I have written this commentary for several reasons. I have added updates as Pell’s guilty verdict and subsequent appeals have been announced. However, worldwide, the Catholic Church’s conduct is a never ending and sickening saga, and Pell has occupied centre-stage for some time. I am publishing this ‘final’ updated version now the final Pell High Court appeal has been determined. More revelations have been made now (May 2020) the unredacted version of the (Australian) Royal Commission findings have been made public — in brief, the commission were of the opinion that he did know, before the 1980s, and various times thereafter, about this behaviour and that at various times from then on he should have done something.
On August 21st 2019 Pell lost his first appeal; two of the three judges from Victoria’s Court of Appeal determined he was to stay in jail.
Subsequently, in April 2020, a final appeal to the Australian High Court overturned the verdict, and Pell was freed.
The basis of the decision was that the jury had made an unsound judgement and could not reasonably have come to the conclusion that he was guilty beyond reasonable doubt. This interesting decision casts more new light on hundreds of years of the principle of what juries exist to do: it could be seen as setting the High Court up as a ‘mini-quasi-jury’ capable of overturning previous jury opinion and conclusions. Why have jurors at all? the reasons may be seen as harking back to mediaeval times when there was usually no evidence other than witness evidence. The reasons for Juries may no longer be extant — nowadays the main issues involve understanding complex scientific evidence, and even some judges struggle with that, so what chance do ordinary people have who sit on juries? Anyone familiar with the writings of AP Herbert will realise these concepts were humorously explored 100 years ago, in a satirical way. He concluded that even if the ‘reasonable man’ might possibly exist the reasonable woman did not! and that the chance of finding 12 reasonable men together on one jury was infinitesimally small.
In the Pell case, one seemingly missing piece of evidence is noteworthy. This eminent member of the church is stated never to have performed any function, without his attendants, whilst at the cathedral (indeed, it was claimed that it was not even possible for him to go to the toilet without assistance). Despite this, the prosecution did not produce one witness to testify that they were with him at the times these offences were held to have been committed. Considering that these faithful attendants must be presumed to have been keen to prove his innocence, this absence of any witness deserves explanation — that explanation seems not to have been forthcoming. Lastly, Pell never took the witness stand and spoke for himself — ‘excusatio non petita accusatio manifesta’.
A considerable amount of other material was put to one side: the prosecution decided to proceed on this one case not the other possible charges/cases. Then there is the clear history of his previous behaviour — one can say it appears that he exhibited inappropriate behaviour and relationships with young boys. Such information comes from a number of different sources in different places at different times, making it a little more difficult to believe it was fabrication or misremembering. I make no judgement as to whether any of those activities he engaged in were criminal or not.
Science teaches that we should not put reliance on eyewitness testimony or the reliability of human memory, see, ‘How Your Mind Works: It is Magic’ https://psychotropical.com/the-mind-and-magic-2/
Therefore, one must regard a conviction based on ‘eyewitness’ testimony and human memory to be insufficient without corroboration: indeed, I find it quite extraordinary that the legal system continues to allow this despite, for instance, the multiple examples of murderers (convicted by eyewitness testimony) who have been subsequently proved innocent by forensic evidence.
One has to say that the legal fraternity are not exactly noted for their up-to-date and perceptive interpretation and understanding of science. Indeed, I should state that I gave up participating in medicolegal work largely because of the bombast, hubris, and ignorance that I encountered when acting as an expert witness (not to mention the dishonesty).
I remind everyone: inaccurate recollections are precisely why doctors are required to write contemporaneous notes about their consultations, not something remembered days or weeks later. That is recognised by the fact that the courts give much less credence to evidence that is not supported by a contemporaneous record – and quite rightly so.
The Roman legal code had it figured out more sensibly 2,000 years ago: they had the maxim.; ‘testis unus, testis nullus’ (one witness is no better than no witness).
The Roman legal code also incorporated the notion; ‘excusatio non petita accusatio manifesta’ [he who excuses himself, accuses himself]. That has been an established ‘common sense’ view for over two thousand years, despite British practice giving people that ‘get out of jail free’ card of keeping silent. Pell declined to ‘take the stand’ and give evidence on his own behalf — a reasonable person can be excused for making the obvious inference from that. Perhaps the defence thought that his intellectual equipment, always less than first-rate, was too close to its use-by date. Anyone who listens to the contribution he made on the ABC program linked below will see that his ability to extemporaneously construct a coherent sentence in the English language was so poor as to indicate that his IQ must be modest, embarrassingly modest.
As a Bayesian, I have little doubt that he engaged in actions and behaviours that any sensible person would have to consider inappropriate for someone in his position.
One should also be aware of the unredacted ‘Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’ now made available in full. Pell, in his evidence (via video-link from Rome, because he was ‘too unwell’ to attend in person) denied any knowledge of the convicted Gerald Ridsdale’s appalling abuse, despite having shared a house with him.
Claims of child sexual abuse against priests were made by 140 people in the diocese of Ballarat where Pell was — yet he claims to have had little idea of what was going on.
