Photo of George Pell from Wikipedia
You’d have to have been living under a rock not to be aware of Cardinal George Pell’s massive fall from grace. Convicted of historic sexual assault of two underage altar boys, he has just spent his first two nights in jail. Social media is afire with rage, especially from abuse survivors of all stripes, there’s a strong whiff of schadenfreude about. Across the world, we’ve seen pedophile priests protected for far too long and people are sick of it. Pell, once the third most powerful person in The Vatican, has now been charged and convicted and there’s a sense that we might at long last see some justice for victims.
And, also, we see the arbiters of all that is right and good – the dutiful ‘journalists’ of the Murdochrisy (epitomised in the likes of Miranda Devine), TWO ex Prime Ministers, and numerous other members of the rich white powerbroking elites – all crying foul that such a ‘good bloke’, George Pell, should be held accountable for his crimes against powerless children. Not to mention the crimes of other abusers such as his friend, the late Gerald Ridsdale.
I’m not saying anything new here, but this blog post is prompted by a remark friend made on social media this morning. Back in the 1980s we were both involved in a poetry workshop series in Pentridge Prison, sponsored by the Melbourne Poets’ Union. Both of us were moved by what we saw to try to improve conditions for prisoners. In my case this involved, as well as teaching creative writing, joining the Prisoners’ Action Group and helping prisoners communicate with their families via a community radio show. Here’s what my friend said.
‘A long time ago a young priest called George Pell had a prominent role in a Catholic Church enquiry into prisons in Victoria, with an opportunity to use the Church’s influence to bring about reforms in prison conditions. I had an interest in the matter because I had once been a tutor in prisons. I gave a written submission and also attended a meeting where ex-prisoners and relatives of prisoners gave verbal submissions. The priest listened with every appearance of respectful attention and sympathy. We were promised that our submissions, which were all factual, would be taken seriously. Months later the Church’s report came out, which I believe he had a big hand in. It was a complete whitewash of the prison system, ignoring any points we had made. It would be nice to think that, given his present circumstances, he now regrets that particular dereliction of duty … but he has probably forgotten all about it.’
And here’s what I wrote:
‘My take on this is that pedophiles choose victims who are powerless or troubled. Kids from broken and single parent families, or with other vulnerabilities (in this case poor ‘scholarship’ kids). And guess where a lot of them end up after the trauma of molestation? Prison.
It’s nothing more than domestic human trafficking, or white slavery, and the church has been complicit for centuries.
That’s why the Murdoch press and general public have no interest in prison conditions. The privileged white male elites find their victims and then abandon them to the system. A system they have no intention of fixing.
Like you, I was shocked and horrified at the conditions in Pentridge during those poetry workshop years, as well as the lack of access to real, ongoing education and anything else that might’ve given these people a chance. It was such an eye-opener.’
So, my point? Next time you see some tabloid TV story about how prisoners are living high on the hog, with three square meals a day and lots of television, ask yourself how they ended up in prison to begin with. Nobody says as a child, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a drug addict or bank robber’. These behaviours are the fruit of the abuse so many children experience. We need to fix foster care, and institutional care, of vulnerable minors, if we’re to fix the rates of incarceration.
I understand the need for punishment. But being locked up is punishment enough. (Try it. Ditch your phone and devices, lock yourself in your house for a few years with no outside contact and see how long you last.)
My dream would be that prison provides real, ongoing education programmes that give prisoners a chance to make a new life on release, not the current petty, punitive zoos we see being sold off by the state to the highest bidder as a money spinner for shareholders. Prison jobs should pay decent wages that help offenders build a financial base for when they are released. The goal is to not come back to prison. Instead of the revolving door we see now. Releasing a person with no money, no skills, no supports, no housing, and expecting them not to reoffend is totally untenable.
As for Cardinal Pell, he now has a hell of a lot of time to consider how he could have done things differently. Including keeping his penis in his pants.
Oh, and just in case anyone thinks this scourge is only affecting the Catholic Church, check this link out from today’s edition of The Guardian, below. That Houston got away with not reporting his father’s behaviour to police while he lived is a disgrace. I predict a flood of privileged sanctimonious religious white men entering our prisons in the next few years. And maybe then we’ll see something done about the appalling conditions, the overcrowding, the lack of income-producing work or meaningful study options. And maybe we can shut down the pedophile to prison cycle once and for all.
Saturday March 2, 2019
This has been all over my feed today, and it seems right to share it here.
No attribution, sorry. Heartbreaking, and so common as to be pedestrian, or, as Pell’s lawyer said this week, ‘vanilla’. 😦