Fools Rush In—Brexit

On Facebook I decided to repost an article which reported on the Liberal Democrats’ extreme, and highly odious, policies on abortion. Therefore I advocated against voting for the LibDems. In response some have been enquiring as to whether I now support Brexit. It is something of a non-sequitur but not totally illogical, since the LibDems are explicitly committed to reversing Brexit.

However, responsible voting must allow for the fact that there is more than one issue involved in general elections; they are not single-issue referendums. That so many elections often revolve around single issues is another matter. That the LibDems advocate abortion with the barest of limits, and desire to export their anti-life advocacy overseas, represents a single issue which acts as an effective veto on their desirability. What good is it staying in Europe if we condemn our unborn, and therefore powerless, fellow human beings to arbitrary death? To vote for a single issue is usually unwise; the foregoing notwithstanding, to vote against a single issue is sometimes morally necessary.

Labour is no pro-life party either but Labour’s current advocacy of a second referendum should not be allowed to entice Remainers into its camp. The first referendum was a grotesque mistake; another wrong will not make it right.

The problem is the mechanism of the referendum in the British system. It is a glorified, and vastly expensive, opinion poll of those who can be bothered to give their opinion. It requires only a simple majority across the entire United Kingdom. A referendum is not legally binding and there is no mechanism to balance regional variation. Such a referendum is a recipe for discord.

In Australia, also governed on the Westminster system, referendums are required to change its written constitution. Ordinarily the proposal must pass both houses of Parliament (and always at least one) before it can be put to the people. To pass, the question posed at the referendum must be supported by a majority of people in a majority of the six states; that is, there must be a majority of votes in at least four states as well as a majority nationally—a double majority. Moreover, if the proposal being voted on affects specifically the constitutional rights or status of a particular state, that state must return a majority vote for the proposal to pass. Voting is compulsory in Australia. Thus the result will authentically reflect the opinions of the entire nation.

Only eight out of 44 such referendums have succeeded in changing the constitution. There is a high threshold to surpass, and this acts as a brake on ephemeral, or merely regional, enthusiasm. But when a proposal does pass, it has the secure support of the majority of the nation. It is not a perfect system, but it superior to what transpired in 2016 in the UK.

By contrast the Brexit referendum of 2016 required a simple majority among voluntary voters taken as a whole across the Kingdom. 51.9% against 48.1% does not represent a sufficiently wide margin to ensure widespread acquiescence to the result. In total 33.6 million people voted out of a registered electorate of 46.5 million. Thus the referendum result can only be said to have reflected with certainty the opinions of 72.2% of the registered electorate across the Kingdom. Moreover there is no mechanism to take account of significant regional variation. That is why Ms Sturgeon cries foul on behalf of Scotland, that its No vote was disregarded, as in one sense it was since a simultaneous majority of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom was not required in addition to the overall simple majority.

Another referendum will duplicate this situation, and no doubt exacerbate it. Having had the referendum, and the government of the day having pledged—unnecessarily—to act on its result, that referendum needs to be respected.

A further tragedy is that, absent a referendum system fit for purpose, it is not fair to dump all the blame on Parliament for the failure to enact, as yet, the referendum result. Parliament was not legally bound to do so. It is unlikely that MPs were elected solely on their opinion about EU membership. They were elected not to conform to the latest opinion polls but to act and vote in accordance with the principles and policies on which they campaigned to be elected, and also according to their conscience (St Thomas More could teach us much on this point). That is representative democracy. The referendum has set up a rival authority to Parliament, and one that is not countenanced in the British constitution.

In all this can we surely find the roots of the current debacle.

I am not pro-Brexit, but neither am I do-or-die Remain. Another referendum would be pure and destructive folly. The bitterness that has been injected into the British body politic is appalling. The sooner Brexit is done and dusted the better. Then we get on with trying to make the best of it.

No more politics hereafter, but it does at least save me writing at length to all those who suspect a change of opinion on Brexit. And it took my mind off the Church for a while…

From Naaman to Newman

In my early-onset amnesia, I wrote a homily for this Sunday (28C) having wholly forgotten that we have a pastoral letter from the archbishop appointed to be read. To save myself from the feeling of utter futility I post it here so that at least it was not totally for nothing! Continue reading “From Naaman to Newman”

An Ill-Starred 1960s Ad Campaign

An ad campaign is probably trivialising what was clearly a campaign not to sell a product but to advocate for the traditional liturgy when the tide was perceived to be turning against it. The average person in the pew might believe the Church went from the old Mass to the new almost overnight. Seen in the context of the entire history of the Church some might argue it was little short of overnight. Nevertheless there were 5 years of official transition from the old liturgy to the new, with a new Ordo Missae in 1965, which was further reformed in 1967. Contiguous with this official universal reform was a melange of official, semi-official, unofficial and illicit experimentation and adaptation. Most of this was centred on and moulded by the local churches, almost invariably involving the introduction of the vernacular to the Mass to greater or lesser degrees.