Anyone whose credulity allows them to believe that is exhibiting naïveté at stratospheric levels. Such a person as Pell should not be given responsibility for the care of a jar of jellybeans. He was certainly not an appropriate person to be put in charge of an investigation into ‘priestly misbehaviour’.
If he really did not know, or suspect, what was going on, then he is clearly someone of such stupendously poor perspicacity and judgement as to be unsuitable for any position of responsibility in any organisation, never mind Vatican banker.
Then again, lots of people are going to vote for President Trump a second time, and lots of people still support the Catholic Church, you cannot help some people, they will burn each other ‘at the stake’ rather than recant — one can only say ‘de religiosa non est dispuntandum’.
Posted in 2017
‘Proselytizing is an indispensable and inalienable characteristic of Religions; ‘believers’ are impelled to convert others because they know the real truth and must save others from their (incorrect) beliefs. Religions are therefore inherently divisive and alienating. As history reveals, unfettered, proselytizing soon descends the path to division, fear, and thus conflict. Consequently, religions are only peaceful, safe, moral, and acceptable when they have been made so by being neutered through the influence of rationalism, education, science, and a secular society, with a complete separation of church and state — which has not yet been accomplished by any western country.’
I could have written the account below long ago, and I do so now (2017) because the time for restraint and silence is past. My research and teaching, and the content of this website, is about psychopharmacology, so this is somewhat peripheral to my errand.
The first reason for writing this is articulated by Edmund Burke’s attributed words:
‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’
In this instance, professional experts like me, who have special confidential knowledge, as well as skills and experience at evaluating people’s stories and motivations, must speak of what they know about wrongdoing in various groups and churches etc., ‘for the record’: to stay silent is to do nothing, and therefore to be complicit*. People who are persuaded to follow these faiths and support the churches that claim to practice those faiths, deserve to know what is really going on, and what the story is, as other people see it. That includes the Catholic Church just as it includes more fringe ‘religious’ organisations like Scientology or the Mormons.
*Notwithstanding the fact that the current Pope has labelled me as ‘a friend of the Devil ‘ because I am one of those who has repeatedly criticised the Catholic Church. I am quaking in my boots. What a deluded clown.
My second reason is to offer reassurance to the multitudes of people, who have been abused in many and various ways, that their accounts are believable and believed, at least by sensible independent observers, and professional experts like me (and the unanimous opinion of 12 jurors hearing Pell’s case). Take note of the ongoing Royal commission findings. They found, for instance, ‘Overall, 7 per cent of priests ministering in Australia between 1950 and 2010 were accused of child sexual abuse’. If I was giving advice as an expert witness in a legal case involving these issues, I would advise the judge that in my professional opinion that figure would be certain to be half the real figure, and quite possibly only a fraction of it.
When prominent, powerful and senior members of Church organisations make repeated vehement denials of criticisms, and criminal charges proved against them, that denial influences their members and adherents, and facilitates the psychological denial mechanisms that are so easily engaged in the minds of such people. When such people are found guilty by criminal courts, as they have been, all over the ‘western’ world and beyond, that is an important confirmation of the plausibility and believability of those less-advantaged people who have been the subject of such misdeeds and assaults. It does not matter whether it is a famous actor, or the Pope, it is important that the misdeeds of such people are widely publicly acknowledged, so that those who have suffered at their hands are acknowledged as being believable, and possibly truthful and correct.
The third reason I have written this is to remind everyone how the simple inaction of not supporting them is the power they already possess to promote change — any support for an organisation that protects thousands of paedophile offenders makes the supporter complicit in its misdeeds and crimes. It is not quite the same as supporting a terrorist organisation, but it is that not that much different either. That makes supporters morally compelled to share a proportion of the guilt, and to consider their position judiciously, just as I would have to do if I invested my pension-savings in an arms or tobacco company.
I am focussing the account on my experience of treating Catholic ‘clergy’ and being the director of an inpatient psychiatric unit in a Catholic private hospital, since they have made themselves the center of attention in what seems like an endlessly repeating sick ‘real-life’ TV drama (see today’s episode).
At the end of the day it is the inevitably distorted belief-driven thinking of the ‘religious’, who would/might otherwise be ordinary decent folk, that produces the kind of immoral insanity, described in my account below, of my deluded doctor colleague who told me I was speaking the words of the devil — this process is not so different to that which drives the suicide bomber that we have all become so aware of in the last few decades.
Pope Francis has revealed his true colours and we can see that my doctor colleague was taking his cue from the supreme leader. In Feb 2019 he stated, I paraphrase, that those who criticise the Catholic church are ‘friends of the devil’. There must be legions of educated people who are flabbergasted that in the third millennium someone can come out with that kind of primitive paranoid thinking.
The organisation he represents has been incontrovertibly proved to have hidden criminal paedophile offenders thousands of times over many decades.
And he says that if you criticise that repeatedly, because they are doing it repeatedly, then you are a friend of the Devil. Such comments betray the thinking that drives this most extra-ordinarily dysfunctional of all organisations.
