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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.
This is our weekly theological article.
For most of my life I have had a great affinity for cemeteries and graveyards. A gentle stroll through the neat and peaceful rows of graves, pausing occasionally to read the inscription on the headstone of someone who lived and died long before I was born has been the source of great pleasure for me.
I believe cemeteries and graveyards are important for two reasons. First, they are incredibly artistic. One cannot help but notice the well-manicured lawns and beautiful gardens, the magnificent sculpting’s of the headstones, and the often-poetic rhetoric of the epitaphs. Second, I believe that cemeteries and graveyards provide people with a physical connection with their cultural heritage and allows them to tap into their ancestral past. As Doctor Celestina Sagazio, a historian working for Melbourne’s Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust, observed, cemeteries and graveyards provide a clue into the daily lives of people throughout history.
Modern culture has little time for the contemplation of death. That would go against ‘positive thinking’ and the perpetual lie of ‘eternal youth.’ This, however, stands in stark contrast with the convictions of most of our forebears. From antiquity through to the early twentieth century, the consideration of death was considered a good motivator for leading a virtuous and meaningful life. Recent studies affirm this belief, finding that the contemplation of one’s own mortality acts as a motivator for assessing one’s values and goals and can greatly improve physical health.
The phrase, ‘Memento Mori’, is said to have originated with the Ancient Romans. Tradition in Ancient Rome dictated that a servant or slave should stand behind a triumphant General during his victory parade. This servant or slave would whisper in the General’s ear: “Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento Mori!” (“Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man! Remember that you will die!”).
Between the 14th and 17th centuries, the concept of ‘Memento Mori’ took on new motifs. The engraving, ‘The Triumph of Death’ (1539) by Georg Pencz (1500 – 1550) depicted a scythe-wielding skeleton commanding an oxen-driven chariot. Similarly, the dance of death – involving skeletal figures – lead everyone from the Pope to the humble ploughman in a final dance of death. During the 17th and 18th centuries, many New England graves were adorned with epitaphs like ‘Memento Mori’ and ‘Hora Fugit’ (‘the hour flees’) and were emblazoned with images of skulls, bones, winged death’s heads, hourglasses, and other symbols of death and the passage of time.
The Roman stoic philosopher, Seneca (4BC – AD65) advised: “Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day… The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.” The careful contemplation of mortality and the deliberate awareness of death has a profoundly positive effect on the health and vitality of the soul.