The rise of Catholicophobia


The IndependentRecently I've been asked to discuss Islamophobia on several ABC stations. This issue has come to the fore as a result of the threat of Koran-burning by a fundamentalist preacher in Florida. However, I've never been asked to talk about 'Catholicophobia' or, to put it bluntly, 'putting the boot into the Micks'. Generally I think Catholics should 'cop it sweet', although my patience is at present getting pretty thin.

Take the responses to a thoughtful opinion piece by UK Prime Minister David Cameron reprinted in the Fairfax media yesterday. Entitled 'Faith is a gift to be cherished, not a problem to be overcome', Cameron speaks of John Henry Newman 'as one of the greatest Englishmen' and refers specifically to his view of conscience. He also refers to his work 'as a simple parish priest' in Birmingham. He comments that 'Like other faith groups, the Catholic Church proclaims a message of peace and justice to the world' and says the UK government shares the same ideals.

But it is the sentiments in the blog that follows that are most interesting. Take this: 'The Pope; mouthpiece for the Great Sky Fairy, instiller of fear, harbinger of rites, rituals, and other blithering nonsense, perpetuator of ignorance, bringer of pointless mumbo-jumbo, leader of a mega-rich theocracy that sucks its adherents dry to lavish its temple walls with gold.'

Or this: 'The Catholic Church has either been the instigator or has been complicit in so many wrongs perpetrated against humanity.' Or this: 'The end of organised religion can not come around soon enough. There are already studies that show secular democracies, with a large atheist base, are better societies to live in than faith based societies.' And so on. The Rock, the Protestant paper, is far from dead!

All of the blogs are anonymous, of course. These are people too cowardly to put their full names to such views. But they are not alone. Liberal broadsheets in the UK such as The Independent and The Guardian, the BBC, Channel 4 and the chattering classes generally have been falling over themselves to publicly criticise Catholicism and Benedict XVI. Take actor Stephen Fry: 'You can't be part of an autocratic kingdom on Earth like the Catholic place is and claim to be a spiritual leader and expect the British taxpayer to foot the bill for your visit.'

Anti-Catholicism is a staple that goes back as far as 'Bloody Mary' in British history. Newman himself suffered from it. In the infamous Achilli trial for criminal defamation in the 1850s Newman was tried before an openly anti-Catholic Evangelical, Lord Chief Justice Campbell, was found guilty and at his sentencing was hectored from the bench for half an hour — Newman described it as 'a horrible jobation' — by Mr Justice Coleridge.

He was told that he, one of 'the bright lights of Protestantism', was much changed for the worse since he became a papist. As Newman says: 'He held me up as a 'spectacle' how men deteriorate when they became Catholics.'

This is not to say that Catholicism has nothing to answer for. The sexual abuse crisis has understandably created a justifiably horrible impression in the public at large. But the problem is that caricatures quickly become facts. For instance the UK Independent reported that 'over 10,000 people have come forward [in the US] to say they were raped [by priests] as part of this misery-go-round'.

In a clinical analysis of these figures the web page Spiked shows that 1203 individuals, not 10,667, were raped by priests in the legal meaning of the word. Of course, this is appalling, but it shows how caricatures morph into facts. The web page does a similar analysis for Ireland.

Geoffrey Robertson QC has been one of the 'no popery' advocates claiming that Benedict XVI should be arrested and put on trial because as Cardinal Ratzinger he ran a parallel system of justice — canon law. He implies that this was highly secret.

Whatever you might think of canon law it was hardly secret; I have a copy here on my reference desk.

One of the issues in conflict is whether the Vatican is a state. It certainly has a longer claim than any other state in Europe, having been established as the Republic of St Peter in the seventh century with continuous existence until 1870. The popes never surrendered their claims, and the Vatican City State was established in the Lateran Treaties of 1929. DFAT Australia's position is that this 'small territorial base' gives the Holy See 'recognition as an independent sovereign entity in international law'.

As I said: many Catholics have learned to 'cop it sweet' and not take themselves too seriously. After all, Catholicism is a big target. But there comes a point where you have to say something, and I think the papal visit to the UK might just be it.

Although I must admit I almost despaired yesterday morning when I read Cardinal Walter Kasper's remarks that 'when you land at Heathrow [Airport] you think at times you have landed in a Third World country'. He went on to say: 'Above all, an aggressive new atheism has spread through Britain.'

What a stupid, ham-fisted comment from a man who should know better! 

Paul CollinsAuthor and historian Paul Collins is a former specialist editor — religion for the ABC.


Topic tags: Paul Collins, Benedict, UK, papal visit, geoffrey robertson



submit a comment

Existing comments

The following gives a present day view and understanding of the experience of survivors of clergy abuse and the continuing cover up.

Be shocked by the global estimates of the numbers of those sexually abused by Catholic clergy.

Feel free to publish my name

John Brown
Sexually abused at age 8
Had my best friend kicked and die when attempting to speak out, had my inheritance stolen at age 14, encountered nothing but hypocrisy, lies and deceit when attempting to deal with Carelink and the Melbourne process.