Have no doubt, they would drag us all back into the middle-ages if they had the power to do so.
Now we know what we are really dealing with, deeply embedded denial and no sign of significant change. In my opinion, no hope of change. Those in these faiths who cannot deal with that are in for deep emotional, moral, and spiritual trauma for a long time yet.
Belief and rationality are thus demonstrated to be inalienably antithetical in such cognitive processes — to put it in everyday language, religious people often cannot think straight. Such extreme cognitive distortions are common to all of those who hold extreme views, religious, political, or otherwise.
I also proffer my simple and clear conclusion that preventing these perversions*** requires nothing less than removing the power and privilege accorded to this chronically dysfunctional institution.
*** Throughout, I use the word ‘perversions’ in both senses defined by the SOED.
Installing new actors and directors to run the show would change nothing. This is because what drives all this is not individuals, but the inalienable nature of the dogmas and doctrines as well as the pathologically misogynistic hierarchical structure and secrecy of the institution itself. There have now been numerous convictions of longstanding and high-ranking members of such organisations. The great majority of them protested their innocence as vehemently as Pell — one might think that it is rather unlikely that they have all been falsely accused and mis-tried.
All this reliably indicates that such behaviours are part of the warp and weft of the whole organisation (probably throughout its history).
Now we hear that nuns have joined ‘me-too’ movement; so, we are undoubtedly in for yet more revelations. I am not surprised by that, because of my own personal knowledge and experience: also, I remember reading a review 30 years ago about a book written by a Catholic doctor in a large diocese in a Metropolitan area of North America, New York, if I recall correctly. He stated in his book that in his time every single nun in the setup he was involved in had been pregnant, and in most cases the father was a member of the Catholic clergy. I do not remember if he offered a view as to what proportion of those were rapes (one would be astonished if any of them were truly consensual), or what proportion of them were aborted.
Dogma, belief, secrecy, misogyny, patriarchy, and autocracy rarely produce good outcomes: there is no more spectacular and enduring demonstration of the truth of that proposition than the Catholic Church.
Such a simple solution, cease support
The simple realization that the inaction of ‘not-supporting’ is the one key step that individuals can take is empowering, because it shows that ‘adherents’ of any of these organisations could choose to end it all, simply by ceasing to support. Neither fairies nor monsters exist for people who do not believe in them. It is such a simple way to further diminish the steadily dwindling remnants (in civilised societies) of this unbelievable erstwhile theocracy (well, not quite ‘erstwhile theocracy’, since the Vatican still exists).
My first-hand experience of Catholics in medical practice
This commentary pertains particularly to my first-hand experience, as a specialist psychiatrist, of Catholics, and of the misbehaviours of Catholic ‘non-laity’ (of whatever gender or title).
I shall say ‘they’ and ‘them’ from now on, because they deserve no self-granted grandiose titles, dwellings, glittering robes (bit of a clue there?) or descriptions. Many of them have mediocre intellects and modest educational achievements that would make it less easy for them to attain similar status or position in the ‘outside’ world.
Definition: Clergyman. ‘A man who undertakes the management of our spiritual affairs as a method of bettering his temporal ones’. Ambrose Bierce.
I offer this variant of Ambrose Bierce’s acerbic observation:
Definition: Clergyman. ‘A man who undertakes the betterment of our moral life as a method of bettering his own opportunities for an immoral life’. Gillman’s maxims.
Perhaps, from this record of my experience, people adversely affected by their misbehaviour may be reassured about the complete justification for the disbelief, that any ‘man-of-the-world’ must experience, of the chorus of vehement denials we hear (forgetting, lying about, turning-a-blind-eye to, whatever evasive tactic, or euphemism for perfidy, is employed). Be robustly assured that many ‘external’ observers and experts like me are convinced, beyond doubt, from their professional experience, that the evidence of wrong-doing that is now evident (much of it confirmed in various courts of law) is but the tip of the iceberg: a large proportion of them are subject to urges they do not control, and that their church does not adequately assist them in controlling, and are indeed practitioners of various types of perversions (not just sexual) and are also cowardly (but well-practiced) liars who are utterly undeserving of the privileged position into which they have inveigled themselves in society. Relegation to the role of ‘translocation of ordure’ is for many of them closer to their deserved position in society.
The Vatican and the UN and others
Here is just a fleeting glimpse of the various international bodies, and academics and intellectuals etc., who also ‘see through’ the Catholic church’s lies, evasiveness and inaction.
The United Nations ‘Committee on the Rights of the Child’
The United Nations ‘Committee on the Rights of the Child’ have clearly expressed their view that the Vatican protects its reputation rather than children. Catholics have opposed the US ‘Child victims’ act — what a surprise, as they blocked similar UN action. If their morality was any more distorted it would not be recognisable as morality at all.
