Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mental illness = crime and violence

Professor Frank Oberklaid (Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne):

“So many of the conditions we see in adult life like mental health problems, like violence, like participation in crime often have their roots in the early years”.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"Greatest hits" re-post from 2004

The post below was originally posted on 17 August 2004. It has been – quite oddly – removed from apparently any Google search. Hopefully this re-post will remedy that, for a while at least.


Cardinal George Pell – and the art of using paedophiles as a career springboard

With this news, it seems an inescapable conclusion that powers from high up within the Catholic Church are pulling strings at the Victorian OPP office. Gerald Ridsdale, sentenced in 1994 at age 60 to 18 years’ jail (with a minimum of 15 years) looks likely to become a free man in 2009, at age 75:

A spokesman for the OPP said that even if Ridsdale was found guilty of the new allegations, he would be unlikely to receive an increased sentence. The Court of Appeal in 1995 described Ridsdale's sentence as a "virtual life sentence . . . unusually long".

At such a late stage of his life it was "harsh punishment and a severe burden". The court said he would not be eligible for parole until he was 75.

The OPP spokesman said: "Our view is he would not get a substantial increase to his sentence, if any. We are prosecuting all of these cases in the context of limited resources in the criminal justice system.

The question becomes 'what's to be gained for the public?' "While we understand the concern of the individual victims, and we are concerned for the victims, it's a question of balancing all of the considerations."

By way of comparison, Robert "Dolly" Dunn – who shared Gerald Ridsdale’s especially heinous preference for pre-pubescent boys (typically, 10-12 yo’s), and the only man to share with Ridsdale the Google honours of "Australia's most notorious pedophile" – got a 30 year sentence (with no prospect of parole), at the age of 61*.

FWIW, the 35 yo “latest complainant” referred to could have been no older than 10 at the time (Ridsdale left Edenhope in Spring 1979).

The question 'What's to be gained for the public?' is anything but rhetorical. Even accepting that Ridsdale would be unlikely to re-offend at 75 (which personally I doubt), there is no logical reason why fresh charges would not result in an additional sentence, to bring Ridsdale’s overall jail term in line with Dunn’s. In other words – and let’s not beat around the bush – to make sure that Ridsdale dies in jail, as will Dunn. The severity of Dunn’s sentence presumably took into account that the prisoner had offended in multiple jurisdictions, although was being tried only for offences in one – similarly, it is to be noted that Ridsdale remains wanted in NSW, where he has not yet faced trial.

Further, at least one of the two Ridsdale co-offenders (both Christian Brothers) mentioned, upon whom the OPP is also sitting on its hands, is long-since a free man. Robert Best received a nine-month suspended sentence in 1996, while Edward Dowlan was sentenced in July 1996 to nine years and eight months' jail, with a minimum of six years. (The lightness of these sentences can be partially explained by the estimated $400,000 that the Christian Brothers order spent in Dowlan’s and Best’s defence.)

Still further, as for the OPP’s purported “understand[ing] the concern of the individual victims” – how does a trial resulting in an objectively meaningless “second” life sentence (like the first ,with no parole) for a convicted murderer meet this criterion, but a trial relating to the concerns of living victims of child rape doesn’t? In terms what Pell’s role might be, in explaining the OPP’s intransigence, in the face of manifest disparity between Ridsdale’s, Best’s and Dowlan’s sentences compared to Robert "Dolly" Dunn’s – I can only speculate, of course.

I will, however, take this opportunity to rebut something I wrote here more than two years ago:
What I'm saying, then, is let's not have a false witch-hunt. I'm reasonably sure that if George Pell had much of an inkling about what was going on at St Alipius school in 1971 (the year that he (and I) moved to Ballarat, but two years before he actually shared digs at St Alipius for a year, 1973), far more serious accusations would have since been made against him. Whatever he, or anyone else, has done wrong in handling the matter should be judged by what they did or didn't do at the time, and not by now going for the tallest target, who has - by coincidence - grown into a position of real power decades after the event. My guess is that George Pell does have a lot more to say about what happened at St Alipius in 1971 - but it's not at all his own skin that he's protecting in so far maintaining his silence.

What’s changed? Firstly, the unproductive “witch-hunt” I feared did come to pass, albeit in a minor way. Pell was himself "charged" – not by police, and heard by a closed-door "independent inquiry" – with child sex offences in 2002, and "cleared". Then and now, I’m convinced that Pell personally was/is not a paedophile, most especially not any time from 1971 on.

