On Monday I received an email from a Melbourne reader. She concluded her note with an irreverent comment: “I have been waiting for Cardinal George Pell and the Catholic Church to be blamed for the tragedy in Orlando.”
Around the same time the Crikey newsletter carried a piece in its Media briefs by former ABC producer David Salter. He objected to my comment last week that it was false moral equivalence for Lateline presenter Emma Alberici to refer to Catholicism and homophobia when tweeting about the attack by an Islamist terrorist on a gay bar in Orlando, Florida.
My point was that no homosexuals are thrown from the roof of St Peter’s — unlike the practice in some parts of Syria and Iraq controlled by the so-called Islamic State, or Daesh. Salter’s response was to argue that “a far more telling moral equivalence might have been drawn from reference to the misery of the thousands of children and minors abused by Catholic priests and brothers over the past century …”
It’s true thousands of children were abused by priests and brothers over decades, as were children in the care of other religious, secular and government institutions. It’s also true this issue was first openly addressed by (then) archbishop George Pell when he set up the Melbourne Response in 1996 — six years before The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” revelations with respect to the Catholic archdiocese of Boston.
However, pedophilia has always been regarded by the state as a crime and by the Catholic Church as a serious sin. As far as I am aware, the only public figure in Australia who called on Australians to understand that “in general men will sleep with young boys” was Richard Downing (1915-75). Downing made this statement in 1975 in his capacity as ABC chairman. It has not been renounced by any of his successors.
What Salter fails to understand is that pedophiles and those who protect them try to disguise their crimes. The Islamists in Daesh, however, film and distribute evidence of their homophobic murders since they are proud of their actions.
Salter’s false moral equivalence is all too familiar in the post-Christian society. The concept of alienation is common in the West. Many of the most privileged and best educated Westerners are alienated from the society in which they live. Hence the tendency to blame the actions of Islamists on ourselves or to rationalise the preachings of radical imams by stating that other religions — particularly Christianity — are just as intolerant.
On June 17 The Australian broke the story that one of the guests at Malcolm Turnbull’s Iftar dinner at Kirribilli House the previous evening was Sheik Shady Alsuleiman. The sheik, who is president of the Australian National Imams Council, can be found on YouTube supporting an interpretation of the Koran that depicts female adulterers hanging by their breasts. Alsuleiman also has linked homosexuality with the spreading of diseases.
On June 17, Kieran Gilbert interviewed Mathias Cormann on Sky News. Gilbert suggested to the Finance Minister that “if you looked at what every clergy member of every faith has said over the years you might find similar comments” and stated that “you still aren’t allowed to be a member of the Catholic faith … as a gay person” and claimed “the Catholic Church still doesn’t accept gay people receiving Holy Communion”.
This is invincible ignorance. Catholicism does not regard homosexuals as being barred. Sure, Catholicism teaches that sex should take place only within traditional marriage, but this teaching applies independently of sexual attraction.
There was similar confusion on the ABC’s Insiders panel last Sunday. Panel members Mark Kenny, Niki Savva and Laura Tingle discussed a column by Miranda Devine in The Sunday Telegraph. Devine wrote that Shady had called on “Allah to destroy the enemies of Islam”, described HIV-AIDS as a “divine punishment for gays” and maintained that the punishment for adulterers “is stoning to death”.
Fairfax Media’s Kenny threw the switch to alienation. He claimed “this Shady sheik would not have been the only one with odious views about homosexuals” at the Kirribilli House dinner and added that religions based on ancient texts were “basically institutionally homophobic, institutionally anti-women (and) fundamentally not modern”. On Tuesday I sent Kenny an email asking him who else on the Turnbull dinner list had expressed odious views about homosexuals. I also asked him to name contemporary religions influenced by ancient texts that advocated the stoning to death of adulterers. He has not replied.
Then there is the response of some alienated members of the intelligentsia to radical Islam in its terrorist form. Take Father Rod Bower of the Gosford Anglican Church. Soon after the Orlando mass murders, the message board of his parish declared: “We Denounce Extreme Radicalised Christians”. Needless to say, this alienated cleric did not name names. He was just relieved to be able to link terrorist Omar Mateen with anonymous Christians located somewhere or other.
Likewise, as reported on Sky News’ The Bolt Report, Channel 7 Sunrise presenter David Koch, on June 14, in the wake of the Orlando attack, called on Australians to beware of right-wing religious extremists, by which one assumes he means Christians. Sure, there are some, not many, right-wing extremists in the West. But few are motivated by Christian beliefs. The term “Allahu Akbar” is heard at many attacks these days. But not “Long live Christ the King”.
Certainly Christians are sinners. Yet the greatest threat to civilisation in the 20th century came from two secular movements — fascism/Nazism and communism. And the greatest threat this century so far, comes from radical Islam. It may be intellectually unfashionable to say so. But contemporary Christianity is not the font of all evil.