A detailed and lengthy academic history and analysis related to such issues is here and I can do no better than to quote this paragraph from it. Catholic Church: An Interpretive Review of the Literature and Public Inquiry Reports by Cahill & Wilkinson RMIT University 2017
Very little moral heroism has been demonstrated by the Catholic Church during the whole sorrowful saga of clerical child sexual abuse. How many bishops have resigned in protest or because of their own failures or at disgust with the failures? How have the bishops and religious superiors morally justified their actions or inactions to themselves? The data suggests that they justified their actions or inactions to themselves by portraying them as serving the worthy purpose of defending the reputation and integrity of an ‘all-holy’ Catholic Church. They wanted above all to prevent salacious ammunition reaching the hands of opponents of the Catholic Church. In this way, they were able to preserve their view of themselves as moral agents. The same process is regularly seen in bishops who condemn homosexuality, when they themselves are homosexual. Through this cognitive redefining process, they see themselves fighting ruthless secular opponents, media attack-dogs and fierce advocacy groups, protecting their cherished Catholic values learned through their narrow seminary formation and education, preserving the Church’s reputation and honouring the Church’s stated commitment to marriage, the child and the family.
Psychology, belief, and division
A brief comment about the lack of insight and paranoid stance of the Catholics, and ‘believers’ in general, as well-described in the above paragraph, will help. They talk about ‘fighting ruthless secular opponents …’ (and cf. Francis comments about the ‘friends of the devil’ above). What an astonishingly distorted perspective that represents — these ruthless secularists make the Spanish inquisition look like pussycats.
From a psychological point of view (there is a considerable academic literature on this subject) defining your group as different from others increases group cohesion, which helps them to lead their adherents — ‘us vs. them’.
Also, the ‘us vs. them’ dichotomy leads to prejudice against people who are seen as ‘them’. Research indicates that prejudice is more prevalent among religious people than among people with no religious affiliation.
When groups of any sort present themselves to the general community by emphasizing differences that they exhibit or claim, they inevitably polarize the perception of themselves by all others. This ‘presentation’ may be via special modes of dress, or ostentatious architecture (a cathedral in the middle of the city, a mosque), or representation in discourse and debate (preaching and proselytizing), or through influencing social policy for everyone (e.g. no shopping on Sundays would be one of the less intrusive examples, but there are many more intrusive impositions — like no same-sex relations, no abortion). That example, of preventing everybody in the community from accessing abortion opportunities, is an example of how people who hold beliefs simply cannot stop themselves trying to impose those beliefs on others — that is to say proselytizing, and often cruelly and violently, if they are allowed the power and the chance, like the current Islamists. Remember Charlie Hebdo, because that is what the Catholics were like until barely one hundred years ago. That is, of course, another step down the slippery slope to fighting battles in the name of a deity, or torturing and killing people to save their souls.
Any psychologists who are working towards better ways to enable the deceived, bullied and betrayed supporters of such institutions, cults, and religions, to gain insight into cruel threatening, bullying, and wicked practices, are doing society a service. Such insight is facilitating removal of their support, so they fade away faster.
As a recipient of abuse, or a friend or a supporter of sufferers, try to educate people that any support of any sort for the institution concerned, makes the supporter, by proxy, an abuser themselves. This is because the very existence and continuation of the institution inevitably means continuation of abuse and perversions. Even being a passive observer involves a degree of collusion, as does merely attending one of their churches: the quotation attributed to Edmund Burke says it all:
‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’
That sentiment has been a major motivator for me to write this commentary. If I do not tell what I know, and give my expert opinion, then I too am a complicit bystander.
As I wrote the first draft of this commentary, in the early part of 2017, we were drowning in a sea of news about the perverted behaviour of enormous numbers of people in institutions, mostly religious, and especially Catholic. I refer to the news here in Australia — but it is equally bad where-ever Catholics have a presence, as documented in the book by the famous Australian jurist, Geoffrey Robertson QC, ‘The Case of the Pope’. We are still, years later, drowning in a sea of similar news: indeed, it was on my birthday (Dec 2018), that Mr Pell (or is he still to be addressed as ‘cardinal’?) learned his fate as a result of the charges against him.
Famous and eminent persons from all walks of life, the military, politics, the arts, academia, have all been found guilty of various offences and great majority of them have been said to be wonderful characters of exemplary past behaviour by other eminent persons who have declared that they cannot imagine them committing such an offence or crime.
How laughably naïve. If people have not learned by now that such endorsements are not worth the paper they are written on, then they are slow learners.
An eminent Jesuit lawyer has expressed amazement about the impossibility of him getting his male member out from under his robes in relatively brief five minutes or so during which the offence is said to have happened. Many of these older males have enlarged prostates and continence problems (and I do not just mean sexual continence), so how on earth would they avoid soiling themselves when they need to go to the bathroom urgently — I can’t believe he had to be accompanied there by his dresser! He was defended by an eminent QC, said to be one of the finest criminal lawyers, so if this was really a valid defence, I am sure it was paraded before the 12 good men and true, who obviously gave it no credence when handing down their unanimous guilty verdict; not one dissenter amongst them*. That in itself is notable given the profile and circumstances of the trial. Even if he slips off the hook, on appeal, that still leaves a large dark cloud of the other offences which were dropped. Why they were dropped, we don’t know, but you can see for yourself how revealing and plausible they are from the link to the video below. ‘I put it to you, members of the jury, would you entrust your child to this man on a weekend retreat!’
