By Gerard Henderson
(Sydney, July 15, 2008) – The new sectarianism is quite different from the old sectarianism. Yet it is real enough. From European settlement in 1788 until about the mid 1960s, Australia was afflicted with a prevailing distrust of Catholics – many were of Irish descent – who formed the nation’s largest minority. In those days sectarianism was essentially driven by Protestants.
Not any more. As the visit of Pope Benedict demonstrates, the non-Catholic Christian churches have either been welcoming to the Pope or indifferent in his presence.
Nowadays sectarianism in Western democracies is fuelled by what Michael Burleigh terms the “sneering secularists”. In his book Sacred Causes Burleigh writes that “much of the European liberal elite regard religious people as if they come from Mars” except when they advance such left-liberal fashionable causes as nuclear disarmament.
The sneering secularists in our midst oppose all the Judeo-Christian beliefs. However, Catholicism cops much of the ridicule because it is universal and the strongest of the Christian faiths. In Australia the sneering secularists – a combination of proselytising atheists and Green Left Weekly reading leftists – have indicated their opposition to the Pope on the occasion of his visit to Australia for World Youth Day. Hence the formation of the NoToPope Coalition.
So far the award for the leading sneerer goes to The Age columnist Catherine Deveny. Writing on June 18, she declared: “It’s official. The Catholic Church is fully sick. And so is George Pell.” Apparently this was some kind of joke. She depicted World Youth Day as a “week of prayer, trust exercises and rosary bead trading”. And Deveny went on to advise that, since the Pope will be celebrating Mass at Randwick racecourse, “all the Bernadettes and Gerards will be able to chill out with The Main Dude”. It is inconceivable that The Age would have run a similar article mocking Islam and slagging off all the Aishas and Muhammads.
Although a professing agnostic, I was brought up a Catholic and attended a Catholic school where I received a fine education. Like all organisations, it had its strengths and weaknesses. Yet I retain admiration for the priests involved in my upbringing. Most were fine, intelligent men who gave up material pleasures – including sex and family life – for the God in which they believed. I readily acknowledge that some of the cleverest men and women I have met, or read about, were believers in one of the great religions. They do not warrant mockery.
On the occasion of World Youth Day, the sneering secularists have been given succour by disillusioned and former Catholics who are very strong in the media, especially the ABC. Last year I sent Jane Connors, the manager of ABC Radio National, a note suggesting that it was somewhat imbalanced for Stephen Crittenden to line up three critics of Cardinal George Pell to take the only interview slots on one program of The Religion Report. All Connors wanted to know in her reply was whether this was a formal complaint. I responded in the negative. Complaining to the ABC’s audience and consumer affairs department is a waste of time since it upholds (in whole or in part) a mere 4 per cent of complaints compared with the Press Council’s 47 per cent. And there the matter rested.
It seems that Crittenden set some kind of precedent for the ABC. Last week Lateline began a campaign against Pell concerning his handling of a complaint of Anthony Jones who, at the age of 29, was sexually assaulted by a Catholic priest, Terence Goodall.
Last Tuesday Pell admitted that he had made a mistake in the manner in which he handled the case. That evening Lateline interviewed a Canberra lawyer, Jason Parkinson, and the American journalist Robert Blair Kaiser. Both were critical of Pell. The former Catholic priest Paul Collins was also heard on Lateline that night. So was the academic Mark Findlay. They were also critical of the cardinal. Apparently Lateline could not find anyone who would put an alternative view.
The likes of Goodall deserve to be condemned. It is a matter of record that Pell stood him down from priestly activity in early 2003. Goodall was convicted in the District Court after pleading guilty to indecent assault, following a trial which was reported in the media at the time. Such crimes should not diminish the good that priests, brothers and sisters – and bishops – have done over the years. The Canberra Times columnist Jack Waterford is a critic of contemporary Catholicism. Yet, in a column on June 26, he conceded that the stigma ignited by a few offenders had cast a grossly unfair burden on up to 80,000 Catholics who signed up for religious duties in Australia over the past century.
If you only listened to the sneering secularists you would get the impression that Catholicism is somehow responsible for high birth rates and the spread of HIV/AIDS. In fact, population growth is highest in the Middle East and sub-Sahara Africa where the Catholic Church is not strong. Likewise, there is no correlation between the spread of HIV/AIDS and the strength of Catholicism.
It is welcome that the Pope has said sorry for the sexual abuse perpetuated by some Catholic priests and brothers. But it is appropriate for others to say a warm thank you for what the Catholic religious have done in educating the young, looking after the sick and caring for the dying here and overseas. You will not hear such praise from the sneering secularists. Nor will you find a school or hospice in a foreign land that is run by the Green Left Weekly or the New Left Review.
– Gerard Henderson is executive director of the Sydney Institute.
© The Sydney Morning Herald
This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2008/07/14/1215887535962.html