Read about how the church has responded to my friend Angie

What would you do if this was your neighbor?

John Brown (JohnB) | 17 September 2010  

Not just Cardinal Kasper who should know better. Read what the Pope said:

Jill Kitson | 17 September 2010  

It must be possible to draw a line between legitimate criticism of a flawed institution and Catholic-bashing, but sometimes it seems very hard to see where it's placed.

Any negative statement about Heathrow airport will resonate with travellers who have passed through its doors; if it's not extended to the country as a whole it seems legitimate to me. I personally remember with gratitude the man who said "I didn't understand the dread words 'terminal illness' until I saw Heathrow for myself."

Ham-fisted the Vatican official may have been; we can only hope that he will open the way for international celebrity travellers to answer "How do you like our beautiful country?" as they step out the aircraft door with a little more truth and without the obligatory gush.

In criticism of Catholicism I'm sure that we'd like facts not lies, specifics rather than generalisations, and an absence of hostility. It may warm our hearts to hear 'Faith is a gift to be cherished, not a problem to be overcome' but isn't the reality of Catholicism for most of us both of these things?

Are we looking here at a belief that the in-group may legitimately criticise, but we should always close ranks against a critical outsider? This, after all, is the position which bred cover-ups of critical abuse, but it's alive and well.

"The father forgave his son for criticising him" wrote a regional Monsigneur of the Prodigal Son gospel recently. Real father don't forgive their children's criticism, nor begin to pray prayers of reconciliation. They painfully admit that much of the criticism is justified, apologise, and begin to negotiate how their responses might change.

I'm with Stephen Fry in his description of Catholicism as "an autocratic kngdom on earth." Aren't you, Paul Collins?

Anna Summerfield | 17 September 2010  

Can I offer an interpretation of modern Catholicism, starting from the temptations of Jesus.

When Jesus was working out how to spread the good news he had for the world, he was hit by three bright ideas. ONE: Get rich (get your bread for nothing) and then people will listen to you; just look at the way Dick Smith gets straight into the paper whenever he opens his mouth. TWO: Get powerful; just look at the way Prime Ministers and such are listened to. THREE: Give them some razzle-dazzle (jump off the highest building in town and walk away unharmed) and they will listen.

Jesus recognised these as temptations and faced the fact that the only way to spread his message was to slog away at showing people that he loved them.

In the second Vatican Council the body of Christ faced the fact that it is subject to those same temptations and, unlike Jesus himself, often gives way to them. We resolved not to do this any more and not to waste our time and effort on trying to spread our message through wealth, power and razzle-dazzle. Placet, placet, placet, said the bishops and we all cheered. Then the Council broke up and we all agreed to take a cold shower; this cold shower has now gone on since 1964.

When an Australian woman has an abortion - in good conscience we can only assume - and feels terrible, does she ever say to herself: "Well at least the Catholics love me"? We put so much effort into hating the sin that we have no energy left to love the sinner. And I can't find who originally told us to hate the sin as well as love the sinner.

The population of England was subjected to a long, expensive, clever barrage of anti-Catholic propaganda from Queen Eliazabeth I's time onwards. In this country we Catholics don't make nearly enough allowance for the extent to which our Protestant cousins took in fear and hatred of Catholicism with their mothers' milk, and we expect of them a level of openness towards our ways of thinking, which is beyond most of them.

Cardinal Newman's dressing down by the judge was no doubt unpleasant, but he should not have been surprised by it. And we should not surprised by the likes of Stephen Fry and Geoffrey Robertson - two good men by any measure available to us.

The sexual molestation stories are not the base cause of current anti-Catholicism, just more fuel for the old flames.

Jim Jones | 17 September 2010  

I was brought up in PNG where the Catholic nuns and priests were the people who cared for the lepers, fed the poor, advocated for those who had no voice, and made great sacrifices to care for others. There is much good and social justice being carried out by the Catholics...and I am saddened that such a virulent anti-catholic cry is being applied wholesale without regard for those thousands of church people quietly doing very good things for those who people generally don't hear about; who care deeply for their parishes and for the world around them; who bear pain and believe wrongs such as John Brown's must be righted.

John Brown, that your and other's harm by clergy should not go unpunished or opened to the scrutiny of justice also. Your pain and damage should be answered, just as all other survivors of abuse by family, neighbours and non-religious.

But it's mean to be hateful to those thousands of people who cherish their faith simply and quietly; to those who value the history and aesthetics that Catholicism underpins in the Western world; yet who still recognise the terrible things that man has done in the name of religion - like all the terrible things done in every country's history under one banner or another.

It's not to say that stupid and wrong actions and words are taken or said - after all, the Church is a very big target full of very different sorts of people.

But I think it's wrong to go after people who are quietly doing good things and who are being singled out for vilification simply because of their faith.

This is not acceptable under a multicultural and 'free' society.

