The Tim Minchin song Come Home Cardinal Pell arrived like an avalanche in my news feed this week. This is not surprising. I’m a Minchin fan and atheist; and am friends with people who see no reason to believe in the existence of things for which there is no evidence and have cool taste in music.
The mainstream media caught up the next day. Kristina Kenneally penned a highly lauded piece published in The Guardian which also questioned the place of god in a world where the Catholic Church continues to protect rapists and the protectors of rapists.
The pope was also in the news this week, for snapping at one of the faithful. In Mexico. That was the day after the Minchin song hit the headlines. No coverage I saw linked Francis’ loss of composure to the possibility that providing sanctuary to a man nicknamed Pell Pot would create considerable cognitive dissonance for a man who is assumed to have a moral compass.
Being trained in law and not in psychology, my comment is that it seems highly unlikely that these sets of circumstances – Pell being publicly requested to face the music, the Vatican choosing to safeguard Pell from a Royal Commission, il papa losing his cool – are unrelated.
Much of the commentary on the Minchin song is collected and criticised in this excellent post. The discussion I heard on ABC radio, between four journalists – Richard Glover, Jennifer Hewiit, Joe Hildebrand and Emma Alberici (in order on which they spoke about the song) – was unanimously critical of the – wait for it – language that Minchin used.
The four were ‘in furious agreement’ (Alberici) in their offence at Minchin and defence of Pell and his apparent rights. These rights remained unspecified, for the obvious reason that every courtesy has been extended to Pell and none of his rights have been violated.
Here are some of the highlights:
Tar and feather him
Shouting scum scum scum
Celebrities jumping on the bandwagon of the cause de jour
Lynch mob mentality
Pitchforks at dawn
We all know paedophiles are evil of course…
Yes there were a lot of mistakes made…
This is four highly trained and remunerated journalists commenting on the release of a song – a song which says scum once, not three times – which suggests Pell should front the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Assault.
The reason Pell should answer the questions of the Commission is that his institution, the one for which he was the most senior representative in Australia, is a known recruiter, harbourer and protector of paedophiles. Priests who rape children. Men of god who use their purported moral superiority to gain access to children and rape those children. That is the problem. They are the wrong-doers. Not Minchin. Not the Royal Commissioner. The rapist priests. We seem to have lost track of this fact somehow.
The most repulsive illogic here is commentators who draw false equivalences between the gross crimes and cover up by Pell and a man singing a song with the word scum in it. These are not comparable moral questions. The word scum is not even offensive to anyone when used in other contexts. But say it about the pope’s man and suddenly those who hold themselves as king mediator of messages call offence.
In the stampede to defend the very important man, we hear all about his rights when his rights have not been breached in any way shape or form. What are we not talking about while blathering about Pell and his not-breached rights? Yes. The victims and survivors of priests who rape children.
Mainstream media feels under threat from social media and the diversity of voices that are now heard in spaces for which they never had to compete, except among each other. The only way they know how to fight back against this threat to their monopoly on controlling the message is to side with power. So they minimalise and trivialise the horrors exacerbated by Pell.
This erases victims from the story. It also directly contradicts the claim that our society condemns adults who sexually assault children in the harshest possible terms. We say we do, and politicians have ramped the child rape sentence up (to a maximum of 25 years) to make it appear equivalent to murder.
Of course this grandstanding has not been and will not be matched by our political leaders loudly condemning the institutions which have failed victims and survivors at every turn.
We do not condemn all men who rape children in real life. Just some of them. We excuse priests and teachers, and burble about their rights and presumption of innocence. To be held innocent until proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt, by the way, is a principle of the criminal law, not investigatory proceedings like a Royal Commission.
At the same time we mobilise millions of dollars to further oppress and violate the rights of Aboriginal people in remote Northern Territory communities on far less evidence than has been collected by the RCIRCSA. A specific group of men are routinely portrayed as sexual predators and condemned en mass across our media landscape.
Where do they think the blue-eyed babies came from?
Children are still not believed. Lives are still wrecked. Families still shun survivors who speak out. Opinion makers still say things like ‘yes mistakes have been made but…’ The Case for the Pope being indicted at The Hague for Crimes Against Humanity – the hundreds of thousands of victims of rapist priests – has been made by none other than Geoffrey Robertson QC. And all we ask of Pell is to answer the damn question: what did you know?