The sins of the 'fathers': Catholic Church and Abbott Government on trial

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'Father forgive them for they know not what they do' doesn't cut it for a Church that has protected itself and its priests over victims, writes Lyn Bender.

THE Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has exposed generations of  abuse that has been quietly countenanced by “good” people, and respected institutions.

The evidence given in Ballarat to the Royal Commission is excruciatingly unbearable to hear. It is blood chilling evidence of a cancerous contagion of loathsome cruelty. It is generational and passed on from priest to priest — some of whom received their own fierce initiation.

But while the abuse is of itself a horror story, the damage reaches far out into the community. The greatest injury is to the trust in those to whom many would turn in time of need. Those anointed to provide support wisdom and moral guidance. Those who betrayed trust were pronounced the guardians of Christian teachings — on love, compassion and care for the vulnerable. But the Church is also the guardian of centuries of outdated dogma that excludes and punishes. It is perhaps this contradiction that has fostered the schism of values that has institutionalised a satanic enactment of abuse and brought suffering to its children. “Suffer the little children” has been bastardised.

The lukewarm apology of the Catholic Church to the unfolding revelations of cruelty is, of itself, appalling testimony to the pervasive attitude of diminishing the harm done. With the vast lexicon of words to describe sin and transgression, those now bearing witness as church elders at the Commission can muster very little ownership of the trauma inflicted. All seems to be concentrated on saving the beast of the constructed Church. In the reverence for this incarnation of a religion, the parishioners have been forgotten.

The Catholic Church – now “on trial” – is a vast corporation intent on the protection of its brand and its assets, and supporting its own.

“Father forgive them for they know not what they do” doesn't cut it as a defence for a vast corporate beast that has devoured its young. The Church has protected itself and its priests over victims. Offending priests were moved on to offend in new parishes. The Church knew the priests knew and some of the parents knew, but the façade of the good and benign church was preserved above all else.

This is exemplified by one of my former clients, “Peter”, now in his forties, who came from a supposedly solid, loving, good Catholic family. He had been sexually abused on a regular basis by priest who was also a family friend. The priest would come to dinner then spend time with young “Peter” in his room. When the sexual abuse is seen as loving or special, the victim is confused. This is the act of a man of god? What can be possessed of greater goodness than god?

Another abuse victim said to me that

“We saw the priest as like god."

The carnage of adult suicide and dysfunction reveals the destruction of lives. Trauma and its torments may emerge in later life. Years after battle war veterans  agonise over deaths witnessed and inflicted.

No myths of the ultimate goodness of the church, or the nobility of war can expunge this awareness. The mind flashes back at unexpected times. An innocent word or gesture triggers visceral re-experiencing of trauma.

Many say telling the story, and being heard, believed and understood, brings some peace to the mind. In that way the Royal Commission has the potential to encourage healing. Many are calling for the scalp of people at the top, in particular Cardinal George Pell. But the abuse is structural, more than due to any one person’s reprehensible negligence. If Pell knew, it is likely that the entire Church knew. There was a culture of impunity and cover-up.

The Church and many within it, has a lot of soul searching and tears to shed, before it can be forgiven for what could be described in its own terms, as a massive besmirching of the teachings of Christ.

But this is not just past history. We are turning a blind eye to the abuse of children and adults in the detention centres that is occurring right now. How many reports over decades and exposures in the media can be denied and ignored? We know in the way we know about the Nazi concentration camps. The German people mostly claimed not to have known as people disappeared or were openly rounded up. But, in fact, there was open reporting on the progress that the Nazi regime was making in dealing with the "Jewish problem".

On 23 May 1933, the Dachauer Zeitung said Camp Dachau was Germany's most famous place and brought 'new hope to the Dachau business world'. Robert Gellately in his book Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany, reveals the complicity that the dictatorship extracted from the populace, by drawing on long held German ideals and phobias.

Now we are asking, how could the abuse have happened in the Catholic Church and it not have been known?

The cancer of abuse and terror proceeds insidiously.

Gillian Triggs, head of the Australian Human Rights Commission has been attacked by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton for asking the following bleedingly obvious question:

"Have we thought about the consequences of pushing people back to our neighbours Indonesia? Is it any wonder that Indonesia will not engage with us on other issues we care about like the death penalty?"

Undaunted by Dutton’s demands she recant, Triggs has addressed an audience of human rights lawyers and declared that a "growing threat to democracy" was the diminishing of human rights and expansion of "discretionary, often non-compellable ministerial powers". Triggs has expressed deep concern at the hasty passing of counter-terrorism laws, metadata laws and proposals to strip citizenship.

We have a Government that is manipulating our fears and is openly set upon imposing a rule of abuse and coercion for those deemed outside the Team Australia safe zone in the following ways:

  1. With bipartisan support, the Government has targeted refugees – a marginalised group – who are imprisoned, harshly punished and made an example of to “deter” others.
  2. The problem of desperate refugees has been redefined. No longer a human issue, it is now classified under the intimidating, secretive and militarised regime of Operation Sovereign Borders — now Australian Border Force
  3. Boat tow back is now brazen policy, without the safe to do so slogan.
  4. Exposing the abuses in detention centres under the Australian Border Force Act can lead to a possible jail term for whistleblowers — even health workers with an ethical duty of care.
  5. Staff are being trained to use force in detention centres and given virtual immunity from prosecution.
  6. There has still been no effective prosecution following the murder of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati in 2014 on Manus island.
  7. Indigenous people remain denied and marginalised and are being moved on and displaced from their lands.
  8. Australians are now all being spied upon through metadata retention.
  9. It is being proposed that Australian citizenship can be revoked on a ministerial whim on suspicion of association with terrorism. The fear is that this could be potentially used against any who protest about government policy.
  10. Overall a concerted strategy of attacking, rejecting and demonising all critics.

Only when the perpetrator cries tears of remorse that match those of the victim can reconciliation and forgiveness be achieved. This is the task of the Catholic Church that has inherited the sins of the "fathers".

But Tony Abbott and his Government has shown no remorse. Instead, demands are made for retraction and apology by any who dare to criticise.

The abuser – this Government – claims authority and to be caring for and keeping us “safe”. Australians are being groomed and desensitised to abuse by the Abbott Government. We, the citizens, have been deceived by a moral panic, even as our rights are being eroded under the cover of "protection".

The Abbott Government, like the Church, looks to alienate and victimise the abused as it shepherds the flock meekly to its fate.

You can follow Lyn Bender on Twitter @lynestel.

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