Subjects: George Pell, Catholic Church.
HOST: It’s a big good morning to Chris Pyne and Anthony Albanese.
ALBANESE: Good morning.
PYNE: Good morning Will. Good morning David. Good morning Anthony.
HOST: Guys we want to kick off by talking about Cardinal George Pell. Obviously the discussions we have been having on air today have been predicated on the fact that it is still before the courts. He has been found guilty, but he has the right to appeal and we as a result suspend a degree of judgement. But I just wanted to get some thoughts from both of you about the broader issue of the manner in which these cases have been handled by the Church. What are your views Chris, particularly as someone who as a graduate of St Ignatius, was brought up in the Catholic faith. Have you found this testing?
PYNE: Look it’s clearly testing. It’s a very depressing time for the Catholic Church and as Archbishop Coleridge, the Archbishop of Brisbane, speaking in the Vatican, said a couple of days ago, the Church only has itself to blame for decades of covering up abuse of sexual assault victims. So as a Catholic and a practising Catholic I do find it very disconcerting. Of course with Cardinal Pell he is appealing. But there must be a sense of justice for his victims and I’m glad that they have had justice. For him, he intends to appeal and if his appeal is successful as it was for Archbishop Wilson of course then we will be resetting this debate about him. But that won’t change the underlying issue that we have had in the Catholic Church now for too long which is the attempt to cover up what should have been referred to the police for police action.
HOST: What’s your view of this Albo? I’m not sure of what your religious background is. But obviously it was Labor in government that established the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Abuse. Do you think the church has changed its ways enough, not just the Catholic Church, but all churches?
ALBANESE: Quite clearly not and it is important to recognise. I certainly was raised as a Catholic. I went to a Catholic School. I indeed went to St Mary’s Cathedral High School in Sydney where one of my former principals is in jail for sexual abuse of minors and the fact is that the Catholic Church for a very, very long time just turned a blind eye to this and it’s got to accept responsibility for it. The issues that were there while I was at school, I’ve talked to my fellow students about it in recent times. It’s almost as if people were just aware of, you know, don’t find yourself alone with person X. And you know it’s quite shocking. I know George Pell. He is someone who I have had a friendly relationship with over the years and it’s very shocking.
But the thoughts have to go with the victims here. This ruined people’s lives, so many. I remember the Cabinet discussion. Of course the 30-year rule still applies so I can’t talk about all the detail, but what I certainly can say is that we really wrestled with it. It wasn’t something that was a five-minute, one-meeting discussion and in the end we came down to making I think what was seen at the time as a courageous decision and Julia Gillard I think deserves incredible praise. It was a very gutsy call for her to make particularly I think in the context of she doesn’t come from a religious background and was attacked for that. But it was the right thing to do and it isn’t of course just the Catholic Church. It was all of the churches plus institutions like the Boy Scouts where people were abused. Let’s just hope that the openness that is now out here of these crimes, and they are crimes, is some comfort, just a little bit, to the victims.
HOST: A constant theme that has come up from our listeners today guys regarding the Catholic Church and the issues within has been its reluctance to take what they say are really significant steps to combat the systemic nature of this and they point to a couple of things that are sacred Catholic traditions like the confessional seal, like celibacy for priests. Would you, given your backgrounds, and I put this question to both of you starting with you Chris Pyne, would you be happy to see changes on those fronts or something similar to that as a sign that the Church is willing to do whatever it takes to combat this scourge?
PYNE: Well I think one needs to tread very carefully. For example the Church has made tremendous reforms in recent years. There have been startlingly good examples of segments of the Church understanding their responsibility. I am proud as a Jesuit-trained student that the head of the Jesuits in Australia, when asked if there were any cases involving the Jesuits over the last 30 years whether they would fight compensation, and he said they would sell every building that they owned in Australia to pay whatever compensation was required because they weren’t in the business of owning real estate; they were in the business of saving souls, and I was gladdened by that response. It’s not all doom and gloom and there has been a lot of reform in the Catholic Church.
In terms of celibacy, it’s easy to say well, if the priests were allowed to marry, things would be different. But that completely ignores the fact that the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse found that there was child sexual abuse across all the institutions and churches, whether it was the Jehovah Witnesses, the Jewish faith, the Anglican Church, the Salvation Army. So you can’t blame celibacy and say that was the problem. In fact the experts in this area, and I am not an expert in this area I hasten to add, say it wasn’t an issue of sexuality so much as an issue of power – the power that priests and others in institutions felt that they had and that there was no accountability.Now I think that has changed and is changing. But what we are seeing at the moment is the Church, not just the Catholic Church, but all the institutions who have been guilty of this, having to face up to their pasts. But let’s hope that facing up to their pasts means that in the future, in the future, we won’t have these issues again.
HOST: Albo, what do you say about these calls for what would represent more dramatic reforms in the church?
ALBANESE: I think the Church has to have a very long hard look at itself – the way that it is organised, including the issue of celibacy. Let’s be clear; it hasn’t always been the case and you know there are issues with regard to property rights that come if people are married and have children and there is a range of economic drivers of these issues as well. But it just seems to me that the Church does need to modernise. It has in many ways of course since Vatican II and in a range of ways particularly under Pope Francis, who I think is quite an extraordinary advocate of social justice and has moved the Church forward substantially in the short time in which he has been the Pontiff.
But I think that they really do need to look at their institutional structures. I do not think it is a normal situation for people to be celibate for life. That is my view and you know the Church does need to evolve, just as so many people in the Church for example, have accepted, certainly the majority of Catholics in my local area of Marrickville I think supported marriage equality for example; that they recognised that the Church’s teachings can’t be the same today as they were 2000 years ago.
HOST: Well we normally busy ourselves with matters of State rather than matters of Church in this segment, but we thought we would get some good candid insights from both of you, particularly being from the Catholic tradition into what is the biggest story in the Church in the world today. So we will resume the hostilities next week.
ALBANESE: I’ve got to say though that I think both Christopher and myself, like so many of your listeners right now, are struggling with all this. It is a complex issue. I certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers to it, but I am very glad and it is important that it did move to a bipartisan position of having the Royal Commission and it’s a good thing that that happened.
HOST: Thank you for that guys.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.
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