In 1967 the Latin Mass Society had clearly taken fright. Continue reading “An Ill-Starred 1960s Ad Campaign”

Pell—For the Record

A COUPLE OF COMMENTS have not made it through the combox moderation process. They take me to task for defending such a “vile creature”, for serving to “perpetuate the silence”, asking “why does the church at least try to stop it [sic]”, as well as “blind support of a convicted pedophile” and asserting that “the suffering of the victims seems to be of little interest to the Church.”

I give such comments little time as they exhibit such profound ignorance that it seems reasonable to conclude these are people who want only to sound off, not to listen, and certainly not to try to learn the facts. You would have to be in a coma not to know that the Catholic Church has been so obsessed with safeguarding that it often errs on the side of the complainant and priestly ministries have been destroyed on the flimsiest of evidence on some occasions. The Church is not as centrally run as the uninformed seem to think, so some parts of the Church differ from others, to be sure. But even secular observers now conclude that a Catholic church is, statistically, a safer place for children than the family home.

Silence about child abuse? It is impossible to take such a charge seriously.

Blind support of a convicted pedophile? Well, if he had read the blogs and articles and the vast array of coverage even in secular media, the charge of ‘blind’ support would be found absurd. Convictions are not infallible acts; many innocent people have been convicted of crimes they did not commit. It should be obvious that I, among many others even outside the Church, do not believe Pell committed these crimes. Therefore I do not see him as vile. Since I believe he is innocent I feel obliged to support his cause. You may disagree with me, think me even a fool, but it is itself vile to accuse me and other believers of Pell’s innocence of being party to a cover-up, of not taking the abuse crisis seriously or any other form of bad faith. It is ignorant.

As to the alleged victim, there is a grey area here. Since I do not believe Pell abused him (and since the other alleged victim for whom Pell was charged asserted that he had not been abused by Pell) then I do not believe this person was a victim of Pell. Archbishop Comensoli has allowed that the complainant may be have been abused by someone else whom the complainant has mistaken for Pell. If that is the case then he deserves full support and the real justice of the actual offender being identified and prosecuted.

However, given the evidence as presented, there is no way that Cardinal Pell could have committed the offences of which he has been convicted in the way he is alleged to have committed them. It does not add up. What does add up is that the toxic atmosphere that built up against Pell, especially with the Victoria Police fishing for anything they could get on Pell even without a single complaint or allegation being made, and especially with Louis Milligan’s poisonous book—all this made it almost impossible that Pell could get a fair trial in Victoria. As has been shown, in fact.

Those who blindly assert that Pell must be guilty simply because a jury has said so and because the media say so would do well to read around and beyond their own small radius of news and information. They would do well to read Justice Weinberg’s dissenting judgment. (Is he, too, blindly supporting a vile predator?) Those who are convinced of Pell’s guilt, for sound reasons or for poor ones, should have no fear of an appeal to the High Court. If his conviction is safe then the High Court would hardly overturn the decision. If his conviction is unsafe, then everybody wins if it is overturned. When justice fails so blatantly for one, then it could more easily fail for those who have no profile and no wide support—the little guy, who always gets trodden on when things go awry.

The Church continually prays for victims of abuse as well as paying compensation and providing other support, is highly active in ensuring people with such tendencies are not admitted to seminaries or religious orders, and deals robustly with even the merest hint of suspicion. There will be failures since no system is perfect, but the Church’s systems in the areas where I have lived and worked are very robust indeed and the risk of such failures is vastly reduced. But of course, if one is informed only by a biased press, limited reading and the content of headlines or 30-second items on news’ bulletins, then one would never know this.

Besides it is much easier to bash the Church. Hypocrisy found in it makes it easier to ignore the hypocrisy often found in state institutions, and in the family home indeed. Or even more disturbingly, in ourselves.

Victims are best served by true justice not the injustice meted out by lynch mobs, real and metaphorical. So let’s pray and work for justice, even when it hurts.

Pell and the Failure to Testify

I write this in haste, on a train using a phone. Not ideal. But here goes…

A number of people are raising the reasonable question of why Cardinal Pell did not take the stand at his trial to testify in his own defence. Some, not all, suspect that his failure to do so implies he might be guilty, or that it makes him look guilty.

A few considerations might guide our assessment of the failure of Cardinal Pell to testify.

The trial was essentially one man’s word against another’s. A good defence barrister would want to focus on other evidence.

If Pell had taken the stand, it might have looked as if it were a contest between a powerful man of high reputation against a small victim. It would not be a good look in the current climate.

Moreover, it is known that before the trial the defence team thought it would not even reach the stage of jury deliberation; the evidence should collapse under the weight of its own absurdity.

