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Is George Pell a problem for Abbott?

Now that the dust has settled and Tony Abbott is our Prime Minister, there is renewed interest in his relationship with the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell and some speculation as to how that relationship will develop given that Pell is the man Tony Abbott regards as his spiritual advisor. It is entirely reasonable to suggest that George Pell would regard Abbott as a supporter of Catholic dogma and willing to uphold Catholic teaching across a range of sensitive, social issues. It is therefore reasonable to ask how we, the voters, can be assured that Cardinal George Pell is not going to become a silent partner in running the country and that Tony Abbott won’t become his lapdog.

The Church in Australia is desperate to regain some of its dwindling influence. Sixty years ago, in pre-Vatican II times, 75% of Catholics attended church regularly. Today, that figure has slumped to just 13%. Today, just 5% of Australians are practicing Catholics. That figure renders Cardinal Pell’s job of placing Catholic teaching high on the list of political issues almost impossible. Issues such as contraception, euthanasia and gay marriage are a matter of non-negotiable Catholic dogma, contrasting starkly with an increasingly secular Australia which has long since moved in the opposite direction. The forum of public opinion would suggest these issues are private and best decided by those involved. The Church, however, would have government uphold what it regards as Catholic teaching. Tony Abbott is a practicing Catholic and heavily influenced by Cardinal Pell. So where does this leave Abbott?

Cardinal George Pell has clear and concise alternatives to the preferences of an increasingly secular world but he struggles to present then in a way that is palatable. His policies which come from the Vatican are not the policies that most Australians would tolerate. While we know Abbott takes political advice from another mentor, John Howard, what we don’t know, is how much spiritual advice he takes from George Pell. We accept that the advice he receives from John Howard is specific to the issues of political success. We can make a considered judgement about that. What we don’t know and therefore are unable to judge, is whether the advice he receives from George Pell is specific to our interests or to the temporal interests of the Catholic Church and the success of George Pell’s agenda for Australia.

Lately, Cardinal George Pell is showing all the signs of a man who just doesn’t get it. His press conference on November 15th 2012 following the announcement by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard of a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse was ample evidence of a man who had lost touch with reality. Pell’s main concern seemed to be that the Catholic Church was a victim of a media smear campaign. He seems to think that claims against paedophile priests are exaggerated. (Ref 6). His performance at that press conference was arrogant and half hearted to say the least.

Pell also has his detractors inside the church. Retired Bishop, Geoffrey Robinson recently said of him, “He’s not a team player, he never has been.” On the question of priests breaking the confessional seal to expose child sex abuse, Robinson added, “On this subject too, he’s not consulting with anyone else; he’s simply doing his own thing. I have to say, that on this subject, he’s a great embarrassment to me and to a lot of good Catholic people” (Ref 3). To his credit, Abbott distanced himself from Pell on the issue of the confessional seal when he made his position clear on priests’ responsibilities in this matter. “If they become aware of sexual offences against children, those legal requirements must be adhered to. The law is no respecter of persons, everyone has to obey the law, regardless of what job they are doing, what position they hold,” he said. (Ref 6)

But now that Abbott is prime minister we are entitled to know on what side of the spiritual fence he sits. To say he is highly conservative and would not support gay marriage or drug law reform is obvious. But on what grounds does he not support these issues? To what extent are his views subject to Catholic teaching? His plagiarising of old hat references such as Sir Robert Menzies’ “faceless men” and John Howard’s “ticker” and “who do you trust” and his call for the now Labor opposition to “repent” on the issue of the carbon tax demonstrate his lack of originality and his attachment, even reliance, on those he sees as his mentors and those to whom he looks for advice. Cardinal Pell is one such mentor. Pell’s conservative Catholic views are well known, not so Abbott’s. We are entitled to know what might be behind some of his policy preferences and in what way Pell has influence over him. When one looks closely one can detect some behavioural aspects that give us some clues.

Abbott’s callous comment ‘shit happens’ in reference to soldiers dying in Afghanistan (Ref 5) tells its own story. It demonstrates a lack of empathy with those about whom he makes such a reference. Let us not forget that he did it once before in reference to the now deceased champion of the James Hardie asbestos campaign, Bernie Banton (Ref 4). The Catholic Church displays a staggering lack of empathy across a range of social issues, not the least of which has been its attitude to the victims of sexual abuse by the clergy and to the use of condoms in AIDS ravaged Africa.

