A view from Australia gets tepid reception

A view from Australia gets tepid reception Joe Duffy, presenter of RTE's Liveline

It amazes me sometimes how people who can’t possibly know the truth of an event get very dogmatic about it and take definitive positions. They fuel polarisation and aggravation, setting themselves up for a fall if things don’t turn out as they assumed, and that’s if we ever find out the truth.

Last week Australian Cardinal George Pell was found guilty of child abuse and of course I don’t know if he’s guilty or not, but for now he’s guilty in the eyes of the law though his planned legal appeal may well reverse that.

Whatever the case, the evidence against him and the trial process look questionable, as far as can be judged from has made it into the media.

Among those with reservations is Fr Brendan Purcell, an Irish priest serving in Sydney. On last Friday’s Morning Show on Spirit Radio he pointed out how much Pell is unpopular among secularists because of his strong stand on the hot button social issues, how there’s an anti-Catholic atmosphere, with Pell often treated as a scapegoat even though he had been impatiently ahead of the other Australian bishops in tackling the scandal of clerical child abuse.

Fr Purcell also referenced non-Catholic commentators who suggest that the conviction is unsafe and the case of another Australian bishop whose conviction was recently overturned, with the appeal judge having harsh words about the original trial.

Even the secular Sydney Morning Herald was questioning the safety of the judgement, and there were other instances of where the actions of the Victoria Police were problematic. Fr Purcell was quick to state that Cardinal Pell should be subject to the full rigours of the law if it turned out he was guilty and he wasn’t in any way an apologist for abuse or the mishandling of complaints.

He had made much the same points earlier in the week when he was interviewed by Joe Duffy on Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, Tuesday), but in this context he was given something of a roasting by various callers. Fr Purcell was also given a fair and respectful hearing by Duffy and likewise for Ivan Yates when he had him on the Hard Shoulder on Newstalk that evening.

On last Friday’s The Leap of Faith (RTE Radio 1) Dr Ben Matthews of Queensland University in Brisbane  was doubtful of any appeal by Pell succeeding as he didn’t think there was any “substantial miscarriage of justice”.

A discussion between Dr Matthews and Fr Purcell would have been enlightening so we could hear ideas and opinions being tested. I thought Dr Matthews started in a factual analytical way but then he talked about the Catholic Church being “exquisitely set up for the infliction and cover up child sexual abuse on an industrial scale”, hardly a dispassionate approach.

He also thought that secrecy was a “paramount obligation” for those in the Church dealing with abuse, but that’s hardly the case when you consider how much material was handed over (eventually) in Irish dioceses.

The other significant religious story of the week was the publication of a report questioning the use of Catholic religious symbols in Catholic hospitals. No blanket ban was suggested, just a call for sensitivity to patients’ wishes, but it felt like another instance of state interference in Church matters, and considering the drastic problems in the health service this felt a bit like fiddling with icing on the cake when the rest of it was gone off.  More worrying was the suggestion that hospitals refusing to do abortions might lose state funding.


On Newstalk Breakfast last Thursday morning. Political commentator John McGuirk thought the fuss over the religious symbols was “a solution in search of a problem”, thought patients were more concerned with medial competence and questioned the amount of money spent on this report.

Later on the same show this was one of the issues raised by Shane Coleman with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who pointed out that the controversial report was an “independent” one, commissioned by his Health Minister Simon Harris (man on a mission!) into the role of religious bodies in health care.

He said he didn’t believe in “banishing religion to some sort of private space”. He thought removing cribs from hospitals was “totally over the top” and gave out about “aggressive secularists”on the left!

I wondered if An Taoiseach and his Health Minister were on the same page.


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