Michael D. Breen. Freedom to Mock.

Feb 24, 2016

Tim Minchin’s ‘Come home Cardinal Pell’ nails it for many in Oz. Minchin voices the rage, the frustration and the suffering of unrequited victims, their relatives, and Church goers and observers.

Rage boils when people feel unheard. It becomes incandescent over unfairness. It sizzles when one class triumphs over another.

The song flashes the spotlight on the dark places were abuse happened initially or where cover up merchants operated.

The song is composed. Also composed is the Statement from the Catholic Communications Office February 17th. ‘The past few days has (sic) seen a great deal of incorrect information relating to Cardinal George Pell and his upcoming Royal Commission appearance.’

Both compositions seek to persuade. Let’s look at how they do it and the fallout. Minchin uses the long as literature tradition of satire. Satire works with wit, imagination, exaggeration and offence. Satire and protest songs have been the rallying and inspiring forces for much social reform.

The P.R. document purports to tell the truth. However the genre is so steeped in spin that it invites critical reading from most judicious readers. Both genres can, and often do, create a backlash, which is the opposite of their intended purposes.

Satire, seeking the high moral ground can cause serious collateral damage. There is no absolute freedom of speech. There are responsibilities as in the exercise of any right or power.

As it is three factors stand between Pell and his appearing in Australia before the Commission. One is the professional opinion of a doctor. Then there is the acceptance of that opinion by the Commission. Thirdly there is the will of Pell himself. I have not seen any criticism of the first two factors.

Pell is not currently before the court charged with an offence. Even if he were he would deserve the presumption of innocence. That may change. But no matter the amount of pain felt or hatred generated towards him the man, he enters a process of inquiry.

Neither he nor any citizen deserves lynch law or trial by media or art. The problem is that if he is seen as the victim of unfairness he and his advocates can evoke undeserved compassion or complaints of unfairness.

For satire or P.R. the end is frequently seen to justify the means. This is no more so than in social media. But I would argue that if the damage done to an innocent person, the target or bystander of a satirist attack, the attacker needs to review their motivation, means and methods.

If a satirist like Charley Hebdo knows violence would ensue from a particular piece of work are they justified in going ahead? Is it surprising that the media focuses so much on the fate of victims and on free speech? What are the ends, which involve such destructive means?

Zealots thrive on opposition. Second century Tertullian is quoted as saying, ‘The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.’ At times Tony Abbott seemed to regress to a zealous Democratic Labour Party mindset where he believed that he was doing God’s work and that opposition to his cause just proved he was on the righteous track.

It would be too easy and convenient for sexual predators or concealers to claim their accusers were just anti-Catholic bigots.

There is a line between ‘playing the man’ and following due process or solving the problem at hand. Whether in sport, or that other sport, politics currently there is too much tolerance for assault on the person. And the media love it.

Advocates for victims or Pell are challenged to have respect for their clients. Can we all also maintain sufficient respect for the processes of the land to see that supra jungle standards are maintained all round? Or at least have the patience to see what they yield?

Michael D. Breen is a Zen Buddhist ex Jesuit. He is a retired, organizational and humanistic psychologist. He fends off relevance deprivation with forays into woodwork,, metalwork, writing and Zen.

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