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Last month, the Catholic Archbishop of Queensland, Mark Coleridge voiced his opposition to calls for Priests to become mandatory reporters, a move that would destroy the seal of the confessional. Coleridge warned that forcing Priests to break the seal of the confessional would have the effect of turning them into “agents of the state” rather than “servants of God.”
That, of course, is precisely the point. It is beyond doubt that many of the accusations of child abuse leveled against the Church have been well-founded. It is also beyond doubt that the Catholic Church has not always responded to such accusations with the seriousness they ought to have. However, it would be equally true to claim that the spectre of child abuse has been used as an excuse to conjure up anti-Catholicism.
Of the 409 individual recommendations generated by the Royal Commission on Child Abuse, several are targeted directly at religious institutions (and the Catholic Church specifically). First, it has been recommended that Priests be mandated to report confessions of child abuse. Second, that children’s confessions should occur in a public place where Priest and child can be observed by an adult. Third, that “the Australian Catholic Church should request permission from the Vatican to introduce voluntary celibacy for diocesan clergy.” Fourth, that candidates for religious ministry undergo independent psychological evaluation. And fifth, that “any person in religious ministry who is the subject of a complaint of child sex abuse which is sustained, or who is convicted of an offence relating the child sex abuse, should be permanently removed from ministry.”
Such proposals are not only impractical, but dangerous. They would have the effect of not only destroying the seal of the confessional, but of destroying the separation of Church and State. It would give the authorities the power to place the Church under observation and to stack it with clergymen who support their political and social agenda.
Nobody says anything about this blatant disregard for our most common civil liberties and democratic values. The fact of the matter is that the Catholic Church has always been an easy target. It is neither progressive nor nationalistic making it a target of condemnation for both the far left and the far right. The far left hates the Catholic Church because it stands in favour of traditionalism. The far-right hates members of the Catholic Church because they see it as something akin to fealty to a foreign power.
And like all bigots, anti-Catholics have chosen to target and destroy a high-profile target. Cardinal George Pell has become a scapegoat for child sex abuse committed within the Catholic Church. The mainstream media has been quick to paint Pell as a power-mad, sexually depraved Cardinal rather than the reformer that he actually was.
As Archbishop of Melbourne, Pell was instrumental in instigating investigations into allegations of child abuse and providing compensation for victims. That, however, made not the slightest difference, nor did the improbability of the accusations. (As Pell’s own defence team pointed out: not only did the security and layout of Melbourne’s Catholic Cathedral render such abuse impossible, Pell had no opportunity to commit such crimes). When he was accused of abusing two boys in the 1990s, Pell’s guilt was assumed for no other reason than that he was a Catholic Archbishop.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge is right to criticise anti-religious measures embedded in the Royal Commission’s report. The reality is that Australia’s modern, secular institutions are focused primarily on destroying the influence of the Catholic Church in Australia. The idea that they care about the safety and well-being of children is patently absurd.
Priests and Ministers of Religion in South Australia will be required to report child abuse confessed to them under new laws that come into effect in October.
The Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017 has replaced the Children’s Protection Act 1993. The Attorney General’s Department has claimed that these changes will “better protect children from potential harm, and align with the recommendations of the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.”
These new laws represent a disturbing phenomenon. Namely, the use of a highly emotive issue as a means for undermining the rights and freedoms of others. This law, and others around Australia (the ACT Parliament has passed similar laws with almost universal support), blatantly violates both religious liberty and the right to privacy.
Confession is one of the most important aspects of the Catholic Faith. Comprising one of the seven sacraments (the others being Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, the anointing of the sick, and Holy Orders), Catholics believe that an individual who confesses his sins is speaking directly with God. Whatever is confessed remains between that individual and God.
The privacy of the Confessional is known as “the Seal.” The Vatican has had strict rules on the privacy of the confessional since 1215 and Priests are bound by a sacred vow not to break the seal. A Priest who breaks the seal, even after the penitent has died, faces excommunication.
