Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Godlessness and scandal in Melbourne

I suspect I’m going to be banging on about atheism for a bit, having returned last night from Melbourne’s three day Global Atheist Convention. My three brothers and I were among four thousand attendees, all of whom would agree I’m sure that the Convention was not just a thrilling affirmation of humanist values, but a rousing and delightfully irreverent call to end inaction on a wide range of matters which should be of vital importance to all unbelievers. If there was one common thread throughout the many and varied presentations and panels over the weekend it was that there is sill much work to be done in combating organised religion’s pernicious influence in the public sphere. The Convention was a focal point only – perhaps, even, a turning point in some respects – but it looks to me to lie far closer to the beginning of the fight than to the end.
            The big news story in Melbourne over the weekend was the deepening Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. I have written to Ted Baillieu, Victoria’s Premier, demanding action be taken, as many others have done. Saturday’s Age editorial blasted the Baillieu government’s inaction so far as ‘shameful’, saying that ‘it is time [for the Catholic Church] to face its clear moral and civic duty to uncover the facts’. The federal government has refused to hold a royal commission, absurdly citing cost as the reason in light of Labor’s moronic fixation with budget surplus (I have written to them too). Cost did not appear to be a deterrent when the federal government contributed $200 million to Catholic World Youth Day, or $1.5 million to the campaign for Mary Mackillop’s preposterous canonisation. Whether or not you consider yourself to be an atheist, the injustice inherent in these facts should take your breath away and, I hope, impel you to act.
            I wanted in this post to share some thoughts on the many wonderful speeches that were given at the Convention by the likes of Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Geoffrey Robertson and Lawrence Krauss, if only to counteract the idea that atheism is an inherently negative concept, however I feel the need to make some noise about these latest outrages is far more pressing.
            The Catholic Church continues to resist accountability for the appalling crimes committed by many of its members, through legal chicanery, police obstruction, wilful denial and laughable claims that internal Church investigations are the best mechanisms for dealing with this problem. As Charles Laycock pointed out in a letter to Saturday’s Age: ‘If the Church’s serial outrages were committed by any other institution or corporation they would be driven out of business’.
            It’s time to get something done about these crimes, it’s time to set in motion the wheels of genuine investigation and justice. Speak about it. Write about it. Inaction shames us all.
P.S. Just before posting this, a quick trip to the Age website revealed that Baillieu has announced an inquiry will take place. Click here to read about it.      


  1. As far as "If the Church’s serial outrages were committed by any other institution or corporation they would be driven out of business", I'm not so sure. The Church (especially the Catholic Church) has many of the characteristics of a monopoly. Monopoly providers can be somewhat insulated from the effects of their bad behaviour whether they are a spiritual, governmental or commercial organisation.
    Consider, for example, the investigation of a police body into police conduct in the case of the death of Cameron Doomadgee: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/police-commissioner-told-to-get-tough-on-closed-selfprotecting-culture-20100617-yhfm.html. The police can not be driven out of business, as they are a government monopoly. Likewise, as long as the Church's faithful believe that the Church has the monopoly on the keys to heaven, it will be difficult to hold accountable for its actions.

  2. Thank you for your response Econ-artist. You make an interesting point, although my concern is less to do with the way internal Church structures prevent true accountability than with the reluctance of authorities to powerfully and properly investigate these crimes. We would expect in-house investigation procedures, whether in the Church, police or anywhere else, to be deeply flawed and self-protecting. What distresses me is, at least in the case of sex crimes committed within the Catholic Church, the undue softness of external inquiries, exemplified by a recent response by Tony Abbott to a question on a possible government-level investigation. Abbott's main point was that we must all be very careful not to 'single out' institutions in cases such as these. It's difficult to imagine Abbott, or any other politician for that matter, defending the right of any other kind of institution not to be 'singled out'. No organisation - whether or not it has a self-proclaimed mandate from God - should be permitted power without responsibility or respect without reason. The Catholic Church singles itself out for special attention because it has allowed a culture of denial and deceit to flourish. It has earned our thorough scrutiny - not our unwarranted deference.