A Sticky Moment for Boy George

By Mike Carlton
Sydney Morning Herald
July 19, 2008

Battling the evil that lies in the hearts of men, the Caped Crusader and his youthful assistant were all over Gotham City this week. The new Batman movie? No, it was Cardinal George Pell and Bishop Anthony Fisher, joint impresarios of Pontifex Maximus '08, the Papal Tour Down Under. There was nowhere to hide from the daring duo.

Pell, stooped and greying, is a dour figure. Fisher, his heir apparent, is a bouncy Dominican friar, aged 47, with the sort of toothy grin not seen at St Mary's since the late Cardinal Norm "Smiler" Gilroy went to his maker. His part of the act was to ratchet up the gaiety with some pop hagiography.

The Pope, he assured us, had shown fantastic energy after his long flight from Rome. He was tremendously excited to be here. Truly, it was amazing how well informed he was, just incredible how much he knew about Australia. There was His Holiness, 81 years old yet - you could hardly believe it - he, Bishop Fisher, had trouble keeping up when they went for a walk. How wonderful that the Holy Father plays the piano and likes cats.

It was The Catholic Weekly meets Who Weekly. Was there no end to Benedict's glittering talents, his charismatic appeal to young and old? Toss the Vicar of Christ a Fender Strat and watch him hack out Keith Richards's opening riff to Start Me Up.

The bonhomie came badly unstuck on Wednesday when Fisher was asked at a press conference about a man whose two young daughters had been raped by a priest in Melbourne. One girl eventually committed suicide. The other turned to alcohol, but now she needs 24-hour care after being struck by a drunk driver.

The reply was a crass insult.

Before he took the cloth, Fisher was a lawyer at the high-flying firm of Clayton Utz. His words had all of the lawyer about them and nothing of the priest.

"I think most of Australia was enjoying, delighting in the beauty and goodness of these young people rather than dwelling crankily, as a few people are doing, on old wounds," he smarmed.

This airy dismissal of a hideous crime might harm his campaign to succeed his mentor Pell as cardinal archbishop, but it is unlikely to prove fatal. Irreverent priests in the Sydney Diocese, amused by Fisher's soaring ambition, call him Boy George.

MORRIS IEMMA'S Catholic faith is deeply important to him. It directly influences his Government's policies. We know this because last Tuesday he wrote to a newspaper to say so.

"Faith is also a source of comfort and guidance," he said. "My faith helps achieve a sense of inner calm, understanding and forgiveness. It's important to never lose balance and perspective."

The Premier is going to need all the spiritual strength he can summon as the faceless men of the ALP's head office in Sussex Street size up his shoulder blades for the knife. There is not a lot of inner calm, understanding and forgiveness happening in the Labor Party at the moment.

If Iemma wants just one reason for his Government's unpopularity, he need look no further than the Federal Court judgment which tossed out the idiotic decision to make annoying a Catholic a crime. The court found it was a nonsense, and rightly so. It was symptomatic of the bullying, hectoring style of ministers grown arrogant in power. Forgetting that they govern only with the consent of the governed, they toss their decisions at us like pearls before swine.

It paled a bit beside the world youth jamboree, but the thrilling news was that Labor's elder statesmen have entered the fray. Graham "Whatever-it-takes" Richardson has reportedly joined the anti-Iemma forces. Barrie Unsworth is rounding up such giants of the past as John McBean and Michael Easson to support the Premier. This is not politics. It's Jurassic Park.

PLEASE understand that nothing in this column is intended, in any way, to give offence to the editors of The Australian. Cross my heart and hope to die.

Writing for the Herald, you become accustomed to the Oz offering helpful advice on how we could do it so much better. Barely a day goes by without an improving homily from Holt Street. As everyone knows, at News Ltd they are the custodians of all that is pure and good in journalism, and those of us who have so fallen from grace that we can grub a living only at Fairfax or the ABC acknowledge this with humble respect.

Last Saturday The Australian surpassed itself. An editorial reproving us for our coverage of World Youth Day scaled Old Testament heights of fury. The gist of it seemed to be that if a priest shoves a hand down your Speedos you have only yourself to blame for going swimming with him in the first place. It was quite a puzzle. And it went on like that all week. I can only think that Rupert Murdoch must be making a takeover bid for the Vatican.



Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.