Some critics have accused the supporters of these new laws of undermining religious liberty and of targeting the Catholic Church. The Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Christopher Prowse, criticised the law, say: “The Government threatens religion freedom by appointing itself an expert on religious practices and by attempting to change the sacrament of confession while delivering no improvement on the safety of children.”
Some priests have even claimed that they would rather go to prison than break the seal of the confessional.
At some point, people are going to have to realise that children are not the centre of the universe. They are going to have realise that their safety is not so important that it trumps the rights and freedoms of everybody else. The laws passed by the Parliament of South Australia are an absolute violation of religious liberty and the separation of church and state.
Countries like Australia have had a great tradition of separating politics from religion. Now it seems that this distinction only goes one way. It is seen as totally unacceptable for the Church to use its power and influence to affect politics, but for some reason it is seen as perfectly acceptable for the state to interfere in religion.
One cannot help but cynically suspect that politicians in South Australia are using children as a backdoor method for allowing the all-seeing eye of the state into relationships that were once deemed absolutely private. That which is confessed to a Priest ought to remain absolutely private. The contents of my conscience (or anyone else’s, for that matter) are none of the state’s business.
Those who support this blatant attack on the rights and liberties of others should ask themselves what their opinion would be if the law violated their private relationship with their doctor, lawyer, or psychiatrist.
In March of 2015, a Coloradan woman, Michelle Wilkins, was lured to a meet-up arranged on Craigslist and brutally attacked. During the attack, Wilkins, who was seven months pregnant, had her unborn child cut from her body. Wilkins survived the attack but, sadly, her child did not. And, as if to add insult to injury, Wilkin’s unborn child was not recognised as human under Coloradan law.
Legal abortion – which I will define as the state approved murder of an innocent life – is a barbarity no civilised society should tolerate. As the Canadian clinical psychologist and YouTube sensation, Jordan Peterson (1962 – ) commented, “abortion is clearly wrong. You wouldn’t recommend someone you love have one.”
However, this is not to say that abortion isn’t a deeply complex and emotive issue. On the one hand, it is a procedure often used by desperate or easily persuaded women who feel that aborting their unborn child is the only option open to them (which it very rarely is). On the other hand, it is a form of murder cynically exploited by feminist extremists for political purposes.
Pro-choice proponents have several arguments in favour of total and free access to abortion.
The first argument, and the one that carries the greatest degree of credibility, concerns the health of the mother and her ability to safely carry a child to term. The Washington Post, for example, reported a story about an Indian girl who had been repeatedly raped and eventually impregnated by her uncle. An abortion was performed when it was decided she was too young to carry her child to term.
In all honesty, this is a sentiment which I have a great deal of sympathy for. It is very difficult for a woman to be a mother if she is dead, and it would be as wrong to sacrifice the life of the mother for the child as it would be to sacrifice the life of the child for the sake of the mother.
But the argument that abortion is necessary when the health of the mother is in jeopardy does not necessarily translate into the full, absolute, and unquestionable right to abortion. It is merely an argument for the preservation of the life of the mother.
The second argument concerns the health of vitality of the child itself. Often, however, this kind of argument is often used as a disguise for a desire to engage in eugenics. Claiming that a child with down syndrome should be aborted, for example, is the same as saying that people afflicted with certain maladies should not be afforded the same right to life as everybody else.
The third argument concerns instances where pregnancy has been instigated through an act of rape or incest. Whether or not rape should be sufficient grounds for an abortion is a tricky one to grapple with. On the one hand, the mother did not choose to be placed in the situation she has found herself in. And, by extension, birthing, and most probably raising, a child borne of rape may prove to be an insurmountable emotional turmoil for the mother. On the other hand, however, the child did not choose to be conceived through rape, and it is immoral to punish an innocent person for the crimes of another.
In reality, however, the rape justification for abortion is merely a red herring. It is a backdoor method for justifying the total, absolute, and unquestionable access to abortion.