Where I was wrong was in underestimating – grievously so – the motivating effect of that other destructive aphrodisiac: lust for power. Two years ago, I thought that, given Pell personally not being a paedophile, there was little reason for him to cover anything up (i.e. to not become a belated whistle-blower) – unless he was still protecting persons more powerful than himself. Now having a much better understanding of Pell’s career trajectory and its key dates**, I can see that my earlier view was rather simplistic.

Even in the early 70s, Pell was by no means a quivering junior priest on the periphery of a child sex scandal only know about by a handful of top Ballarat clerics. Rather, Pell used the scandal as leverage to advance himself within the Ballarat diocese. From 1973, he strove to make himself a “cleanskin”, with an artificial, dual career path. One track kept him mostly well away from children (and so from working alongside, under or above known clerical paedophiles), while the other minimally kept his iron in the fire – in terms of saying mass etc, and also in terms of playing an all-important (if ill-defined) hand in diocesan politics.

In 2004 then, it is safe to say that Pell is a cold, practised and self-serving liar.

My primary argument in support of this assertion is that it is impossible to accept Pell’s claim that the first time he even heard rumours about Ridsdale’s paedophilia was when Ridsdale returned from four years’ treatment in the USA – in 1990, long after the two were both priests resident and working in the same diocese.

Even giving Pell the benefit of the doubt, in not having a clue about Ridsdale’s behaviour when it was occurring inches away from him – the two of them, along with other priests were living under one roof at St Alipius’ presbytery in 1973 – the latest possible date for Pell to have been generally aware of suspicions about Ridsdale would be 1975, the year in which then-Bishop Ronald Mulkearns has admitted that he first became aware of Ridsdale's “problem” (same URL).

Pell has said of his time living at St Alipius’ presbytery:

"I lived there with [Ridsdale] and there was not even a whisper. It was a different age, it was never mentioned."

“Different age” or not, the lack of even a whisper could only have been because there was a shout. Although Mulkearns – b. 1931 and still alive – has never been charged, a three-month police investigation (“Operation Arcadia”) concluded that Mulkearns had knowledge of crimes committed by Ridsdale much earlier than he has admitted to (same URL).

In fact, it is clear that Mulkearns inherited the Ridsdale problem when he took over as Bishop of Ballarat on 1 May 1971, a few days before Pell returned to Ballarat diocese from Oxford University, and a few months after Ridsdale had been shunted from Warrnambool to Ballarat (town hundreds of kilometres apart, but still within the same diocese). Mulkearns’s predecessor (and Pell mentor) Bishop James O'Collins recommended a psychological report on Ridsdale in 1966, and Mulkearns apparently did the same thing soon after becoming Bishop in 1971.

Reading between the lines of these known facts, it appears that Bishop O'Collins knowingly sent the paedophile Ridsdale to serve at St Alipius (including as primary school chaplain) from the start of 1971. This seems an almost-inexplicable act – O'Collins shunted a paedophile priest from a remote outpost of the diocese to its very centre, right under the Bishop’s own nose – except for the fact that O'Collins already had an exit strategy for himself in place. Moreover, O'Collins also had “insurance” – that he chose to step-down at exactly the moment the-then Oxford whizz-kid Pell returned to Ballarat speaks volumes. Pell’s initial job, then, was to cover O'Collins’s back.

Such a task necessitated Mulkearns getting thrown in at the deep end –which helps explain the curiously distant relationship between Pell and Mulkearns. O'Collins (and Pell, of course) kept up the pretext of knowing nothing, thus making Mulkearns’s supervisorial job that much harder – getting up to speed with a paedophile network headed by one’s same-age peer would genuinely take some time, and a lot of digging (in contrast, O'Collins had the luxury and power of having been Bishop of Ballarat since Ridsdale was a boy in the diocese).

While there is no single “smoking gun” to implicate Pell as a protector of paedophiles including Ridsdale, there is an observable pattern of denial on Pell’s part that sticks out like a polygraph thumb. After landing on his feet in 1973, at 32, as director of Aquinas College, Institute of Catholic Education (now Australian Catholic University), Pell was at least the Ballarat diocese’s second-most powerful figure for 11 years, until he moved to Melbourne in 1985 to head Corpus Christi College, the seminary in which he first studied.

The move/promotion, from what was essentially a secular role at a teacher-training institute, to being at the very crucible of the priesthood in charge of Victoria’s only seminary, came a year after James O'Collins’s death at 91.

During the intervening 11 year lacuna, Pell can be observed to have scrupulously avoided any formal role with the Ballarat diocesan hierarchy:

"I was never chaplain to St Alipius Boys School or worked there".

