Wednesday, 25 September 2013

David Marr's epic fail on Pell

I spent my plane trips home yesterday reading journalist David Marr's newly released Quarterly Essay "The Prince Faith, Abuse and George Pell".  You can read a few extracts from it over at the ABC's Religion and Ethics Site.

The essay purports to be an attempt to help us understand just why Cardinal Pell (and many others in the Church's episcopal ranks) appears to continue to fail to grasp just why everyone is so upset with the Church over the abuse scandal.  It is an important subject, and could have generated a great essay.

Unfortunately, Marr's determination to push his own secularist agenda, together with his utter inability to grasp even the concept of religious faith, cause him to fail badly in his task.

Instead, its just another smear job that will only encourage the 'its all a media beat-up' motivated by anti-catholic prejudice school of thought.

Vocation, faith and God

The most obvious problem with the piece is that Marr seems totally unable or unwilling to concede that the Cardinal (or indeed anyone else in the Church) might actually be genuinely motivated by their belief in God, let alone the sense that he is calling them to carry out a particular mission.

Instead, for Marr, the only possible motivation for becoming a priest or bishop is power and the pursuit of material comfort.

From that secularist mentality, all Marr can see is evidence of careerism; and the only lens through which to assess the Cardinal's impact is influence and power.

According to Marr, the only return for celibacy and a life of commitment to the service of God and the Church for the Cardinal are "the consolations of friendship, music and a good cellar".  And of course "what inspired him from the start, a place at the highest levels of his church and a voice in the nation."(p88).

The Cardinal himself has provided I think the perfect response to the essay on this point, releasing a statement saying:

"A predictable and selective rehash of old material. G.K.Chesterton said: 'A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; a bad novel tells us the truth about its author. Marr has no idea what motivates a believing Christian."


Advancing the secularist agenda

In fact, although the essay purports to be about the abuse scandal, by far the greater crime for Marr seems to be the Cardinal's attempts to uphold the dogmas of the Catholic Church, and to support debate on public policy issues.

On his Melbourne period, for example, Marr notes that Cardinal Pell worked hard to restore adherence to dogma: he reformed the seminary; banned books; did something about heretical priests, and appointed then Monsignor Eliot to reform religious education.

"Dogma was back."  And, Marr concludes, that "Nothing Pell did in these years caused such apprehension in Melbourne." (pp 44; see also 57-60).

The essay contains numerous attacks on celibacy and the Cardinal's defence of it, refusing to give it any positive value at all: instead it is all about 'killing sex', and especially (oh the horror of it) opposing homosexuality.  Not that the (homosexual) Mr Marr has a barrow to push or anything...

The abuse scandal

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the essay is his coverage of the abuse scandal.

It really is just a rehash of everything ever said about the Cardinal on this subject: lots of guilt by association and worse, but absolutely no new insights whatsoever.

The essay could have looked at the impact of the number of false accusations made against the Cardinal in shaping his attitude to the scandals.

Instead, it perpetuates the smear.

A few months ago, the Fairfax media, and liberal ex-priest Paul Collins were forced to apologise and retract claims that the Cardinal was not cleared of claims that he abused a young man. Marr however reiterates the claim that both sides were vindicated, and tries to imply the worst possible interpretation is possible.  That is, frankly, outrageously bad journalism.

The real story...

The article provides no new insights on the Cardinal's various disastrous interactions with victims and the laity in relation to the scandal; no new insights into just why he and many others in the Church were so reluctant to listen or act.  To me that seems a great shame.

The real story here, it seems to me, lies in the history of why the Church moved away from a willingness to quickly laicize clerical wrongdoers and turn them over to the secular arm, to the protection of reputations and cover-up mode that reached its peak in the 1970s and 80s, especially under Pope John Paul II.

The real story is about the Church's overeagerness to embrace modernity in the wake of Vatican II such that instead of leading the fight against the sexual permissiveness revolution of the 1960s, the Church became as tained by it as did every other institution of our culture.

The real story is about how the Australian Church became so obsessed with protecting its material assets and reputation that it neglected its spiritual ones, losing sight even of the need to protect even its own members, and for which it is now paying the price.

For me, the abuse scandal seems likely, in the longer run, to prove the equivalent of the sale of Indulgences to the Protestant Revolution.  In the end, it was not the reason why the Protestant Revolution happened.  But it was a symptom of everything that was wrong with the Church at the time, and the failure to do anything about it quickly enough helped precipitate the schism and heresy that followed.

It is not yet, I think, absolutely inevitable that history will repeat itself, and that the Church will disappear altogether in much of the West, this time without much prospect of a counter-reformation to undo the damage.  The danger, though, is extreme in my view.

And if we are to avoid this fate, we need to understand exactly what has gone wrong in the contemporary Church, including understanding how the abuse scandal could happen and could have been so mishandled.

The Abbott factor

We will have to wait another day for that story to be told however, for David Marr seems only to want to advance his own pro-homosexual agenda, and that means attempting to destroy those who stand against it.

What really comes in this essay is just how galling the results of the recent election was for Marr and his friends (his main acknowledged source on the Church appears to have been former Canberra Auxiliary Patrick Power, one of those two a month 'early retirements' under Pope Benedict).

Instead of the 'Green agenda' of marriage equality, euthanasia and abortion ever advancing, the secularists are confronted with, as Marr notes, a newly elected Catholic Prime Minister with deep roots in 'the Movement'.

