Tag Archives: Kyriarchy

The difference between being required to believe and respecting belief

I’m very happy to respect people’s right to hold cultural beliefs, to behave in a manner that is courteous and respectful, to adopt the behaviour of my hosts when I am at someone else’s place.

However I am not happy to be told that I must engage in particular cultural behaviours for my own safety.

The former asks me as a decent human being to behave in a respectful manner in the presence of someone else’s holy objects, or in their special place; the latter attempts to enforce a particular set of beliefs.

When Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand, issued an invitation for regional museum staff to visit and see some of the work being done behind the scenes, it did the latter. Subsequently, it modified its stance to the former. I think the former is acceptable, and more than acceptable: it is desirable. It is something that gives people the space to choose their own way of life, their own set of values, their own beliefs. The latter is dangerous, all the more so when back by the power of the state.

Here’s what Te Papa said in the first instance when inviting regional museum managers and workers to its behind the scenes tour.

Wahine who are either hapü (pregnant) or mate wähine (menstruating) are welcome to visit at another time that is convenient for them.

There was no indication that this was an ‘advisory’: it was a straightforward instruction that women who were pregnant or menstruating were not welcome. To read it any other way is an egregious refusal to consider the ordinary use of language, and the history of such phrases. Try these sentences for size:

Black people are welcome to sit at the back of the bus.

Aboriginal people are welcome to come to the back door of the shop to get an icecream.

Women are welcome to purchase a drink in the lounge bar.

Catholics are welcome to apply for jobs elsewhere.

In other words, black people are not allowed on the front of the bus, Aboriginal people are not allowed to enter the icecream parlour, women aren’t allowed to go into the main bar, and Catholics are not allowed to apply for jobs here.

These are not just random things I have made up: each of these sentences resonates with particular episodes of discrimination.

When Te Papa says that women who are pregnant or menstruating are welcome to come back at another time, it looks very much as though it is engaging in discrimination.

Te Papa quickly issued an explanation. It wasn’t discrimination based on gender. All they were trying to do was to keep women safe.

Wellington’s Te Papa says it is advising pregnant or menstruating women against attending one of its tours, which includes sacred Maori objects, “for their own safety.”

She said there was a belief that each taonga had its own wairua, or spirit, inside it.

“Pregnant women are sacred and the policy is in place to protect women from these objects.”

In order for this policy to work, and remember, this is a policy for a national museum that is open to everyone, you have to believe that taonga have a spirit which can affect pregnant and menstruating women. Women are asked to stay away, not out of respect for the culture, but because the spirits really do exist.

At that point, the state institution has moved from asking people to respect a particular culture’s beliefs, to actually believing them. At that point, through Te Papa’s policy, the state is imposing a particular religious belief on people.

Now before I, or anyone else, starts shrieking, “Taliban! Taliban!” it’s worth remembering that there are absolutely no consequences to refusing to take on the belief about spirits in taonga, and very few consequences for failing to act in accordance with the belief. Requiring people to believe in the spirits is a long way removed from the way in which the Taliban has attempted to impose its beliefs on people. To be sure, it is a difference of degree, not kind, but it is a difference of degree so great that for most purposes, it is a difference of kind.

Nevertheless, Te Papa explained their instruction to pregnant and menstruating women not to come on the grounds that the women might be harmed by the spirits of the taonga. That explanation is the beginnings of the state imposing beliefs on its citizens.

There has been a long, long struggle in Western nations and other nations around the world to separate church and state. And there’s good reason for this: the history of Western nations and other nations is rife with the horrors caused by people trying to impose their beliefs on others. These days, we tend to think that the state has no role in imposing belief. Instead, it should try to create the conditions where each person, each group of people, can practise their own beliefs, without interference from others, and without fear that they will be discriminated against because of their beliefs. State institutions should not discriminate against people because of their beliefs, and they should not try to impose beliefs on other people.