In Parliament Abbott attempts to sound scholarly as does Pell when speaking from the pulpit, but when in the arena of the real world, Pell struggles when constantly interrupted and Abbott sounds robotic when reduced to the fifteen second time bite. He succumbs to metaphors and superficial comments that lack any real substance or meaning. Interestingly, both platforms have seen Abbott uttering some frightful gaffes about women.

Tony Abbott adds to the dilemma with his seemingly confused understanding of what is and is not, Christian. In one blunder concerning the boat people, Abbott said:

“I don’t think it’s a very Christian thing to come in by the back door rather than the front door . . . I think the people we accept should be coming the right way and not the wrong way . . . If you pay a people-smuggler, if you jump the queue, if you take yourself and your family on a leaky boat, that’s doing the wrong thing, not the right thing, and we shouldn’t encourage it.”

Human Rights activist, Julian Burnside commented:

“It is not surprising that Mr Abbott has a view about the moral dimension of refugee issues.

What is striking is that Mr Abbott could get the matter so spectacularly wrong, both as to the facts and as to the moral equation” (Ref 7).

Abbott’s comments that we are rolling out the red carpet for asylum seekers by releasing them into community detention (2), sends us a mixed message. Such comments appear, on the surface, to fly in the face of Christian compassion, therefore we can assume it is a political ploy; a vote winner. One might have thought that a devout Christian like Abbott would be more sympathetic. He conveniently fails to acknowledge the financial benefits that come with such a policy and appears to have no regard for the psychological damage done to those who remain in detention centres. However, all of that is secondary, it would seem, to the image that “rolling out the red carpet” conjures up in the minds of those who have been paralysed by the fear campaign his mentor John Howard began. Metaphorically speaking, the Catholic Church likes locking up people too; not their bodies but their minds. Their idea of a perfect world is to have everyone faithfully observing the teachings of ‘the one true church.’ One wonders if Tony Abbott’s liking for mandatory detention is the manifestation of a similar theology.

On the treatment of women there are other behavioural signs. It is easy to think the church has a fear of women especially if you were raised Catholic. Over many centuries of a male dominated hierarchy within the church, certain attitudes of superiority over women developed which church leaders conveniently allowed to be incorporated within its plethora of Mysteries. This eliminated the need for a detailed explanation. For them, the threat of women ever usurping the dominance of the male role was countered by excluding them, then de-valuing them. One could argue that they did this because they were afraid of them.

Tony Abbott’s foot-in-mouth tendency, his apparent brain-snap comments when dealing with women’s issues, might easily be accounted for when one factors in his close association with, and commitment to, Catholic Church teaching. The Church doesn’t teach fear of women, but it is implied in much of its dogma. It’s refusal to ordain women as priests and its refusal to permit priests to marry (unless you’re a married Anglican priest and want to defect to Rome) betray its attitude to women quite clearly. Its insistence that all sexual intercourse must be open to the creation of life is another put-down teaching that places the primary role of women as child bearers before anything else. Abbott’s foot-in-mouth comment about the previous Labor government’s lack of experience in raising children (Ref 8) also betrays this Catholic Church mindset.

So what is Tony Abbott’s theology? And what has shaped his Machiavellian view and perhaps we should ask who is encouraging him? Each one of us, particularly that twenty five percent of Australians who claim to be Atheist (Ref 1) need to know what drives him when deciding how his values and particularly his religious convictions will impact upon us. And, should we also ask: does he view his own agenda within the corridors of power as more important than that of serving the best interests of the citizens of Australia.

John Kelly


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irreligion_in_Australia
  2. Canberra Times, 18/02/2012, Kirsty Needham.
  3. http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2012/s3632475.htm
  4. http://www.news.com.au/news/abbott-phones-in-banton-apology/story-fna7dq6e-1111114764079
  5. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-02-08/shit-happens-abbott-grilled-over-digger-remark/1935128
  6. http://www.theglobalmail.org/feature/restoring-the-faith/477/
  7. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/policy/abbott-slams-boatpeople-as-un-christian/story-fn9hm1gu-1226422034305#mm-premium
  8. http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2012/oct/23/julia-gillard-children-australia-video

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  1. diannaart

    I do not fear the likes of Pell – I see such as him as anachronisms clinging desperately to a religion that is moving on without him.