Given that view, why put the defendant on the stand, especially given the fact that a good prosecutor could possibly get the defendant to say something that could be construed in a way damaging to his defence? One false step, once made, cannot be taken back nor can the impression made on the jury. For example, occasionally a judge will direct a jury to ignore a piece of evidence or a segment of testimony. That is, psychologically speaking, almost impossible. While the jury may not use such evidence to inform their verdict, they cannot easily banish the impression that evidence may have made on them. Thus, it is better to avoid the risk if possible.

Some argue that Pell should have insisted, that an innocent man would want to declare his innocence. Yet, his innocence is technically, supposedly, presumed. It did not need to be asserted. It is the datum that must be disproved beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecution, not a claim to be proved by the defence.

Moreover, due to the kind donations of others, a professional of high repute, a Queen’s Counsel no less, was retained to conduct the cardinal’s defence. In light of the above, he clearly would have advised Pell not to risk taking the stand and being bamboozled by a clever prosecutor. It would have been brave, even arrogant, to disregard the advice of the professional for whose services others were paying.

Mr Richter QC made a correct assessment of the objective worth of the evidence against Pell. He made a serious mistake in disregarding the subjective effect of the jury having heard only the complainant’s testimony. Perhaps he was too sure of himself. But this is 20/20 hindsight, and rather too late now.

Mr Justice Weinberg QC provides considerable grounds for considering Pell’s conviction unsafe. The cardinal must appeal to the High Court in Canberra. He busy do this not only for his own sake, but for the sake of all clergy. If this conviction stands, no priest is safe.

#prayersforpell

Pell and Justice

THOSE WHO PERVERT JUSTICE TO CONDEMN AN INNOCENT MAN merit a special place in hell. I speak objectively; there can be subsequent repentance, and the mercy of God is unfathomable and works to a divine plan beyond our ken. If one believes truly that Cardinal Pell is guilty then their outrage is comprehensible; yet one wonders if they have taken any time over the evidence, or whether they are motivated by the desire to “get Pell”.

Mr Justice Mark Weinberg QC dissented from the Court of Appeal’s majority judgment and upheld the appeal:

“I am troubled by the fact that I find myself constrained to differ from two of my colleagues whose opinions I always respect greatly,” he wrote.

“That has caused me to reflect even more carefully upon the proper outcome of this application. Having done so, however, I cannot, in good conscience, do other than to maintain my dissent.”

Apparently his judgment takes up 200 pages of the 325 page judgment. I am yet to read it. However it seems that the judges making the majority judgment felt constrained to believe the alleged victim:

But Chief Justice Ferguson and Justice Maxwell accepted the prosecution’s submission that Pell’s surviving victim was a compelling witness, “clearly not a liar”, “not a fantasist” and a witness of truth.

The Age (Melbourne), 21/8/19

In light of the recent travesty of justice and common sense wrought in England by Carl Beech, whom the Metropolitan Police fell over themselves to believe, to the point of misleading a judge in gaining a search warrant; and given that the other alleged victim, now sadly deceased, maintained that he had not been abused by Pell, the majority judges’ stance seems unconvincing.

The Victorian Court of Appeal, from left, Chief Justice Ferguson, Justice Maxwell, and Justice Weinberg

It seems that Cardinal Pell’s defence team made at least two significant mistakes at the original trial. The first, as some have been commenting here, is that Cardinal Pell was not called to give evidence in his defence. This allowed the complainant’s testimony to hold the floor.

The second error was relying on an animated presentation to demonstrate the logistical and physical impossibility of the crimes of which Cardinal Pell was accused. Chief Judge Kidd of the County Court disallowed the animation. Why were the jurors not taken to the cathedral to see for themselves the layout, the nature of a post-liturgical procession to the sacristy at Melbourne’s cathedral, the vestments that Cardinal Pell would have been wearing? If there was a good reason for this I am yet to learn it. It seems to be a spectacular failing in the defence approach.

Instead, in light of inadequate and insufficient evidence to demonstrate the manifest impossibility of the alleged crime, and the failure to allow Cardinal Pell to speak in his defence, the flimsy evidence of the alleged victim was allowed to hold attention. Add to this the prejudicial atmosphere prior to the trial and I begin to see how, possibly, a jury might have been swayed to give credence to the incredible.

Cardinal Pell returns to solitary confinement, the deprivation of celebrating Mass, and I am told, the total absence of access to sunshine. We must pray for him, and those who, for whatever reason, have falsely accused him.

And the cardinal must appeal to the High Court of Australia, an august court outside the borders of Victoria and beyond popular manipulation. To do this is not only for his sake, but for the sake of every priest. No priest is safe now. #prayersforpell

Alexander Downer—former Australian foreign minister and Australian High Commissioner to the UK—on Radio 4 this morning that we must sympathise with the victim. But what if you do not believe, on the basis of the evidence, that there ever was a victim; how can one symapthise with someone whom one believes does not exist?

**update on a related question here**