Opinion: Church, judges in unholy union

By Chrissie Foster
January 13, 2020

I see red when I think about the Red Mass. The Red Mass is a Catholic mass said at the end of each January for the legal fraternity marking the beginning of the legal year. The Red Mass is a ­European tradition dating back to the year 1310 in England and ­earlier in Paris — 1245.

An invitation to attend the Melbourne Red Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral appeared on the Victorian Bar website. The Victorian Bar is a “professional association of barristers”. The invitation reads: “As this is Archbishop Comensoli’s first Red Mass since becoming Archbishop of Melbourne, it is important for the legal community of Melbourne to welcome His Grace with as many members of the profession in attendance as possible.”

This is the same archbishop who recently said he would defy new child protection laws rather than report admissions of child sexual assault made in the confessional. Victoria recently passed legislation removing clergy exemption from mandatory reporting of a reasonable belief that a child has been sexually abused. Archbishop Peter Comensoli said he would rather go to jail than obey the new law.

Why should our legal profession “welcome” such a man? A man who publicly announced his intention to commit a crime? And not just any crime, one that disobeys child safety laws? The archbishop is the highest-ranking cleric of the Catholic Church in Victoria. Many clergy obey and follow him. Priests have promised obedience to him. Comensoli’s words and actions are replicated in communities all over Victoria. Why should the legal fraternity welcome someone who dictates that priests should commit a criminal offence by failing to report to the police information about child sexual abuse?

The new law lifting the secrecy of confession was debated in the Victorian parliament last August 29. It was an extraordinary day in parliament. At least 15 members of parliament rose and stated how shocked they were that the Archbishop of Melbourne would choose to protect paedophiles rather than children. Their anger was palpable. And angry they should be, for the reality of Comensoli’s words is to knowingly allow adults to continue to rape and sexually assault children. The archbishop is apparently happy to hear admissions of crimes against children and just let child molesters and rapists go unpunished, unchecked and uncured. This failure to obey the law would allow sexual crimes against children to continue for decades.

In 2003 Catholic priest Michael McArdle swore an affidavit stating that during confession he had disclosed more than 1500 times that he was sexually assaulting children. He made this confession to 30 different priests over 25 years. Not one of those 30 priests stopped him. For decades they just forgave him. This is precisely the situation Comensoli says should remain. What finally stopped McArdle was not the church, but a child going to the police. The church could have reported him to police decades earlier and saved countless children.


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