under the patronage of St Joseph and St Dominic
By the rivers of Babylon there we sat and wept, remembering Zion;
DEFAMATION OF CATHOLICISM
Every so often, in the press, an article appears which defames Catholicism. On 8 th February 2005 The Australian published an opinion piece by journalist, Louise Evans, entitled Inaccurate conceptions an every day political miracle which mocked Catholic doctrine and moral teaching. The offensiveness of the opinion piece was only matched by its triviality.
The following day this writer sent a letter to the editor of the newspaper by email complaining about the article and sent, also, a complaint by email to the Australian Press Council claiming the article breached clauses 6, 7 and 8 of the Press Council’s Statement of Principles.
The newspaper’s editor did not reply. The Executive Secretary of the Press Council, Mr Jack Herbert, did, however, on 11th February. In a country with a free press, he wrote, there is room for a number of different opinions, tastes and senses of humour, and, as long as the material does not lapse into the downright offensive… the Council is unlikely to intervene. He included with his reply copies of four adjudications of the Council to illustrate what he described as the Council’s attitudes to bylined columns.
I responded on 17th February saying that none of the adjudications he had sent me involved complaints analogous to my complaint. I asked for copies of any adjudications of the Council on complaints made in respect of articles or opinion pieces… alleged to be critical of their religion by a follower, or followers, of the Jewish… [or] Mohammedan faith. Four additional adjudications were provided with a letter dated 22nd February, none of which was to the point. I wrote again on 28th February pointing this out and asking Mr Herbert to conduct a further search of the Press Council adjudications for material relating to gratuitous public criticism of the religious doctrines of’ Mohammedanism, Judaism or Catholicism.
On 3rd March he sent an email in reply saying he didn’t have time to do the research, that I had not shown that the article breached the Press Council’s principles and that he was closing the Press Council file on the complaint.
Letters drawing attention to of the material were also sent by a colleague on 10 th February 2005 to Monsignor Franciso Padilla, Chargé d’Affaires at the Apostolic Nunciature, to Cardinal George Pell as senior Metropolitan, and to Archbishop Frank Carroll of Canberra, the President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
Newspaper proprietors are interested in one thing only, selling newspapers. They give lip service to principle but will not hesitate to depart from it if this will serve their financial interests. On the other hand, they will do nothing which may have the effect of damaging those interests.
It is for this reason that they refrain from offending Jewish or Muslim sensibilities. No newspaper, for example, would publish an opinion piece which mocks Mohammedanism as Evans’ article mocked Catholicism. Their proprietors know they would be likely to get a bomb through the front window if they did so!
The Australian Press Council
An appeal to the Council on intellectual grounds that an article has offended Catholic sensibilities, no matter how severely the article may have breached the Press Council’s principles, is clearly useless. The parallel between the offensiveness to Catholicism of the Evans’ article and the offensiveness to Mohammedanism of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses which I adverted to in my last letter is obvious. If The Australian had published an opinion piece which mocked the tenets of Mohammedanism, as did Rushdie’s novel, the Press Council would have been bound to intervene. Mr Herbert knows that and it is, doubtless, the reason he chose to close the debate with me so peremptorily. But Catholicism is a ‘cheap shot’. No one in authority in the Catholic Church ever complains. So any complaint from an individual Catholic can safely be ignored.
Comment by Professor Flint
At a conference in mid March of this year, I put the above correspondence before Professor David Flint, former head of the Australian Press Council and of the Australian Broadcasting Authority and asked his opinion. He said in reply––
Of the letters forwarded to the bishops, Monsignor Padilla of the Apostolic Nunciature responded quickly, Cardinal Pell belatedly, and Archbishop Carroll not at all.