    I do fear the likes of Abbott – his unreasoning faith is a clear and present danger to our well being. He does not act for all Australians only for the head-bowed repentant – whoever they are.

  2. gumleafdi

    I think that the new PM is very obviously influenced by the Catholic church. Witness his religiose language : “act of contrition” used to placate the Malaysian government ,and “repent” used twice in the one speech to admonish the Labor government over the Carbon tax and slyly link the concepts of guilt and sin to their behaviour. WHen was the last time we heard the words ‘contrition’ and ‘repent’ used in public? And by a Leader of a country in the West? Back in the Middle Ages I would think. I’m sure these words were carefully chosen by Mr Abbot for maximum effect. My reaction was incredulity, disbelief. This is the 21st century. In so many ways this government is amazingly backward in their thinking and actions.

    “And, should we also ask: does he view his own agenda within the corridors of power as more important than that of serving the best interests of the citizens of Australia.” My answer to this question in an unresounding ” absolutely”. And that he and his government are therefore very dangerous.

  3. Matthew L. Green

    Australia has largely been secular in political terms for a very long time. This has worked well for us.
    I shudder when I hear words like “repent” in political discourse. It’s medieval and completely out of step with modern Australian values.
    To throw one back at Cardinal Abbot, I mean PM Abbot,
    – Matthew 25:35-40

    “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?”

    Why do I suspect Abbot is only Christian when it suits his personal agenda?

  4. boombi

    Why are we surprised at Abbotts indifference to human suffering. Has no one actually read the history of the Catholic church and the actions and attitudes of its representatives over the centuries . ? And the statement re why would refugees who are mostly Muslim behave like Christians is just plain stupid . God thing they don’t behave like christians if Abbott , Pell, Morrison and Hockey are examples. The tell tale signs of Abbotts real zealot mission agenda to convert the population to his way of thinking are becoming alarmingly obvious. His choice of language, his sense of blind vocation, his iron fisted control, his ” I know whats best for my flock ” attitudes, his constant use of fear
    tactics, and so on. Some of us are very scared . Why no challenge to this use of language to his face by journalists ?

  5. Tony Hogarth

    Shit happens ok tony then I suggest you Never get Caught riding the office bike again !! Don’t spend taxpayers money on stopping gays getting married then go to your sisters wedding to another woman !! STOP THE RORTS !! Admit to climate change b4 you look REALLY stupid !! Lock Peter Reith away in a dungeon (gagged), Don’t ban the carbon Tax ! Don’t hide any more birth control pills in your drawers !! and above all remove the migrant problem from the armed forces budget ! Then leave b4 we kick you out Finally send Pell to the Vatican where he belongs !!!!!!!!!!!!!. P.S Don’t you even think about making John Howard The GG !! thanks a lot for nothing !!

  6. JohnB

    Oh FFS, you people are OBSESSED with Pell and Abbott.
    What about all the conservative religious types of the ALP, Rudd, Conroy and so on.?

    Do you ask about the religious influence on their policies ?

    What about the allegations that Paul Howse lost the support of conservative Islamic electorates due to his support of gay marriage ?
    Where’s your examination of that speculation, link please.

    By the way, AIMN is not “AN INFORMATION ALTERNATIVE”, it is an OPINION alternative.
    Nothing wrong with opinion, just don’t dress it up as “news” or journalism.

  7. Fed up

    I have this feeling, that Pell will be thrown to the wolves, as in my opinion he deserves to be. Somewhere along the line, Rome will step in, calling him to the Vatican for some obscure task.

    One only has to take their mind back to the last day of the Victorian Hearings. Pell did not make a good impression, and I feel that he was left to this Royal Commission.

    As for Abbott, he seems to be friends, and supported some of the worse. I know, one guilt by association is wrong.

    To be honest, yes the Catholic Church has been amiss, but there are other reasons why so many have been abused, with many knowing what is going on.

    I have sat in interviews with young people, where shocking Revelations have been made, one spreading across the third generation.

    We had to sit back, and see that man walk free. The grand daughter only want it to stop. Mother and others refused to give evidence. The girl was very clear, that she would not admit anything in court.

    She was willing to talk, but not willing to destroy the family. That is what would have happened.