To anyone who answers yes to that question, I despair for your children. But, sadly, they would be a numerous company.
*it subsequently became evident that this issue of how easy it was for him to expose his member from under his robes was indeed dealt with to the extent that the jury tried on the appropriate robes so they could test it for themselves. It would seem that our Jesuit lawyer commentator above was indeed being Jesuitical, or else he was ignorant of the facts.
Pervasive and persistent perversion
I need hardly have said ‘as I write this’ because information such as I am giving has been known to informed persons during all of the Catholic church’s influence over, and domination of, Western religious thought and Western society.
The very persistence and pervasiveness of perversion is what indicates it is part of the warp and weft of the institution itself. There have been, in all times and places, individuals who have thrived in, and dominated over, and perverted, institutions with such autocratic belief systems, such secrecy, and such a patriarchal/misogynistic and hierarchical structure.
For a current and spectacular example of why my conclusion is correct — that it is part of the warp and weft of the institution itself — read about Pennsylvanian Catholics (below).
I state, ‘any informed person’, with due recognition of the fact that until more recent times the church’s domination of society, at all levels and in all professions, was sufficient that it was often possible for them to suppress knowledge and criticism rather effectively. Just read about the suppression in ‘our time’ of the appalling business of the ‘Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home’. Catholics have suppressed books, especially the contents of the bible, knowledge in general, knowledge of their own bad behaviour — I know, ‘bad behaviour’ may seem an understatement, but if understatement is not employed we will exhaust hyperbole in no time.
A powerful example of the deep insidious roots of a belief-distorted mentality, from my personal experience, is given below (in anecdote 1), when I was accused by a (Catholic) medical colleague of uttering the words of the devil (perhaps he could have arranged an exorcism foe me! – see below). It will shame, enrage, or amuse, depending on your viewpoint.
Those who claim to be offended are reflexively revealing their inherent prejudice or bias, their limited ability to make a reasoned counter-argument, and also their insecurity and paranoia. Those attributes stem from ‘belief’ and predispose to an aggressive or even violent response in those who are religious.
As their ability to achieve universal domination and bullying has been steadily eroded, by education, knowledge, science, rationalism, and secular society, the extent of their undesirable behaviours in so many spheres have become more and more apparent to more and more people. I doubt not that perversion has been just as frequent throughout the history of the church. It has just been revealed more often, and to more people, in our age.
If belief about their deity, and the assembled writings associated with their message, makes people torture and burn to death other people, just for translating a book from one language into another***, then one might easily suppose that all the perversions we have been informed about in recent times might have been accomplished with ease and an unruffled conscience, before breakfast. After all, what Catholics believe now is little different to what those who did the burning and torturing believed, and it was those beliefs that convinced them it was all justified, for the glory of god, or whatever. Remove the influence of modern scientific secular society and the Catholics would be dragging us all back to the middle ages, in competition with the Islamists, in no time at all.
***A reminder, for those less familiar with the history of their perverted practices (and many Catholics have little knowledge of the true history of their own faith): poor Tyndale was tortured and burned alive, for translating the bible into English. So much for church claims to lead the improvement of the moral behaviour of society! There was a death penalty for possession of the bible in English. If this reminds you of the sorts of behaviours by other religious groups currently reported daily in the international news, and if you still think religion leads the advance of moral outlooks and behaviours, then I suggest you have a bit of explaining to do. That will involve you in some pretty tortuous and tiring mental gymnastics (but a quick refresher-course at a Jesuit seminary might help).
I do not propose to expend more of my own time, or my readers time, in discussing religious belief and the Catholic church. Essentially, belief is the adoption of precepts and ideas for which there is no sound reason or reproducible evidence, usually against the laws of nature and what common experience demonstrates to be the case — miracles, divinely inspired prophets (very few of whom agree with each other on even the most fundamental of facts), inscriptions found on mountains in remote locations which have a habit of mysteriously disappearing, etc.
One believes in fairies, but one deduces (if only vicariously) Darwin’s theory of evolution (or any other scientific ‘theory’) from reproducible evidence. Such evidence is therefore not a unique one-off experience by an individual. It is reproducible, and to an extent modifiable, by anyone, at any time, who wishes to go and dig up a few fossils. It is democratic. Fossils were not ‘revealed’ to Darwin, only to then disappear from human perception, leaving only his word. As Carl Sagan said (in the tradition of Hume), ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’. And indeed, Darwin produced extraordinary evidence, and a very great deal of it. So much, that those able to understand even simple science, cannot doubt or contradict it. How spectacularly different that is to the belief demanded of a potential adherent to a religion (often under threats of hell, damnation, violence, etc.). Nice people.
Definition: Faith. Belief in one instance of the extra-ordinary, related in another tongue, from another land, by persons of unknown sobriety or sanity, which contradicts what we know to be true here and today.