By Wednesday, Te Papa had changed its story. By then, it was saying that as a matter of respect for Maori culture, it would be good if this particular tapu could be observed, even by those who did not believe in it. That was when it moved from imposing belief, to asking that belief should be respected. And that is something I have no problems with whatsoever.

More than having no problems with it whatsoever, I think it is a highly desirable thing to do. It is in fact the best way for modern liberal democracies to proceed. Why? Because it reinforces the idea that individual people and groups of people are free to choose their own beliefs, and it creates space for people to respect each others’ chosen ways of life, even if you would not take on that way of life or those beliefs yourself.

I think that it is a much more secure approach. If you rely on your beliefs to be respected because the state has those beliefs too, then you are vulnerable. You are vulnerable to the state finding that it no longer holds those beliefs, so it sees no reason to allow believers to continue to follow that particular way of life. I think that something of the sort has been going on with respect to Christianity, which has for many years been the de facto state religion in New Zealand, but it’s influence is declining. Even so, Christians have no reason to worry that they will not be permitted to practise their faith. No churches have been closed down, Christians have not been banned from exercising freedom of speech, they have not been forbidden to associate with each other. Their right to be Christian has not been affected at all. Of course, Christianity no longer enjoys the power it once had, but that’s a matter of changing social mores, not discrimination by the state.

I think the distinction between requiring people to believe, and respecting people’s right to belief, is very important. It creates the space in which people may choose their own way of life, and it creates the space in which other people may respect that way of life and those beliefs, without participating in them personally. So contrary to some, I think that Te Papa’s choice of words was very important.

Finally, I think today’s editorial in the Herald is a bit bloody rich. On Monday, they contacted me, looking for an Angry White Feminist to condemn Maori customs and beliefs. When I refused to do so, and instead focused on the distinction between imposing beliefs and respecting beliefs, they went with the Angry White Feminist line anyway. But today, suddenly, they are all about respecting beliefs. Whatever.


On a personal note, I’ve found it frustrating to be accused of being an unthinking white liberal feminist who has no idea about Maori culture and beliefs, who denigrates Maori culture, and who has no business telling Maori what to do. It has been frustrating because I have not made negative comments about Maori culture at all. I don’t even want to repeat the words that someone told me I had used to denigrate Maori culture, because not only are they words that I did not use at all, they are nasty words, and I don’t want to put them on my blog. I haven’t been telling Maori what to do: in the very first comments I made on the matter, I made it very clear that I did not think I should be involved in discussing what cultural practices Maori should engage it. I said, “It’s up to Maori to work out if and how and when cultural practices should change for Maori, within the traditional freedoms of liberal democracies.” In another place, I said that as a matter of fact I don’t like the ban on women speaking on some marae, but that what I thought about it was irrelevant, and it was a matter for Maori women and Maori men. And I made it clear that if I was on a marae, I would follow the customs of that marae. In another place, I’ve said that I’ve got some thoughts about what might be done with respect to working towards much greater respect for Maori as the first people in New Zealand, but that I didn’t want to put them out there, because it’s not my place to charge on in and tell Maori what to do.

I’m not expecting cookies for this. However it would be nice not to be criticised for things I have neither said nor done.

Mind you, I guess that this sense of frustration is all too familiar for many Maori, and probably far worse. I’m fairly confident that talk back radio and comments threads on some of the newspaper sites have been full of nastiness about Maori culture. Perhaps I should have spent some time on those threads myself, trying to knock back some of the nastiness.

Dr Pell and the Pill of Evil

The Australian gave Dr George Pell some space on Saturday, to write about why the pill has made things worse for women. For those of you who don’t know him, Dr Pell is Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, and he is a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. What he writes is utter tosh.

Dr Pell has three arguments about the pill and its terrible impact on women. First, it distorts the marriage market for women. Second, it makes women have abortions. Third, it makes women unhappy.

Let’s take them one at a time.

In the first part of the article, Pell draws on the work of an economist to show that the pill has made things worse for women, because now men don’t have to enter the marriage market in order to get into the sex market, and that means that women can’t find marriage partners anymore, and even if they do, they’re more likely to get divorced.