    In this case, we were able to put some safeguards in place, but this man should have went to jail for a long time. Also was the feeling, if he touched any of the younger kids, she would have acted.

    This is the outcome of too many cases.

    If one cannot laid a charge or get a conviction, it is hard to stop the offender from going on to offend again,

    One is innocence until proven guilty.

    How one gets around this dilemma, I do not know.

    It is not a nice place for any worker to be.

    The trouble is, that one rarely have outside witnesses to what has happened.

    Yes, I think before this Royal Commission is over, Abbott might be asked to explain that letter of support. That priest was one of the worse.

  8. Dan Rowden

    It is easy to think the church has a fear of women especially if you were raised Catholic.

    As someone raised in the Catholic Church I had a fear of women. They were called Nuns.

  9. Dan Rowden

    John. F,

    Those excesses were not confined to any gender or to any Church. Any group or institution having institutionalised dealings with children were/are subject to such abuses. It’s just part of the tragic thread of the human tapestry. Proximity, access and insularity are the key factors.

  10. Dan Rowden

    The Royal Commission will not touch Abbott in any substantial way, even if Pell fell. How could it? Because Pell is a head of the Church in Australia and a spiritual mentor of Abbott – who happens to be a Catholic? Well, shit me, how odd is that!

  11. Kaye Lee

    I find the IPA very disturbing. At their 70th anniversary earlier this year guests included such luminaries as Rupert Murdoch (keynote speaker), Gina Rinehart, Cardinal George Pell, Andrew Bolt (MC), Victorian Premier Denis Napthine, Melbourne Mayor Robert Doyle, Alan Jones… with a special address by Tony Abbott.

    “In a stark reminder of the forces forcing Abbott onto the Australian people, in a speech this week, Tony Abbott fawns over the reactionary think tank, obsequiously sucks up to mining magnate Gina Rinehart and sings paeans of praise to media monopolist Rupert Murdoch.”


    The speech is riddled with religious references:

    “In the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve could do almost as they pleased but freedom turned out to have its limits and its abuses, as this foundational story makes only too clear. Yet without freedom we can hardly be human; hardly be worthy of creation in the image of God.”

    “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is the foundation of our justice. “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” is the foundation of our mercy. Faith has weakened but not, I’m pleased to say, this high mindedness which faith helped to spawn and which the IPA now helps to protect and to promote. “

    “John, you’ve done very well with just 20 staff – but remember what Jesus of Nazareth did with just 12 and one of them turned out to be a rat!”

    When you attend a function chaired by Andrew Bolt, profess your fauning admiration for Rupert Murdoch, Gina Rinehart, Cardinal Pell, and the IPA, one must wonder about the company you keep and who is influencing the decision making. I think this line is very ominous:

    “So, ladies and gentlemen, that is a big “yes” to many of the 75 specific policies you urged upon me in that particular issue of the magazine….”

    Just a reminder of what those 75 (now 100) policies are….


    He is already working his way through the list.

    Institute of Liberal Party policy? What the IPA will get from Abbott

  12. cassilva48

    Not a problem for Abbott, but a problem for us! God help us if Pell is his mentor, but it does explain a lot! Pell is an intellectual dinosaur that cannot even come up with a cogent argument for why he believes what he believes.

  13. Geoff Of Epping

    We’ved had “Ditch the Witch” and “Bob Brown’s Bitch” which Tony purposefully posed in front of…… Now perhaps it time for “Flick the Prick” and George Pell’s Bum Boy”

  14. Fed up

    I wonder if there are any readers that recall an Abbott’s time at Emu Plains. Any that arranged baptism or first communion for their child.

  15. diannaart

    Fed-up, thank you so much for the link to Abbott’s letter.

    Here’s me thinking it was just the celibacy that became too much for our virility driven PM – seems bringing food and medicine to ill people was far too onerous for, as someone pre-cognitively opined “this man should be a politician”.

    Abbott has yet to understand what is actually the meaning of empathy – as for self-reflection, he had no idea how much of his own failings were revealed in a letter, supposedly, to explain away his difficulties with St. Patrick’s. His relationship with the hard-line Pell acts as a bolster to his own prejudices – nothing to do with any true spirituality.

  16. Pingback: The Rise of Pope Francis | The Open Tabernacle: Here Comes Everybody

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