Monday 14 July 2008


World Youth Day provides an incomparable opportunity to see the energy and dynamism of the Catholic Church's young flock and contrast this with its institutional rottenness

The youthful exuberance on the streets of Sydney for World Youth Day captures the celebration of humanity that is at the heart of great spiritual movements.

It could even warm the heart of a long lapsed Catholic. That is, until the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Pell, takes to the stage.

It's hard to imagine how he could be more adept at diminishing the church's best Australian moment in decades - and how perfectly he embodies an outmoded institution of cold, bloated, self importance and inhumanity.

Over the past few days, Pell has expressed views across three issues that put the church at odds with a great many of its adherents and the wider community. Such is the extremism of these views, they must also be theologically contentious. And they most certainly provide rich fodder to those dismissive of the church as an institution whose negatives far outweigh its positives.

First and most damningly, Pell's intervention to minimise the sexual abuse case of Anthony Jones revealed at best, an incompetence so dire as to render him unfit for the position he holds and at worst, a mischievous callousness. Cardinal Pell's apology to Jones, in the face of a media catastrophe, lacked compassion. His posturing rings hollow and he has failed to publicly express any empathy for the victim.

After last week, you might have expected that the Archbishop would keep his head down and just smile for the cameras during the Papal visit.

But no. Perhaps fearing the imminent end of his run of World Youth Day induced superstardom, Cardinal Pell yesterday shared some further personal positions - on global warming and population growth.

Remarkably, the Archbishop used his World Youth Day press conference to burnish his credentials as a climate change sceptic - washing down the Pope's global warming message of a day earlier.

Finally, the Cardinal expressed concern that birth rates in Western countries are insufficient to maintain current population levels.

Curiously, he neglected to mention that the world population continues to grow, and for the first time in history, food supplies are stretched and fuel supplies are drying up. In the past year, food shortages and inflation have forced millions around the world into starvation. There are real concerns about the earth's capacity to support the demands its present population are imposing.

In the face of these facts, the Archbishop's call to action was for Catholics to go forth, procreate and save the West with a population explosion. Implicit in this message is a cultural and racial bigotry that values a child born in the developed West over those born in the developing world or those born into non Christian cultures.

The world does not have a population growth problem. The world has a population problem. Population control is viewed as one of the best instruments for decreasing global poverty.

Many of the participants in World Youth Day come from developing countries where the populations are implored to have small families. To them, the global food and resources crisis is a daily reality.

I wonder how Cardinal Pell's message was received by these pilgrims? I wonder whether they realised that by virtue of their country of birth, they were excluded from the Cardinal's populate or perish call?

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