A Meeting of the Victorian Secular Lobby, Inc.
Saturday, December 21st, 110 Grey Street, East Melbourne, 18.00pm
The Victorian State government is planning to recriminalise abortion. This is a critical planning meeting to prevent this religious-based doctrinairre attack on women's reproductive rights.
Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? .
James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, 20 June 1785
The word 'secular' comes the Medieval Latin "secularis", meaning worldly or temporal in distinction to the eternal. It pertains to the world that we all live in and share, in space and time.
It is not, as commonly assumed, anti-religious, rather it is non-religious. A secular position is to have 'no comment' to make on religion. In terms of the state, a secular position argues for a clear separation of church and state. Religious people, particularly those who are respectful of other faiths, and wish to avoid state-sanctioned bigotry, can also be secular in this manner. Thus one can indeed be a secular Christian, a secular Buddhist, a secular Muslim etc. It is not just for atheists and agnostics !
The Victorian Secular Lobby is open to all people who support our principles:
1. To promote the principle of the separation of Church and State and equality for all institutions under the law.
2. To resource and promote secular principles to journalists, politicians, and other contributors to public opinion.
3. To encourage co-ordination with like-minded groups to influence public policy.
4. To encourage persons to take up membership and engage in activities that promote secular principles and the Victorian Secular Lobby.
5. To engage in activities, including generating income and expenditure, to further these aims.
The Victorian Secular Lobby is now incorporated in the State of Victoria, Number A00594400A
Georgie Crozier thought she was mentally ready to investigate child sexual abuse in the churches. As a nurse and midwife, she had coped with cases of rape and incest, and heard heart-wrenching stories. But nothing could prepare her for the sheer horror or scale of what happened to thousands of young Victorians in orphanages, schools and church settings over decades.
As chairwoman of the Victorian inquiry into how the churches handled child sexual abuse, she hid her emotions behind a mask of formality through the long months of testimony from victims, advocates, experts and religious leaders. Just occasionally her irritation at some witnesses' prevarication slipped out.
''It's very difficult seeing people you know sitting across the table from you, men showing photos of themselves as boys,'' she says. ''But I don't think it was nearly as difficult as it was for them coming before us, and that kept me focused: this is so important for so many people - we just have to get this right.''
The inquiry's 750-page report, tabled on Wednesday, made 15 recommendations across five areas: criminal law, making the church legally accountable, setting up an independent but church-funded tribunal to investigate claims and determine compensation, and better prevention and monitoring.
Jewish leaders are preparing to fight Abbott government plans to weaken race hate laws, saying they could encourage persecution and racially motivated violence.
The head of the Jewish national peak body, Peter Wertheim, is concerned Attorney-General George Brandis wants to amend sections of Commonwealth law that protect Jews and other minority groups against hate speech.
''We don't really know what's intended,'' said Mr Wertheim, the executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
''Obviously we're concerned about the tenor of [Senator Brandis'] announcements and we do wish to consult with the Attorney-General.
''The time for talking is before any bill is drafted, not afterwards.''
Senator Brandis has signalled that as his first legislative act he wants to amend sections of the Racial Discrimination Act that make it unlawful to offend or insult another person on grounds of race or ethnicity.
Senator Brandis has declared himself a champion of ''freedom'' and disparaged the laws used against Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt over an article he wrote in which he accused ''white'' Australians of identifying as Aborigines to advance their careers.
Asked about concerns raised by members of the Jewish community, Senator Brandis promised he would consult ''stakeholders and interested parties, including leaders of the Jewish community such as Mr Wertheim, before introducing the legislation to Parliament.''
Mr Wertheim has warned that the ''wholesale repeal'' of sections of the Racial Discrimination Act would not only prevent vilified groups from defending their reputations legally, but would also encourage more sinister forms of hate speech.
''It would … open the door to the importation into Australia of the hatreds and violence of overseas conflicts,'' Mr Wertheim said.
