By John Haly
Has the cover-up of sexual abuse by the religious leaders in this country ceased, or is a culture of concealment still entrenched and showing up in new forms, as art (or what occurs to art) reflects life?
There is a pub in Newtown I walked past last week, in which the artist, Scott Marsh, was on a small scaffolding rig painting a multi-storeyed image of Abbott and Pell.
It was being painted in a rear alleyway at the back of a local pub. I could not recognise the characters as the painting had only recently started and thought to return later to see how it turned out.
Unfortunately, within 6 hours of it being completed – according to the staff at the Botany View Hotel – Pell’s image had been defaced with a paint splatter leaving only Abbott recognisable.
Sometime after that, it was entirely painted over in black allegedly by members of a right-wing Christian religious group, offended at the portrayal of Tony Abbott in a wedding dress beside a half-naked muscular Cardinal Pell.
An interview with a local resident revealed that earlier on, people had gathered to protest over the wall’s image on Friday night. While initially claiming to be Catholics complete with incense burners waving ceremoniously at the wall, my catholic informant noted some discrepancies in their “Catholic” behaviour. Upon befriending them – to seek further information – he learned they came from three separate Christian churches and were not the “Catholics” they initially pretended to be.
The vandalism of Scott Marsh’s work didn’t stop at the image of Abbott and Pell. A Facebook group called “Christian Lives Matter” instigated and provoked “Christians” to continue attacking Scott Marsh’s work which included a privately commissioned image of George Michael on Devine Street Reserve, painted by private commission a year ago. One person has been arrested for defacing that image, and another lost his job, when he was filmed defacing the mural while wearing his employer’s logo on his shirt. They are both facing fines for vandalising private property.
Social media from the “No” and “Yes” vote campaigns reacted. Abusive phone calls were received by the hotel staff and licensee. Lyle Shelton defended the vandalism equating either Pell and/or Abbott to religious leaders such as Mohamed. One might understand if it was an offensive image of Christ, but Cardinal Pell? All these factors have made me aware, that the fight for Equality for the Newtown’s community of diverse gender, sexuality and race, is far from over. (The Newtown electorate of Grayndler had a 79.9% “Yes” vote) An associate on Facebook titled his long opposing proclamation against the images with “Sodomite Nation!“.
“Sodomite Nation” is an interesting turn of phrase. It is more interesting to note – like the word “gay” – how the meanings of words change over time. Religious concerns about homosexuality are often based on the fallacious belief that sodomy, as it was expressed in the Bible, was about homosexuality – a word that didn’t emerge in English till the 19th century. The biblical text, although, had no such connotation. Even Robyn Whitaker from Trinity College pointed out that Sodomy, as it was revealed in the biblical literature, is about rape and sexual abuse. Sodom and Gomorrah is a story about people rocking up at your door wanting to break it in, to have their way with you or your guests. It’s not about love or sex; it’s about abuse, it’s about rape. If what happened to Lot and his family occurred today outside your house, you would phone the police, scream for your neighbours to help and load your shotgun in defence. It is not about sexual preferences it is about RAPE and SEXUAL ABUSE. It’s sure as hell not about LOVE – gay or otherwise!
That the church has illegitimately changed the meaning of the word is understandable if you’re in the Catholic priesthood, as you wouldn’t want the bible to be condemning your particular predilections towards activities you’re infamous for, concerning small children. Two men who defended Sodomy (in its original biblical meaning) were adorned in effigy on the back-wall of a Hotel at the end of Newtown. One representative guarded the other via enormous political power, while the other defended and hid perpetrators of a crime only to be rewarded by the Vatican, while the biblical God allegedly destroyed a city over that evil. Pell was himself accused of sexual abuse and although an unproven accusation, his defence and lack of concern for sexual predators in the church have been well established. The church whose original role as defenders of the poor and disenfranchised has been co-opted to enrich and protect the wealthy and powerful and further disempower the class it once served. Abbott content to safeguard this rising new religious force in the world, and set about bringing about changes in the political system to achieve more significant protections for this conservative “Christian” force. Abbott redirected funding from the Royal commission into sexual abuse which attacked his religious friends, to the probe into Labor’s insulation scheme which effectively attacked his political enemies.
These examples of this corruption of:
- language to misdirect people about the real sin of sodomy,
- identification and prosecution of sexual predators,
- justice by seeking to de-funding abuse investigations,
- the mission of the church to protect the poor, marginalised and our children, are becoming more efficient.
When considering what harm has been done to children generally by religious and political leadership, we need to consider the broader scope of injury.
- Attempting to protecting Pell and the church from an investigation into sexual abuse. Abbott and his support for Archbishop Pell’s character and redirection of funding belies Australia’s apparent repulsion for child abuse.
- Immigration detention and abuse of children which both Morrison and Dutton oversaw. This refugee child abuse was even confirmed by their own instigated investigation by Philip Moss confirming the abuse, as did the one by the Human Rights Commissioner.
- Increasing entrenched poverty for children by “attacking” single parents such as did Kevin Andrews by defunding of single parents via a thinly disguised excuse to rebuke their choice of children, over attempting to acquire rare full-time work. The examples of further political child abuse are numerous from cutting aid overseas, or locally by reducing the Child Care Subsidy, or removing access to the affordability support element under the Community Child Care Fund, or slashing $930.6 million so that family day care educators cannot receive Commonwealth child care fee assistance. These are just some of a list I have referenced before.
These actions are all being instituted by people who publicly claim a religious affiliation. To be fair, both the religious and political classes are acting entirely consistent with one another to attack what Christ most vehemently opposed. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”(Mark 9:42).
Christ said nothing about homosexuality. Although he did indicate that being a “born eunuch” (an ancient reference to homosexual men – Matthew 19:11-12) was a gift from God. On the other hand, Christ had a lot to say about abuse of children and the marginalisation of the “least” of people, as well as about Loving one another, which seems to be points that many in this conservative evangelical community appear to have missed. That anyone in the church could mount any defence for either Pell or Abbott speaks, in my mind, volumes about the person they choose to be.
So a local artist chooses to celebrate “love” as opposed to “abuse” by having painted two of the figureheads of “child abuse” on a wall in the back alleyway of a Pub in a manner that would be “offensive” to them. Scott Marsh recognised that both these men are offensive to the Newtown community. Art is supposed to challenge society, and it certainly seems to have been challenging to some. “Christians” from churches defended Pell and Abbott by painting over the image that apparently offended, despite that the wider community finds these two men, offensive! Who, pray tell me, stands on the higher moral ground? Is “art” and even the “obscuring of art” reflecting society or in this case segments of the church. It seems to me that the conservative church would still prefer, the sins of these men, were covered up.
This article was originally published on Australia Awaken.