Of penises and priests, placards and protestors
What is the greater danger to society? Is it the penises of some priests or the placards of some protesters?
At the same time the media, politicians and much of the population went into a frenzy over the Sydney Muslim protest, the Catholic church provided evidence to a Victorian State parliament enquiry that it had 620 documented cases of child sexual abuse by priests, mainly from the 70s, 80s and 90s.
If you look at the response of the State to child abuse in the Catholic Church compared to a few protesters in Sydney with reactionary placards, you’d have to conclude the greatest danger is a child holding a placard reading ‘behead all those who insult the Prophet’ rather than a priest abusing children.
The Department of Community Services was around in days checking on the child holding the placard. And guess what? She is loved and looked after.
How is it that some community service organisations around Australia appeared to have failed to help children abused by priests? Failed to prevent or investigate their abuse? Failed to support the children after abuse?
Why did society react with such outrage to a demonstration of Muslims, exemplified by that placard, and not to revelations about priestly paedophilia?
I don’t think it is just a case of public and private displays of anger by society.
Australia remains a deeply racist country, a country where racism is driven by the ruling class and its needs.
The other, the different, the Muslim, is an object of fear created by the ruling class both to justify its barbarous war on terror, in reality a war of terror, and to tie the working class to the ruling class.
In the first century of Australia’s development as a capitalist country the Irish were the Other, although they were numerically much stronger than Muslims and over time occupied an important place in the Australian working class.
Catholicism found a major political voice in the ALP, often its socially conservative wing, as a seeming expression of working class interests.
The Labor Party bought the potential working class rebels by and large into the capitalist tent. Many struggles that occurred, for example over conscription, in response to the Depression, the anti-Vietnam war, were contained (even if there was substantial spill over to the Left outside Labor) within the ALP.
The split in the 1950s saw some Catholic and other groups form the Democratic Labor Party and help keep the Labor Party out of office for 23 years.
From the late 60s onwards the sectarian and class division between Protestants and Catholics began to unwind. Some in the Catholic working class were moving up in the world. This petit bourgeoisification for example saw Tony Abbott, emerge, a mixture of Bob Santamaria Catholic right with its respect for workers and anti-capitalism with Santamaria’s idealised vision of feudal Italy.
This upwardly or wannabe upwardly mobile group of Catholics would be lured to the ideology of the market by their social position. This upward mobility was occurring or had occurred around the time profit rates in much of the Western world began falling – from the late 60s onwards.
Neoliberalism developed as the ideology of explanation and action for the bourgeoisie and this fitted in neatly with an emerging and growing Catholic middle class looking for ideas to explain its role and position in society and how to remain there.
As a consequence the Liberals became an obvious place for some of these Catholics to migrate to politically. Tony Abbott is perhaps the best example today of this process.
The Catholic Church is an autocratic authority organisation in which the word of the priest, Bishop, and all the way to the Pope, is sacrosanct (on an increasing scale). The Catholic community itself invested their own humanly powers in their priests. This gives these figures trust, access to children and a certain amount of untouchability. To question a priest is to question one’s own life and meaning.
The Catholic Church is an integral part of capitalism’s structure and the Church itself became not just an institution intertwined into the Labor Party or even the Liberals but the capitalist State.
So on top of the god-like status of priests that Catholics gave them we also have an organisation whose integration into capitalism and the state protects per se the institution and its hierarchy.
This is not necessarily deliberate protection. The protection flows from the fact the Church is part of capitalism and the bedrock of conservative social ideas and unquestioning loyalty.
The voices of the abused began to grow, so much so that last year the Victorian Parliament set up an enquiry in Catholic priests’ abuse of children.
The figures released to date appear damning. The Church provided 620 confirmed cases of abuse by priests from 1930 on, mainly in the 70s, 80s and 90s. It argues that since the mid-90s the figures have fallen dramatically, to about 13 over the last not quite 20 years as a result of national complaints system, Towards Healing. Judy Courtin gives the lie to that in her article “Pell should face up and ‘fess up” in today’s Canberra Times. She says:
My research (conducted in Victoria and NSW) is based on the accounts of victims and lawyers. Some have been satisfied with the Towards Healing process, but they represent a very small minority. About 95 per cent of the victims and about 90-95 per cent of the legal representatives reported the process as abusive, highly adversarial, legalistic and traumatic.
Victims felt stripped bare, humiliated, embarrassed, bullied, belittled and disbelieved. They felt that they were the guilty ones, the ones on trial.
It would appear from her report that there are many more recent victims and that, far from only being recently made aware of the issues, the Church has known for centuries about it. As Courtin puts it: The hierarchy of the church has always known the extent of its sexual abuse problem, more than anyone else.
To protect itself and to retain members and influence in society, the Church hid the abuse. Rather than being handed over to police abusive priests were moved to new parishes, where the abuse could begin again.
It is an offence to conceal an offence. A Catholic priest in New South Wales is the first priest to be charged with just such a crime after covering up/not revealing details of child abuse to the police.
There may be more such cases, going perhaps up to higher levels of the Church. Certainly Courtin thinks so. She says: ‘For the Archdiocese of Sydney to feign retrospective ignorance of the extent of these hideous crimes is a malign defence.’
Courtin calls on the most senior member of the Church in Australia, Cardinal George Pell ‘to fulfil his domestic Christian duties and face up and fess up to the decades of crimes of the church – and all of the church, not just his little patch.‘
The enquiry into abuse in the Catholic Church in Ireland found it to be a state within a state and a law unto itself. It also found the Church’s abuse, sexual, physical and emotional, was endemic.
It is easy to get outraged at the Other when you lead an alienated and often poor working class life and every media outlet carries shock horror headlines about a demonstration and emphasises one placard which calls for the beheading those who insult the Prophet.
That outrage however disappears when the Other is not the Other, when it is an integral part of capitalism and performs vital functions for the state and capital itself. In those circumstances the Other becomes and is ourselves in the form of the society we are part of, are normalised by and feel at home in. We deny. We accept. We turn a blind eye. We do not believe.
And 620 documented and evidenced abuse cases in Victoria alone go untouched. There will be many many more around Australia.
Where is the outrage across society, not just understandably from all those the Church has destroyed and their loved ones? The Catholic Church is an important institution under capitalism, very powerful, and the abuse of kids and the cover up were systemic and supported by or not investigated by the state. There is no spark, no anger, no protests, no threats against the Church. No riot police, no batons, no pepper spray, no dogs, no arrests.
Am I drawing a long bow?
Imagine if those 620 kids had been Aboriginal and their abusers also Aboriginal. The troops would be in there tomorrow. Well, you don’t have to imagine because we have the reality. The Northern Territory invasion and land grab was based on the lie of the protecting the children. If it is good enough for the Northern Territory, why not for the Catholic Church?
Again, Aborigines and Torres Strait islanders are the Other of Australian capitalism.
The State and capital will attack the Other – whether it be indigenous Australians, Muslims or refugees – for their own benefit. They will not investigate one of their own, in this case the Catholic Church over child abuse, unless there is real pressure from below to do so.
The victims and their loved ones, those who have survived, have battled valiantly for justice. Their voices are loud. It is time to listen to them and act against the cancer within. Imagine what could be achieved for justice and future prevention if all that societal energy wasted on racism against Muslims were used positively to address real problems.