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com .. PELL .. ing

I write about many things for AIMN: politics, artificial intelligence, women, Australia Day, alternative energy etc. But there is one issue that is receiving a lot of press attention lately … and I cannot let it pass unmentioned.

Thousands upon thousands of words have been written lately about the George Pell case. The legal fraternity has had a say. The media has had a say. His supporters have been granted, and have taken, more than a say. The power of might and money is fuelling his appeal and seeking his early release.

Thousands upon thousands of words, conversely, have never been written about each and every individual case, each and every individual one of the untold number of thousands of cases where a young human being was attacked and sexually brutalised by some members of the religious clergy.

An equal amount of words have never been written about the subsequent affects of that abuse on the daily life of each and every single, living, Survivor.

George Pell is not important. What happens to him now is not important. He was found guilty of a heinous crime. He was sentenced. He is not deserving of any attention. For the rest of his life he will have to deal, and live, with himself. That is enough, that is justice, and as long as his physical being is cared for, and as long as he resides in safety in prison, it is all of the attention that I think his matter now deserves.

It is no surprise to find out that convicted clergy do not like being placed into a prison. It is no surprise to find out that they do not like the loss of their freedom. It may surprise some of the public to be confronted by, and informed about, the type of prison that each and every Survivor is unwillingly placed into.

The only way I can do that is by taking you on an unexpected journey …

Last week I visited Port Arthur in Tasmania. On the site of the old Penitentiary, amongst all the ruins, there is a stand alone building called the Separate Prison. While the convicts housed outside that building were subject to forms of corporal punishment, leg irons and lashings and that sort of thing, the inmates of the Separate Prison were subject to an unremitting regime of mental cruelty.

The regime inside that Separate Prison was based on the thinking of Quaker Reformers back then, religious folk, who believed that sensory deprivation and isolation and fierce discipline had strong rehabilitative powers. The reality is that many inmates of that prison ended up broken men, shattered men, who lost the cognitive power to care for themselves and ended up permanent invalids, who even after release had to be permanently cared for by the state. There was not a lot of religious love associated with that process.

Inside the Separate Prison there is a room called the Punishment Cell. It is very small with a vaulted ceiling, and it is beyond dark, no light can penetrate in. If you were strong-willed or recalcitrant you were placed in there. The solitary confinement was absolute .. can you try to imagine how that must have felt?

I walked into that room and briefly closed the door, and didn’t think too much about anything other than how dark and confining and spirit-sapping the room was. Then I walked out of the Separate Prison planning to see whatever was next on the list and grab a coffee.

Thirty yards down the path the world flipped upside down …

Out of the blue I froze up and burst into tears. Yep, a mature older man in his late sixties standing in the middle of a path with tears streaming in a torrent down his face. The friend with me was consoling, but wondered what the heck had just happened that had upset me so much. I was so flustered by this unexpected event that I was wondering the same thing myself. I couldn’t understand or explain it. And then it hit home like a sledgehammer.

It was the isolation and the darkness you see …

The Punishment Cell had become a metaphor for something else. The Prison of Separation that many Survivors try to endure, the loaded affect of years of mental cruelty and physical abuse that Survivors try to carry.

The human mind is a wonderful thing. Sometimes it manages to compartmentalise experienced horrors and shunt them off to the side, and just when you think they are safely managed an event or a moment in time pops up and temporarily negates the defences and blows unexpected tears out of your eyes. It takes a moment to compose and regather.

As a Survivor, and as an advocate for Survivors of childhood sexual abuse who are still trying to find their voice, I have previously written about how it feels to struggle up for any sort of clear air, any sort of release from the weight of depression and PTSD that many Survivors carry.

That bloody cell was the perfect metaphor for the prison of the mind that many Survivors are incarcerated in.

While George Pell and his supporters scream for his release, we Survivors have to battle out from the darkness, the isolation, the mental cruelty, the physical assaults, and the sexual predation that we experienced. We are left to deal with the Separate Prison placed into our own minds by our religious carers.

And some of the supporters of those clergy have the appalling audacity to call us whingers and scum. That is surely a measure of them. It is surely not a measure of us.

The thousands upon thousands of words currently being written about George Pell need to dry up. The focus needs to shift away from him, he is not important and is undeserving of all the attention, and the focus needs to shift where it should belong, onto the ongoing rehabilitative needs of the untold number of thousands of Survivors.

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8 comments

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  1. New England Cocky

    May Pell rot in hell and the Australian government remove government funding from each and every institution that has protected pederasty of children by their staff members.

  2. Sharon

    Keith, I am glad I read this powerful piece of writing. Thank you for sharing your experience for us to read.

  3. Jean

    I agree with Sharon! Thank you for sharing and telling of such a powerful experience! I know the room you refer to in the Separation Prison – and yes, there is not a hint of light. I closed the door with my partner beside me, and was glad to open it and get out again. Mental health is so important.

  4. pierre wilkinson

    thank you for your insight and reasonable response

  5. Karen Kyle

    I wish we could take away your pain and the pain of other survivors. If we knew what to do we would do it. May all of you find some peace.

  6. wam

    At funerals, we all see the catholic men fawn over the cassockers with the shadows of women shuffling in support.
    Many preboomers have sisters in nunneries whom, except for boccaccio’s flings, were as safe from abuse as the little boys in smocks..

    Nothing in the church has been safe from abuse since silence and absolution became deaf and blind faith.

    The big two advertisers on second level(ex-ABC)shows like pie in the sky and antique roadshow are insurance companies and catholic schools. After-labor school splash to avoid the DFC, Small catholic school sprung up in tiny towns on my drive from darwin to yarrawonga via adelaide. (to my personal knowledge at least one other christian organisation capitalised on the education grants in an unprincipled manner).
    I can remember the fear as a grade 8 student being touched in the station toilet once but have no idea of the trauma of mixing with your physical and metal abuser with the fear, shame and pain locked inside,

    Is pell the the end of secrets????
    Can the church not give absolution but leave it to their god???
    Will the new laws help or hinder the process of principles of jesus christ??

  7. richard mullins

    wam “Being touched in the station toilet”. Was it Judge Yeldham? I am sure it was not Pell.

    I am not a supporter of the church. But as our favourite Arndt says, most sexual abuse occurs at home. The accusations against Pell are fake.

    Richard Mullins portal1943@gmail.com

  8. Ro Bailey

    Richard Mullins, I have a friend who has been deeply involved in the Catholic church for years, who told me they know at least 8 other men who have chosen not to come forward, who were abused by Pell as boys.

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