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said he had condemned Senator Brandis' plans ''from the moment he first opened his mouth''.
The laws were aimed at stopping ''extreme cases of hate speech,'' said Mr Dreyfus, whose great-grandparents died in the Holocaust and whose father and grandparents fled Nazi Germany for Australia.
''When Senator Brandis says that repealing these laws is in the interests of freedom of speech, what he really means is freedom to engage in public hate speech,'' Mr Dreyfus said.
Mr Wertheim said he had been given assurances by Senator Brandis' office and Jewish Liberal MP Josh Frydenberg that the Attorney-General would meet him to discuss changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.
Betrayal of Trust reveals the cover-up that killed. The investigation report on the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations examined crime not faith, but like the journey through Dante's Inferno, the deeper the descent, the more horrific the suffering. Many share the blame.
Perpetrators claiming to represent God committed the foulest crimes against children - formerly hanging offences - while religious denominations practised wilful blindness, protecting paedophiles through cultures of concealment. The Anglican and Catholic churches and the Salvation Army frequently took steps to conceal wrongdoing, according to their concessions and a substantial body of credible evidence.
Victorian governments failed their duty in orphanages and homes. Children suffered multiple betrayals of neglect or abandonment as infants; then when taken into the community's care, they were grievously abused physically, emotionally and sexually.
Silver-haired men cradled photographs of themselves as schoolboys with sunshine smiles. A middle-aged woman presented a happy snap from her first Holy Communion depicting a young bride of Christ. Each memento was a cry from the heart yearning for innocence lost.
An 87-year-old woman revealed her childhood trauma for the first time. The existential impact of being raped as a child by a cleric was disclosed by a man who confided: ''I was only asking for help when he took advantage of me and stole my soul in a brutal act.''
Children bear the sense of guilt and shame. A horrendous consequence is that perpetrators often remain unrepentant, while some victims do not survive.
Despite high-profile criminal prosecutions and incontrovertible evidence, victims report there are still people who refuse to accept the reality and consequences of abuse or the extent to which respected individuals concealed their knowledge. Admissions secured during the inquiry surely end the era of blind faith and cover-ups once and for all.
Australia's highest profile Catholic leader and adviser to the Pope, Cardinal George Pell, conceded the Catholic Church placed paedophile priests above the law and destroyed documents in Victoria. When I asked him if he agreed that this systemic cover-up allowed paedophile priests to prey on innocent children, Pell replied: ''Yes, you would have to say there is significant truth in that.''
He also agreed with my proposition that moving paedophile priests to innocent parishes with access to vulnerable children resulted in more heinous crimes. ''There is no doubt about it that lives have been blighted. There is no doubt about it that these crimes contributed to too many suicides and that is an ultimate tragedy,'' Pell admitted.
His successor as Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, agreed that Father Kevin O'Donnell was one of the worst paedophiles in Australia's history. Despite victims reporting his offences to the church hierarchy in 1946, 1958 and 1986, he was moved to other parishes with innocent children. The consequences were fatal.
Chrissie and Anthony Foster presented two photographs to the inquiry. The first was a beaming family portrait showing their daughters Emma and Katie. They attended Sacred Heart Primary School in Oakleigh at the time. Unbeknown to their parents, Father O'Donnell, the parish priest, was raping the sisters. Emma was only five years old when the horror began. The subsequent photo depicted her a decade later, wrist and arms bloodied by attempted suicide.
Their father testified: ''If, following any one of these assault complaints, a church official had taken the action of removing O'Donnell from ministry - as you would assume ordained men of God would - our daughters and many other children would have been spared their lifelong torment and the crippling effects of repeated childhood sexual assault. Emma would still be alive and Katie would not be permanently crippled.''
Cast in unfamiliar roles as public inquisitors and surrogate judges, MPs searched for the truth. Whether criminal child abuse was concealed because of noble cause corruption, a misplaced sense of loyalty to a higher duty, religious organisations rationalised the most egregious conduct.
