Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Mulkearns and ecclesisatical responsibility; paedophilia and the National Civic Council

“Paedophilia is a continuation of office and union politics by other means”

-          Apparent personal motto of Bishop James O’Collins, 1892-1983 

As Gerard Henderson likes to remind us (1), supporting George Pell’s case that he knew nothing about clerical sex abuse in his patch until the early 1990s, the two bishops who Pell worked under during the decades in question (2) were “liberal” in contrast to the conservative Pell.  Ergo, implies Henderson, Pell, despite having senior roles in both dioceses, was plausibly locked out of the information loop by his immediate superiors over two decades (1971-c.1991), regarding paedophile priests. 

It is a strange and far-fetched argument when you think about it.  Pell, whose career plainly prospered under both these men, was according to Henderson nonetheless a victim of office politics when it came to them not sharing certain information.  If so, this was a tickle-with-a-feather, if not downright lucky, type of victimhood for Pell. 

When Mulkearns and Little both retired under a cloud at about the same time, Pell could go from nought to a hundred on the issue; from being (under his own account) almost certainly the last senior cleric in the Ballarat and Melbourne dioceses to know about widespread clerical sex abuse, to being the first senior cleric (in the Melbourne diocese) to do something to address its effects. 

From zero to hero overnight – I am surprised that Henderson doesn’t also add to Pell’s list of victimhood slights by pointing out that Hollywood should have, but hasn’t, already made a movie about Pell’s long decades of unknowing innocence, probably because Hollywood is also infested with “liberals”.  Such a movie would gloriously detail Pell’s resolute fighting fibre when he belatedly learns the truth, and conveniently gets the top job soon after, in a third act that would be wall-to-wall triumph for the underdog Pell, who fought so long and so hard against all odds.  But I digress.

Speaking of the truth, I am surprised that Gerard Henderson’s recent article didn’t bookend the (according to him) weaselly liberal reign of Mulkearns at Ballarat by his conservative, and similarly long-serving predecessor, James O’Collins.  O’Collins was, as I presume Henderson is aware, one of the three founding executives of The Movement in September 1945 (3).  This highly secret anti-communist organisation later morphed into the National Civic Council, which in turn by 1971 had dwindled into something of a shell of its former nuts-and-bolts heyday – keeping communists out of positions of infleunce, particularly in trade unions.  By the eve of Whitlam, the union communist bogeyman was barely a threat; if you believed in these things, communism was by then doing its dirty work more insidiously and nebulously still, via a liberal/left-wing counter-culture, whose agenda included sexual permissiveness.

From the mid-to-late 1960s, this new enemy was always going to be difficult to fight.  Nonetheless, some of The Movement’s younger warriors have risen to present-day positions of power and influence, and in so doing, have rarely if ever given an inch to the liberals; Gerard Henderson and George Pell, for example.  And let’s not forget Australian Prime Minister until recently, Tony Abbott, although he undoubtedly had to make more compromises than his mentor Pell in his rise to the top. 

Were it not for The Movement’s efforts over the decades, I’m sure that we’d now have had communist-mandated Sodom and Gomorrahs on every street corner.  What a terrible thought – a world where the sexual frontier would involve consenting adults with no sexual hang-ups, and not good old-fashioned child abuse behind closed doors, with associated team-bonding and career-enhancing blackmail, by looking through the keyhole.  But again I digress.

Going back to May 1971, James O’Collins was then in seeming good health (4) when he handed over the reins to Mulkearns as Bishop of Ballarat.  O’Collins choosing to throw in the towel at this point would, I think, make a very good opening scene for a quite different Hollywood movie, although one I doubt that Gerard Henderson and George Pell would have the stomach to watch.

This movie’s backstory starts like this:  in September 1945, the young and relatively junior O’Collins was not merely one of three senior clergy co-founders of The Movement – he was also its points man within the Church hierarchy (5) – effectively its founding CEO – although officially he was just its chaplain.  How and why a provincial and relatively junior bishop got this role seems to speak volumes about The Movement’s ethos and modus operandi; it was out of sight, out of mind, as far as the main Church hierarchy was concerned.   Like the 2000s US practice of extraordinary rendition, the Australian and Vatican big-wigs didn’t want to know too much about what O’Collins was getting up to, as long as he delivered the goods.

Funnily enough, torture was a common element in, say, 2000s Egypt (as one country that enthusiastically cooperated with US in delivering/accepting extraordinary rendition) and the 1960s Ballarat diocese under O’Collins.  To be fair, torture was an integral part of the Egyptian-American pact, while perhaps it was only a sideshow for the O’Collins-Vatican pact.

You see, in 1960s Ballarat, O’Collins was a battle-hardened general, who should have been at the peak of his career.  The annoying itch for him, if not sexual, was that infiltrating the unions, and associated malarkey, was fast becoming redundant – and what was an ageing, once high-flying and ambitious man, now forever marooned in the provinces, to do with a day-job that had once been so adrenal? 

The bored O’Collins’creative solution to his career ennui was to foster, over the 1960s, a paedophile network within his diocese.  As you do, apparently.  While O’Collins may or may not have had a personal proclivity for raping chidren en masse, its requirement for the strictest secrecy was plainly a pleasing use for O’Collins of his highly-trained, pre-existing skill set, from The Movement’s cloak-and-dagger heyday.  His skills that otherwise would go rusty. (And wouldn’t that be a crime, he may well have thought.)