Cardinal Pell left for Rome in the first week in March. His reply to the letter advising him of the Evans article, dated 4 th March, was conveyed by his Private Secretary, who wrote—
On 16th March, there was a report in the media that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone had been appointed by the Vatican to attack The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown’s best selling book, which contains gross misrepresentations of the Church and of its teachings and of Our Lord Jesus Christ. On 17th March a letter of reply to the Cardinal suggested, inter alia, that he should take a similar approach to the Evans article. To date there has been no response. The death of Pope John Paul II on 2 nd April, his funeral and the conclave of cardinals to elect his successor have, doubtless, occupied all the Cardinal’s time.
The ruling principle which should govern a bishop’s activities towards those in his care is, with respect, not harm minimisation such as that suggested by his Private Secretary, but charity. Charity demands that error be corrected and the truth proclaimed. A bishop’s oath of office demands that Christ and His teachings should be defended whenever they are defamed. Cardinal Pell has a column in Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph. What could have been easier for him than to address the gratuitous mockery of Catholic teaching in the Evans article in his column? He could have drafted such an article on the plane to Rome. Yet no such column has appeared.
Despite promises from his staff, no response has ever been received from Archbishop Carroll. What was to prevent him from requiring the secretariat of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to inform all Australia’s bishops of the offensiveness of the article and inviting and encouraging them to issue responses in their own dioceses, and to incite their priests to encourage the faithful to complain to The Australian and to the Press Council?
The bishops worry over the failure of Catholics to practise their faith and to adhere to Catholic moral principle. At base the reason is that the bishops’ own leadership is ineffectual. The defamation of Catholic doctrine and teaching will continue until they begin to carry out their oaths of office and stand up publicly for Catholic principle.
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This is a reproduction in Word format of an opinion piece written by journalist Louise Evans and printed in The Australian on 8 th February 2005. It was reproduced from the internet at http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/printpage/0,5942,12179517,00.html
MARY couldn't believe it. The test had turned blue. Her period was three months late, she was just 16 and she was a virgin.
Yet there it was in blue and white. The home pregnancy test was saying she was up the duff. No one would believe it was divine intervention.
Mary started to cry. What would her parents think? They were honest battlers whose income was reliant on logging the great forests of Tasmania to pay for her private-school education. They were also saving for her to study law at university. And what would the good people of her home town in Tasmania think?
Mary the virgin was contemplating having an abortion when an abbot called Tony appeared to her in a dream, imploring her to keep the child and to marry the local carpenter, Joseph. Joseph was her childhood sweetheart and everyone would assume he was the father.
Tony the abbot told Mary there were too many abortions in Australia and that the Medicare budget was being bled dry by this immoral procedure. Tony the abbot reminded Mary that another member of the holy trinity who ruled the nation, Peter the tax collector, had beseeched people to "do their public duty" at last year's budget. Peter the tax collector wanted more children who'd grow up and pay taxes to fund Australia's defence budget and involvement in foreign wars. "But what about education and transport? Shouldn't taxpayers' money be used for that too?" Mary asked. "God looks after those who look after themselves," the abbot intoned.
Mary the virgin was ordered to put her country first and advised she could always put the baby up for adoption – like Tony the abbot had himself done in his youth. There was suddenly a lot of pressure on her uterus.
Mary the virgin married Joseph the carpenter and gave birth to a little girl they called Mary the princess. From an early age Mary the princess proved she was no ordinary little girl.
One day, aged 12, when she was not waiting at the school gate to be picked up, Mary the virgin found her daughter in the staffroom questioning and lecturing the teachers about the law – which was to become her chosen profession.
Years later, when the wine started to run out at a wedding in Canberra, young Mary instructed the waiters to water it down so that it lasted until the last guest left. People are still calling it a miracle.
One day at the cricket when an unexpected crowd of 33,000 turned up to watch Tasmania v Western Australia, the pies ran out. Mary instructed the caterers to raid the VIP boxes and everyone ate smoked salmon and drank champagne until they puked. Another miracle.
Mary the virgin was determined that Mary the princess would climb the ladder of opportunity she'd fallen off aged 16 and put her daughter through law school by working as a cleaner for a very rude man called Richard the butler who had a vice-regal castle in Hobart.