Disingenuously, Pell invariably omits to mention that he was officially assistant priest at Ballarat East (St Alipius) parish from 1973 to 1983. This was a role manqué for Pell – lowly enough to offer the immunity of plausible ignorance should questions ever arise, but sufficient for Pell to discharge his priestly duties while (i) he bided his time for a suitable place in the Church hierarchy, and (ii) he oversaw that nothing untoward happened to the in-it-up-to-his-neck, paedophile-protecting O'Collins before the retired Bishop's death.

Ridsdale, meanwhile, was finally decisively dealt with by Mulkearns – at least in the sense of his being removed from (i) the diocese and (ii) easy access to young children – in 1980, when he was sent to “study” at the National Pastoral Institute in Melbourne. Typically, Pell saw "nothing unusual" in this move.

If there is a stand-out piece in this pattern of denial, then this piece of retrospective justification is surely it:

"Before 1996, Ballarat had a committee to deal with this problem of accusations of sexual abuse. I was never a member of such a committee and no allegations or reports on any of the men mentioned were made to me." (same URL)

Yep, sure George – a committee did it. A faceless committee, comprised of unnamed persons, but presumably including your old sparring-mate Ronald Mulkearns, systemically covered up decades of child sexual abuse. Meanwhile, the one-person Committee for the Career and Advancement of George Pell was able to motor-on untouched and unimpeded – a career built on the suffering of hundreds of sexual abuse victims, that all started from the relatively innocent premise of covering one man’s back.

Update 18 August 2004

* Robert "Dolly" Dunn is appealing his 30 year sentence.
** After November 1983, the only person Pell could have been protecting was himself.

Update 19 August 2004

The Victorian OPP have been mysteriously swayed into keeping the Ridsdale files open, after all, "mysteriously" because the official explanation is that they thought that the "new victims" would have been heard at the original, 1994 trial. Go figure. Anyway, it's good news, I think. Keep an eye out for whether Mulkearns gets called as a witness, and if he does, whether he's finally going to decide to spill the beans (and therefore go down himself). If so, my guess is that Pell won't be able to stop taking the stand – and then the dock – himself.

The Pell Files – a selected bibliography:

Monday, June 03, 2002 Now for something completely different

Thursday, August 22, 2002 Where to begin with the latest George Pell story?

Monday, December 02, 2002 How many mentors should a person have?

Thursday, October 02, 2003 George Pell – one Cardinal Sin retires as another is inaugurated at 62

Tuesday, May 04, 2004 Get Thee Down the Aisle, George Pell

Thursday, August 07, 2003
FOUND: the Vatican’s “smoking gun” on clerical paedophilia
[de-archived, reprinted post]

Clerical paedophilia, particularly in the Catholic Church, has been a significant public scandal, more or less continually, since the early 1980s. It is reasonable to suppose that the actual incidence of this crime has also significantly decreased since about the early 1980s (although I say this with a caveat – the long lead time, akin to mesothelioma’s incubation period, for many of the current batch of claims, may be a sui generis aspect to the reporting of the crime, rather than a year-of-crime-irrespective reportage “clustering” phenomenon).

The importance of charting a peak in the incidence of clerical paedophilia is double-sided. More obviously and understandably, it contains the crime (“contains” here in an innocent sense) – by the acts being mostly in the past, the present can be more effectively devoted to making reparations (aka “Towards Healing”), while not, of course, admitting that the passage of time has dulled the affect of the crime on its victims. A high level of present suspicion, in contrast, would be incredibly toxic – for the conduct of the “healing” process, and much more importantly, for the very survival of the Catholic Church in the English-speaking world.

An early 1980s peak can alternatively be invoked to deflect the crime of clerical paedophilia, by blaming it on the supposed exceptionalism of social mores between the late 1960s and the early 1980s. Even accepting the existence as fact of social liberalism as an infectious, noxious agent in the post-Vatican II weakened Church, I (and I would assume, many others) cannot rationally comprehend how such a force could have undermined ordinary individual standards of moral autonomy. Still less could I (until I read this today) understand how the institutional Catholic Church could even broach such an ostensible link.

In case it is not clear what such a link means at the morality coalface, I'll spell it out now – paedophiles are as much victims of the liberal society as much as anyone else. A pretty sick argument, indeed – but a point nonetheless made by Archbishop George Pell, albeit in an oblique way, I should note. For a direct, bulls-eye invocation of the same argument by a senior political figure, see this.