The inquiry has revealed that long reigning archbishop of Melbourne, Sir Frank Little, did not keep records of child sexual abuse allegations or speak to anyone about them and the former archbishop of Ballarat, Ronald Mulcearns, destroyed documents.
Further investigations are required to determine whether the cluster of paedophile Catholic clergy in Ballarat was a coincidence or a conspiracy.
A broadly similar concern for damage control was observed in the Salvation Army. It appears it kept minimal records of even the most basic information about children in its care.
Most of the child abuse investigated happened more than 20 years ago, but the impact remains raw. On average, 23 years lapse before victims act because a complex transference of guilt can lead to an internal struggle where victims attempt to function normally while hiding what they feel is a shameful secret.
More than 80 per cent of public submissions concerned abuse by members of Catholic religious orders, stretching beyond 70 years. A substantial portion of evidence contained complaints of scandalous abuse in homes or orphanages involving Salvation Army institutions. Jewish and Islamic representative bodies testified that their communities also suffered from the scourge of child abuse but experienced difficulties even mentioning that it may have occurred.
A similar situation can be expected in other religious, social, sporting and cultural groups where offenders have easy access to children and where, for a range of reasons, abuse has been kept hidden.
Betrayal of Trust exposes how the evil that men do lives after them. It provides a blueprint for the national royal commission and insights for the community. The children were innocent, their fortitude in testifying as adults is inspiring and their courage is humbling.
Frank McGuire is deputy chair of the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organisations.
This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/foul-crimes-wilful-blindness-and-evil-m...
Victims will have a much better chance of claiming compensation for historic child abuse from religious and other organisations if the state inquiry's recommendations are implemented, lawyers say.
After an 18-month inquiry, the parliamentary committee investigating the matter recommended law reforms to remove major barriers that typically prevent victims from successfully suing the Catholic Church and other religious bodies. These include:
¦Dismantling the "Ellis defence", which prevents unincorporated religious organisations from being sued.
¦Excluding child abuse from the statute of limitations, which bars lawsuits after a certain period.
¦Creating an independent "alternative justice avenue" for criminal child-abuse victims.
It began slowly, amid some well-merited cynicism, but on Wednesday the Victorian inquiry into how the churches handled child sexual abuse delivered – and brilliantly.
Many of the victims who followed the inquiry religiously throughout its dozens of public sessions were almost euphoric after the report, Betrayal of Trust, was tabled in parliament and committee members rose to excoriate the concealers and enablers, and to recommend far-reaching reforms.
It was not just the recommendations, it was the tone. The inquiry had heard the victims – and believed them. It gave the vital verdict: vindication.
The inquiry heard from the church hierarchy too, in particular the Catholic Church – and took a far more sceptical view. The language with which they described the church made that clear, along with their rejection of the church claim that the problem was purely historical, as Archbishops Denis Hart and George Pell had suggested in evidence.
The consistent church line was that there had been problems in the past, but these were largely solved by the two church abuse protocols, and no one now in authority bore any responsibility. The committee did not concur.
Chairwoman Georgie Crozier used language like "pattern of criminal behaviour", "betrayal beyond comprehension", and spoke of parents being groomed, and the covering of wrongdoing to protect reputations and money.
The Victorian joint parliamentary committee's report into child sex abuse marks a watershed moment for our community. With an unwavering eye on the rights and needs of victims, the committee has peeled away layers of secrecy imposed by perpetrators of sexual abuse and by the non-government organisations which, for decades, did nothing about it. The committee members should be congratulated. Their report is deeply respectful, insightful and measured while traversing awful and confronting evidence of abuse.
