Features Australia

Eavesdropping on sin

26 October 2019

9:00 AM

26 October 2019

9:00 AM

Whatever the federal government is thinking of doing to protect what the Constitution calls the ‘free exercise’ of religion, it should get a move on. Because right under its nose that freedom is being eroded. Religious persecution, something that hitherto, if we thought about it at all, we associated with Marxist dictatorships and Muslim theocracies or as one of the excesses of history in times of anti-Christian fanaticism such as the French Revolution, is beginning to show itself here. Secularist zealots are consolidating their attack on Christianity, using the law as an instrument for curtailing religious practice. It’s not persecution as in lining priests up against a wall to be shot or torching churches, but it’s persecution nonetheless.

The target is not so much Christians in general (yet), as the Roman Catholic Church, bête noire of the secularists who seem to run everything in this country. The Anglican and traditional protestant churches are either so reduced in numbers or so obediently in line with the leftist-liberal ideology that rules our society as not to be worth the trouble of persecuting, except of course when one of their representatives is ensnared in the child abuse dragnet. As for the newer Pentecostalist ‘happy clappies’, they have only impinged on the secularist consciousness since one of their members was elected prime minister. That has made them the object of leftist sneering from ABC ‘comedians’ and the like, with insinuations that to be numbered among their faithful Scott Morrison must be a bit touched – as though he were a flat-earther – but little that forebodes a deadlier attack.

But for Roman Catholics persecution is becoming a reality. If the secularists are to implement their programme of late-term abortion, gender fluidity and easy euthanasia to dispose of the useless old folks in a world of ethical and literal darkness dimly lit by wind power and ruled by global leftist ‘governance’, the Catholic Church as an opponent of this brave new progressives’ paradise must be rendered hors de combat. It just about has been.

The campaign for gay and lesbian wedlock was a trial run. It wasn’t, as it purported to be, about ‘marriage equality’. It was a direct assault on the Christian doctrine of marriage which until a few years ago was what everyone else believed about marriage too. Leftists colonised this campaign in line with their custom of seizing on issues they can exploit for their own ends.

Similarly, the child abuse scandals were a gift to the Left. The statistic that Catholic clergy were a small minority among offenders has been ignored in a campaign led by the leftist ‘quality’ media to establish in the public mind that child abuse is basically a Catholic evil. So successful has this propaganda been that this is now what most rational people, including many Catholics, believe. The consequence is that this discredited Church – a public enemy to some, though paradoxically still a principal educator of the nation’s children – has lost both its influence over its adherents and its confidence to speak out on moral controversy. Where is its opposition to the NSW bill that effectively legalises infanticide? Abortion on these terms reduces our public morality to that of barbarians, which is what feminists, whose baleful influence drives all abortion legislation, really are – Amazons, like the cruel warrior women of mythology who left their male babies to die of exposure. This is what our society has come to, yet a chastened Catholic Church dare only whisper its condemnation.

It could be argued that all the above is simply ‘pluralism’ and does not qualify as persecution or as specifically anti-Catholic. But the latest tactic, the assault on the confessional does. This is ostensibly to protect potential ‘victims’ or bring new cases to light. The real purpose is to further humble the Catholic Church by abolishing legal recognition of its entitlement to maintain the secrecy of what a person confesses in the presence of a priest in the sacrament of penance (the ‘seal of the confessional’). The likelihood that an abuser will turn up to confession anyway is pretty slender, but if he does, the priest is obliged under new laws in four Australian jurisdictions – Victoria is the latest – to dob him in. Otherwise (and how would the priest be found out – by entrapment?) the priest will go to prison. As Victoria’s socialist premier Daniel Andrews sneeringly put it, priests henceforth must ‘obey the law of Victoria, not rules written in Rome.’

Not only is this a curb on the ‘free exercise’ of religion, it is a wilful misinterpretation of the sacrament. No priest would absolve a sin which is also a crime without insisting that the criminal go to the police as a condition of absolution. The priest’s function is to declare (or not) God’s forgiveness, not to gather evidence – indeed ideally he should forget what he hears in the confessional. I suppose none of this makes much sense if you don’t believe in God, but ours is not an officially atheist state and must leave a private space for the religious dimension in citizens’ lives, where this is not in conflict with the law. Sacramental confession isn’t; it is secularists who are using it to place Caesar and God in opposition.

And why should child abuse, rather, say, than murder (as in Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess) be singled out as the one crime to justify criminalising a spiritual confidentiality our legal system has consistently respected? What will be the next anti-Catholic law? Banning wine in the Mass under a no-alcohol-in-public-places rule? Banning baptism as ‘abuse’ of infants who can’t ‘decide for themselves’? Perhaps the Cuban regime has a useful manual for persecutors our local secularists could borrow from.

The Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne has already said he will go to jail rather than violate the seal of confession. He wouldn’t be the first prelate in prison. The case of Cardinal Pell shows that justice in contemporary Australia can mislay her blindfold. To inflict on an elderly man – on the basis of dubious evidence – a cruelly prolonged punishment shows that Milton’s lines about justice tempered with mercy do not apply in Victoria.

Through their megaphone in the Age, the anti-Catholic bigots who managed to bring down Pell have suddenly turned up the volume of their propaganda, resuscitating stories everyone’s heard a thousand times about abusive seminarians four decades ago and gloating over ‘new’ abuse claims. Why now? Is this hysterical shrillness a sign of desperation? Are they in panic at the prospect that a successful appeal to the High Court would put Pell beyond their clutches for good?

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