Divide over Pell plays into religious freedom debate

The Weekend Australian

June 22, 2019

By Gerard Windsor

In late 1900 a former Australian Test cricketer, Arthur Coningham, brought divorce proceedings, on the grounds of adultery, against his wife, Alice. He named as co-respondent Father Denis Francis O’Haran, secretary to Cardinal Patrick Francis Moran and dean of St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney. The “criminal conversation” (as legal systems once termed it) was said to have taken place in the cathedral grounds.

There ensued a very divisive public donnybrook — on one side the Catholic Church, on the other hardliners of various Christian denominations, notably Presbyterians and the Loyal Orange Lodge. A priest was suborned, a Catholic postmaster-general interfered with the mails. Eventually O’Haran was pronounced not to be a guilty party.

Much exultation in Catholic circles, much gnashing of teeth by the other parties. Recent scholarly opinion is that O’Haran had indeed sinned.

Who the Hell is Hamish?
Bitter tribalism set in, ready to be inflamed further by the conscription referendums 15 years later and the role of a Melbourne archbishop, Daniel Mannix.

When, 118 years later, in December last year a former archbishop of Melbourne was found guilty of sexual abuse of minors, there was the same eruption of glee and dismay. This time the roles were reversed. Catholics generally, and some non-Catholics, were horrified and their opponents were in seventh heaven.

Catholic horror this time was of two kinds. Rejectors of the verdict were outraged that their senior representative should be so hounded. Acceptors felt scandalised and ashamed. My suspicion is the first group, even among non-practising Catholics, was the larger one. My tribe right or wrong.

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