The fourth argument concerns the idea that a woman has the right to abort her unborn child because she has the absolute right to bodily autonomy. In Texas last year, Judge Earl Leroy Yeakel III (1945 – ) overturned Senate Bill Eight which prevented doctors from performing evacuation and dilation abortions by mandating that a child’s heart must stop beating before the procedure can be performed. Yeakel claimed that the decision to abort a child outside the womb is “solely and exclusively the woman’s decision.”
This is the easiest argument to refute. An abortion does not only affect a woman’s body, it also destroys the life of a separate, innocent human being. Furthermore, the right to choose when to have a family is one shared by all people up to a point. A man has the right to wear a condom, he can have a vasectomy, and so forth. Likewise, a woman has every right to use contraceptive birth control, a diaphragm, a female condom, a cervical cap, an intrauterine device, and more. Couples can even refrain from having sex. But the right to family planning ends the moment a child has been conceived.
The fifth argument, and the one that is the most egregious, is the argument that an unborn child does not count as a human life. Much of this is the result of language. We use Latin words like “foetus” and “embryo” to fool ourselves into believing an unborn child is not a human being.
Therein lies the rub. People have always justified evil and immorality by altering the parameters of their morals to suit themselves. People have always justified murder by claiming that the person they are killing is not human. They may argue, for example, that murder is wrong, but that they are justified in aborting their unborn child because they do not see that child as human.
And the biological and physiological question of whether the unborn child is a human being is, without any shadow of a doubt, yes.
This is the case right down to the genetic level. Virtually every cell in our bodies contains thirty thousand or more different genes that are spread out on long strands of DNA known as chromosomes. Now DNA is very special. It is the chemical building block that makes us who we are. It determines whether or not we will go bald, what our eye and hair colour will be, how tall we will be, and much more besides.
If there is anything that DNA is good at it’s replicating itself. This can occur in two ways. At the most basic level, DNA replicates itself through cloning. At the most complex, one set of DNA merges with another set of DNA through sexual intercourse. And in doing so it creates an entirely unique individual.
But how can it do this safely? The answer lies in a process known as meiosis. When the human body makes sex gametes – sperm and ovum – it does so by making a copy of a previous cell. When it does this it keeps itself attached at one point and then condenses to make an ‘X’ shape. The four chromosomes then embrace and transfer some of their genetic material to each other. Finally, the cell split twice to create new sperm or ovum that carries a unique genetic package.
In other words, every sperm cell and every ovum carry a set of chromosomes that has never existed before and will never exist again.
Human beings have a grand total of forty-six chromosomes or twenty-three pairs. The moment a child has been conceived a full set of these chromosomes, known as a diploid, is established. It will receive twenty-three chromosomes from its father and twenty-three chromosomes from its mother.
The average pregnancy lasts between thirty-seven and forty-two weeks. During this time the child growing inside a woman’s body will go through all kinds of wonderful and miraculous changes. At three weeks, it’s brain, heart, gastrointestinal tract, and spinal cord have begun to form. By the fourth and fifth weeks, the heart is pumping rudimentary blood through the child’s veins with a steady rhythm. By the sixth week, the child’s fingers and toes have begun to form, and the child’s heartbeat can now be detected. By the end of the second month, all the child’s essential organs have begun to form.
And there’s still another seven months to go! By the fourteenth to sixteenth weeks, the child will begin to move around, its liver and pancreas will have begun to secrete fluid, and its fingerprints will begin to form. By the seventeenth to the twentieth week, the mother will be able to feel her child moving around inside her, it’s heartbeat will be detectable via a stethoscope, and its fingernails, toenails, eyebrows, and eyelashes will have started to grow.
By the twenty-fourth through to the twenty-sixth week, the child’s brain will be rapidly developing, the nervous system will be developed to a sufficient enough degree to give the child some control, albeit minutely, over its own movements, it will have developed a startle reflex, and its sleeping cycles will be perceptible to the mother. A child born at this stage can survive outside the womb with the assistance of modern medical technology. By the thirty-third to thirty-sixth week, the child will shift into the birthing position and will rapidly put on weight. Within weeks, a fully formed human being will be born.
