Seventy-six-year-old Cardinal George Pell is now in jail after being convicted of having sexually abused two choir boys in 1996 inside a sacristy of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne. As he was being escorted from the courtroom, enraged voices in the crowd howled, “monster … maggot … paedophile … devil … May you rot in hell.”
Pell’s foes in the media were more genteel. There was less howling and more smirking, less anger and more gloating. And why not? After 20 years, the archdemon of sexual repression had been exorcised.
The “scourge of sex”, wrote journalist David Marr, Pell’s Tormenter-in-Chief, has been unmasked as a perverted hypocrite. Pell’s mission was to delude Australians into thinking that sexual restraint was possible, that homosexual acts were wrong, that Original Sin existed. But his project to buttress a Christian moral sensibility in a post-Christian age has collapsed in ignominy.
In a revealing paragraph in an article in The Guardian, Marr gloated that the verdict showed that Christian views on celibacy had been shown to be perverse and impossible:
Pell stood for a deeper truth: the sacred mission of not having priestly sex at all. What hymns of praise this man has sung to that over the years. No sex is sacred. No sex is an offering to Christ. No sex proves our first love is to God and not one another. No sex releases energy and spirit for the service of man. No sex leaves the heart undivided. No sex makes each priest another Christ called to spiritual paternity through the sacraments.
From Marr’s point of view, now that the Saddam Hussein of the Catholic Church has been toppled and its appallingly harsh dogmas of celibacy for priests and abstinence for the unmarried discredited, the last barriers to sexual freedom are melting away.
Presumably Australians will enter a sex-friendly world where traditional marriage and Christianity are dying institutions, same-sex marriage is thriving, homosexuality is another lifestyle choice, high school kids are free to go transgender, and so on. No more hectoring from the Catholic Church, no more sanctimonious bishops, no more hypocritical priests, no more abused children. “Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive But to be young was very heaven,” as a poet once said.
I don’t believe that George Pell is guilty of the vile crime for which he was convicted. I hope that an appeal will vindicate him. But what if he were guilty? Would that prove that Christian sexual morality is a recipe for frigid misery? No, no more than the conviction of members of Parliament for corruption proves that democracy is faulty. The cheerful and healthy lives of so many men and women who have accepted the challenge of chastity is the best evidence of that.
Marr is distorting Christian, and more particularly Catholic, morality. Perhaps that’s not his fault – some preachers did salt sermons on chastity with fire and brimstone. But the Christian message is an affirmation of love, not repression. As Pope Francis told a young audience a few years ago:
“I would not like to be a moralist, but I would like to give an unliked word, an unpopular word … Love is very respectful of people. It does not use people. And, namely, love is chaste. And to you all, young people, in this hedonist world, in this world where there are only commercials, pleasure … I tell you: Be chaste! Be chaste!”
In any case, what do Marr & Co propose to substitute for the old moral standards? Because the new ones don’t seem to be paying bliss dividends. The #MeToo campaign has revealed how widespread sexual abuse is in professional life. In the wake of the Royal Commission, sexual abuse is being uprooted from Catholic schools. But how about government schools? How about the epidemic of pornography? How about child sex abuse in non-traditional families?
With Pell a spent force in Australian public opinion, the champions of sexual liberation will have to devise another explanation for increasingly anarchic sexual behaviour amongst young people. They will no longer be able to blame those retrograde Christian dogmas. Perhaps chastity will start looking like a pretty good alternative.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.