Worse, instead of being sidelined and succumbing to the pressure to conform to the liberal majority of Australian bishops, Marr is forced to acknowledge that Cardinal Pell remains one of Australia's most effective bishops.  Moreover, far from being sidelined because of past accusations against him, he is one whose voice in the world stage of the Church has if anything been elevated by his membership of Pope Francis' 'group of 8'.

As regular readers of this blog will be aware, I'm no great fan of the Cardinal.  On the plus side he has been effective at generating vocations in both the dioceses he has led.  And many of his other reforms are to be admired.  But I don't agree with his politics, and while Mr Marr cites one occasion where he suggested that Catholics can legitimately hold different positions (in relation to the GST), too often he sounds to me as if he is saying only one view on issues such as climate change is tenable (viz scepticism) for Catholics. His media interventions often seem to be examples of 'foot in microphone' disease in my view, rather than advancing the cause. In Sydney at least I don't think he has gone nearly far enough in the defence of dogma or in cleaning out heretical priests.  And when it comes to the abuse scandal I agree that he just doesn't get it, and that has had disastrous consequences for the Church which will only get worse in the future as the impact of the Royal Commission is felt.

But Marr seems oblivious to most of the debate on what the Cardinal has and hasn't done in these areas, and as a result, I actually came out with a much more positive view of the Cardinal after reading this Essay.

That makes the Essay an epic fail Mr Marr.


Marty said...

I wouldn't give the jerk the exposure.

Kate Edwards said...

Alas he is already getting the exposure courtesy of the ABC and other media outlets.

Accordingly, I do think it needs to be responded to and exposed for the anti-Catholic prejudice that it is.

Pius said...

Sad. Believe it or not, David Marr is capable of writing intelligent and well researched prose on other topics, where his own emotions are less involved. But on the strength of this thread, I shall not bother doing more than dipping into his latest diatribe.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of what you say but take exception to the following:

1) I think the church in Australia's reputation cannot get any worse with regard to the handling of the sex abuse scandal. It's rock bottom and those who would leave on account of it, have left. Those such as Marr who never were part of the church will keep beating the same drum and at the end of the day that's a good thing. It helps purify the church.

2) Immigration will keep the church at a reasonable size until hopefully, in a generation or so's time, the Gospel message will once again sound attractive.

Anonymous said...

Sorry forgot to name it -frank

PM said...

The poor ABC must be thoroughly traumatised by now. Not only have we had the election result, butthe Royal Commission has been loking into some of the 99.6% of abuse not committed by Catholic claergy and religious. This was definitely not in their script!

R J said...

I don't myself believe that immigration will help the Australian Church more than marginally (assuming that it helps the Australian Church at all, which is by no means a given). Immigration hasn't done more than staunch allegiance levels even in America, where Catholicism is - on the whole - much more robust, more courageous, and more independent of government cosseting than it is here. From America's National Catholic Reporter on 11 February 2011:

"There are now 22 million ex-Catholics in America, by far the greatest net loss for any religious body. One in three Americans raised Catholic have left the church. Were it not for immigration, Catholicism in America would be contracting dramatically: for every one member the church adds, it loses four."

Kate Edwards said...

Good point RJ - Certainly the experience of the Church in Australia to date is that while mass attendance rates have been propped up for the last several decades by immigrants, their children assimilate all too quickly and seem to have mass attendance rates no different to the rest of the population.

As for the impact of the Royal Commission - some recent work on Mass attendance rates by Peter Wilkinson, which I'll post on soon, shows that attendance rates continue to drop precipitously and show no signs of bottoming out.

Now not all of that is due to the abuse scandal of course - you only have to look a the state of the disaster in countries where little or no attempt has been made to resist the secularist push until too late, such as the Netherlands and Canada, to see how the Church can be effectively exterminated. Too many of our dioceses are on the same course.

All the same, from what people have told me offline, I think that there is plenty more to come out on the abuse scandal that will appall and horrify even the most hardened cynic. And the impact of possible court cases against senior clerics and bishops shouldn't be underestimated either. The experience of Ireland (where in one diocese rates allegedly plunged to around 2%) suggests that there could still be some way to go.

R J Stove said...

Yes, indeed. Friends of mine who are by nature extremely honest, and who possess (unlike myself) a first-hand knowledge of Ireland, have assured me that in Dublin nowadays, hazards of the priestly life involve being literally spat at in the streets. Such open contempt towards the clerical state per se would not only have been unthinkable in the Dublin of 1950; it would have been also unthinkable in the Dublin of 1990.

But while there are plenty of instances from modern history of lands being de-Catholicised (Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Quebec), I can't recollect a single instance from modern history of a de-Catholicised land being re-Catholicised. Does anyone out there know of such an example?

As for immigration, I cannot imagine either of the major Australian political parties bringing in foreign Catholics when they can continue swamping us with foreign infidels and pagans instead.

Kate Edwards said...

Actually there are modern examples of re-christianization, most notably in Africa.

A century ago, fewer than one percent of the world's Catholics lived in Africa, the figure is now 16 percent; the number of catholics tripled between 1978 and 2004, to 149 million and has continued to rise strongly since then to around 158 m. The creation of South Sudan in part reflects this missionary induced change.

And I think too we can look back to history for inspiration - the re-evangelization of England by St Augustine; in turn of Europe by the Anglo-Saxon missionaries of the seventh century; and during the Counter-Reformation.

What is notable about all those cases though, is that while remnants of Christianity had survived in each case, it mostly took people coming in from outside to actually revive the faith.

But I guess there are also examples of reform movements instigated by great saints (such as St Francis of Assisi) from within at times the Church was in dire straits that we can also look to.