftist-liberal attack on Pell – “Pell had a duty of prudent management of the resources of his archdiocese.” Therefore his handling of the Tony Jones case was correct. Presumably Pell’s managing of resources does not stretch to managing his priests. Or the church bearing full responsibility for the criminal nature of their actions.
    Pearson also attempts to establish that Jones was partially culpable, citing part of the court transcript, and decries the scrutiny of the judge. Given some of his statements, including his response to the statement by Jones that undressed in the priest’s bedroom, he made no protest as he was paralysed with fear”, to which the judge stated:
    “There is no support at all in the evidence for such a proposition and it is rejected” this would suggest to me that such scrutiny is as relevant as that focused upon recent cases involving court rulings involving Indigenous persons.

  4. Found the link to Christopher Pearson’s column (the Oz doesn’t make it easy, does it?).
    The idea that there must have been some level of consensuality because Jones experienced an erection boggles me. That our bodies react at times in unwelcome ways is surely hardly news to most of us? Should the mind which says NO, due to rational doubts and reservations, while the body is aroused despite all, be given no credit whatsoever?

  5. Hang on, is he really trying to say that seminaries used to teach that there can be circumstances when child abuse is okay? I understand proportionalism but that hardly sounds likely unless you get into the area of ‘injury to a single child is less important than the protection of the catholic church’ which seems to be behind the thinking of non-apologists like Pell and co.

  6. I’m not especially up on proportionalism, but I believe the claim is not that seminaries ever taught that child abuse was “okay”, but that the very concept of proportionalism (simplistically, that morality per se is less crucial to weighing evil than the pain and suffering that result) meant that priests with that predilection found it easier to rationalise and self-justify sexual abuse in situations where their grooming of children meant that physical force was not required (of course this would require that such priests ignored all the evidence about mental harm suffered by abuse victims who are manipulated into aquiescing to abuse, but the pope blames it on these teachings instead).


  1. LOLpology at Hoyden About Town
  2. Shakespeare's Sister
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