John Lilburne's journal about the Governor General, government in Australia, forgiveness and punishment.



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1702 L Wed 20 Feb 2002

There has been lots in the media about the Australian Governor General, Peter Hollingworth, in the past few days. He was the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane before becoming the Governor General, the Queen's representative in Australia.

The editorial in The Australian begins:

The betrayal of trust in sexual abuse involving clergymen is even more severe than it is in other cases. Priests are supposed to offer moral guidance and pastoral care. They are not expected to exploit their position of spiritual authority for sexual gratification that is not only morally wrong, but is also a criminal offence. ...

Particular concerns are expressed about his comments on ABC TV's Australian Story on Monday night:

... But was he up to it five years later, when he was approached by a woman who claimed she ahd been abused by a priest (who went on to be appointed bishop) when she was 14? It is difficult to accept the extraordinary Lolita defence Dr Hollingworth offered on behalf of the priest on Australian Story, in which he shifted blame for the "relationship" on to the girl, and excused a priest for having sex with a minor. Speaking as Governor-General, he portrayed the unnamed young girl as a sexual aggressor, provocateur, or worse. And he appeared to justify the priest's behaviour on the implication that she led him on -- and because the "relationship resumed" many years later. Perhaps Dr Hollingworth was acting on the instruction of his legal advisers. Yet, in admitting the girl was "under the age of consent", then going on to deny sexual abuse took place, he certainly appeared to reject the law of the land, which says having sex with a girl below the age of 16 is illegal. "My belief is that this was not sex abuse, there was no suggestion of rape or anything like that, quite the contrary. My information is rather that it was the other way round," he said. And whose information is that? Apparently the information of his fellow man of the cloth, who says he wasn't sure if the girl was 16 or not. ...

It is disturbing stuff. I have been reading the entry on government in the 1972 World Book. It includes:

... The earliest test of authority was whether a government had enough physical force to rule -- the principle of "might is right." Later, monarchs claimed to rule by the will of God. They pointed to the principle of "the divine right of kings," the basis of many governments for hundreds of years. In most countries today, the test of authority, sometimes called the legitimacy, of a government is whether it is based on the consent of the governed. The principle of "consent of the governed" is the basic rule of democratic government. ...

In the last week in Australia there have been revelations that have diminished the "consent of the governed". Not just the Governor General, but government ministers, high level public servants and Australian Defence Force officers. Lent seems an appropriate time for this to be happening. There is lots in the Bible about forgiveness, such as yesterday's Gospel. Jesus taught: "if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours" (Matthew 6:15).

But the Catechism of the Catholic Church also teaches about punishment:

2266. The State's effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime. The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment, in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.[Cf. Lk 23:40-43 .]

Cardinal George's Column of 17 February 2002 discusses the importance of finance, but says:

... The most important oversight exercised by the Church, therefore, is not over money but over the faith itself and over the lives of those who identify themselves as believers. This oversight is not always welcome. Some resent being called sinners, but when pastoral oversight and charitable concern for others falters, lives are sooner or later, in this life or the next, brought to destruction. When pastors are careless or negligent or themselves trapped in sin, then something other than faith integrates the lives of those given to their care: greed, lust, ambition for power, self-righteous pride. ...

I admire the courage and professionalism of those who have drawn attention to the failings and hope further action will be taken that will contribute to the correction of them.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne 20 February 2002. Last updated 5 March 2002.

Links to other sites:

Editorial in The Australian "Hollingworth must consult his conscience"

Cardinal George's Column of 17 February 2002

Australian Story transcript on Monday 18 February 2002