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Anti-Catholic Bigotry Masquerades as Common Decency
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.
BUSTING THE MYTH OF THE DARK AGES
Is there any other time in history more malaligned than the Middle Ages? Our modern conception of the so-called “dark ages” is that it was time characterised by superstition, barbarity, oppression, ignorance with a few outbreaks of the plague, just to make things interesting.
This view has been helped by numerous so-called educational resources. BBC’s Bitesize website, for example, takes a leaf from certain 19th-century British historians, the type of who saw Catholics as ignorant and childish, and caricatures Medieval peasants as “extremely superstitious” individuals who were “encouraged to rely on prayers to the saints and superstition” for guidance through life. It even accuses the Catholic Church of stagnating human thought and impeding technological development.
This does not represent the view, however, of many serious historians and academics. As Professor Ronald Numbers of Cambridge University explains:
“Notions such as: ‘the rise of Christianity killed off ancient science’, ‘the medieval Christian Church suppressed the growth of the natural sciences’, ‘the medieval Christians thought that the world was flat’, and ‘the Church prohibited autopsies and dissections during the Middle Ages’ [are] examples of widely popular myths that still pass as historical truth, even though they are not supported by historical research.’
In reality, the Middle Ages saw advances in law, politics, the sciences, theology, philosophy, and more. It saw the birth of the chartered town which ushered in the tradition of local self-governance. The existence of a strong papacy laid the foundations of limited political power as it prevented monarchs, who justified their power through their so-called “unique” relationship with God and the Church, from monopolising power. This symbolic limitation on monarchical power was manifested in the Magna Carta (1215) and the birth of the English Parliament.
The people of the Middle Ages produced magnificent Gothic cathedrals and churches. Many medieval monks became patrons of the arts and many were even artists themselves. In literature, the Middle Ages saw Dante’s the Divine Comedy and Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In music, the Middle Ages laid the foundation of Western classical music and saw the development of musical notation, western harmony, and many of the Christmas carols we know and love today.
Likewise, the Carolingian Renaissance of the 8th and 9th centuries saw advancements in the study of literature, architecture, jurisprudence, and theology. Medieval scholars and scientists, many of whom were monks and friars, studied natural philosophy, mathematics, engineering, geography, optics, and medicine.
In the spirit of intellectual and spiritual enlightenment, many universities, including Oxford University, Cambridge University, and the University of Cologne. These universities educated their students on law, medicine, theology, and the arts. In addition, the period also saw the foundation of many schools and many early Christian monasteries were committed to the education of the common people.
The Middle Ages saw advances in science, literature, philosophy, theology, the arts, music, politics, law, and more. Its legacy is all around us: whether it is in the limitations placed on the powers of Governments, the music we listen to, or in the tradition of education many of us have benefited from. In an era of political correctness perhaps we should be wondering whether we’re living in the “dark ages.”