Pell’s Toll

I don’t want to spend a lot of time delving into the intricacies and contradictions of this topic, but I do have a few thoughts I want to express about Cardinal George Pell, his child sex abuse conviction, and the influence he’s had on Australian political direction. Until his downfall, Pell embodied that dangerous mix of religion and “rightwing conservative” politics.

It has now been revealed in Australia, that the nation’s highest ranking Catholic was found guilty in December 2018, of sex offenses against children. The verdict had been suppressed here until two or three days ago, even though it was revealed elsewhere in the world.

I remember local newspapers expressing a grievance for being prevented from reporting about a prominent Australian’s conviction of serious offences. They were prevented by a court order from reporting on the case and its outcome.

Now the news is out.

Cardinal George Pell was found guilty of engaging in forcible sexual acts against two choir boys after mass in the 1990s. Pell is one of the Pope’s most senior men. I recall something about him being the third most important person in the Roman Catholic Church.

Of the two victims, only one took this case to court, the other had died of a drug overdose many years ago. His family now say they finally understand why their son had such a troubled life, spiralling into a fatal relationship with drugs; although throughout his life he had always denied he’d experienced any sexual abuse.

The case against Pell therefore relied on the testimony of one man who gave evidence on behalf of himself and his childhood friend. While not intending to defend Pell or discount the validity of the guilty conviction, I find myself troubled a little by that. How much actual evidence was there apart from that one person’s testimony? I assume there was a lot more than that single thing, but I’ve come across nothing yet in the news reports I’ve seen.

My unease is exacerbated by the many cases I’ve read and heard about recently, where there have been clear miscarriages of justice and the innocent have been given long prison sentences on very flimsy evidence, or have had their lives ruined by false claims against them that they were never allowed to challenge in court. For various reasons the courts, and the media, do get things wrong, particularly when evidence is sparse and circumstantial.

On the other side of the equation, if Pell is innocent, it astounds me that his defence team tried to minimise the sentence he’d be awarded, by trying to underplay the seriousness of the crimes of  which he’d been found guilty. Describing the crime as a “plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating”, didn’t seem to be the tactic of a genuinely innocent man.
In the many cases of wrongful conviction that I referred to earlier, there was an ongoing insistence of innocence, with no desperate backing down, in the hope of getting leniency in sentencing.

One of the complicating factors of this case is that Pell was a senior member of an organisation with a woeful record of sexual abuse against minors committed by its leaders. Equally woeful is the response taken when the abuse has been exposed. The response primarily sought to protect the RC Church and its guilty clergy rather than bring about justice for those who had been abused.

Cover-up was the chosen course. And that ongoing history places some guilt upon ALL of those in leadership who enabled it. Whether they personally abused a child or not, if they actively played a part in that cover-up they should share the guilt.
Pell himself gained a reputation for making things harder for those who sought some kind of recognition and recourse from the church. Is Pell a good man, innocent of the sex crime but reaping what his church had sown? Some are suggesting that’s the case.

After the revelation of the guilty verdict, some of the more rightwing commentators of the local Murdoch press have spoken out against the court’s decision, claiming that Pell is a scapegoat. Additionally some of the more rightwing Government ministers have expressed similar views. And two former prime Ministers have expressed their support for Pell. John Howard (PM from 1996 to 2007) wrote a glowing character reference for Pell after the conviction and before sentencing, describing him as  “a person of both high intelligence and exemplary character“. (my emphasis – onesimus)

Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that Pell continues to maintain support from those people. He has been a strong voice of right-wing conservatism, and his influence on the political paths of a few domineering members of Australia’s current government is evident, in particular the climate change deniers who have crippled Government climate and energy policy since they came into power in 2013.

Some time ago, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott (a Pell supporter) gave a speech decrying those who sought action to address climate change. His speech was a barely disguised repetition of one previously given by Pell. (see below)*

Now that Pell’s conviction has been made known, it will be interesting to see whether his political influence, enacted by his polictial acolytes, will gradually be undermined.