John Brown, I hope you do find the answer and support for your pain...and no, I am not a religious person.

Helen Bergen | 17 September 2010  

The Church of England is a remarkable church, able at its best to accommodate almost every kind of Gospel expression. When the first Queen Elizabeth brought about the settlement of religion, she did so in part to solve the religious divisions destroying the social harmony of the realm. She prayed like a Catholic and governed like a Protestant. The reception of the Pope in the reign of the second Elizabeth, in both its friendly and hostile forms, is revealing just how seriously the English take religion, for all their apparent indifference. While the Archbishop of Canterbury welcomes the Pope to Lambeth Palace, others want the Pontiff put before an international court of justice. History runs deep. The adolescent rants of some atheists fill the blogosphere, but the papal visit to England is significant in raising questions in the English mind about what is good religion, not about whether we should have religion. Added to this mix is the peculiar, but not unexpected, misunderstanding about the English churches (Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, &c.) displayed by the Bavarian Bishop of Rome and his European episcopal brothers. Politics is inevitable, but ignorance about the ways of the Other lays the groundwork for further conflict.

PHILIP HARVEY | 17 September 2010  

I thought much the same when I read this article in the Herald. I emailed it to a friend and commented not on the little that Newman was mentioned in the article, but the relentless attack that followed in the comments. I'm pretty thick skinned, but was sitting there in absolute amazemen at how thick and fast those comments were made. Many of them very baseless and highly emotional. That is ot to deny there are real problems in the Church.
Friends and others are also going to town on this visit on social media sites. Too much focus on Benny and not enough focus on Newman I think.

The man left Oxford for a little parish in Birmingham, he had concern for the poor, and cared more for the gift of faith than the prestige of rational enquiry.

Damien | 17 September 2010  

Dear Paul, I always look forward to your contributions in the media, reasoned and articulate and makes me think there are still good Catholics around!

This is because I have a dual Catholic/Protestant heritage born in Birmingham UK - my mum having been baptised at the Oratory(Little Rome) as an orphan - can't remember a thing of her first 9 years at Rednal orphanage, except for the time they were rounded up and given a new coat because they were going on an Australia.

I grew up hearing stories about the torture and brutality from the nuns.
That's not to say mum didn't talk of the cultural beauty and spiritualism she experienced.

Perhaps naievely, it is the Hypocrisy of 'the Church' which hits a raw nerve. And as a woman, where my autonomy for reproductive rights and the suffering of women in Africa continues because of policies of no condoms and spread of HIVAIDS is right.
I avoid joining a religion because of my bi-polarity, it causes pain. Maybe Stephen Fry too.

I am sure many thinking, chattering members have been victim of Christian patriarchal harm, and now find it safer to protect ourselves with humanist secularism as a guide.

Julie | 17 September 2010  

It is sad that those who shout the loudest and are intolerant tend to attract most attention in our news media. This applies to various controversies including the current one relating to the Catholic Church.
It may be boring,and difficult,but we should aim at getting the balance right: tolerance of various religious beliefs and practices but drawing the line when innocent people are unduly wronged.

In the case of the scandals within the Church, the evils should be acknowledged and deplored – including the attempts by senior Church figures to hide the problems.

But fairness demands that the great majority of Catholic clergy, who continue to strive to spread and live by principles of good conduct should be respected and admired. As should genuine people of other faiths – and those who acknowledge they cannot honestly profess any religious belief.

Bob Corcoran | 17 September 2010  

Middle-class, secularised left "liberals' who control the mass media and much of the socio-political establishment in the West villify the Catholic Church because of its stand on three fundamental issues: abortion; homosexualiy; and women priests.

Forget the Church's oceanic contribution to education, social welfare and the arts over the centuries, forget its body of justice and peace doctrine - these three are the only issues that really matter.

This puts the Church in a bind because its position on all three issues is a matter of divine law and is, therefore, immutable.

The Catholic Church is the last bastion of Christian civilisation, doctrinal orthodoxy and moral truth left standing.

The churches of the Reformation tradition have, for the most part, run up the white flag. Separated eastern Christianity keeps its head down.

Thus, the full hysterical rage of atheistic secularism falls on the Catholic Church and its earthly leader, the Pope.

This explains the calculatedly lying and distorted presentation by the media of the sexual crimes of a tiny minority of priests, religious sisters and brothers and lay people and the criminal episcopal cover-up, crimes committed - let it not be forgotten - in defiance of the spiritual values, moral teachings and professional expectations of the Catholic Church.

Faithful Catholics can take some comfort in this because Christ promised that those who are his true disciples WILL be persecuted.

And it is undoubtedly going to get worse for anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable middle-class prejudice.

It also suggests the truth of what Vatican II taught about the Catholic Church - that it, and it alone, contains the fulness of the Church of Christ - despite all of the faults and failings of its members.