As a lawyer, Mary the princess grew in wisdom and popularity, never losing her common touch. She was wholesome, clever, good looking, kind and sensible.
Many considered her a leader and, aged 32, her time came to take her people to the promised land of free tertiary education, higher wages and 100 per cent health cover for people who were almost dead.
But dark forces were moving against Mary. Alexander the downer, a general of the nation's supreme leader Pontius the pilot, accused her of plagiarising his policies, when in fact all she was guilty of was a little harmless cribbing.
Nor was she safe within her own ranks where underlings were plotting to betray her, arguing that a single, never married, childless woman could never be the leader. They told her they would meet at her place for supper and never showed up, leaving Mary the princess looking stupid in her spotless kitchen.
But when she went to the pub to drown her sorrows, an event of Olympic proportions occurred. Mary the princess met Fred the prince, an ordinary bloke with royal blood from a land far far away. Mary and Fred got drunk that night and had unprotected sex. Fred had never met a girl who was such a goer and in the cold light of day asked Mary to become his princess.
In her new role as the princess of neverland, Mary became a much loved icon, praised on the covers of magazines worldwide for her beauty and poise. Dolls and statues were made of her. Coffee mugs and tea towels bore her image.
And in honour of her trip back to her homeland with Fred the prince later this month, worshippers have composed an ode. "Hail Mary," it begins, "full of Grace. The Lord was with thee at thy birth . . ."
The column was written for no money and a tiny audience. Any cribbing from any previously published work may be acknowledged, upon discovery.
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From: Michael Baker
If Louise Evans had written an opinion piece like her 'Inaccurate conceptions an everyday political miracle' (Australian, 8th February 2005) mocking the religions of Jews or Mohammedans she would be targeted permanently thereafter. Such an opinion piece would never have passed the sub-editor’s desk, which shows where the blame for the publication of her scurrilous article lies.
The opinion piece mocks Catholic doctrine in the Immaculate Conception, the virgin birth of Christ, Christ’s miracles, the Holy Trinity, Divine providence and prayer addressed to the mother of Christ. It mocks Catholic moral teaching against abortion.
Your newspaper should print an apology to all Catholics for this exercise in blasphemy and bad taste and for the blatant failure on the part of your editorial staff to consider the beliefs and feelings of those who make up something approaching a quarter of Australia’s population.
The article breaches the Australian Press Council's Statement of Principles and a complaint will be lodged with that body.
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Statement of Principles
To help the public and the press, the Australian Press Council has laid down the broad principles to which it is committed.
First, the freedom of the press to publish is the freedom of the people to be informed. This is the justification for upholding press freedom as an essential feature of a democratic society. This freedom, won in centuries of struggle against political and commercial interests, includes the right of a newspaper to publish what it reasonably considers to be news, without fear or favour, and the right to comment fairly upon it.
Second, the freedom of the press is important more because of the obligation it entails towards the people than because of the rights it gives to the press. Freedom of the press carries with it an equivalent responsibility to the public. Liberty does not mean licence. Thus, in dealing with complaints, the Council will give first and dominant consideration to what it perceives to be in the public interest.
The Council does not lay down rules by which publications should govern themselves. However, in considering complaints, the Council will have regard for these general principles.
1. Newspapers and magazines ("publications") should not publish what they know or could reasonably be expected to know is false, or fail to take reasonable steps to check the accuracy of what they report.
2. A publication should make amends for publishing information that is found to be harmfully inaccurate by printing, promptly and with appropriate prominence, such retraction, correction, explanation or apology as will neutralise the damage so far as possible.
3. Readers of publications are entitled to have news and comment presented to them honestly and fairly, and with respect for the privacy and sensibilities of individuals. However, the right to privacy should not prevent publication of matters of public record or obvious or significant public interest. Rumour and unconfirmed reports, if published at all, should be identified as such.
4. News obtained by dishonest or unfair means, or the publication of which would involve a breach of confidence, should not be published unless there is an over-riding public interest.