My experience of ‘channelling’ the devil
As a doctor of reasonably broad experience, I can affirm that most of these catholic ‘clergy’ were up to no good and gave clear indications that many of their mates were the same. Obviously, many of them knew, or suspected, that most of the rest of them were up to no good. That leaves few who are truly innocent and blameless, in the ‘Burkian’ sense. The oft repeated story that they did not know ‘that sort of thing’ (they exist in a world of euphemisms and denial) was going on might very occasionally be true, because some of them may be that wilfully ignorant and naïve (however, being that wilfully ignorant and naïve is in itself reprehensible and culpable in those who profess to be enlightened leaders — so they are damned either way). The phrase, ‘lying for God’, covers it for many of them. That rapidly morphs into lying for their own good. Many of them become fluent and frequent liars.
When they revealed to me their behaviours and their problems in consultations, I would ask, what happens when you confess? The standard reply, usually proffered without a moment’s hesitation, and often accompanied by a wry smile, was ‘Oh! I wouldn’t confess to that’.
Time for another definition in the spirit of Bierce
Definition: Confessional. A place for practicing and perfecting the arts of denying and lying.
Selection and self-selection of particular ‘character traits’
It is also essential to appreciate that an enormous amount of self-selection, and selective screening, of who gets into the church, and who progresses once in it, has been going on for centuries. As with any powerful, hierarchical and secretive organisation these elements inevitably foster perversion and corruption. The added element of celibacy in the Catholic church means that it is almost inevitable that a substantial proportion of the entrants will be ‘unusual’ personalities, by whatever criteria one applies to such things.
The indications are clear that the church’s tendency to attract marginalised, abnormal, and ‘deviant’ personalities has always been prominent — despite that it seems to be one of the few organisations in the modern era that does not employ expert advice or psychological screening of applicants (if they did they’d get rather less applicants): thus it is possible to be accepted even if a previous refusal for fitness to work in a child-care center exists.
Indeed, the tendency to attract ‘unsuitable’ personalities is inevitably becoming more pronounced as the church and educated western societies move further apart — I gather most Australian seminaries have empty echoing rooms, and many parishes now need to import their incumbents from Africa. The immigration department could put a stop to that one right away! Especially since we cannot possibly know which ones are paedophiles, or whatever. The United Nations, no less, have been blocked by the Vatican on child protection issues — because those measures would allow extradition of thousands (that is not an exaggeration, it would be thousands) of paedophile Catholic priests to face prosecution, which at present cannot be done.
Even the current Pope has not rescinded the instruction to bishops to keep secret such cases, in countries where reporting is not mandated by the state: in the light of the enormity and universality of the problem this refusal must seem incomprehensible to any reasonable person — I will not occupy space going into that reprehensible stance, but information is easily available.
My experience was that they had a wide selection of odd people including the obviously homosexual, the neurotic, the inadequate, and many of rather second-rate intellect, like Cardinal Pell from Australia.***.
*** Listen to him talking on the ABC TV program (‘Q & A’) referenced, his verbal ability (a reliable indicator of IQ) is at a level where I would predict he would not qualify as proficient to enter tertiary education. I cannot imagine any intelligent religious person could listen to this without being horribly embarrassed. This courageous and principled gentleman found his health insufficiently robust to make a trip from his refuge in the Vatican (what a timely appointment) back to Australia to answer questions at the Royal commission of enquiry, relating to abuse, including by him. It is easy to learn for yourself how specific, and in my professional opinion, convincing, the many accusations against Pell are.
He presided over a process set up by the church to help those who had been abused, whilst having persuasive evidence hanging over him that he too had an abnormal physical interest in young boys (that is not a casual comment, more a professional opinion). To be specific, he spent time at swimming pools where he physically handled many boys, playing in the pool, and where he spent long spells naked in the changing rooms in the presence of young lads. That much seems hard to contradict — what else? I, for one, am not awarding any prizes for the answer to that.
So, Pell dealing with accusations of abuse. Talk about setting set the fox to guard the henhouse. And now (as I update this in 2018), we have Archbishop Wilson of Adelaide refusing to resign even after being found guilty of offences, he did give in to pressure in the end, but is still a Bishop; and Catholic clergy defying the law of the land by saying they will go to jail rather than reveal information from the confessional — what would the reaction be if this was translated into an Islamist context?
Thus, the bizarre greenhouse of the Catholic Church allows these odious specimens to grow and thrive, in power and luxury.
I think Pell would have found himself to be well enough to attend a ceremony to honour a new (fast-tracked) saint. Was his health really any worse than the millions of retirees who jet about the world daily? His excuses for non-attendance at the Royal commission were accepted; whether that constitutes preferential treatment which would not have been accorded to the average person, I cannot say.
Dec 2018 Pell has been found guilty by a unanimous verdict on 5 charges according to Wikipedia (Feb 2019, now made public in Australia). Apparently, there is a suppression order on matters relating to his trial (because he has further charges he must yet face) and the Australian media have reported nothing except that he has been relieved of his duties at the Vatican.