Sylvester | 17 September 2010  

In response to "Catholicophobia"; there are bigots and hypocrites of all persuasions ranting against those of all other persuasions... such is life. But it must be allowed that some Catholic clergy have hidden and are still trying desperately to minimise a terrible wrong.

What could be more desperate than the report of the Pope's answer to questions submitted to him before his journey to the UK? In response to a query regarding the abuse of children by priests the Pope replied [I quote the reporter]

"abusive priests should never have access to children and that they suffer from an illness that mere "goodwill" cannot cure."
It appears, from this papal pronouncement, that we can now discount 'evil' from such monstrous crimes as have been committed against 'these, my little ones'.

I believe humans have choices between all extremes of good and evil; that is an integral part of the glory of being human. Now we have 'evil' discounted as 'illness'. Shame on the Pope. He would appear to be one of the causes should "Catholicophobia " intensify.

Caroline Storm | 17 September 2010  

Herewith some propostions in response to Sylvester's declarations. Consider carefully. The Catholic Church is not the final word on matters of divine law, nor are all its teachings immutable. The Catholic Church is not the last bastion of Christian civilisation, doctrinal orthodoxy and moral truth left standing. The churches of the Reformation tradition have not run up some ‘white flag’. Eastern Christianity does not keep its head down. The full hysterical rage of atheistic secularism does not fall on the Catholic Church alone and its earthly leader, the Pope. Faithful Catholics are not the only Christian disciples who will be persecuted for his sake. It is not necessarily going to get worse for anti-Catholicism. Anti-Catholicism is not the last acceptable middle-class prejudice. The Catholic Church is not the one Church that alone contains the fullness of Christ, despite all of the faults and failings of its members.

Desiderius Erasmus | 17 September 2010  

RE the Papacy, there is more to answer for than sexual abuse - you fail to mention that this is a criminal offence for the rest of us! What about the forbidding of condom use in countries riddled with HIV/AIDS and with cultures that are incompatible with this prohibition?

Jennifer Raper | 17 September 2010  

Really, I think that Paul Collins is being a little too kind to the Catholic Church! Of course the Christain religion has brought may positives to the development of human civilisation and maybe at some stages was the major driving force for positive reform although there have always also been a number of atrocity carried out in the name of the "only true religion".

It is now largely a negative force on such things as the rights of women, the rights of children, contraception etc, etc.

I'm not sure what the figures about rape mean.

Is rape only intercourse by force. If it does not involve full intercourse and involves only the use of your assumed Godly authority to "overpower" the child is that somehow not as bad.

There are many fine people doing excellent humanitarian work in the Catholic Church but it is not unfair to assume that the present hierarchy in the Vatican think that a "strong" church with a "few" pedophiles is better than a pluralist society where atheists are allowed to voice their views.

Malcolm Campbell | 17 September 2010  

It is not only the Roman Catholic Church that suffers from virulent criticism. I would have thought that Islamophobia is more prevalent that the Catholic variety, at least in the West. The problem is not with individual organisations but with those which claim some sort of divine knowledge which one cannot refute, because it is supposed to be divine. Pretty well all faiths have this problem. There is also a historical basis to it. When I was a child & adolescent one needed real courage to speak out about aspects of Christian teaching which, to a thinking person (this thinking person anyway), seemed wrong, ridiculous & even evil as the accepted social norm was not to criticise a church. Now we have societal permission to look at what seems wrong so we have a rash of often ridiculously strident criticisms. The Catholic Church does open itself to criticism more than many other churches with its stand on abortion, women in the church & above all homosexuality. It also cannot escape its history of abuse. Of course there are very good Catholics just as there are very good atheists. But when I read comments like those posted by ‘Sylvester’ I feel justified in being critical, even hostile. Whatever happened to loving kindness, brotherly love, forgiveness?

Rosemary West | 17 September 2010  

Hmmmmm.....not a terribly enlightening response, Desiderius Erasmus.

Yes, indeed, Caroline Storm, such is life, but bigotry against the Catholic Church is acceptable in a way that no other is. Anybody making against Jews, blacks, Muslims, homosexuals, women, at al., the kinds of comments that are routinely made against Catholicism finds him/herself pilloried in the media or consigned to the dungeons of the Human Rights Commission quick smart. All that is being asked for is fairness, equity and consistency.

I don't accept your interpretation of the Pope's remarks made to journalists on the way to Britain. Go back and read his statements very clearly: Church authority was not sufficiently vigilant and fast moving; the sexual abuse of minors is a 'perversion'; priority is to be given to giving material, psycholodical and spiritual help to traumatised victims; the guilty are to be punished; the young are to be protected; greater care is to be shown in the selection and formation of candidates for church ministry, the unsuitable to be dismissed as soon as possible.

I suspect that for people like Catherine Storm there is nothing that the Pope or the Church could conceivably do or say that would satisfy - and that is suggestive of bigotry.