This report should change us and the way our community lives. If, as we urge, the government adopts the proposed reforms, protective measures would be strengthened and victims' avenues for redress improved. For example, anyone who conceals abuse or fails to report it would be criminally liable; an officer of an organisation who puts a child at risk or fails to take reasonable steps to protect a child, knowing there is risk, may be held criminally liable for endangering the child's welfare. There is also a proposal to review the Wrongs Act to make organisations directly liable for criminal acts of abuse by employees.
These are important proposals because they go beyond staff selection procedures (such as compulsory checks on employees who will work with children) and impose an enduring duty on organisations to stay alert to the potential for abuse.
The inquiry has offered a glimpse into the unfathomable hurt wrought on several thousands of people in this state whose lives were damaged by sexual abuse. It has also highlighted the utter disregard some organisations demonstrated for those same victims' rights, in particular the shameful conduct of the Catholic Church. That organisations as rich and powerful as the church ignored victims' complaints, deliberately obfuscated or denied the wrongdoing of criminals in their ranks, almost defies belief today. That the church spends millions of dollars trying to beat down victims' damages claims is simply reprehensible.
Certainly, the community's comprehension of sexual abuse - its prevalence, the nature of its damage and how it is perpetrated - has improved greatly in the past two decades. But considering how many similar inquiries into widespread sexual abuse have been conducted elsewhere - in Ireland, the United States, Canada and the Philippines, for example - the church should have been far more open, generous and conciliatory. Even now, in the view of committee member and Liberal MP Andrea Coote, the Catholic Church seems to view this appalling scandal as little more than a ''short-term embarrassment''.
It is, in fact, a disgrace of enormous proportions. The number of Catholic priests and brothers who have been hauled before courts, here and interstate, on sex abuse charges is extraordinary. The committee says there is ''credible evidence'' that the long-serving former Catholic archbishop of Melbourne, Frank Little, and former Bishop of Ballarat Ronald Mulkearns knew that priests in their dioceses had sexually abused children, but they ''tried to quarantine such information as far as possible''. It says the church deliberately did not keep files about abuse allegations and, rather than aiding victims, church leaders ''sought to protect the organisation and the perpetrators''.
How did the Catholic Church, buffered by ranks of well-paid lawyers and advisers, become so focused on protecting its reputation and guarding its financial fortune that its leaders so comprehensively failed to act with moral authority? In hiding sex abuse allegations and shuffling the perpetrators elsewhere, the church's leaders effectively facilitated further wrongdoing. Their actions delayed any prospect of justice.
While most of the inquiry's evidence related to two organisations (the Catholic Church and the Salvation Army), the committee suspects there is a ''hidden problem of abuse'' in many organisations - Jewish and Islamic institutions, sporting and social organisations. It is the community trust these groups engender, their hierarchical nature, even their teachings, that may inadvertently foster predatory environments.
Premier Denis Napthine paid tribute to predecessor Ted Baillieu for initiating the inquiry, and rightly so. His decision to forge ahead helped precipitate the Royal Commission on a national level. The Age initially was deeply sceptical about the scope and likely rigour of the Victorian inquiry. We suggested ''that a parliamentary committee with multiple responsibilities and a brief to report within 12 months cannot expect to deal with the magnitude of the problem''. Our concerns were misplaced.
Australians will learn more awful truths about child sex abuse through the McClellan Royal Commission, but as the chairwoman of the Victorian inquiry, Georgie Crozier, says, this one ''marks the beginning''. It opens the door and provides a path for progress. It deftly describes patterns of failure, and proposes legal and structural reforms aimed at assisting victims and providing better protection.
The committee found current Catholic leadership saw child sexual abuse as a short-term embarrassment and not as a reason to question their own culture.
The state government’s eagerly awaited report on clergy child sex abuse recommends sweeping changes to laws behind which the Catholic Church has sheltered, and accused its leaders of trivialising the problem as a ‘‘short-term embarrassment’’.