________________________________

*

Pell said some of the “hysteric and extreme claims about global warming” were “a symptom of pagan emptiness, of Western fear” of the “immense and basically uncontrollable forces of nature”.

“In the past, pagans sacrificed animals and even humans in vain attempts to placate capricious and cruel gods,” Pell said. “Today they demand a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.”

This week, Tony Abbott made a curiously similar speech.

Addressing the climate-sceptic Global Warming Policy Foundation in London, Abbott returned to his own scepticism about whether climate change is occurring to worrying degrees. He adopted his private confessor’s argument and his style.

“Environmentalism has managed to combine a post-socialist instinct for big government with a post-Christian nostalgia for making sacrifices in a good cause,” Abbott said.

“Primitive people once killed goats to appease the volcano gods. We’re more sophisticated now but are still sacrificing our industries and our living standards to the climate gods to little more effect.”

https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2017/10/14/abbott-looks-pell-energy-policy/15078996005349

Also of interest, a dissenting right wing commentator’s view.

Broadcaster Ray Hadley criticises Howard and Abbott for supporting Pell.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/feb/28/commentators-doubting-pell-verdict-sends-damaging-message-to-survivors

 

 

Dangerous Love

I’m reading Dangerous Love by Ray Norman.
Norman was national director for World Vision in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania where he worked with his wife Helene.

His book looks at the challenges and cost of mission work, where Christian witness requires the casting aside of a lot of “western” preconceptions.

As well-educated and comparatively wealthy foreigners, we easily succumb to the notion that we are somehow higher in the pecking order, that our important objectives and busy schedules should take precedence because “we know best”. And too often our image among the poor is tainted, and our actions reflect a sense of entitlement and thinly veiled arrogance (in spite of our good intentions…

… In much of the world outside of Europe and north America, people are less achievement-oriented and place significantly higher value on relationships. On days after an unexpectedly long exchange with farmers, I might glance at my watch and mumble something to the effect that there was still much I had not accomplished that day. I would often hear words such as, ‘Yes, but those things can always get done tomorrow. At least today we have done the important thing and gotten to know each other better.’

During his tenure in Mauretania, an act of extreme violence against Norman and his daughter Hannah challenged the family’s resolve to continue the work they felt called to do. They were also made aware of inadequacies in the way fellow believers reacted to them in the aftermath of that violent incident.

It seemed that even our own pastor in France, a man who, along with his spouse, had been a source of support and encouragement to us over the years, seemed to strufggle with how to respond to us. He had been informed of what had happened, and once we arrived in Calais we expected to hear from him or his wife but never did. I eventually called him on our third or fourth day there. He told me that he’d heard our news, and he listened quietly as I chatted. But it seemed our situation was beyond him…

Eventually, the healing process began when the family chose to return to their work in Mauretania, and the greatest help came from those intended to be the recipients of the Norman’s ministry work. A clear example of this came from the women of Arafat, a nearby poverty stricken township, who invited Helene Norman to their community.

We understand because we too are women. And we want you to know that we are here to walk with you, to support and encourage you in this experience in which you have suffered deeply. So please know, Madame Norman, that we have brought you here among us to let you know you are not alone on this journey. We are here with you.

 

Ray Norman reflects on this as his wife tells him the full story:

I stood there in stunned silence , and between her sobs, she began to explain in halting words how the women of Arafat had provided for her, in her deepest time of need, what no friend or gathering among her many Christian acquaintances across three continents (Africa, Europe, or America) had been able, or had the insight to provide. How in the most unlikely of places, she had found common ground with those who suffer, and how God had touched her heart and demonstrated his promise of faithfulness in a remote land through ‘the least of these’ (Matt. 25:40)

 

 

 

The Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and 9/11

The Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and 9/11. Dr. Nabeel Jabbour interview – Part 2

This is part two of the series of interviews with Dr. Nabeel Jabbour, continuing his history of modern day Islamist extremism.
Here he shows how the events touched upon in the last audio led to Al Qeda and the attacks of September 11, 2001.