As to the dichotomy between "illness' and "evil", clearly anybody who abuses children in this way has a mental/emotional/ethical development problem and needs help. We need to understand why these terrible things happen. People are not evil, human acts are evil. Forty years ago "illness" replaced "sin" as an explanation for wrong doing. In this view of things, what perpetrators need is not conversion but therapy for they are victims just as much as the inncocent. The Church was ridiculed at the time for trying to hold on to notions of evil, sin, free will and personal responsibility. Now it looks as if all that is back - at least for Catholic priests.

Sylvester | 17 September 2010  

Jennifer Raper - condom use does not lower the rate of HIV/AIDS infection. In some social contexts it increases the rate. Condoms are not fail safe. They encourage risky behaviour. They encourage people to avoid taking personal responsibility for their actions. The Pope is acting rightly when he points out these facts. AIDS can be stopped, not by mechanical devices, but by a change of personal values and behaviours. Some countries in Africa, such as Uganda, have seen a dramatic fall in AIDS infection as the result of an approach based on chastity - fidelity within marriage and abstinence outside it. Sure, it is challenging but where it is seriously tried it works.

Malcolm Campbell - the Catholic Church has been a leader in raising the status of women through history. The Church invented education for girls. Interesting that you accuse the Church of being a negative force on the rights of children at a time when it is one of the few organisations trying to protect the right of unborn children to live and is a world leader in developing protocols and procedures to protect children from sexual abuse. On what basis do you assume that 'the present hierarchy in the Vatican think that a "strong" church with a "few" pedophiles is better than a pluralist society where atheists are allowed to voice their views'? That line smacks of bigotry.

Rosemary West - What is it in my post that conflicts with 'loving kindness, brotherly [sic] love, forgiveness'?

To all of you - contraception and homosexual acts are radically incompatible with the Catholic philosophy of the meaning of human sexuality. Contraception destroys the opennes to the generation of new human life which is proper to a naturally fertile act of intercourse; homosexuality is radically incapable of fulfilling one of the basic purposes of human sexuality - procreation - and is incapable of expressing the complementarity of the sexes which is essential to authentic human sexuality.

This is the way the Catholic Church sees sexual relations. People can accept it or reject it as they will, but they should try to understand it and refrain from villifying the Church because of its beliefs. After we are, are we not, a pluralist society?

By the way, the Catholic Church does not force people to stop using condoms, practising contraception or indugling in homosexual acts. People are free to make their own decisions. The Church simply offers guidance as to why these behaviours are not in accordance with human dignity. The one area where the Church does favour civil legislative constraints is abortion because abortion is a grave denial of the rights of another human being.

Sylvester | 17 September 2010  

As an atheist, through a friend I have nevertheless been aware of, and applauded the great work done by sections of the Catholic church in South-east Asia. (I'm even more aware of that done by the Salvos). In addition, I have also considered Father Paul Collins to be a voice of moderation.

However, I am the father of four daughters and when he gives a scant two lines to the outrageous global child abuse committed by clergy trusted to care for the young in their charge, and when the current Pope focuses his sympathies on the admitted "ill" priests rather than the blighted victims, I am speechless. Are we really saying that the perpetrators were not known? Are we really saying that each case should not immediately have been reported to the police? And when Bob C intones about "balance", I reach for my six-gun. The first step in ensuring balance is to halt the cover-ups, the excuss and the obfuscations. A crime is a crime no matter how honourable are the deeds by other members of the organization.

The Catholic church is a social as well as a religious organization and any offence against society such as child abuse should be summarily and unequivocally dealt with through the laws which we are all bound to observe.

Bill Hampel | 17 September 2010  

Here are some further terribly enlightening responses to the unsubtle dogmatisms of the loved, lovable and redoutable Sylvester. These are supplied in order to appreciate that an opposite statement can be just as true as the original. Any ironies are in the eye of the beholder. So, here we go.

Bigotry against the Catholic Church is not acceptable in the same way that any other bigotry is acceptable. Comments routinely made against Catholicism are consigned to the dungeons of the Human Rights Commission. Church authority is sufficiently vigilant and fast moving over the sexual abuse of minors. There is almost anything that the Pope or the Church could conceivably do or say that would remedy this situation. People can be evil and human acts can be evil. Forty years ago "illness" did not replace "sin" as an explanation for wrong doing. The Church was not ridiculed at the time for trying to hold on to notions of evil, sin, free will and personal responsibility. Condoms are not always fail safe. Condoms do not encourage risky behaviour. The Catholic Church has not been a leader in raising the status of women through history. The Church did not invent education for girls. The present hierarchy in the Vatican thinks that a "strong" church with a "few" pedophiles is better than a pluralist society where atheists are allowed to voice their views: this line is a statement of fact and does not smack of bigotry. Contraception and homosexual acts are not radically incompatible with the philosophy held by many Catholics about the meaning of human sexuality. The Catholic Church forces people to stop using condoms.

Desiderius Erasmus | 17 September 2010  

To Sylvester;since you believe that Catholics are more stigmatised than women, Muslims, Jews and homosexuals, it could be positive, and protective of the Church, if you presented a report to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. They are an excellent organisation who have protected hundreds of persons and groups from discrimination. From 2011 the Commission can prosecute breaches in its own right.