5. A publication is justified in strongly advocating its own views on controversial topics provided that it treats its readers fairly by
* making fact and opinion clearly distinguishable;
* not misrepresenting or suppressing relevant facts;
* not distorting the facts in text, headlines, pictures, billboards or posters;
* disclosing any commercial or other interest which might be construed influencing the publication's presentation of news or opinion.
6. Publications have a wide discretion in publishing material, but they should have regard for the sensibilities of their readers, particularly when the material, such as photographs, could reasonably be expected to cause offence. Public interest should be the criterion and, on occasion, explained editorially.
7. Publications should not place any gratuitous emphasis on the race, religion, nationality, colour, country of origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, illness, or age of an individual or group. Nevertheless, where it is relevant and in the public interest, publications may report and express opinions in these areas.
8. Where individuals or groups are singled out for criticism, the publication should ensure fairness and balance in the original article. Failing that, it should provide a reasonable and swift opportunity for a balancing response in the appropriate section of the publication.
9. Where the Council issues an adjudication, the publication concerned should prominently print the adjudication.
The Council strives to ensure that its adjudications on complaints reflect both the conscience of the press and the legitimate expectations of the public.
Note : For the purposes of these principles, 'public interest' is defined as involving a matter capable of affecting the people at large so they might be legitimately interested in, or concerned about, what is going on, or what may happen to them or to others.
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Dear Mr Baker,
The Council has received your complaint form in which you raise concerns with a bylined humour column published in The Australian.
For your information, I enclose a copy of the Council’s booklet which details its principles and practices. Therein are set out the standards of journalistic ethics which the Council upholds and the procedures it uses to deal with complaints alleging breaches of those standards.
In enclose a couple of adjudications in which the Council outlines it attitudes to bylined columns. You will see that the Council believes that such columns should be given a reasonably wide license to express a point of view. Columns such as Evans’ are the clear expression of a viewpoint of the individual writing them and are a commentary upon the news. The enclosed adjudication arising from the Adams’ column also indicates that it is not a breach of the principles to offend some readers. Principle 6 requires a much tougher test than that. Further I note that the column appeared in the regular Wry Side feature, which should indicate to you that it was not intended to be taken as seriously as you have.
You have submitted a letter to the Australian for publication in response to the published column. The Council has consistently said that the best response to a disagreement with such material is the submission of a contrary view for publication. I will write to the newspaper urging it give due consideration to your submitted letter as a way of dealing with your concern.
In my view it is doubtful that a concern such as yours, which boils down to the fact that you didn’t like Evans’ allegory, would be accepted by the Council for processing as a complaint. In a country with a free press there is room for a number of different opinions, tastes and sensed of humour, and, as long as the material does not lapse into the downright offensive, rely on gratuitously racist material or actively mislead the reader, the Council is unlikely to intervene.
I will await your further advice on this letter and the submissions of a view to the Australian.
Jack R Herman
[Letter reproduced as printed]
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Attention: Mr Jack R Herman
I have your letter of 11 th February. I regret that pressure of other commitments has delayed my consideration of what you have written.
I note that the adjudications on complaints you have sent me include none which is analogous to the complaint I have lodged with the Council though one of them, that concerning criticism of Mother Teresa mounted by Germaine Greer, deals with religion obliquely.
Would you do me the courtesy of forwarding me copies of any adjudications of the Council on complaints made in respect of articles or opinion pieces produced in any newspaper alleged to be critical of their religion by—
a follower, or followers, of the Jewish faith
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Dear Mr Herman,
Re: Complaint about article of Louise Evans in The Australian, 8 th February 2005–– Inaccurate conceptions an everyday political miracle
Many thanks for your prompt response to my letter of 17 th February.
Had I exercised more care with its drafting I would have repeated in my letter the terms of my emailed complaint of 9 th February (in which I set out a copy of my letter to the Editor of The Australian of the same date) and asked you to provide me with copies of any adjudications of the Council on complaints which mocked the doctrine, or the moral teaching, of Judaism or Mohammedanism.
