Cardinal George Pell and his supporters, such as Tony Abbott, claim that the latest police investigations into allegations of child sexual abuse are part of an ongoing witch-hunt against him.
It is true that the Catholic church, and in particular Pell, have received a bucketing in sections of the mainstream press over the long history of child sexual abuse and the cover-up of the perpetrators by church authorities.
But given the scale of the sexual and physical atrocities that went on for so many decades, the tens of thousands of lives ruined, the untold numbers of suicides, self-harm and drug abuse, it has to be said that the church has got off remarkably lightly. Its authorities, including Pell, have no serious grounds for complaint.
You just have to compare the treatment of Pell and the rest of the church hierarchy with the ongoing appalling persecution of Muslims.
Despite the widely documented crimes of Catholic institutions, no laws have been passed targeting Catholics. No special changes have been made to citizenship rules to make it more difficult for Catholic immigrants to become Australian citizens. No restrictions have been placed on the movements of Catholics or their ability to obtain passports.
There have been no council bans or vile campaigns against the building of churches or Catholic schools like there have been against the construction of mosques and Muslim schools. No calls by politicians or the press to ban the wearing of the religious attire of nuns – even though the traditional habit worn by Catholic (and Church of England) nuns was virtually the same as the burqa worn by some Muslim women.
No third degree interrogations by Australian Border Force of priests or nuns at airports. No confiscation of the funds of Catholic charities or investigations into how they spend their money. No bans on Catholic parishioners sending money to the Vatican. No Senate investigations (witch-hunts) into Catholic religious practices like the one into halal food certification that provided Cory Bernardi and other right wing bigots with a platform to further demonise Muslims.
Years ago, Catholics faced blatant discrimination in Australia. But that is no longer the case. ASIO and the state police stopped monitoring the sermons of Catholic priests and the content of religious classes in Catholic schools decades ago. Muslims are the target today.
The persecution of Muslims increases by the year, yet the number of lives destroyed in Australia by Muslim fundamentalists is absolutely minuscule compared to the tens of thousands of lives the Catholic Church authorities are responsible for destroying.
For untold decades, Catholic priests, brothers and nuns carried out systematic sexual abuse of children (leave aside the physical abuse of repeated canings, bashings and strappings), which was covered up by leading church officials such as bishop Ronald Mulkearns of Ballarat and archbishop Frank Little of Melbourne. They intimidated or bribed or refused to believe anyone – children, parents, teachers or conscientious priests and nuns – who dared to complain.
According to father Noel Brady, cardinal Pell was directly involved in trying to silence honest priests. Brady was assistant parish priest at St Mary’s in Dandenong (Melbourne) when, after meeting up with a number of the victims of sexual abuse, he decided to speak out.
“I spoke out about it at Dandenong in Mass in November 1992 and I was given a round of applause”, Brady told Fairfax journalist Louise Milligan. When he continued to speak out, Brady received a phone call from his superior, then bishop Pell, telling him to shut up about it.
The police and state authorities were heavily involved in the cover-ups and also did their bit to intimidate whistleblowers and victims of abuse. The police chiefs forced out or moved aside cops who wanted seriously to investigate allegations of abuse.
Of course it has not been just the Catholic Church. All around the world, virtually every supposedly respectable institution in capitalist society – the wealthy private schools, the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, the BBC, government-run orphanages, all the institutions in which people were supposedly being cared for by the state, innumerable charities, all the mainstream churches, the exclusive clubs of the rich, hospitals, the police force and the armed forces – have been involved in blatant ongoing sexual abuse and cover-ups.
Fundamentally, this reflects the enormous imbalance of power in our society between the mass of workers and the oppressed (especially children) and those who control and manage the key institutions of capitalist rule. The rich and powerful and their favourites, such as Rolf Harris, treat the rest of us as their playthings to push around, abuse and exploit. They close ranks to attempt to cover up scandals that might seriously harm their “reputation”.
Occasionally the scandal is so appalling that a few changes have to be made and a scapegoat or two offered up – but only to buttress a system whose continued existence ensures there will continue to be more such atrocities.