And how can we forget Peter Hollingworth, an Anglican Bishop (we must not leave the Anglicans out), and the one-time Australian governor-general, who had to resign as governor-general in 2003 because, among other mistakes and indiscretions, he allowed paedophile priest John Elliot to carry on despite admitting that he had sexually abused boys and despite psychiatric advice that he was at risk of re-offending. Hollingworth is still getting around half-a-million dollars a year from the government (nearly tax free) and is still a bishop, openly supported by his Archbishop, Philip Freier. As one ‘victim’ expressed it in good plain English ‘they just don’t get it’.
A humble, simple man, of modest needs, and consumed by remorse? Or does he give it all to charity (probably not, since his declared travel expenses were around $250,000 — 5-star hotels do you think?).
The expression of sacrifice, humility, recompense, and contrition is conspicuous by its absence: I do not think anyone has resigned because they are so ashamed of these organisations.
One cannot help but recall the mediaeval story of the Bishop, caught in flagrante delicto, with a maiden in his flock, by a group of redoubtable burghers of his parish. It was contended that the devil had taken the Bishops’ form in order to deceive the parishioners who had observed this indiscretion, and thereby to test their faith. Since ‘nothing changes’, one can guess what the modern version of this approach will be.
An ABC TV report is here:
Definition: Saint. A dead sinner revised and edited. Ambrose Bierce.
A here is a lovely song in Pell’s honour
When a grossly disordered group of people like this are permitted to retain money and power, with next-to-no accountability, one will always have the perfect recipe for perpetuating perversions and much else that is undesirable and unpleasant: that is made self-evident by these tediously ongoing revelations.
And to test how distorted belief will make those of a religious persuasion so readily claim ‘offence’, try this:
I suppose it is also relevant to note the words of Epicurus from nearly 2,000 years ago: ‘It is not things that disturb men, but way they think about those things.’
The lesson from history
The lesson from this is simple and revealed by history. It is utterly impossible for Churches to self-regulate, any more than financial institutions (as our Australian inquiry into the banks has spectacularly revealed). This obscene farce will continue for as long as they are permitted to retain the unchecked and unregulated status, power, privileges, and influence that large sections of our naïve society still allow them. Until a sufficient proportion of the population demand the removal of their status and powers and make them answerable fully to all the proper constraints of society, nothing will change, Royal commissions or whatever.
It has always puzzled me that so few clergy have been assaulted by family members of those abused, or church property or churches burned down. I wonder if those who insure them are re-assessing the level of risk and may be thinking of upping the premiums. Think of it like this: churches get hit by lightning just as frequently as other buildings, so that indicates their hypothesised ‘God’s’ influence, or opinion, over such matters.
Stop supporting. Stop believing even. Neither fairies not angels exist, neither devils nor gods, however comforting or frightening such ideas may be.
Make no mistake: to continue supporting, in any way, is to collude in, and be complicit in, a panoply of perversions.
It is important to understand that ‘belief’ will turn apparently civilized and educated people into irrational and immoral people: no religion can escape that trap. Belief is antithetical to rational thinking, the more fervent the belief, the greater the distortion of rationality, thinking, and morality. Once belief is established it can pervert any action, or inaction, and justify it, because it is ‘in God’s name’.
Remind yourself, what I relate here happened close to the dawn of the third millennium. Not in the dark ages — the halcyon days of the church when there was no accountability.
After I had been practising as a specialist in Mackay for a few years I established a psychiatric unit at the local Catholic private hospital. They engaged in all sorts of dubious behaviours. I remember being flabbergasted on discovering that on Sundays, when I was not around, they were taking psychotic patients into the chapel to cure them by speaking in tongues, or casting out devils, or whatever (medieval madness that I presumed, till then, had disappeared from civilized countries).
In due course things started to go more seriously amiss, because senior nuns in the hospital were exercising their sexual predilections in a manner that became harmful to the hospital, and to other staff who were not ‘in on the act’. I decided to advise them to curb these activities, and as a first step in that process I arranged a meeting at my home with the senior Catholic doctor on the board of the hospital. What I had to tell him need not be described in detail, in outline it was simply that inappropriate sexual relationships were occurring involving the nun in charge of the hospital. As an atheist, there was nothing in that to concern me (only adults were involved), except that it was resulting in other members of staff who were aware of the situation being dismissed, disadvantaged etc., we were losing good staff, and it was bad for the proper operation of the hospital.
So, this doctor, a fellow specialist at the hospital, arrived. I sat him down at the table and began succinctly to tell him the problem. I said that there was a serious situation that was harming the running and reputation of the hospital that involved Sister X who was having a lesbian … .
Believe it or not, that is as far as I got; well, at least as much as he heard. This mature professional man heard no more of what I said because he thrust his fingers into his ears and started repeating over and over in a loud voice something like: “this is the Devil speaking, I will not listen, this is the Devil speaking, I will not listen …”.