Suspicions of my bigotry are ill-founded; I have rejoiced in some of the statements of the more recent Popes.

There is no dichotomy between evil and illness. There is a dichotomy between good and evil. Pope Benedict has made many prouncements regarding the recent abuses in the Church which I have read. I am shocked by today's report of his conflation of evil acts with clerical "illness". As you have noted, the Pope said the guilty should be punished. But one should not punish those who are so severely mentally ill that they are incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, right and wrong. I am not aware of any religious who have claimed severe mental illness as an extenuating factor. The Pope is wrong to postualte "illness" as a reason for the crimes.

Caroline Storm | 17 September 2010  

I don't mind 'copping it sweet'. Yes, I'm tired of anti-Catholic sentiment, particularly as so much is based on preconceptions of what the Catholic Church is, rather than a comprehensive knowledge (and understanding) of the Church beautifully experienced by many Catholics, myself included.

And for this reason I am ashamed and embarrassed about the way in which cases of sexual abuse were handled, and victims mistreated. I'm appalled by the money spent defending cases which require admission of guilt, an apology and restitution - as Catholics are expected themselves to practice as part of our faith. I am also aware of cases which have never been brought to light, and I fear that many of the public cases are the tip of the iceberg.

Fortunately, the majority of priests (in my experience) are some of the most amazing, pastoral and wonderful people I know. I am sad that these men are tarred with the same brush as the offenders, and beyond 'copping it sweet' I try to communicate the good work of such people, and the wider church, to anyone making broad-brush statements about the 'evil' within Catholicism.

MBG | 17 September 2010  

I'm with you on this one, Paul. Like many Catholic women, I'm constantly trembling on the brink of shaking the Catholic dust from my feet and departing forever - and the revelations re the official Church response to sexual abuse cases hasn't helped a bit. However, Stephen Fry can draw me back from the brink on occasion. The last time was when the Tablet reported him as saying that he supported "The Passage" because it wasn't run by the Church - people, not the Church, help the homeless(!!) If Cardinal Hume, the Daughters of Charity and thousands of ordinary people all over Britain who support The Passage aren't the Church, who is? Suddenly I remember who the Church really is, and I don't want to leave it, this time anyway.

Perhaps the lunatic exaggerations of the apparently reputable Press may have a similar effect on some of us. (And JohnB, that doesn't mean I forget or forgive what was done and is being done to you and others like you, either).

Joan Seymour Albion, Vic. | 17 September 2010  

I am sure you can do better than that, Desiderius. You are letting your namesake down.

Caroline - As ideologically-driven, politically- motivated, self-perpetuating bureaucracies, equal epportunities and human rights bureaucracies are part of the problem not the solution. As prosecuting agents they will become kangaroo courts.

The Pope did not conflate evil acts with clerical illness. He said that we need to take into account the possibility of mental illness as the cause or a factor in a complex of causes of clerical abusive behaviour (or, indeed, any abusive behaviour). We need to make an effort to find out why these things have happened so that we might discover the truth and have a chance of preventing them in the future. Alternatively, we can rest secure in our prejudices.


Sylvester | 17 September 2010  

Well actually I think we ARE a big enough target to 'cop it sweet'. And what Stephen Fry, and others, have said is absolutely true. Hey Sylvester, there is nothing in divine law that supports or justifies the views on conraception, abortion, homosexuality or women priests that are imposed on us, the people, by the men at the top. Like many Muslim men who erroneously use the Koran to justify their bigotry against women, the men at the top of the Church do the same. Thankfully, most Catholics have diametrically opposite views to the bishops on all of these matters.

Anna McCormack | 18 September 2010  

Why is it that when the Catholic Church is criticised rightly for it's wrongs it becomes Catholicphobia?

The chuch insidiously interferes in the public sphere and should be criticised for it.

It isn't Catholicphobia, it is self-defence.

Trevor Melksham | 18 September 2010  

I am not sure where you are coming from, Anna McCormack, when you refer to the divine law. The Protestant principle of "sola scriptura" recognises the Bible as the only revealer of the divine will. But, to the Bible, the Catholic tradition adds sacred tradition (= the oral tradition received from the apostles), the sacred magisterium (= the teaching authority of the Church) and the natural law (= human access by reason to the moral law established by the Creator). Jesus promised that His Spirit of truth will abide with the Church until the end of time. When the magisterium of the Catholic Church declares definitively on a matter of faith and morals, that is the voice of Jesus' Spirit of truth. So, on the basis of a cluster of reasons drawn from sacred scripture, sacred tradition, previous authoritative teachings and the natural law we do, indeed, know that abortion, contraception, homosexual acts and priestesses are contrary to the divine will.

