The conviction of Cardinal George Pell for sexual abuse has exposed both himself and the Catholic Church as being morally bankrupt.
For years, Pell was bellicose in his condemnation of contraception, genetic engineering, abortion, homosexuality, and marriage equality. He set himself up as a beacon of morality based on strict interpretation of Catholic orthodoxy.
At the heart of that orthodoxy is a mistaken self-belief that the Catholic Church is the only moral authority on earth.
Yet, a simple look at the Church’s brutal and cruel history shows that it it has always been rotten at the core and despite growing secularism, and a loss of absolute power it still abuses people.
The sexual abuse scandal is just the latest horrific chapter in a story of savagery that goes back over a thousand years. Be it the selling of indulgences, the burning of heretics or the active engagement in the genocide of native peoples in the Americas, the Catholic Church has done immense harm to millions of people.
The case against George Pell is the latest illustration of the fundamental problem at the heart of the Church.
Despite the theatricality of the Mass, and all the puffery, it’s never really been about the glory of God, or helping human beings be more virtuous. From the get go it’s been about money, power, and control.
Even worse, despite the veneration of a virgin, one of the main planks of Church control has been the subjugation of women and the deliberate warping and demonising of human sexuality.
The reason this happens is because at its heart, the Catholic Church lacks the greatest of all the human virtues – compassion.
Cardinal George Pell’s self-chosen and church-backed moral crusade against homosexuality provides the perfect example of this.
He believes that cases of suicide linked to homophobia provides evidence that there is something wrong with gay people and that they don’t deserve human rights protection.
Here is an actual quote from Pell:
“Homosexual activity is a much greater health hazard than smoking.”
Instead of connecting with the heartache and internalised hatred that can result from prejudice and bullying, Pell chooses to continue to demonise a community of people and place the blame for their mental anguish upon themselves.
In 2007, he said that discrimination against people who are gay was not comparable to that against racial minorities.
Once again, he demonstrated a complete lack of empathy, an inability to relate to the awful effects of prejudice, or any acceptance that all human beings should be free from discrimination.
Does this mean that Pell thinks the brutal slaying of transgender woman Kelly Stough in Detroit last year or the revolting murder of Matthew Shepard in Colorado in 1998, is nothing compared to the 2017 murder of Timothy Caughman, a black man, by a white supremacist in New York.
Another sinister example of his lack of compassion came in 2002 when Pell stated:
“Abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people…. Because (abortion) is always a destruction of human life.”
This moment shows his, and by extension the Church’s, complete disconnect from the realities of human life and a desire to minimise criminal activity by pointing the finger somewhere else.
Sticking to an immutable theological point of view that abortion is wrong, while ignoring the human suffering caused by rape or sexual abuse is immoral.
In 2009, a nine year old girl in Brazil became pregnant with twins after being raped. The pregnancy would have killed both her and the babies, and so an abortion was performed to save the little girl’s life. The local Catholic Archbishop said that anyone responsible for the abortion, (ie the mother and doctors) were subject to automatic excommunication.
The Church hierarchy refuted the Archbishop’s claim and he was rebuked for his comments, but it highlights that there are many in the Church who are so wedded to dogma that they cannot relate to real human beings and their suffering.
Did this Archbishop believe it was better for that pregnant child to die rather than abort the pregnancy?
Does George Pell think that gay people deserve to be treated badly, or that the life long effects of sexual abuse by the Priesthood is of a lesser concern than other issues?
Surely this is the complete opposite of what a follower of Christ should espouse? Shouldn’t a priest be someone who fosters a sense of community by helping people solve their own personal and moral dilemmas. Someone who champions and stands up for the marginalised and the downtrodden. Above all, shouldn’t a priest create a safe place for people and stand as a bastion against cruelty?
George Pell has done exactly what the Catholic Church has always done – used power and privilege to bully and abuse the vulnerable and powerless. In doing so, Pell has harmed his congregation and proved that both he and the institution of the Church are morally bankrupt.
Note – the image in this story is from the Associated Press and is used under the ‘fair use’ provisions of Copyright Law.