the Pope

By Nick Bryant
BBC News

July 17, 2008

The Pope in Australia. So much to talk about. So much to blog about.

I thought by now that I would be reporting on the first arrests under those highly-contentious special regulations brought in for Catholic World Youth Day, which threatened hefty fines for annoying or causing inconvenience to a pilgrim. They made an offence of causing offence.

Secretly, I'd rather hoped that the police would carry out a dawn raid on the surf school at Bondi that has been offering "walk on water" lessons for visiting pilgrims. But those killjoys at the federal court have spoiled all our fun, by ruling that the special laws brought in by the New South Wales parliament impinge of the right of free speech. Who would have thought it?

Then I thought about raising the intriguing question of why Australia's two foremost churchmen, Cardinal George Pell and Peter Jensen, the Anglican bishop of Sydney, are both leading lights in what some would call the fundamentalist wings of their respective churches. Both have taken staunchly traditionalist stances on pre-marital sex, homosexuality and the interpretation of the scriptures.

Archbishop Jensen was a founder of the Global Anglican Future Conference, the group which is so staunchly opposed to Gene Robinson, the Anglican communion's first openly gay bishop. Cardinal Pell has been accused of standing for "the kind of Catholicism that we saw in the Middle Ages," by no less a figure than Chris Sidoti, Australia's former human rights commissioner.

Is this mere coincidence that the two men both come from Australia, or part of this country's "conservative tradition" that I keep banging on about?

Then I thought about sharing some of the papal press coverage, which has revealed once again the fabulously irreverent streak of the Aussie media. "Benny and his Jet" was how Sydney's Daily Telegraph described the Papal flight. Channel 7 has taken to calling the papal retreat on the outskirts of Sydney his "Holy Hideaway". When the rail unions threatened a transport strike to coincide with World Youth Day, the Sydney Morning Herald came up with "Stations of the Very Cross".

But it's the headlines that arouse anger rather than amusement which are impossible to ignore. Earlier this week, I wrote about the sexual abuse scandal that threatened to overshadow this event, but since then there have been fresh allegations against Cardinal George Pell's handling of it.

They came from Anthony Foster, whose daughters were raped repeatedly over five years by a Melbourne parish priest, Kevin O'Donnell, while they were at primary school. Emma Foster never recovered and, after years of drug abuse, committed suicide earlier this year at the age of 26. His sister, Katherine, developed a dependency on alcohol before being hit by a drunk driver and left physically and mentally disabled. She now requires 24-hour care.

Mr Foster described to ABC's Lateline programme how Cardinal Pell, who was then the Archbishop of Melbourne, had allegedly stalled the family's fight for compensation. Their protracted legal battle took eight years.

The main spokesman for World Youth Day, Bishop Anthony Fisher, was asked about the controversy today. His response is worth quoting in full:

"The cardinal and I were otherwise occupied last night enjoying the youth festival so we didn't see the Lateline story. All I've seen is the reports in the newspapers today.

"Happily, I think most of Australia was enjoying [and] delighting in the beauty and goodness of these young people and the hope for us doing these sorts of things better in the future, as we saw last night, rather than dwelling crankily, as a few people are doing, on old wounds."


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