The economist Pell draws on is Timothy Reichert. His analysis was published in First Things, which is…

published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.

It was founded by Richard John Neuhaus, a Roman Catholic theologian. So this is not exactly The Economic Journal, or The Quarterly Journal of Economics. It’s a source that’s highly biased towards the results that Pell wants. As for Dr Timothy Reichert, the economist Pell cites so approvingly: his first degree comes from Franciscan University (the name alone should tell you about the religious orientation of the school), and his masters degree comes from The Catholic University of America. I suspect that he’s got some ideological prior commitments. These days, he works as a transfer pricing specialist. Having said that, his PhD is from George Mason University, and the economics school there is very highly regarded. He is clearly very smart, and very able.

I do not like arguments from authority, so I am not impressed by Pell’s regurgitation of Dr Reichert’s thesis. But if I do not like arguments from authority, then I am also committed to counter-arguments that do not consist only in criticising the authority. However, I am not an economist… Nevertheless, there seem to me to be two serious points to be made in respect of Pell’s use of Reichert’s analysis. The first is that because the pill has enabled women and men to separate sex and marriage, men have put off marriage. Women typically start looking for marriage partners earlier than men do. As a result, there is an age mismatch in the marriage market. And oh noes… women can’t get married because there are no men to marry!

Ah… slow down. Let’s imagine that in the absence of the pill, both men and women want to get married at say, age 20, so that they can have lots of sex. Then along comes the pill. Suddenly, people can have sex without having to get married. Even so, sooner or later, lots of baby lights start flashing in women’s heads, and by say, age 30, they want to get married and have children. Unfortunately, men’s baby lights don’t start flashing until say, age 40. So, there’s a 10 year age gap.

And there’s your answer, Dr Pell. Even if the pill enables men to delay marriage, the consequence is only that women marry men who are somewhat older than they would have been had there been no such thing as the pill. Sure, there’s a mismatch early on, when people may not be able to partner up, but over time, the mismatch sorts itself out.

Dr Reichert, and Dr Pell, assume that the age mismatch means that women have less bargaining power, which results in more divorces as men trade in older wives for younger. But that seems odd to me. If men are older when they start looking for child bearing and rearing partners, and older men are more likely to ditch older wives and start looking for younger ones, then surely that increases the number of men looking for wives. There must surely be an over supply of potential husbands, resulting in increased bargaining power for women, not less.

Even so, since when has the church taught that marriage is a transaction, to be engaged in only for what each partner can get out of the other? Many years ago, when we got married in the Catholic church, my partner and I went to a marriage counselling weekend. We talked about all sorts of issues with respect to relationships, and how to build a successful marriage. Absolutely none of the discussion was about what we could sell to each other. It is absurd to cast marriage as a mere transaction in a market place, and normally, the church does not do so. Except when it’s convenient, eh, Dr Pell?

Second, Dr Pell argues that the pill causes abortion. His argument goes like this. The pill creates a contraceptive mentality. The contraceptive mentality means that we regard pregnancy as something to be gotten rid of. Therefore, people are more willing to have abortions. Therefore, the pill causes abortion.

Personally, I find it hard to understand how something that prevents conception causes abortion. It seems to me that it’s ignorance of contraception that causes abortion. That, and ignoring human nature. The Catholic church teaches that all sex outside marriage is wrong (unless it’s priests raping children, of course). As a corollary to that, Catholic girls and boys don’t need to know about contraception, because they don’t need it, because they won’t be having sex.

Pull the other one.

As it turns out, abortion rates are falling, because unintended pregnancy rates are falling. It seems that over time, access to effective contraception is having exactly the desired effect.

Third, Dr Reichert, and Dr Pell, argue that women aren’t as happy now as they were before the advent of the pill. Ah.. because aside from rabble rousers like Betty Friedan, all women were surely much happier when they were required to be housewives raising children. The happiness gap between men and women has been much discussed: the most plausible explanation seems to be that men are still not stepping up.

