News Headlines > Debate over Church in Australia ‘moving to irrational extremes’

13 March 2018 | by Mark Brolly

Debate over Church in Australia ‘moving to irrational extremes’

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Dr Hodge questioned whether debate around the Church had become so polarised that it was moving towards irrational extremes

An Australian Catholic academic has warned that "irrational prejudice" against the Catholic Church, if stoked by the mainstream media, would lead to serious social tensions.

The Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy at the Australian Catholic University, Dr Joel Hodge, wrote that Australia had to be especially careful "because we have a long and documented history of anti-Catholic bias".

Dr Hodge, writing on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Religion and Ethics website on 6 March, questioned whether debate around the Church had become so polarised, particularly over child sexual abuse, that it was moving towards irrational extremes.

"By no means am I advocating that the Church be exempt from robust public scrutiny," he wrote. "I am also not wishing to divert attention from historical abuse and grievous cover-ups in the Church. I firmly express support for the survivors who have bravely stood up to seek justice and healing.

"Rather, I want to avoid prejudicial scrutiny that only leads to misdirected blame. This misdirection allows all parties to avoid proper accountability.

"Take the recent six-month investigation by The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald into the properties of the Catholic Church. The investigation sought to highlight issues around the transparency and accountability of the Catholic hierarchy... Yet, despite the purported aims of the investigation, there were some obvious flaws. These flaws highlight how resources and attention are being irrationally misdirected against the Church and could be better deployed.

"For example, the Catholic Church was treated as one entity by the investigation, whereas, in fact, it is many different entities in Australia -- dioceses, religious congregations, parishes, school, hospitals, aged care, social services and so on. To lump all these agencies together -- like lumping all the assets and agencies of the federal, state and local governments -- is misleading."

Dr Hodge said much of the reported Church property -- churches, hospitals, schools, aged care and social services facilities -- could not be liquidated. The Age also questioned the Church's tax-free status.

"One is left wondering, then, what was the real point of the investigation?" Dr Hodge wrote.

"... With any debate related to the Catholic Church in Australia, more explicit statements of prejudice rear their head. I'm not referring here to the rightful condemnation of the Church in relation to child sexual abuse. I'm speaking of irrational prejudice which, if stoked by the mainstream media, will lead to serious social tensions. In Australia, we should be especially careful because we have a long and documented history of anti-Catholic bias.

“It is not my intention here to defend, much less justify, the Church's past actions or to protect it from deserved criticism... I do not seek to divert attention away from the survivors and the measures that are required by the Church and other institutions to recompense and support them. These measures are the priority. But unfounded accusations and uncritical prejudice will not help this cause."

Dr Hodge's article was published as the Archdiocese of Sydney released the first in a series of videos defending the Church's assets after the articles in the Fairfax press. The first video highlighted as "irreplaceable" services provided by the Church to Australians through its extensive network of healthcare, education and welfare across the country, and also considered the effect on society if those services were to be diminished or eliminated.

PICTURE: Storm clouds form over the the Catholic Church's St. Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, 2014 ©PA 

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