Power, police and paedophile priests
Roberto Laudisio Curti died when a large group of police tried to subdue him after he stole a packet of biscuits. He was high on a third of a tab of LSD and was psychotic.
A large number of police chased and caught Curti. He was tasered 14 times and sprayed with more than two cans of capsicum spray.
The coroner, Mary Jerram, said that the actions of the police had been thuggish, out of control and excessive and that they had acted ‘like schoolboys in the Lord of the Flies.’ She said that it was ‘impossible to believe that he would have died, but for the actions of police.’
The coroner recommended police disciplinary action against five of the officers involved. The family have called for criminal charges to be laid against some of the police, one of whom has been promoted to Inspector since Curti’s death.
Of that man the Coroner said ‘His failure to maintain any objectivity or sensible leadership, quite apart from the unreliability of his evidence, is abhorrent.’ Obviously just the sort of person you want as an Inspector.
The response of police has to be seen in context. Police are effectively a law unto themselves. They enforce the law.
Their role in capitalist society is in part to keep the working class under control and make sure workers are fit to turn up to work and do turn up to work.
That means for example stopping them stealing, or taking recreational drugs that might affect their regular attendance and output at work. It means protecting the private property of the rich.
And it means, sometimes, chasing after the event the physical attacks, rapes and murders that occur under the deeply alienated society we live in. As many rape victims would know the victim becomes the guilty party, an expression of the system and its police of the deep sexism embedded in it and them.
This social control role police exercise gives them powers that ordinary citizens do not have. They seemingly have a higher place in society than the rest of us, caught as we workers are in the powerlessness that is capitalist society.
The use of that power, and the ideas of superiority, and the infrequent prosecution of police, makes them seem invincible and untouchable. They are a state within a state.
The fact that they are divorced from the west of society alienates them from the alienated.
We are their enemy. Police abuse – Aborigines and drunken or drug taking young men come to mind – is an expression of both their sense of superiority, their position as above the law and their alienation from the rest of us.
Curti’s death wasn’t an accident. It was an expression of a system which elevates a section of society to be above the law.
The same is true of the Catholic Church. It is a powerful institution under capitalism.
Prompted by revelations in a Victorian Inquiry and a proposed Hunter region one in New South Wales of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and others in the Church, the Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a royal commission into child sexual abuse. This is something victim groups have been campaigning for for some time, although some are concerned that the wide nature of the enquiry, rather than just focusing on the Catholic Church, might reduce the scrutiny of the Church.
It s not sectarianism that puts the Catholic Church at the forefront of any investigation. As father Kevin Dillon from St Mary’s Parish in Geelong told the 7.30 Report:
Certainly there’s no doubt that this goes across different organisations and different denominations and within the wider community. But there’s also no denying that we’re the clubhouse leaders by far and that pains me to say that, but we can’t run away from that. That’s the facts of the case and some of the details of events that are emerging, say within the Victorian parliamentary inquiry, are – they’re more than disturbing, they’re horrific.
Detective inspector Peter Fox is a New South Wales policeman who has investigated abuse by priests for years. He has claimed that the Catholic Church ‘… covers up, silences victims, hinders police investigations, alerts offenders, destroys evidence and moves priests to protect the good name of the Church.’
So Gillard has moved and called the Royal Commission; its full terms of reference are as yet not decided upon.
According to the latest census figures almost 25% of Australians profess to be Catholic, although the number who practise is much lower.
The Church in Australian society has traditionally been the outsider. The Irish Catholic heritage and its implantation in the working class made it a natural enemy of the almost exclusively Protestant ruling class.
This found political expression in part in the unions and the Labor Party. But together with sometimes impressive radical political activity went the most conservative social views of society.
Over time Catholics became more intertwined with the ruling class as exploiters of labour rather than like trade unions as the retailers of labour power and the political expression of that intermediate class position in the ALP.
Today for example Tony Abbott is leader of the Liberal Oppositon and Joe Hockey shadow Treasurer.
Abbott in the past might have been in the Catholic wing of the ALP, or the breakaway Democratic Labor Party, although his New South Wales background might have kept him in Labor.
Indeed his admiration for Bob Santamaria whose extirpation of capitalism was only surpassed by his fear of Stalinism, makes Abbott, I would have thought, a rather interesting experiment as Liberal leader. Abbott for example was the only cabinet member to oppose Howard’s Work Choices. Maybe the ghosts of Santamaria have been exorcised. We shall see.
During the period of the Church as ruling class outsider, coupled with its unnatural ideas of celibacy and guilt ridden original sin, the closeness of the congregation and its empowerment of the priestly order gave real power to those in the priesthood.
Like the monarchy, they are powerful because ordinary people invest them with power. This can make them untouchable within their own community. So some might exercise that power by abusing children and believing their role and position protect them from investigation.
As the Church became more integrated into and accepted within the ruling class that feeling of power only increased. Not only was it the case that they felt immune within their own communities they felt immune within wider society.
In Ireland – and yes I know Australia is not Ireland but there are similarities – an inquiry into the abuses by the Catholic Church found that rape and sexual molestation were endemic in Catholic industrial schools and orphanages.
As the Ryan report says ‘Corporal punishment in girls’ schools was pervasive, severe, arbitrary and unpredictable and this led to a climate of fear amongst the children.’
The report condemned the Church for moving on abusers from one parish to another. The safety of children was not a consideration.
In other words the abuse and violence was systemic. The institutions were a state within a state, above the law.
The problems are systemic and require systemic solutions, not band-aids. All capitalism can give us, given the importance of the police and religion to the system and the power they have, is band-aids and Royal Commissions.
Until the privileged position and power of the police and priests is overthrown there will be more deaths and injuries at the hands of police and ongoing abuse of children by priests and others.