He went on repeating that until he saw my lips stop moving. At that point, he got up from the table and left hurriedly, saying, in Parthian style, ‘over his shoulder’, as he went, “I’m not calling you a liar, but …”.
I must say that I thought, as a psychiatrist, I was knowledgeable about psychology and the extent to which belief systems distort people’s rational processes, but this first-hand example of such an extraordinary piece of behaviour illustrates the enormity and the real-life impact of the problem. It left me appalled and aghast: but with laughter not far behind.
Belief turns people who might otherwise be rational into immoral idiots. Is there any other way to describe that educated professional person’s behaviour? Not in my book. Could you have respected that man? I could not.
In recounting this now I can still hardly believe it happened. But it did.
Never forget, there are millions more just like him; indeed, some of them are barristers, judges etc., let us hope such lunacy does not derail Pell’s trial.
I did not let it rest there. I ‘persuaded’ the board to act (incidentally, I had forgotten this, but the Bishop was up to no good as well). No prizes for guessing what they did: off to Africa with her, I seem to recall. Needless to say, I was ‘persona non grata’, and my unit closed.
* I must record how one of the oldest nuns, a dear lady, who I am quite sure knew exactly what was going on, came up to me in the hospital, after all this had unfolded, and took me gently to one side. She indicated the sign of the ‘Sisters of Mercy’ and whispered to me, ‘they should take that down’, and tottered away. So, you see, some people can transcend the power of belief and see the truth! But I guess she said nothing, except to me, and one can understand that: she was too old for Africa.
If there is anybody out there who still rates the chances of these abused people, who have been mistreated by the church for so long, being listened to by the church and its followers in anything approaching a sane and fair hearing, let them ponder my account. This was a doctor dealing with a fellow professional. What chance would a child have, or a lay-person, if they related their account to a priest, or a catholic policeman, teacher, or even their own parent. I can tell you what chance: I have had patients who have experienced just such things, in varying degrees, and they would all say that they felt they could not tell even their own family because they feared, rightly, that not only they would not be believed, but that they would be beaten and castigated for lying — which many of them were.
Such knowledge and experience make it hard not to have sympathy with the view that religion poisons everything, as expressed by Hitchens in his book ‘God is not great’. Poisoning the trust between parents (who have, and will, react similarly to my colleague above) and a child is surely up near the top of the ratings in the ‘league table of wickedness’. Young children pick up the not-so-subtle clues which tell them that making any adverse comment about the clergy will attract instant, and sometimes severe, disapproval and censure (just as a dog learns to read an aggressive owner). Indeed, it is all part of the ‘grooming’ process. What a horrible and insidious way of poisoning a child’s perception and trust.
But such events and consequences are inevitable, they are built into the Catholic set-up, as much as gold and interest rates are part of capitalism.
This commentary could go on forever: however, one cannot let the Tuam scandal, in the news at the time of writing (and doubtless for some time to come), go unremarked on. See also this BBC ‘update’ with a wider perspective (April 2019). https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/the_girls_of_bessborough
This Tuam incident involving nuns and single mothers is a powerful reminder that the gross distortion of morals and behaviour that seems to be an inevitable concomitant of a belief system, especially a religious belief system, is not confined to men abusing boys, girls, and the Nuns. The Nuns’ treatment of these young women and their babies invites comparison, however odious this may be, with slavery and with the treatment of Jews by the Nazi regime — regarding other humans as sub-human.
I thought I had become inured, but I suggest you look at this next link only if you have a strong stomach and but little imagination, it is about that Irish single-mothers’ home in the town of Tuam, the ‘Bon Secours’ home (what irony: that is French for ‘good help’).
And on the same day, I saw this (it is not an excerpt from Mr Brown’s ‘Da Vinci Code’, it is real life): ‘Mastering the devil: A sociological analysis of the practice of a Catholic exorcist’, which indicates they are still performing many thousands of these rituals.
And, as dramatic closing confirmation of what I said above about how they select deviant personalities and all know about it, just inform yourself of the Pennsylvania story.
The Pennsylvania Attorney-General, Josh Shapiro, said the two-year probe found a sophisticated systematic cover-up by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.
The grand jury said it believed 300 clergy committed the abuse and the number of children was “in the thousands”.
That is all that needs to be said for people to decide what to do.
The last word
Greek philosopher Epicurus lived 2000 years ago and wrote a great deal, sadly little of it survived (possibly because the church suppressed it). What has survived, and what has been reported in other ancient writings that have survived, led to the philosophical argument expressed in modern times, the wording of which we may owe to the Scottish philosopher David Hume; in its common occurrence it goes like this:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
Refutations of this simple proposition, 2,000 years later, remain abstruse exercises in sophistry, and are convoluted and unconvincing, except to those fixated on their pre-existing beliefs, which can be equated with autochthonous delusions. The word ‘autochthonous’ is particularly apposite because it means ‘arising out of the native land’ — which is exactly what religious belief does — almost all people brought up in a Catholic households become Catholic, just like almost all people brought up in a Jewish or Islamic household follow that set of beliefs. So much for revealed truths.
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