April 9th 2016


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Euthanasia: A truly counter-cultural perspective from history

CANBERRA OBSERVED Harsh realities a bridge too far for this election

EDITORIAL Malcolm Turnbull's election strategy emerges

FAMILY AND SOCIETY SSCA sets mines to basic building blocks of society

DOMESTIC AND FAMILY VIOLENCE Never mind the issue: this is the agenda

ASIA-PACIFIC AFFAIRS Taiwan, China find rapport over South China Sea

ART AND CULTURE Beauty and the beholder

OPINION Labor's princeling class licks dole plate clean

SEX ABUSE ROYAL COMMISSION Truth takes a back seat: scapegoating Cardinal Pell

POLITICAL HISTORY The Labor Split spillover

MUSIC Minimalism more than the sum of Arvo Pärt

CINEMA More like home than utopia: Zootopia

BOOK REVIEW Retrieving meaning

BOOK REVIEW Midget submarine op

BOOK REVIEW A Jewish view of universal ethics

LETTERS

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SEX ABUSE ROYAL COMMISSION
Truth takes a back seat: scapegoating Cardinal Pell


by Anne Lastman

News Weekly, April 9, 2016

While reading Peter Westmore’s “J’accuse …! A travesty of justice” (News Weekly, March 26, 2016), I couldn’t help but think of the “scapegoat phenomenon”. This is the phenomenon where someone is chosen as a substitute for sinners and punished to atone for their sins. This victim is taken to have expiated through punishment the “sins” of the others. We have Jesus as the most perfect “scapegoat”.

It is an interesting phenomenon because we in our enlightened society would be scandalised at the thought that we might have a “scapegoat” mentality or even consider punishing anyone other than the party guilty of a crime. The reality is, though, that we have recently been made witnesses to just this phenomenon. The media in all its forms has made it abundantly clear that someone has to “pay” for the “sins” of paedophile priests of long ago.

The media in all its forms (print/visual/radio/social) even paid the victims and their supporters to travel all the way to Rome to confront Cardinal George Pell as he gave his evidence, together with counsel for the commission Gail Furness SC, who seemed intent on breaking down the voluntary witness (Cardinal Pell). Ms Furness showed such an intensity of fury against the witness (Cardinal Pell) that one would have thought that it was he himself who was responsible for all the criminal acts committed. That he was the criminal! That it was he who had committed all the offending acts.

As I watched Ms Furness I was repeatedly reminded of the Old Testament priest who laid his hands on the chosen goat and placed all the sins of the community on its head and then sent the goat out into the desert to die, which, in dying, expiated all the sins of the community (Hence the term, scapegoat). Is this what Ms Furness was trying to do? Lay all past sexual abuse sins by sinful priests (for example, Frs Risdale, Searson, Day and others) on the head of Cardinal Pell and have him take the fall for them? Goodness? What a scalp!

As we watched the proceedings being telecast from Rome, it became obvious that truth was not the goal, but a mere side issue of this royal commission, and that the presumption of guilt had replaced the presumption of innocence and that Cardinal Pell was required to prove his innocence (if he could). The presumption of guilt overhung the entire proceedings, as does the damp of an unpleasant overcast Melbourne day, and even from thousands of kilometres away felt intolerable.

Chief royal commissioner Peter McClellan QC seemed to make no effort to temper the belligerence of his counsel (Ms Furness), who was intent on proving the guilt of the Cardinal; of showing him to be a liar and a non-caring person. From the beginning, Ms Furness set out to find Cardinal Pell guilty at least of knowing what was happening and doing nothing about it.

It was difficult to watch this. Yet the palpable hostility made it possible for anyone of goodwill to see that there was a long list of other individuals closer to the perpetrators who might have noted or seen something happening and were more able to do something about it. But it was Pell who was to be the fall guy. Why?

Because, apart from the scapegoat phenomenon, the “tall poppy syndrome” is alive and well in Australia. We will honour overseas guests and their accomplishments, but our own we tend to demean. Our own must wander over the waters; and then there is a sense that something isn’t quite right.

Scapegoating can be found in all manner of situations where it seems an injustice has been committed and no reparation made. A “sin” has not supposedly been atoned and sinners seem to have escaped punishment. A scapegoat is chosen on account of some link or association with the sinners and for no other reason. Then the denunciation, humiliation, persecution and removal from the community begin in earnest and persist until the scapegoat is finished: that is, dead.

While scapegoating is not the preferred term these days – the term “witch-hunt” was used in the Pell experience – I suggest “scapegoating” is a more apt descriptor because of the wave of hatred against the Cardinal and the Catholic Church that all forms of media and media personalities incited, and that was also clearly demonstrated in the conduct of the members of the royal commission itself.

The anti-Pell saga played out before the eyes of the world and was done with the sole purpose of bringing down Cardinal Pell, to make him pay. To humiliate him, to embarrass the Church and to call into question the Cardinal’s position at the Vatican.

Someone had to pay for the sins of Ridsdale, Searson, Day, Ryan, and all the other offending priests; and the bigger the scalp, the greater the satisfaction.




























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