Those who watched Q&A on Monday night might have been taken aback by US Biologist and Ecologist Dr Paul Ehrlich’s claim that religious instruction is child abuse.
Host Tony Jones had asked Dr Ehrlich whether he sang the US national anthem when he was at school. “We did, but we didn’t have child abuse required in those days. We didn’t have any religious instruction in the schools,”Dr Ehrlich said.
He went on to say, “That’s what Richard Dawkins and lots of other people have said; that you teach people details about non-existent supernatural monsters and then behave in reaction to what you think they are telling you. That’s child abuse. You don’t raise your kids that way,” Dr Ehrlich said.
If there is one thing I feel I am qualified to comment on, it is Catholic religious instruction in the 1950s and 60s. Make no mistake, it was child abuse and I am one of those “lots of other people” Ehrlich was referring to and I have been saying it for years.
Imagine if you will, an eight year old in grade three at a Marist Brothers’ College in Melbourne in 1953. Every day we had one 40 minute period set aside for Religion, i.e. Catholic instruction.
Fundamental to that period was to learn the Catechism, a simplistic question and answer booklet that gave the brothers the authority to brainwash, bully, threaten and physically punish us for not learning.
The particular version we were taught was approved by the Irish hierarchy in 1951, and was specially intended for teaching primary-school children, who were required to memorize each prescribed answer by rote.
That teaching, delivered as it was with all the certainty and ferocity of a tyrant stayed with me for decades before I was finally able to shake it off.
At a recent catch up with some old school friends, I found that I wasn’t alone. While some were able to dismiss it as superstitious rubbish from the moment they left school, others like me weren’t so lucky.
But we all agreed it was psychological abuse, deliberate and unyielding. So, when I listened to Paul Ehlrich describe it for what it was, I said, ‘Bravo’.
One of the Catholic Church’s principle teachings is that of free will. We choose either to resist temptation or succumb to it. More rubbish.
It took some time to realise that all our actions are determined by a long chain of prior causes in our lives; for example, bad genes, an unhappy childhood, good or bad experiences, good or bad education.
Am I exercising free will writing this article? No, I am responding, perhaps reacting to a comment heard on Q&A. This article is written conditional to that. If it is conditional, it cannot be free.
Religious instruction is meant to instruct us into believing something and to react accordingly, bypassing free will. When that instruction is based on a false foundation, unsupported by science, it is psychological abuse.
For any government to sanction such instruction in the classrooms of our most vulnerable, is unconscionable. Unfortunately, Ehrlich then stated that we should respect people who want to do that and in saying so, he let the monster back in the classroom.
Why should we respect people who want to fill our childrens’ heads with such rubbish as the Catholic catechism? Why should we allow our children to be taught human values dressed up as divine instruction?
Are there not enough nut cases out there who, on the basis of false information have reacted in ways that have caused untold damage and heartbreak to otherwise normal, gentle law abiding citizens?
When will we learn?
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“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
[Special Message to the Congress on the Internal Security of the United States, August 8, 1950]” ― Harry S Truman
If you think that Scott Morrison is justified in keeping “on-water” operations secret for safety and security reasons, perhaps you can explain to me why this secrecy extends to onshore activities like detention camps and gagging people who work with asylum seekers. Perhaps you can explain why the carers of the two boys, recently disappeared by Immigration officials, are too scared to speak out for fear of losing their job which is to make a home for these kids.
There is a concerted campaign going on to remove accountability, avoid questioning, and silence dissent and it is not just in the area of border protection. Advocacy groups for anyone other than industry are being systematically dismantled.
If you visit the government Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector website you will be greeted by the following message:
“Thank you for visiting the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector website.
On 18 September 2013 the Prime Minister, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, was sworn in by the Governor-General. On this day, the Governor General signed the Administrative Arrangements Order and the Social Inclusion Unit and the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector was disbanded.
The Minister for Social Services, the Hon Kevin Andrews MP, will have responsibility for the community sector, volunteering and philanthropy. The Minister for Human Services, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, will have responsibility for service delivery policy.”
We might have got a clue when Abbott announced his Cabinet. No Youth Ministry, No Early Childhood Ministry, No Science Ministry, No Climate Change Ministry, No Disability Ministry, No Aged Care Ministry, No Workplace Relations Ministry, No Multiculturalism Ministry, BUT there’s a Minister for ANZAC Day!
Another red flag was raised when the community sector was not represented on the Commission of Audit and it has not been invited to make a submission to the McClure Welfare Review being conducted by former Mission Australia chief executive Patrick McClure.
“As far as we know no one was invited to make a submission. The review has no terms of reference, has held no public meetings and has issued no interim discussion paper. We have had discussions behind closed doors but there’s been nothing in the open,” Ms Goldie, head of ACOSS, said.
And if any further proof was needed, there was the inexplicable decision to sack Graeme Innes, Disability Commissioner, and replace him with an IPA sock puppet.
