February 9th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Running on nearly empty: fool's gamble with fuel reserves

EDITORIAL The challenges are really hitting home in 2019

CANBERRA OBSERVED Coalition's female deficit is more apparent than real

ENERGY 200,000 Victorians left powerless in heatwave

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Migration, instability and the erosion of conscience

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Still time to reach a deal on Brexit

LIFE ISSUES 'Viability' argument is wearing a bit thin

NATIONAL AFFAIRS The strategic silence of the secularists

THE RUDDOCK REVIEW The chimera of freedom of religion in Australia

LITERATURE Tolkien's lost epilogue: tying up loose ends

CULTURE AND POLITICS China exhibits its latest assault on human dignity

HUMOUR BMC-Bitzumishi to release musical wallpaper

MUSIC Cuba on the jazz map: Gonzalo Rubalcaba

CINEMA Glass: Gifts of brokenness

BOOK REVIEW Heroism from a crushed nation

BOOK REVIEW Comprehensively corrects the record

CHILDREN'S CLASSIC A breath of fresh air and innocence



WATER POLICY Something rotten led to fish-kill: perhaps fishy environmentalism

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The strategic silence of the secularists

by Paul Collits

News Weekly, February 9, 2019

In the last edition of News Weekly, Robin Speed offered readers a close, legally informed reading of the successful appeal by Archbishop Philip Wilson against a conviction for failing to report sexual abuse of a child. In this edition, Paul Collits takes account of the social context of the case and how church guilt over child-abuse cover-ups have shaped media coverage and public perceptions, both within and outside the Catholic Church.

The recent decision by an appeals court to overturn the earlier conviction of Archbishop Philip Wilson will have come as a relief to his friends and supporters.

The verdict was both a blessed relief and a vindication, for an innocent caught up in the current, post-royal commission anti-Catholic and anti-clerical fever abroad in Australia.

But for those of us both appalled by the still emerging international evidence of ongoing clerical sexual abuse, yet also determined to remain faithful to the truths of the Church and to the imperatives of the new evangelisation, there are two bigger issues raised by the Wilson affair.

One is the chance of any Catholic prelate or priest getting a fair trial on any charge relating to sexual abuse. The sheer pressure from the media and from the loudest voices in society for guilty verdicts is palpable, and clearly weighs on the courts.

The second issue raised by the circumstances of the Wilson trial is of far broader and deeper concern. This is the conduct of the ongoing battle of ideas in the public square over morality and the capacity of Catholic (Christian) voices to win arguments, or even to be able to access the platforms that are now available to those engaged in the battle.

Those opposed to the Christian worldview on matters of morality are working to disenfranchise the Church and her fellow-travelling social conservatives. And the forces of secularism and progressivism have the twin weapons of crowding out and strategic silence to help them to achieve their objectives.

It is clear that the biggest fallout globally from the clerical abuse saga is that it has empowered secularist and relativist voices to shut down the voice of the Church and so prevent the Church from gaining ground in the battle over morality. The tawdry findings of secular inquiries into Church abuse cases, both in Australia and overseas, and the sheer scale of the apparent abuses, have denied Catholics the capacity to defend the Church, let alone to get on the front foot and put their case on important matters of morality, policy and culture to the secular world.

The current stance of the Church’s many opponents and enemies – in the media, the universities, and in governments – is pretty much: “What right have you guys got to speak on matters of sexual morality any more?” This is a strategically powerful position to have.

Whatever the origins and (much debated) ultimate causes of the sexual abuse problem among priests and prelates, and whatever the rights and wrongs of the “frozen-in-the-headlights” responses of Church management down the years to cases as they emerged or were suspected, the fact is that the Church is currently stranded and groundless.

So, it is little wonder that the media in Australia treated the Wilson acquittal on appeal with such active indifference. Nothing to see here. One of them got off. A setback, to be sure. So we won’t talk about it.

This is indeed a deliberate strategy of the secularist progressives. Just as the remarkable film Gosnell, about the American abortionist, has been given the silent treatment by leading voices of the broader culture, so too cases that prove the innocence of Catholic clerics will be ignored.

The Wilson verdict on appeal was an inconvenience, unlike the original trial, which became a global opportunity to insert the knife into the Church and twist it. The mainstream media, reflecting as they do the broad secularist culture, do not wish to surrender their strategic superiority. Voices beyond the Church that expressed sympathy to Wilson following that first trial were all but non-existent. (The ex-ABC journalist from Adelaide, Alan Atkinson, writing in Eureka Street in July 2018, was an admirable exception.) Taking Wilson’s side simply didn’t fit with the zeitgeist.

The Church’s awfulness over sex-abuse cases is one strategic opportunity for those who would chase Christian, and especially Catholic, voices from the public square. The other current ace that secularists routinely play is the Church’s unchanging, traditionalist position on sexual matters and its opposition to the supposed right of individuals to pursue pretty much any sexual lifestyle they choose in the socially liberal utopia.

The march of the relativists across Western societies is all but complete. The Church’s position on matters of personal “self-actualisation”, to use Abraham Maslow’s memorable term, can be characterised as not just repressed and out-dated, but as significantly “on the wrong side of history”. It is therefore alright to shut down contrary voices, to de-platform those who express support for traditional morality, whether in relation to abortion, homosexuality marriage, or, the latest craze, transgenderism.

The battlefronts here are broad and many. We have witnessed the fight over religious freedom since the vote to redefine marriage and the passage of the ensuing legislation. More than a year later, religious organisations are still lacking protections. We have seen attempts to prevent denominational schools and other institutions from following their beliefs when these interfere with rights to employment for, say, homosexuals. We see a steady stream of judicial cases in the United States brought against bakers, wedding photographers and the like who refuse to celebrate same-sex “marriages”.

Almost unbelievably, the latest victim in the morality wars is legal philosopher John Finnis of Oxford University. Being a leading proponent of natural law and all that this implies now just doesn’t cut it with his millennial students, who are actively seeking to end his career. His crime (of course) is homophobia, very much a favourite of the new class bullies.

The biggest battle of them all, of course, is the fight over truth itself. And here, the Church’s position is utterly in the cowed minority in a world where the phrases “my truth” and “your truth” are deeply embedded and routinely propagated. The Church and its traditionalist allies have all the wrong, counter-cultural views on all the issues that now seem to occupy the collective public mind and to matter most to society’s ruling classes.

So …

There is undoubtedly relief, both within the Church and among those who favour proper judicial process over simply punishing the Church for its sins, at Archbishop Wilson’s ultimate vindication, following his absurdly misconceived trial and the public denigration of him by opponents of the Church.

Yet this has been a very little victory in the context of the Church’s far broader and extremely steep uphill battles against the secularist tide, and against the voices that wish to shut it down. These voices have, alas, acquired most of the big weapons that are available in the war over our future world.

And one of the most powerful weapons of all is control of the airwaves and of the bully pulpit of social media. Deafening silence is one heck of a card to be able to play. Just ask Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer, the brave journalists who uncovered the awful truth of Kermit Gosnell but whose work has been denied the broad audience that it deserves.

And stony silence was the weapon that was deployed strategically and cleverly in response to the successful Wilson appeal.

Paul Collits is a writer, university lecturer, independent researcher, policy adviser and business mentor. He has worked in regional economic development analysis, research, training, policy and practice for over 25 years.

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