With today’s revelations that a 1962 Vatican policy – apparently in force until quite recently – instructed total secrecy in cases of sex abuse by priests, the “out there” arguments of the Pells of this world now make considerably more sense. Clerical paedophilia was not long hidden/deflected because it was thought trivial, nor (probably) because it went to the Church’s highest levels, so giving blackmailers’ general immunity to its foot-soldier practitioners. Rather, Church paedophilia was caught in a loop of anachronistic secrecy.

The 1962 policy did not start out as a licence for paedophile clerics – although clearly, by the 1970s, it had become one. As a product of its time, the 1962 policy was mostly unexceptional – the prejudice that blanket secrecy would impose on victims of abuse is shocking by today’s standards, but not completely out of whack with mid-20th century haute paternalism. Presumably, the policy’s secrecy, even as to its existence, was also justified by the anticipated rarity of its invocation – like the rite of exorcism, some things clerical may well be best left as medieval-esque last resorts for the otherwise inexplicable (and unforgivable).

It was the 1962 policy’s secrecy, however, that was to quickly overwhelm its original intents. Never mind the admittedly changing social mores on the outside of the clerical ramparts; the licence had come from within. All that the sexual revolution et al did was to postpone the Church’s day of reckoning. Like a Bill passed in the last hours of a government about to lose office, the 1962 policy was soon to reek of Bad Law. Not that the Catholic Church had planned as much, at least in a precise, Machiavellian way. More likely, it was something simply overlooked, amid all the Vatican II optimism and momentum. It was thus left to the mealiest of senior Church mouths, like Archbishop George Pell, to take their revenge on Church modernisation by clinging on to a policy that had long since become evil (in any ordinary use of the word) – and then even to slyly half-confess their complicity, by the tried-and-true technique of blaming the Other.

- Paul Watson 4:37 PM

# posted by Paul Watson : 12:03 PM

Monday, August 04, 2008

Twenty years of Punt Road gridlock – a parable

In the two years to mid-1988, car traffic on Melbourne’s Punt Road (an inner-city arterial and bete noir of every Melbourne driver) increased from 50,000 to 200,000 vehicles per day. This figure has stayed pretty much constant ever since. Nonetheless, Punt Road's traffic congestion is featured in two big (unrelated) news stories in today’s broadsheets. Contrary to what you might think, today’s stories are not shallow, ahistorical whinges; nor overt “20th anniversary of the gridlock” angles. Instead, we get the impression that the stories' quoted experts have driven on Punt Road precisely twice in the last 20 years (in 1988 and then just the other day), which has resulted in such exquisite deja vu that fixing Punt Road gridlock has become a personal crusade of some urgency.

As most Melburnians would recognise, the above Punt Road figures are a crock – everyone knows that Punt Road has been gridlocked forever. Moreover, any Melburnian who started espousing the golden, olden days of Punt Road, “when traffic was as light as silk”, would be committing high treason on Melburnians’ most sacred collective tenet – that the worst Punt Road traffic has ever been was one’s most recent (if not current) time, but equally the title to Punt Road’s true horror-of-horrors Worst Time Ever is so fiercely competed for among Melburnians that they should never lightly enter the ring, by sharing, especially with strangers, their own Punt Road traffic-horror anecdotes and metrics. But I digress.

If you replace “Punt Road” in the above with “post-modernism”, you get a nutshell of today’s “news”. Yes, post-modernism has been omnipresent in Australian universities humanities departments for about 20 years, but never mind revisiting the facts of its rather abrupt introduction. But that’s perhaps a niche story, anyway. More importantly for today’s "news" is that the intervening 20 years are of remarkably little consequence. While in the last 20 years, millions of journeys have been taken upon Punt Road, and at least hundreds of thousands have done three or more years study in humanities departments, today’s news focus is on the armchair expert, who somehow manages to own the Worst Pomo-Horror Ever (Anecdote) Official Title, in spite of twenty years of life and student/academic traffic going on and through humanities departments.

I have previously written on this phenomenon – which of course marginalises Xers' experience (to an offensive degree), and privileges boomers’ irrational/armchair perspectives – a la Keith Windschuttle. I thought then that maybe this was a right-wing nutbar peccadillo, but it now seems that it’s in the general water supply consumed by boomers.

For the record, there are actually living Australians who were students when post-modernism became pervasive in university humanities departments in the 1980s. As you can probably guess, I am one of them. I don’t think that anything more needs to be said about this, other than if pomo was going to cause the sky to fall, then it already must have happened, sometime in the last 20 years.

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