Two weeks after the budget, Mr Morrison withdrew funding for the Refugee Council of Australia, which had been allocated in the budget papers, saying he and the government did not believe that “taxpayer funding should be there to support what is effectively an advocacy group”.
Government funding for a wide range of community organisations including ACOSS expires on December 31 after a budget decision to extend it for only six months while new long-term arrangements are developed.
The organisations have been told their grants might be put out to tender.
A vital component of Non Government Organisations (NGOs), as the name suggests, is that they remain independent of the government. Such independence is needed in order to effectively advocate for the marginalised, the environment and for those who can’t speak up for themselves. But because of a heavy reliance on government funding, and increasing use of gag clauses, NGOs are at risk of losing their vital independence.
Governments, at both the state and federal level, are increasingly contracting out services to independent providers, which is typically seen as a cost-cutting measure. As a result, more NGOs and community groups are providing services on behalf of government, in essence becoming contractors for government programs. As Browen Dalton noted recently in The Conversation, “Australia has a higher proportion of human services provided by [not for profits] than almost any other country, with the sector turning over $100 billion a year.”
However, this outsourcing means that NGOs are more reliant on government funding. And increasingly, government funding has come with heavy restrictions that threaten to jeopardise the indispensable independence of Australia’s NGOs.
The community sector plays a vital part in a democratic political system. These organisations are pivotal in shaping public advocacy and in representing those who fall through the cracks. They ensure that every person is considered in the democratic process. They also fill in the gaps where government services and programs fail. Community groups provide much needed services in homelessness support, education, refugee resettlement, disability care, arts, and many other community programs.
In a 1991 report, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Community Affairs stated:
“An integral part of the consultative and lobbying role of these organisations is to disagree with government policy where this is necessary in order to represent the interests of their constituents.”
The nature of government funding is a threat to this independence. As funding for some of the most vital services comes from government rather than through the public, it is the government decides which services are more important and inevitably controls the direction and delivery of such services. This model undermines the independence of NGOs, and ignores the expertise of those working on the ground to decide where services and funds need to be allocated.
Last year, the Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews, stated that “to benefit civil society as a whole, the Government has committed to abolishing the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, with repeal legislation to be introduced into Parliament next year”. He introduced a late amendment to the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 to delay the introduction of the Charities Act2013 from 1 January 2014 to September 2014. This was referred to a Senate Committee.
In February, the Centre for Independent Studies advised the Federal Government to act on its pre-election promise to abolish the ACNC it “is not achieving its main objectives, which were to improve public trust in the not-for-profit sector, reduce red tape, and police fraud and wrongdoing”. The vast majority of the sector disagrees.
In June we read that
The Senate Committee report into the abolition of the charity regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC), has failed to break the deadlock between the Government and other parties, and if the majority report is implemented it would be retrograde step for public trust and confidence in sector, the ACNC Advisory Board Chairman Robert Fitzgerald has warned.
Fitzgerald said despite 80 per cent of submissions received by the Senate Committee supporting the retention of the ACNC, the majority senate report recommended the ACNC Act be repealed.
“This recommendation was saying the Australian community had no right to information about a sector that receives substantial tax concessions and benefits every year. The charity and Not for Profit sector is one of Australia’s fastest growing and important sectors. It has taken 17 years, at least six inquiries, 2000 submissions and volumes of evidence to get an effective national regulatory model. And now the effect of the majority opinion is would be to undermine basic transparency, the tackling of duplicative reporting and proven and effective regulation.
By moving to abolish the ACNC, the Government is going against the tide: England and Wales has had an independent charity regulator for more than 160 years; Scotland and Singapore established regulators and a public charity register following charity scandals; New Zealand has had a charity regulator since 2005. In the last 12 months Ireland, Jamaica and now Jersey have moved to establish independent charity regulatory bodies and public registers. Hong Kong has also recommended establishing a public charity register.
Since the ACNC’s inception, three separate surveys have each found an 80 per cent satisfaction rate with respondents supporting the ACNC.
In a relative short period of time, the ACNC has created Australia’s first free, publicly available national charity register, provided sound education and advice services to support charities in their governance, and implemented the Charity Portal and Charity Passport, which is critical to reducing duplicative reporting across government.
It is now a matter for the Parliament to determine if it wishes to have an efficient and effective regulator, or return to a regulatory regime that will ultimately increase compliance burdens on the sector and fail to deliver transparency to the Australian public.”
Since the 2013 election
Social Inclusion Board
National Housing Supply Council
Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness
National Policy Commission on Indigenous Housing
National Children and Family Roundtable
Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing
Immigration Health Advisory Group
Refugee Council of Australia
Australian Youth Affairs Council
Alcohol and Drug Council of Australia
National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services
Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council
Australian Treasury Advisory Council
Not for Profit Advisory Group to the ATO
Innovation and Technology Working Group
Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership
Indigenous Advisory Council
Aged Care Sector Committee
Note: Two groups who argued vehemently for the abolition of a watchdog were the Catholic Church through Cardinal Pell’s office and the IPA. The ATO will now be asked to take over the duties of watchdog even though they will be shedding about 900 staff over the next six months. Happy days for tax cheats.
