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  Media Article

‘Why should we worry about George Pell?’
  (Melbourne Star Observer, June 1999)    by Michael Kelly

Archbishop Pell faces the media after Pentecost Sunday Mass

Michael comments on the possible threat to the well-being
of Melbourne's gay and lesbian people now arch-conservative George Pell is archbishop.


Sometimes life presents us with choices. They may not be the ones we would like, and they may come at times we would not prefer. I believe lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people in Melbourne are facing a clear choice. Either we further entrench ourselves in the subculture of the ghetto and the closet, or we stand up for ourselves and demand full rights to live as free, equal and respected citizens in our society, and take action to ensure our young people never experience the shame, abuse and lies so many of us had to endure. This is the choice we face.

This choice is being presented to us in the figure of Archbishop George Pell. Frankly. I would rather spend my time and my copy writing about something else, but Pell's recent attacks on our community must be dealt with. Of course, there have always been people attacking us, and it is to our credit that over the past two decades we have won rights, freedoms and support our forbears never dreamt possible. Yet these hard-won rights are not beyond being wound back. The price of freedom is vigilance, trite, but oh so true. 

Why should we worry about George Pell?

Pell came to power as part of an aggressive, reactionary push right through the Catholic world -which encompasses some one billion people. His group of local devotees is small but fanatical, and he has serious influence at the Vatican where he is seen as "the Pope's enforcer", the man who will guarantee the future orthodoxy of the Australian church.

He will play a major role in the appointment 'of all future bishops in this country, in the social, religious and political policies of the Australian Bishops Conference, and in the tone, direction and practices of a church which educates a quarter of Australia's youth, which controls a vast network of health and social welfare services, which is one of the biggest employers in the country, and which receives hundreds of millions of dollars of public money. Presently in his mid-fifties, he could be Archbishop of Melbourne for twenty years.

In the Age last year a collection of politicians and social commentators rated Pell sixth in a list of the ten most powerful people in Victoria, Many rated him third - and his 'reign' has just begun.

Last week, in his comments after the Rainbow Sash action, and in an 'Opinion' article in Friday's Age, Pell laid out his approach to homosexuality. It is sobering to say the least. Firstly, Church teaching on homosexuality "will not and cannot change". Judging by the pronouncements of the Vatican over the past decade or so, this means the following :

  • "homosexuality is a tendency ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil"
  • homosexual relation-ships constitute "grave depravity" and they can never be approved
  • homosexuals must be totally celibate and "unite their sufferings to Christ's cross"
  • when homosexuals seek protection in law for "behaviour to which no-one has any conceivable right", then "neither the church nor society should be surprised when.., violent reactions increase"
  • homosexuals' civil rights should be limited in some areas of employment, housing and in de-facto/spousal rights, since putting gay relationships on the same legal level as marriage can only damage the institution of matrimony and the family"
  • Catholic schools and institutions should oppose education in the use of condoms for safe-sex.

George Pell is committed to promoting all of the above. However, last week Pell went even further. Drawing on propaganda from a right-wing US group called 'Courage' that is already active in Brisbane and Sydney, and that has a new "chaplain" in Melbourne. George informed the public that:

  • homosexuality, especially among the young, is not a "fixed" or "in-escapable" condition and youth should be discouraged from "going in that direction"
  • those who "work to win recruits to homosexual practice" and "the homosexual community" must share some of the blame for, "the suicide of homosexuals"
  • the "gay agenda" seeks to "silence public discussion of health risks" which are "much greater than smoking" and to "lower the age of con-sent and recruit new members to the sub-culture".
  • Moreover, the "homosexual orientation often brings suffering, but acting this out generally brings greater suffering, particularly when accompanied by adult seduction." 
  • Therefore, "to legitimise homosexual activity and boost the recruitment drive would only make a sad situation far more sad".
  • The Church will be "working consistently to stop the spread of the gay agenda in our schools."

So there you have it. Homosexual people are sad, disordered, diseased, devious and predatory. As the US group, the 'Human Rights Campaign' stated after Mathew Shepard's murder, you cannot consistently describe one group of people in such terms without realising that sooner or later prejudice and violence will break Out against them. For the record, both the Church and George Pell reject homophobia, "which we reject roundly", but by this stage who's listening?

One could do a detailed analysis of Pell's comments - and add a pretty scary exposition of the teachings of 'Courage', but for the moment just consider this: if homosexuality is not fixed and involves an individual choice, and if young people are being "recruited" into a lifestyle which is a "grave health risk", then firstly, homosexuals deserve no legal protection since they choose to be that way, and secondly, perhaps society ought to consider limiting both the recruiting and the diseased lifestyle. Just a thought to keep you awake at night.

So, how do we respond to all this? Personal letters, articles, lobbying of politicians etc. are always good – we must be seen to be standing up for ourselves. Enlisting the public support of distinguished psychologists, academics, writers, politicians and, yes, religious leaders in op-position to Pell's dangerous rhetoric is essential. Keeping a close watch on the development of Catholic educational and social policy is imperative - and this means finding supporters within the system. In addition, our community leaders need to meet and begin planning an on-going program of education and action, to challenge Pell (who is in this for the long haul) and educate the public. Our various community organisations need to plan action and education in their various areas of expertise. And so on.

A word of advice in all that lies ahead. George Pell is an Archbishop. We are just "dykes and poofs" who are challenging the "Holy Roman Catholic Church". I don't think this is the time for abrasive, outrageous, naughty and flamboyant demonstrations (Sorry folks - and God forgive me for suggesting this is not the time to "take the piss" out of George - perhaps we need to keep all that in the venues).

Last week Pell did himself great damage and undermined his credibility with both experts and a whole range of reasonable, open-minded, ordinary Australians, including very many Catholics, who believe in a fair go for every-one. We must build on the good will and support that are coming our way. We must show, by our considered, quietly strong, dignified and self-respecting resistance and protest, that the ugly smears and stereo-types are not true. Think Ghandi. Think Martin Luther King. Think of those Catholic Mums and Dads who don the Rainbow Sash and proudly, but calmly, approach Pell for Communion, quietly proclaiming : "I'm gay too!" These are the people who are ready to stand with us. We must not let them down - or ourselves or our young people. A future of justice and freedom is ours, if we have the heart, the guts and the discipline, to claim it. 

Michael B. Kelly is the spokesperson for the Rainbow Sash Movement