There is plenty of information available confirming O’Collins as a knowing paedophile protector, one who was at least as culpable as Mulkearns and Little are/were, on Gerard Henderson’s loaded account.  In leaving O’Collins out of the story, while digging a grave, as it were, for Mulkearns, perhaps Henderson may care to explain what it all means that John Day was promoted by O’Collins after paedophile allegations were known, while conversely, Mulkearns, in the same position, effectively demoted Day to the small parish of Timboon; a surely unprecedented move, at the time if not also now, for a Monsignor.  [NB: I am not defending Mulkearns’ action in this specific respect, only pointing out that it was significantly less culpable, in my opinion, than O’Collins’ craven act in promoting known horrific paedophile John Day].  

At this point, the Hollywood movie really hits its straps.  By early 1971, O’Collins had apparently had enough of running a secret Salo Republic-style child-abuse sideshow (if not main arena) within his diocese.  The secrecy side of it was no doubt fun for him, a stimulating game to oversee, if not also play, but perhaps overall it was becoming all a bit tawdry, especially while outside, the emergent permissive society daily reminded O’Collins that the war against communism that he had signed on for in September 1945 was now essentially lost, or at least hopelessly side-tracked

In 1971, O’Collins thus understandably wanted out – but he and the Vatican were in a quandary:  who could be trusted to take over his job, and not to spill the beans on the sordid sexual empire that O’Collins ran?  A liberal, that’s who.

Mulkearns’ appointment after O’Collins may seem counter-intuitive; they were ideological opponents, after all, and what was to stop Mulkearns spilling the beans, cleaning up the debauched mess he inherited from O’Collins, and so making O’Collins retirement very uncomfortable, at best? (And conversely, Mulkearns’ job perhaps a lot easier, depending on how he played his cards with the Vatican, and vice versa).

This is the big mystery in the movie – and sorry folks, I’m not going to spoil the ending now.  But I will give you some hints about the strange O’Collins-Mulkearns handover.

On Easter Thursday, 11 April 1971, just before Mulkearns took over from O’Collins, the ambitious, and highly-educated young priest George Pell left Europe, and his cosmopolitan student life forever, for workaday Ballarat.  He therefore missed the opportunity to settle in nicely to his first diocesan appointment, at least, under his mentor, O’Collins, and instead had his career left to Mulkearns’ caprices, although in this – and every – respect, the Vatican obviously was Mulkearns’ boss.  In any event, you might think:  “silly George Pell and silly O’Collins for not timing more career overlap between them here?  Or not?  I’ll leave the contents of the rest of this narrative arc to you.

In guessing your own narrative sweep and ending here, you may want to consider a couple of other snippets.  One is that O’Collins got to live on in the imposing bluestone Bishop’s Palace in Ballarat until he died on 25 November 1983; while Mulkearns had to camp out (as Paul Keating may have put it) elsewhere.  What this means as to the power relativities between the retiree and the nominal boss, I’ll up leave to you, as likewise also the fact that George Pell lived with O’Collins in the same Bishop’s Palace in for some years in the early 1980s. 

Finally, to bring up the current Royal Commission, yesterday lawyer Sam Duggan, for Cardinal Pell, said that some words  George Pell allegedly said in 1983 (“Haha I think Gerry’s [Gerald Ridsdale has] been rooting boys again”):

Indeed, Sam Duggan seemed to have a point – that is, unless you know about the obscure concept of ecclesiastical responsibility, a canon law doctrine in which a Bishop is effectively still responsible for a diocesan priest’s actions, even if that priest is sent to another diocese, or even another state.

This is quite undeservedly an obscure doctrine, in my opinion, as it seems to have as many important legal ramifications as the notorious “Ellis defence”.  I only learnt about it this morning when I read this:

Sam Duggan’s “it makes no sense whatsoever” thus in fact makes quite a lot of sense, to me anyway – Ridsdale (among others) was the poisonous gift ("chalice", if you must) that Mulkearns was handed in 1971, and then could never, try as he might, shake off.  Wherever Ridsdale was sent to geographically, he was still Mulkearns’s jurisdictional problem (unless the Vatican laicised Ridsdale, which was notoriously hard to do).   I’ll leave the implications of this doctrine, especially in regard to the consequent motivations two other main players in the Hollywood movie, to you.

Back to 2015, in fact – although I’m not positively sure about this sequence – Sam Duggan had just yesterday heard the above lines about ecclesiastical responsibility in the Royal Commission shortly before he uttered his lame “it makes no sense whatsoever” line. 

You need to start paying more attention, Sam – you will now necessarily have your own role in the great Hollywood movie I have referred to, when you will face your own proverbial cross-examination.  And coming days in the Royal Commission will determine whether that role is career-making or breaking for you.


(1) “Cardinal must receive a fair go at royal commission and in media” Australian 5 December 2015

(2) The now terminally-ill Ronald Mulkearns b. 1930, bishop of Ballarat 1971 to 1997, Pell worked under him from May 1971 to late 1983 or early 1984; and the late Frank Little, Archbishop of Melbourne 1 July 1974 to 16 July 1996, Pell worked under him in a loose sense from 1984, when Pell became rector of Corpus Christi college in Melbourne, and then more firmly from 1986, when the then-Pope, without reference to Little, appointed Pell an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, until he took over Little’s job in mid-1996.

(3) All  three were senior clergy; the other two were Archbishop Mannix of Melbourne and Cardinal Gilroy of Sydney; see Paul Ormonde, The Movement, p 134.

(4) Though O’Collins was then 79, he lived until late 1983. 

(5) See FN 3.

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