A big reason that women reported being happier three decades ago — despite far more discrimination — is probably that they had narrower ambitions, Ms. Stevenson says. Many compared themselves only to other women, rather than to men as well. This doesn’t mean they were better off back then.

But it does show just how incomplete the gender revolution has been. Although women have flooded into the work force, American society hasn’t fully come to grips with the change. The United States still doesn’t have universal preschool, and, in contrast to other industrialized countries, there is no guaranteed paid leave for new parents.

Government policy isn’t the only problem, either. Inside of families, men still haven’t figured out how to shoulder their fair share of the household burden. Instead, we’re spending more time on the phone and in front of the television.

Perhaps Dr Pell would like to factor male responsibility, or lack of it, into his thinking.

As a final little point, Dr Pell points out that Western countries are no longer producing enough children to maintain their populations. Ah… so what? If anything, surely this is a good thing?

In any case, since when has the Catholic church ever been concerned about women? It seems to me that the hierarchy only gets worried about women when it seems that women might just gain a little independence, a little autonomy, a little respect, a little being treated as though they were human beings after all.

Wearing the burqa

Daleaway sent me this slideshow about wearing the burqa in Afghanistan. Some of the images are disturbing, as are many of the stories. Pick a moment when you are feeling strong to watch it.


It’s also available on youtube: The Canvas Prison

The slide show is circulating on the net, and it seems to have been around for a month or so now. I can’t find who made it, but some of the matters it refers to are also discussed in this article in Time: Afghanistan: When Women Set Themselves on Fire. The slideshow also refers to the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). I spent a bit of time on the RAWA site: again, some of the material in the slide show is consistent with the information there. I’ve found it hard to track down some of the claims it makes about the origins of the burqa, but the history of the burqa is not central to the points being made in the slideshow.

I found the slide quite wrenching to watch. Some of the images frightened me, some brought tears to my eyes. I think that some of the colours and shots used are possibly tendentious, designed to bring to mind the massed ranks of masked, and frightening, stormtroopers in Star Wars. Even so, my dominant response was one of horror. The violence that is being done to women in Afghanistan is appalling.

I do not support banning the burqa. I do not see that adding another layer of repression will do anything for women who are forced to wear the burqa, and that if we ban it, all that will happen is that women who were previously allowed to at least walk the streets, will be forced to stay in their homes, all the time.

Even so, I think the burqa is a terrible garment. I have no problems with many forms of religious dress: if a woman chooses to wear say, the hijab, or a cross on a necklace, or some other item that indicates her allegiance to a particular way of life, that’s her business. Sure, her “choice” may be constrained, but equally, it may not be. And of course, the same can be said about many of the garments “chosen” by the most free women in the world, women living in Australia and New Zealand and Canada and the Scandanvian countries. Exceedingly high heeled shoes, anyone? To someone looking at my culture from the outside, the clothes that women are required to wear must look very odd, to say the least. What sensible person would insist that a woman wears shoes that damage her knees and hips, and make it difficult for her to walk, effectively hobbling her, and constraining her movement. Of course, we say it’s a matter of choice, but to someone looking from the outside, it could look like as though women are forced to wear these shoes. However, I would no more interfere with a woman in my culture choosing to wear high heeled shoes, than I would interfere with a woman in my culture choosing to wear the hijab. It’s her business!

I suppose that one critical difference is that women in my culture do not risk physical abuse if they choose not to wear high heeled shoes. Women in Afghanistan risk terrible violence if they do not wear a burqa. Given the threat of immediate violence, it is hard to see how a woman is able to choose to wear a buqa at all. She is required to wear it: there is no choice in the matter.

But a burqa is not a headscarf, nor a hijab. It seems fair enough to say that wearing the burqa in Afghanistan is not a matter of choice. But there are no analogies to be drawn between wearing a burqa in Afghanistan, and wearing a hijab in Australia or New Zealand.