Trevor Melksham - The Catholic Church does not object to being criticised for its wrongs. It does object to being singled out for malicious, hysterical, irrational tirades while the wrongs of other ways of life, organisations and points of view are protected by political correctness. We do not object, for instance, to priests and other church workers being denounced for harming children or to bishops being excoriated for negligence or incomptence but we do object to the Pope being described, as Christopher Hitchens does, as 'the criminal mastermind of an international ring of pedophiles' or to the suggestion that Catholic priests are more prone to sexual crimes against children than any other group in society.

In other words, Catholiocs do not object to legitimate criticism but they do object to 'Christophobia' - a better term, by the way, than 'Catholicophobia' which is hard to say, especially after a couple of glasses of shiraz at a dinner party.

Why do you call the Catholic Church's participation in the public forum of ideas 'insidious interference'? Are other groups who express points of view and lobby for them, such as the Greens, the Emily's List, the ACTU, the Farmers' Federation, homosexualist activists, etc., etc., also 'insidiously interfering'?

Sylvester | 18 September 2010  

Good on you Helen you have summarised the thoughts of many of us I'm sure Let's begin to look for the good things that have been achieved by the Catholic Community as a whole over many years.

Sheila van Gent | 18 September 2010  

Congratulations for this fair article.

José Martínez de Toda, S.J. | 20 September 2010  

I have long been an admirer of Paul Collins through his books and his media career on television and radio.

But I feel the need to disagree strongly with him about Catholicophobia. I am about Paul's age, brought up as an Anglican in Brisbane, and like most kids our age, learned the "us and them" mentality (RCs vs non-Catholics . . . to use that charming negative description! . . . that he seems to be complaining about.

Amongst my friends and acquaintances today, this division of society has become irrelevant . . . the qustion now seems to be . . . are you religious or not--and who cares anyway?

Some of us (like me) sit on the fringes of the Catholic Church, and that is where we will remain. Because the RC Church oficially adopts a superior attitude to other Christian churches . . . are they really churches. It adopts that attitude to individual Christians as they are told that they are not welcome to receive sacraments when they find themselves incidentally at a Catholic Mass.

If there is hostility to the Church of Rome in Australia, (and for the sake of the present argument ignoring the sexual abuse which other Christian denominations are not free), it may well come from encyclicals like Dominus Jesus . . . which I understand was largely written by the present Pope . . . and "non- Catholics" being actually told that they are NOT to come to communion. The problem is that the experience of the people who are told to "nick off" is that of personal rejection. No doctrinal explanation justifies this at an emotional level, and it becomes, for "separated brethren" a statement of superiority, and another reason for remaining separate. In this sense, ecumenism on an official level, has become not much more than a conversation about what we disagree about . . . and there was a time when it held so much promise!

Both of these things contribute (specially to most Australians who believe that "Jack's as good as his Master") to the view of the Catholic Church as an organisation with a superiority complex, where those outside are told, "We like you , but nick off!"

Which brings me back to Paul Collins' article . . . I don't believe that, at least in Australia, we have quite returned to the pre-Vatican II '50s, but a few more encyclicals like Dominus Jesus, invitations to disaffected Anglicans, etc etc could turn our religious attitudes backwards, as a society . . . that is, for those who are left who care.

Robert Rennick | 23 September 2010  

Robert Rennick has hit some nails on their heads. Some very poignant remarks. There is a fundamental operating flaw within Catholicism, this conviction and proposition that it alone has all the truth, and that it alone is some divine establishment. "But we were founded by no less than God himself" we hear the cry. (Where else do we hear that?) What many militant Catholics don't seem to appreciate is that their fortress theology means only that the Church has supplanted God in their hierarchy of devotion, and that it is bleeding obvious to everyone else that while they maintain their condescension towards every other belief system, ecumenism and brother-sisterhood in spirit is beyond them. The definitional and colloquial distinction between "Catholics" and "Christians" is just as telling - and embarrassing - as it always has been.

Stephen Kellett | 23 September 2010  

When the election campaign was in its early days, the fairfax press and ABC (in particular) were publishing daily stories about Abbott's catholicism and how his faith made him an unsuitable national leadert. Well, you can agree that abbott should never be allowed anywhere near the Lodge, but his faith is not a valid reason for exclusion.

So just as an experiment I posted a series of comments at the Age, SMG, and the drum that represented what can only be described as virulent anti-catholic bigotry: that he would be taking orders from the pope over the Vatican hot line to be installed in the PM's office, that he was a mysoginist, that he would cover abuse scandals, give money to catholic schools at the espense of protestant and state schools.

The comments were ridiculous, so over-the-top no editor should have published them.

Well, the response was overwheleming. Each comment, no matter how obscene, was published. Every single one!

When i posted the same comments and changed "catholic" to "muslim" and alleged that Australian muslims took their orders from mecca, not one of those comments was published. Same with comments about Islamic oppression of women. Not one!

I raised my children with the advice that the bad old days of anti-catholic prejudice were a thing of the past.