From the Zwemer Centre for Muslim Studies:
http://www.zwemercenter.com/zwemer-podcast/page/6/

How ISIS Began in Colorado

How ISIS Began in Colorado (interview with Dr. Nabeel Jabbour – Part 1)

The next few posts will be audios from the Zwemer Centre for Muslim Studies.
http://www.zwemercenter.com/

They are a series of interviews with Dr. Nabeel Jabbour about the origins an influences behind the rise of present day extreme Islamism.

The roots of this extremism stretch back to surprising places.

I had recently come across a lot of the content of this particular audio from a “secular” source on ANB radio
http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/what-he-saw-in-america:the-violent-legacy-of-sayyid-qutbs-visi/7795158

Muslims, Mission and Martyrdom with Dr. Jerry Rankin

I’ve recommended and posted a few audios from this source.

This is one includes another very interesting interview worth the listening time.

The interview starts around the 7 minute 25 second point, after some banter between the podcast presenters.

from:
http://www.zwemercenter.com/zwemer-podcast/page/7/

This audio and the rest in the series can be downloaded from the site at the above link.
I’ve downloaded episodes to a USB stick so I can listen to them in the car on my way to and from work. I find that much more practical than sitting at the computer to hear them.

The Radicalisation Environment

During the ongoing coverage of the weekend’s terror attack in London, I saw the end of an interview with Australian Labor Party politician, and “global counter-terrorism expert” Anne Aly, who, in 2015, was the “only Australian invited to the White House to speak at a countering-violent-extremism summit”.

 

A phrase she used caught my attention when she spoke of the conditions that led young Muslim men to turn to the kind of violent extremism displayed in the London attack and other terror events before it.

 

She spoke of a “radicalisation environment”, and from the short part of the interview I saw, I realised that the term could also be used to describe a very common kind of experience – where a community of likeminded people create an “environment” that reinforces particular views and a particular way of thinking. Contrary views are excluded, creating an echo-chamber of ideas where their adopted views are never seriously challenged.

In the “old” days – (my younger days) the term brainwashing was often used to describe a similar process, and it was conducted by groups that were often recognised as “cults” – which were comparatively benign in practice (relative to the Islamists of today), presenting no violent security threat to the community at large despite the personal and family costs that often resulted.

 

While the above mentioned “radicalisation environment” (or brainwashing) can create, reinforce and validate violent actions (as per the Islamists), that basic type of environment isn’t completely different to the experience of anyone who takes faith in God seriously. It is easy to isolate ourselves within groups of people of similar beliefs where the validity of those beliefs is not seriously challenged

The most significant difference is the nature of the God in whom we place our faith. How we think about God and what we believe about God will affect the way we act in response to Him. Simply stated; obedience to a violent god will produce violent followers and obedience to a loving God will produce loving followers.

 

A similar kind of “radicalisation environment” can be found in political groups, and partisan bias becomes so entrenched that the faults in one’s own “wing” of politics can become invisible, as can good aspects of the other political “wing”. Those within that “environment” can easily find themselves going with the flow, turning a blind eye to things they wouldn’t normally accept because it is part of the environment they entered and settled within. By identifying as “conservative” because the “conservative” wing of politics has certain views of morality that we see as scripturally endorsed, we can also be prone to aligning ourselves with some ideological stand points that under scrutiny contradict other parts of scripture.

 

Not only are religious and political thought affected by the insularity of “radicalisation environments”, the influence extends to embrace wider cultural norms; where our own culture is seen as the best, and others are seen as lacking, or aberrant in some way. In the past this has been displayed on the “mission field” where westernised cultural standards, such as dress codes and fashion styles were pressed upon communities as part of the “gospel” being presented.

But religion, politics and culture are never experienced in isolation from each other; and the wrong mix has the potential to become toxic, with national, cultural and political identities blending with religious identity. So our particular nation and culture, or our political views, (in our minds) become more favourable to God than other countries, cultures and political viewpoints. Our group is seen as His group. Our standards are seen as His standards. Our ways are seen as His ways.

 

That can give unwarranted justification to any group’s actions that in reality may be far outside of God’s agenda, and even contrary to it.