Having said that, the makers of the slideshow make some points that are deeply worrying. They say that many educated and well-to-do Afghanis have left their homeland. This represents a great depletion of the human treasure of Afghanistan, the women and men who are teachers and lawyers and doctors and nurses, the people with expertise and skill who are needed in any country. Each time an educated person leaves, particularly people with specialised and critical skills, matters become worse for those who remain, whether by choice or because they have no means of leaving.

The most chilling point? They ask, why do the men of Afghanistan allow this to happen? Why do they not stand up for their mothers, their wives, their sisters, their daughters?

When I ask myself that question, I do not like some of the answers that spring to mind.

Action to take: RAWA has some suggestions on their website.

Clothing and Control

From the blog on Women’s Web, an Indian website:

Clothing and Control

Why is is that we never hear of the ‘trouble’ with allowing young men to wear Western clothes? It is assumed that trousers and shirts are ‘normal’ for men, whether Indian or Western. Women, on the other hand, must uphold the symbols of their cultures or religion.

Read the whole thing

“Out of touch” doesn’t quite capture it

Earlier this year I wrote a fair amount about the Catholic church, and more particularly, the Vatican, and its astonishing failings with respect to priests who raped children (one, two, three, four). But then I laid off, for various reasons, mostly to do with some of my best friends and all. As it turns out, my friends who are members of the church feel wretched and angry about it: wretched because by implication, they support the church, and angry because they feel that their church is being taken from them by a group of men who are entrenched in positions of privilege and wealth in the Vatican. Moreover, most of my friends who are Catholic live in New Zealand, where my understanding (somewhat untutored) is that the church has not tried to cover up, and has worked hard to hold priests responsible for their crimes.

For a long time, the Vatican has tried to avoid responsibility for child-raping priests, and has worked hard to distance Joseph Ratzinger, who likes to be known as His Holiness Benedict XVI, from complicity in cover-ups. It wasn’t Ratty who moved priests on, and neglected to hand them over to civil authorities, or so they said. But that is wearing thinner and thinner. Given the great uncovering that is going on in Catholic churches all over the world, and especially in Western countries, I’m sure that it’s only a matter of time before he is found to have very dirty hands indeed. Moreover, his failure to hold priests and bishops responsible continues. Not only is Cardinal Law, formerly of Boston, and now of the Vatican, still sitting pretty in a sinecure in Rome from whence Ratty refuses to dislodge him to face a grand jury back in the USA, but now he won’t even accept resignations from bishops who have been shown to have failed in their duties.

Vatican rejects resignations of 2 Dublin bishops and Vatican rejects resignations of Irish bishops over child sex abuse scandal

Ratzinger seems to be a most unholy man. Refusing these resignations is extraordinary: it is a tacit endorsement of the bishops’ efforts to cover up the crimes of child rapists who were harboured by the church. It’s a slap in the face for Diarmuid Martin, the archbishop of Dublin, who is trying to clean up the diocese. I’ve no doubt that there is a great deal more he could do, like selling some of the church’s property in order to pay compensation to victims. But no he must be wondering why he should bother, if the man who increasingly seems to be at the centre of the evil will not even accept mea culpas from those who did wrong. And it’s a covert wink and nod to other bishops around the world. “Don’t worry,” Ratty is saying. “I’ll look after you.”

What is Ratty trying to cover up?

Chanting the script from Rome

Roman Catholic bishops and cardinals around the world have been leaping into print, to defend the pope, and to insist that he is a man of great sanctity and courage and whatever… The most absurd defence of him has to be the one ventured by Archbishop Timothy Dolan in New York:

He urged the Manhattan congregation to pray for the pope, saying he was suffering some of the same unjust accusations once faced by Jesus.

Dolan credited the pope for making possible the progress the Catholic Church has made in the United States against “this sickening sin and crime,” saying changes “could never have happened without the insistence and support of the very man now being daily crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo.”