Any discussion about abortion must begin with the scientific truth that an unborn child is a human life. Only after that truth has been acknowledged can factors like the health of the mother, the vitality of the child, cases of rape and incest, and bodily autonomy can be considered. The preservation of innocent life is the most important responsibility for every person living in a free society. The way we respond to this issue will define us for decades to come.
In 2015, the then-Presidential candidate, Donald Trump (1946 – ) called for a boycott of Starbucks after the famous coffee shop chain failed to include the words “Merry Christmas” on their annual Christmas cups. “Did you read about Starbucks?”, Trump asked a rally in Springfield, Illinois. “No more ‘Merry Christmas’ on Starbucks. Maybe we should boycott Starbucks.”
Two years later, Donald Trump, now President of the United States, doubled down on his pro-Christmas message. Speaking at a Christian Public Policy conference, the President stated:
“We’re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore. They don’t use the word ‘Christmas’ because it’s not politically correct.”
“You got to department stores and they’ll say, ‘Happy New Year’, or they’ll say other things and it’ll be red, they’ll have it painted. But they don’t say it. Well, guess what? We’re saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”
The sentiment that there is a War on Christmas designed to push the religious holiday out of public consciousness carries a great deal of validity. Since 2000, the Becket Institute has listed the biggest Christmas scrooges in American public life, giving the worst offenders an ‘Ebenezer award.’
In 2000, city manager of Eugene, Oregon, Jim Johnson was given the Ebenezer Award after he issued a five-page memo banning Christmas trees from any “public space” in the city.
In 2011, the Ebenezer Award was given to the United States Post Office after they enforced a policy preventing people from singing Christmas carols on Government property. This decision stands in direct contradiction to Benjamin Franklin’s (1706 – 1790) (their founder) commandment to “always live jollily; for a good conscience is a continual Christmas.”
In 2014, the City of Sioux Falls was given the Ebenezer Award after they threatened to repaint and censor snowploughs that featured artwork celebrating the religious nature of Christmas.
In 2015, the Ebenezer Award was given to the Department of Veteran Affairs after they banned their employees at their Salem, Virginia facility from saying ‘Merry Christmas.’
The problem is not unique to the United States, either. During an interview with 2GB Radio, Peter Dutton (1970 – ), Australia’s minister for immigration and border protection, became incensed after a caller informed him that there had not been any Christmas carols in a performance at his grandchild’s school. The caller informed Dutton that the school in question, Kerdon State High School, had replaced the lyric “we wish you a Merry Christmas” with “we wish you a happy holiday.” Dutton replied: “You make my blood boil with these stories. It is political correctness gone mad and I think people have just had enough of it.”
I believe that the drive to remove the more traditional and religious aspects from holidays like Christmas and Easter is indicative of a larger attempt to abolish the influence of Christianity on society and culture.
The problem with this, needless to say, is that it is akin to chopping down a tree and still wishing to enjoy its fruits. It is not possible to enjoy the fruits of Western culture and civilisation when its ideological origins and overarching philosophical-cum-theological structures have been removed. Christianity and Western civilisation are inextricably linked. The poet, T.S. Eliot (1888 – 1965) wrote in Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1943) that “to our Christian heritage we owe many things besides religious faith. Through it we trace the evolution of our arts, through it we have a conception of Roman Law which has done so much to shape the Western world, through it we have our conception of private and public morality.”
The War on Christmas is an attack on the very fabric of Western Civilisation. Christmas symbolises the central axiom our culture was built on: that the Universe was constructed to have a natural and moral order. The War on Christmas is not merely an attack of Judeo-Christian belief, nor is it merely an attack on Western culture, it is an attack upon truth itself. And the truth cannot prosper while those who believe it are unwilling to defend it.