Published: August 17, 2013 - 10:13AM
Full election coverage
Is God in the (lower) house? Whatever the outcome of this federal election, the answer to that question will be yes, at least as far as the prime minister is concerned: unusually in our history, Australians will this time choose between two devout Christians to lead the nation. Tony Abbott is a committed Catholic, Kevin Rudd a practising Anglican. Our recently deposed PM, Julia Gillard, was an atheist.
Does any of this matter to a largely secular voting public, or to how it informs political debate in a country that takes seriously the separation of church and state? The answer to that is a mix of no and yes, a neat nexus of the tolerance and conservatism with which Australians approach many issues: we seem comfortable with a little religious belief, accepting it as a byword for decency, rectitude and perhaps even humility, as long as the politician isn't, you know, weird about it.
Not appearing too extreme has always been a bigger problem for Abbott than Rudd. The Liberal leader's Catholicism is seen as more of a worry, particularly on issues such as reproductive rights - what might he do if he got his hands on the reins?
Abbott acknowledges this unease in his book Battlelines, in which he recalls the aftermath of the Howard government's 2007 defeat, when colleagues urged him not to put up his hand to be the party's new leader because he was ''too hardline'' - and ''too Catholic'' - on some issues. A sobriquet like ''the Mad Monk'' (Abbott once studied to become a priest) can be hard to shake.
Abbott seems to have tempered his Catholicism in recent times - on a public level, at least - perhaps in acknowledgment that women in particular are wary of it. As John Black, a former Labor senator who now runs a demographic and research marketing group, told me: ''I think there's an unspoken acknowledgment that if he's seen to allow his religious beliefs to affect his political decisions, that is not a vote winner.''
Rudd's faith, in contrast, seems to work in his favour. He often speaks to the media after church on a Sunday, and he has written at length on faith for The Monthly. It is interesting, too, that Rudd has tried to wrest Christianity from the grasp of the political right: as he said in 2004, God has not ''somehow become some wholly owned subsidiary of political conservatism in this country''. His Christianity may be, perhaps, just Christian enough.
So far in this campaign, religion hasn't had much of a guernsey, at least in any overt sense. Black believes that in Rudd's first campaign, in 2007, his Christianity swung votes in his favour. In recent years, religiosity has somehow become conflated with the much-used phrase ''family values'' - the sense that mum, dad and the kids are of paramount importance to social cohesion and therefore to policymakers, too. It was this, according to Black, that led to Rudd attracting votes not only from Christians, but also small ''c'' conservatives in the 2007 election.
Some voters who are disconcerted by religious extremism - or even the faintest whiff of it - may also be uncomfortable with atheism.
''People who aren't particularly religious themselves think of religion as a good thing for other people to have,'' says Macquarie University professor of politics Marion Maddox.
Church attendances and census data are instructive here, because they point to the role religious values might play in framing the public view of politics. Not many of us actually go to church regularly: the 2001 National Church Life Survey found that about 9 per cent of Australians attend a Christian church each week. Contrast this with the United States where, according to a 2009 Gallup International poll, that figure is about 42 per cent (hence it is unimaginable, at the moment, that Americans would elect a non-Christian as president).
But most Australians nonetheless identify as Christian. In the 2011 census, 61 per cent of Australians said they were Christian, 7 per cent said non-Christian - Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, for example - and a significant proportion, 22 per cent, said they had no religion. The rest declined to answer.
What that tells us is that even if most Australians rarely set foot in a church, they are comfortable with the values that Christianity purports to uphold - compassion, justice, tolerance and the like. Whether people think churches as institutions succeed in living up to these values is another matter altogether.
If Abbott wins the election, religion may become a bigger issue than it is right now. Then again, it may not, but certainly many will be watching for it closely. While religion perhaps informs more of politics than we realise, we are also conscious, collectively, of keeping it moderate, and at a distance. Amen to that.
Amanda Dunn is a senior writer at The Age. Twitter: @amandadunn10
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Mr Abbott studied to be a Jesuit priest. This has been corrected.
This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/in-politics-it-seems-a-little-bit-of-go...