Memo to Dolan: Ratzinger, a.k.a. Benedict XVI, is not Jesus Christ himself. Nobody is going to imprison him, lash him, treat him as a common criminal, crown him with thorns, or execute him. No matter what, his body will remain unviolated, and his life will not be taken. Much better treatment than was meted out to the children who were raped by pedophile priests. But Dolan thinks that Benedict is just like JC himself.

Bring me a bucket.

(At this point, I typed, and then deleted, several expletive laden sentences. I really cannot find the words to describe Dolan’s wrongheaded stupidity.)

But that’s not all. Dolan retreats to relativism.

“All we ask is that it be fair and that the Catholic Church not be singled out for a horror that has cursed every culture, religion, organization, institution, school, agency and family in the world,” he said.

Shorter Dolan: Everyone else was doing it, so it must be okay.

Well, there goes the Catholic church’s claim to being the source of absolute truth. It turns out that what matters in the church is not what is right, but what the neighbours’ think. But funny how that doesn’t apply to other issues, like say, abortion.

Wev, really.

I had hoped that the Catholic church in New Zealand, in which I was reared, might have done a little better. My understanding is that the church in New Zealand is still a missionary church, so it is not under the direct control of Rome. Whatever the status of the church in New Zealand may be, it is clear that it has fairly much gone its own way. For example, for many, many years, it has declined to have the office of lector, instead having just readers, people who read assigned passages from the bible to the rest of the congregation at mass. ‘Reader’ is an informal office, so it can be performed by anyone who is willing to do so. However the critical trait for being a lector is not the ability to enunciate clearly, nor the confidence to speak to a large audience, but the possession of a penis. Early on, the New Zealand church simply side-stepped this issue, and opted to have readers, male and female, instead.

Because I was born and bred in the Catholic church in New Zealand, because I was active in it, I happen to know of one or two or a few cases of abuses. Each of those cases was dealt with by the courts. To my knowledge, that is the path that the Catholic church in New Zealand has taken. Defrock the priest, or the brother, by all means, but above all, go to the police, and let the justice system of New Zealand take its course. This is a marked contrast to the treatment of abusers in many other countries.

But… when Bishop Patrick Dunn, Catholic bishop of Auckland, got his say in the New Zealand Herald today, he came out with the same line that mealy mouthed bishops have come out with across the world.

When anyone comes to us with a complaint of abuse, our preference is that they go to the police and we encourage them to do so, offering whatever assistance they require.

Occasionally, people do not wish to go through the upheaval of a criminal investigation and choose instead to confine their complaint to church authorities.

In these cases we have had no choice than to respect their privacy, rather than cause them further pain by the prospect of judicial proceedings.

In other words, it’s all up to the victim.

Bish, there is absolutely nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, to prevent a cleric who has sexually abused a child from going to the police on his own account. If he fronts up and admits the crime, if he goes to court and pleads guilty, then the victim doesn’t need to go through a court process at all. The victim doesn’t need to be the person who makes the complaint to the police. She or he doesn’t have to endure inquisitions and evidence giving and cross-examination, if the abuser turns himself in.

The Catholic Church in New Zealand has a protocol for dealing with cases of sexual abuse: A Path to Healing – Te Houhanga Rongo. It’s a good protocol, emphasising the need to look after the victim, and the imperative not to try to cover up the crime at all. But there’s one major thing wrong with it. It places the onus for pursuing civil remedies on the victim.

17: If the offence is a crime in civil law and the complainant places the matter in the hands of the police, the Church authority will cease the investigation and will not do anything to protect the accused/offender from the processes of civil law nor hide the facts from those who are entitled to know them.

As I wrote just a few days ago, when I was a child, I was taught that if I committed a crime, then in order to receive absolution through the sacrament of confession, I would need to turn myself in to the police. I would like to see the same standard applied to the men in clerical robes who have raped children.


Earlier posts regarding Il Papa and criminous clerics:
They could always turn themselves in
Can the pope be impeached?