The article on the AIMN by Sean Stinson, May 25th entitled, “CATHOLIC SCHOOLBOYS RULE” was so well presented, I thought it deserved a follow up article to further articulate its message. Twistie 1, who was one of several who joined in the discussion captured the mood best for me when he wrote, “I have little doubt that Abbott is a psychopath who is incapable of empathy. He uses religion as a facade against his inherent wickedness. He is not the first, and will undoubtedly not be the last, to do so.”
As one who endured the cruelty of Catholic Church teaching in the 1950/60s, it doesn’t surprise me that so many like me still carry the psychological baggage Catholic teaching generated about Hell and Purgatory. It wasn’t until my late forties that I began to see through the facade of Catholic teaching and its inherent evil. I think I am one of the lucky ones who through education, logic and reasoning was able to extract myself from its tentacles. There are many people I know who, although they see the flaws in church teaching, are so entrapped by the fear of everlasting hellfire that even reason and logic won’t displace it.
Then there are people like Tony Abbott.
If Abbott actually believes in the teachings of the Church, as opposed to simply using them as a tool to further his political agenda, I would be surprised. I am similarly unimpressed by his mentor, George Pell. I suspect Abbott, like Pell, is so seduced by the power that such teachings offer to men in high places that it becomes a defining feature of their character. I suspect Abbott saw the priesthood as an avenue to that power but later realised there was still greater power in politics. I suspect he realised that in politics he could combine the notion of spiritual power, which he has cleverly crafted, with secular power, which he now has; using one to help achieve the other makes psychopaths very dangerous. Having a cabinet dominated by men who feel the same way makes such a government even more dangerous. Malcolm Fraser has tried to warn us of the danger he recognises in Abbott. Men who lust after power have no respect for democracy but will use it to advance their personal agenda.
My experience in the Catholic Church leads me to believe that it has no respect for democracy either and Abbott and many of his cabinet are a product of that environment. I think they are less interested in the parliament than they are in power. They are guided by the politics of opportunism. They seize upon moments of confusion and uncertainty to capture the hearts and minds of the weak-minded, the easily lead. This is how they were able to so skilfully convince that 4-6% of the electorate who changed their vote last September.
It may be that Abbott is more Catholic than Christian. His attitude to the poor, the downtrodden, the weak, the vulnerable, the dispossessed and the unemployed suggests so. The Princes of the Church have always pretended to champion these, the least of their brethren, while living the high life, strutting about the world preaching one message while practising another. I would like to know how many of the Catholic contingent of the current cabinet are also members of Opus Dei. As stated on the Opus Dei website, “The aim of Opus Dei is to contribute to that evangelising mission of the Church, by promoting among Christians of all social classes a life fully consistent with their faith, in the middle of the ordinary circumstances of their lives and especially through the sanctification of their work.” If one reads between the lines it is not hard to identify a sinister fundamentalist agenda in that statement. Opus Dei is a strong defender of the Catholic position on matters of social morality particularly in the realm of marriage, abortion and euthanasia and its members are expected to influence government policies in these areas. While professing the importance of faith in their agenda, their aim is overwhelmingly to further Catholic teaching. Faith is the smokescreen.
But it is in the field of science that the Catholic Church is the most vulnerable and it is no surprise to me that climate change, one of the most divisive issues we currently face, is where we find our present Catholic government resisting so vehemently. Without a minister for Science, what does that say about its true intent? The Catholic Church teaches Christianity but it does not practice it. Most of its priests, brothers and lay workers devote their lives to the Christian message but they are ruled by a bureaucracy that conveniently ignores it in favour of furthering its own wealth and influence. That bureaucracy rules under the principle, ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ Do Abbott and his cabinet belong to this bureaucracy? We don’t know. We can only speculate. But we can make a considered judgement by their actions. Not in what they say, but in what they do. Their appalling betrayal of our trust with the recent federal budget is a good guide as to their intentions.
So where does that leave we, the people, whose trust has been so ruthlessly violated? As it was so eloquently articulated by a member of the audience on Q&A this week, when politicians promise something so deliberately before an election only to reverse their position within months of winning, there should be some mechanism where the people can call for a referendum on whether they want that government to continue its term in office. When company board members deliberately mislead shareholders there is a mechanism to have them removed. We the citizens of Australia are far more important than shareholders in a corporation yet, as matters stand, we are powerless to call our elected leaders to account other than every three years.
When one feels so deceived, so cheated by those who abuse our trust, there should be some form of redress to set right what is wrong.
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.