I have perused the four additional adjudications you have sent me. None of them, it seems to me, relates to a complaint about published material mocking such doctrines or moral teachings. Rather, each addresses a complaint about the way the relevant newspaper treats the followers of Judaism or Mohammedanism, that is with Jews or with Muslims. Specifically, the adjudications deal with complaints about a newspaper’s treatment of––
1181 the way Muslim states deal with breaches of their Muslim law, and an alleged failure of the newspaper concerned to give the complainant scope to reply;
1215 material offensive to Jews; the complainant does not condemn the religious content; he calls the material a … racist distortion;
1226 material offensive to Jews, though the insult is imported from what the complainant regards as a gratuituous reference to the terms of the Old Testament teaching of ‘an eye for an eye…’;
1236 material attributing murderous conduct to Muslims which, it was asserted, ought to have been attributed to terrorists.
Adjudication 1226 deals with a matter closest to the material about which I have complained in that it adverts to the Jewish Law, part of the tenets of Judaism. But the reference is oblique, to say the least, for mention of one element of the Jewish Law is hardly an attack on the doctrines or moral teaching central to Judaism. The reference was gratuitous, but oblique. It was not pointed and direct as was the gratuitous material in the Evans article.
The last occasion that I can recall in which gratuitous public criticism of the religious doctrines of either Judaism or Mohammedanism occurred was Salman Rushdie’s 1988 novel TheSatanic Verses where the author parodied Mohammed, the founder of the religion that bears his name, in one of the book’s characters and recast verses from the Qu’ran (blending with them words of his own contriving) so as to make a mockery of them. The offense to Muslims was comprehensive. They reacted accordingly.
Would you do me the further courtesy of exploring all the adjudications of the Press Council to see if you can find any which bears on the issues I have raised in respect of either of the three religions?
Incidentally, you promised in your letter of 11 th February that you would write to the Editor of The Australian urging him to give consideration to publishing my letter. Did you do so? I have seen no letter or note published in the newspaper apologising for any offense that the Evans article may have given. I have not had the courtesy of a response to my letter of complaint.
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Dear Mr Baker,
Thank you for your letter of 28 February.
The Council's adjudications can be found at http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/apc
This is a searchable database.
I don't have time to do your research for you. It remains my view that, irrespective of any previous adjudications issued by the Council, you have not made a case that the opinion article breached the Principles.
I will therefore be closing the file on this complaint.
Jack R Herman
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George Cardinal Pell,
re: Opinion piece defamatory of Catholicism
We thank you for the letter of 4 th March from your Private Secretary in response to our letter dated 10 th February concerning the article defamatory of Catholicism published in The Australian on the 8 th February.
We anticipated the suggestion contained in the letter and complained to both the newspaper and the Press Council on the day following the appearance of the article. Neither approach had any effect. The Editor of the newspaper simply ignored our complaint. The Executive Secretary of The Press Council remarked—In my view it is doubtful that a concern such as yours, which boils down to the fact that you didn’t like Evans’ allegory, would be accepted by the Council for processing as a complaint. After some correspondence, he advised that he was closing his file on the complaint.
We are not surprised. Why should either the newspaper or the Press Council take seriously a complaint from a Catholic layman if none of the bishops, the Church’s leaders, has seen fit to complain?
We note that yesterday the Vatican appointed Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Archbishop of Genoa, to launch an attack on The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown’s best selling book, which contains gross misrepresentations of the Church and of its teachings and of Christ, its Founder. Might we suggest that you take a similar approach and attack this scurrilous article yourself. A complaint to the Press Council and to The Australian from you will have far more impact than the complaint we have made.
Alternatively, could you not address the article in your weekly column in The Sunday Telegraph?
We look forward to hearing from you that you have taken some action to redress this injustice to the truths revealed by Christ.
Yours in Our Lord,