Slouching Towards Bethlehem

When I read Jennifer Wilson’s exceptionally fine piece at No Place for Sheep on Friday evening, I decided to republish it at The Pub because her analysis of George Pell is one of the best I have ever read – and I also agree that Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming” is a brilliant, and ominous, work. Thank you, Jennifer, for permitting The Pub to provide yet another platform for your amazing writing.

In my experience one of the more dangerous types of human is the man or woman with an intense and unshakeable conviction that he or she is a “good” person, doing the “right” thing.

The danger is that such a person will see everything they think, say and do through the prism of perceived good and rightness, and this vision inevitably blinds them to the damage they are, like every other human being, capable of inflicting. Because they are unable to see they are incapable of taking responsibility, let alone making atonement or working towards change. So they continue on their blundering path, leaving havoc in their wake, entirely unable to acknowledge they’ve had any part in its production.

Or as Yeats puts it: The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.

(Actually, that poem, The Second Coming, is worth a read: it seems eerily appropriate for these times. Decades before Jacques Derrida’s Structure, Sign and Play…, Irish poet William Butler Yeats noted that “the centre cannot hold.” I find this strangely reassuring. That the poets got to it before the post structuralists, I mean. But I digress…)

The Cardinal George Pell is one such human. Indeed, the most powerful conviction I can see in Pell is his conviction that he is always innocent, always good, and always right, and he clings to these self-perceptions with all the passionate intensity of a man clinging to the lid of an esky in a turbulent sea into which he has been unceremoniously pitched from a sinking vessel. The Catholic church is not holding its centre: The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned…

Serious allegations of bribery and cover-up have yet again been made against George Pell at the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sex Abuse. The Cardinal, strategically parachuted into a leading role in the Vatican’s finance department when things got a little hot for him here in Australia, responded with a written denial, fully supported by his good friend and failed priest Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Abbott, who has a moral point of view on everything, is strangely reluctant to offer one on this matter, saying only that it is up to Pell whether or not he returns to face the Commission’s questioning.

I cannot recall a conversation I had forty years ago, declared the Cardinal, however, for those who were traumatised by such conversations they remain unforgettable. The Cardinal has the luxury of forgetting what continues to haunt and torment victims to this day. For this alone one would expect him to express some gratitude.

It is difficult to imagine that a conversation in a swimming pool change room in which Royal Commission witness Timothy Green informed the then Father Pell that boys were being sexually molested by pedophile Brother Dowlan could have been invented by Mr Green forty years later, in an effort to further discredit George Pell.

It would perhaps be fitting for Pell to emulate the crucified Christ, who died in agony for the sins of the world even though according to the mythology he committed very few if any of them himself. Of course I’m not suggesting a literal crucifixion for the Cardinal, rather a metaphorical sacrifice of self on the altar of the Royal Commission. A written statement from his luxury accommodations in Rome does not, contrary to Prime Minister Abbott’s view, seem nearly sufficient. George Pell needs to front up, and not simply for himself, but for the victims and for the Catholic church, if he wishes that institution to retain any last shred of credibility.

The extent of the sexual abuse of children in institutions, and in the family, is almost beyond comprehension. The frequency with which it is and was committed, and is and was covered up by people who consider themselves “good,” reveals an epidemic of psycho-sexual dysfunction that has been repressed and suppressed to a degree that is also incomprehensible. This denial has occurred at the centre: the centre of institutions, the centre of families, the very centre of our culture and our society. The reality of the margins is confronting the fantasy of the centre, and the centre is no longer holding.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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453 thoughts on “Slouching Towards Bethlehem

  1. Scorps

    “But UBS economists Scott Haslem and George Tharenou said capital expenditure was falling off a cliff ” .
    .
    I’d be tempted to have made it “…was pushed off the cliff…..”

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