They could always turn themselves in

Cardinal George Pell was given column inches in The Australian to defend “man of immense compassion and goodness”, Pope Benedict XVI, yesterday. It’s sickening stuff, watching Pell bend over backwards, forwards and every which way to defend the hierarchy in the Catholic Church from its complicity in covering up the crimes committed by pedophiles. (Sometimes I wonder why the church doesn’t just rename itself the Pedophile Protection Society. That seems to be its main function these days.)

Among the usual claims about the church and its practices, Pell makes this statement.

When complaints are made under these procedures, often dating back decades, victims are always encouraged to go to the police. That is what we would prefer. But victims often value their privacy. This issue is too sad and too serious for misinformation to be circulated, adding to victims’ pain.

I smell a large rat.

When a crime is committed against another person, there are at least two people who know about it. There is the victim, and there is the perpetrator. The victim IS NOT the only person who can go to the police. There is absolutely nothing to prevent a priest who has admitted abusing children from going to the police himself, confessing his crimes, and asking for the judgement of the court. All of this can be done without revealing the victim’s name, at all, and without even needing to put a victim on a stand. After all, if a priest confesses to his crimes, then there is no need to cross-examine the other witness(es), to determine the truth of the matter. Simple affidavits would do.

And that’s what the Catholic church tells other perpetrators they should do.

When I was preparing for my first confession, and first holy communion, I was given a great deal of instruction about the nature of confession, and god’s forgiveness of my sins (as if a tiny child can sin!), provided that I was contrite. The nuns and priests filled us with tales about the need for genuine contrition, but also, at the same time, that god could and would forgive the greatest of sins, even murder.


For those great crimes, priests would withhold absolution, until the perpetrator had gone and confessed his or her crime to the police, and subjected themselves to the process of the law of the state. “Yes,” the priest would say. “I will pronounce absolution for your sins, but first, you must surrender yourself to the police. When you have done that, I will come and pronounce absolution.”

Pious cant, no doubt. But pious cant that was spoonfed to young children, as something that applied to all members of the church.

Except, it seems, the priesthood. Evidently none of them have to turn themselves in to the local police in order to receive absolution.

I will believe that Benedict is genuinely concerned about child abuse, genuinely concerned about right the wrongs done by men who pretend to be holy and good, genuinely concerned to follow the law of the land (Pell’s words), when he directs all priests who have been found to abuse children, by the church’s own procedures, to go directly to the police. Until then, it’s just more obfuscatory cant.

Perhaps the first step could be to require Cardinal Law to leave the Vatican, and return to the United States.

And unfortunately for Pell, and his trusting belief in the sanctity and goodness of the (alleged) holy father, it’s starting to look very much as though the smoking gun linking Benedict directly to cover ups has appeared: Warned About Abuse, Vatican Failed to Defrock Priest.

Top Vatican officials — including the future Pope Benedict XVI — did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church, according to church files newly unearthed as part of a lawsuit.

To date, Benedict’s defenders have claimed that he really just didn’t know that a priest in his diocese had simply been moved on to another parish. That seems incredibly unlikely, but it might just be possible (‘though as I have said before, if you believe that, then I’ve got a rather nice painted ceiling in a spiffy basilica in Rome to sell to you). But this time, letters were sent directly to him about abuse committed against boys at a school for the deaf by an American priest, the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy. The priest was “moved on”, and later on, when a secret church process against him was started, it was stopped…

after Father Murphy personally wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger protesting that he should not be put on trial because he had already repented and was in poor health and that the case was beyond the church’s own statute of limitations.

If you believe that Ratzinger himself did not order the cessation, if you believe that Ratzinger himself was not complicit in the cover up, if you believe that he is “a man of immense compassion and goodness”, then I say that you are so wrong that it is hard to find words to describe your gullibility and sheer foolishness. And if you happen to be Cardinal Pell, then I question whether you have any moral authority left. And I certainly question why The Australian, or any other newspaper, should be giving you space to mouth your increasingly flimsy and silly excuses for Ratzinger’s behaviour.