This election campaign told me how wrong those assurances were.

altar boy | 28 September 2010  

Isn't it amazing how most intelligent debates on theology and church issues end up as a battle about the use of condoms and who's sticking whose body parts into who and where?

Kent, Surry Hills | 28 September 2010  

Sylvester; your comments on the views on homosexuality within the church needs addressing out of conscience.
Please take the time and with respect, to read the artilcle by Richard Sipe, a Benedictine monk and priest for 18 years.
The church is full of them.
Church in Crisis; Never another Pat.

L. Newington | 28 September 2010  

Sylvester, Yes, behaviour that reduces risk in important, and of course abstinence and then monogamous relationships are best. Human behaviour is not always rational tho'. Condoms used in casual encounters or promiscuous behaviour decreases risk. Their proper use when one partner has or may have an STI prevents STI transmission and pregnancy - to say otherwise is misleading, especially to those who are victims of promiscuous partners.

MacDac | 28 September 2010  

In some Year 8 textbooks Catholicophobia is being taught as medieval history. Children learn the medieval Catholic Church had some parallels with modern-day oppressive regimes, such as in former communist countries. Offenders who broke one of the Bible’s Ten Commandments, old people who lived alone, especially women, and people who disagreed with the Church were often killed after enduring the most revolting tortures. Lucky victims might be beheaded because effective torture had to be slow and extremely painful. Devout medieval Catholics were too unintelligent to know the importance of reason over blind religious obedience. The medieval Church taught the Earth was flat, opposed human dissection, and the advancement of scientific and medical knowledge; it felt threatened when people started thinking for themselves. No one except Church leaders had access to a Bible which was in Latin. Many priests were more interested in drinking and gambling. Others were no longer celibate and had children. An indulgence bought someone forgiveness of sins; the more money paid, the better the deal in the afterlife. Even today many conflicts occur throughout the world in the name of religion. Children are taught that Church teachings could be wrong. And much, much more of this ilk. Using a CD students can morph the crucifix into a witch’s broom (the text associates witches with the worship of the devil) and a bishop can be lampooned by changing his headgear into a jester’s hat.

Ignored or understated are the many medieval Catholic universities, schools, Gothic cathedrals, the Catholic Craftsmen’s Guilds, hospitals, hostels for the elderly, orphans and lepers and the magnificent role of the monasteries in developing western civilisation. Google: The Irish Monastery Movement by Paul Gallagher - includes the early education of girls.

Like Victoria’s Racial and Religious tolerance Act, the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities is ineffective against this anti-Catholic propaganda because Mr Rob Hulls M.P., Victoria’s Attorney General and the Ms Bronwyn Pyke M.P., Minister for Education apparently will not accept their responsibilities.

Bob Mears | 28 September 2010  

Sylvester, you are the only one that makes any sense here and you surely know what you are talking about. Desiderius makes all of these rediculous statements with nothing to back them up.

Bernard | 28 September 2010  

Actually only 1%-2& of Catholic clergy are guilty of abuse, mostly homosexual abuse of pubescent and post-post-pubescent males (age 10-17) e.g. in 'THE JOHN JAY STUDY' comapred with 5%-6$ of Protestant ministers and 8%-10% of abuse by those in the secular realm which the media seldom reports about.

As for Geoffrey Robertson - anyone who in 1971 acted as Defense Counsel for a magazine ('Oz' magazine) which attempted to pervert and corrupt children and young people in one of their issues (issue 28) which dealt with sadism, homosexuality, lesbianism and porn should shut up.

Brian Gregory | 29 September 2010  

It is true. The Catholic Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, He being the Head and we, the baptized, His Members. His Mystical Body, just as His human body over 2000 years ago,has been scourged, crowned with thorns, and now is walking the Via Dolorosa to Calvary. Jesus heard msny false accusations, hostility, and horrible comments during His Passion, from those he loved, his own people and those who really didn't know Him. Many just joined in on the abuse, maybe because they were looking for a scapegoat for their own guilty consciences.

This certainly can apply, in many instances, to what is being said today about the Catholic Church, her teachings, and her clergy and lay members.God bless all who come to the defense of the Catholic Church. God bless all who sincerely seek truth, peace and brotherly love.

Patricia | 29 September 2010  

All I can say is thanks for a great article. And God bless you.

David Wendell of Stayton, Oregon USA

David Wendell | 30 September 2010  

Similar Articles

Mary MacKillop's template for the Independents

  • Andrew Hamilton
  • 23 September 2010

The aftermath of the election gave play to the mythical Australian preference for the underdog as people enjoyed the Greens' and Independents' day in the sun. There is an intriguing contrast to be drawn between this and the life of Mary MacKillop, who will become Australia's first saint.


No rain on Pope's UK parade

  • Peter Scally
  • 22 September 2010

If British MPs think that, on balance, support for the Pope is a vote-winner, they are probably right. That tells us a great deal about the views of ordinary British people — as opposed to the views of the relatively small band of metropolitan 'opinion-formers' who work in the media.



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up