On Monday Channel Seven News aired one of those ‘gotcha!’ news stories beloved by the MSM. The person ‘caught in the act’ on this occasion was former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who was approached by a journalist as he was leaving the Melbourne Assessment Prison after visiting Cardinal George Pell.
Seemed simple enough; a private citizen was visiting an old friend in gaol.
In simpler times such a visit would have been viewed by many as a commendable act of charity or, dare I say it, a corporal work of mercy. But in Christian-bashing 2019 the chance to sink the boot into the two most hated Catholics in Australia was too good an opportunity to miss for the manufacturers of pious outrage.
In the Twitter pile-on that ensued nobody seemed too interested in how Abbott’s private visit became news and social media fodder, although some reports suggested that Seven had received a tip-off from a prison officer.
First cab off the rankle rank was human headline huckster Derryn Hinch who tweeted:
His followers weighed in with predictable gusto with comments ranging from the outraged — ‘Abbott is and always has been a disgrace’ — to the totally off-topic — ‘this is a former PM that ate a raw onion like an apple. Common sense was never prevalent’.
The Guardian Australia’s Gay Alcorn mores reasonably opined:
Liberal refusenik Greg Barns — no friend or admirer of Abbott at all — had a blunter response to Hinch:
But it was sometimes Catholic wunderkind Victorian Premier Dan Andrews, perhaps trying to deflect the current criticism of his links to a dodgy developer, who took the cake with his tweets, even apologising to ‘retraumatised’ victims on behalf of Abbott:
Make no mistake, the Catholic Church’s poor handling of historical allegations of sexual abuse against its clergy means it really has only itself to blame for its current poor public image. But Cardinal Pell cannot be held accountable for all its sins. While he has been convicted of a very serious offence, he has always maintained his innocence and his request for a final appeal against his conviction is currently awaiting a hearing before the full bench of the High Court. But it seems that nothing short of a public lynching would satisfy most of his critics. Mercy be damned.
In the post-truth world mercy has become an emotion rather than a virtue; something to make you feel warm and fuzzy; something to be trotted out for a bit of public virtue-signalling; something easy because you only extend it to people with whom you agree.
Catholic teaching (which Abbott presumably received given his age and Dan Andrews probably missed while his teachers were focusing on social justice) places visiting those in prison as one of the seven corporal works of mercy. Traditionally they were listed as feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, harbouring the harbourless, visiting the sick, ransoming the captive (visiting prisoners), and burying the dead.
These were serious obligations. Visiting those in prison was manifested in the twelfth century by the Order of Our Lady of Ransome, whose members would actually exchange themselves for those held captive in slavery.
Surely it is a praiseworthy act, and completely in line with Abbott’s publicly-professed Catholic faith for him to visit his long-time friend in prison, regardless of his friend’s guilt or innocence. But public professions of Christian faith in 2019 amount to ‘hate speech’. Abbott is merely following Christ’s own words in the Gospel of St Matthew, Chapter 25:
For I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; Naked and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison and you came to me…
Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.
And the Cardinal’s spectacular and very public fall from grace has made him ‘one of these my least brethren’. Professor Mirko Bagaric, Director of the Sentencing and Criminal Justice Project at Swinburne University wrote about Cardinal Pell’s current plight in The Australian last month:
Pell has reportedly spent all of the time he has been incarcerated (almost nine months) in solitary confinement at the Melbourne Remand Centre. He is let out of his cell for just an hour a day.
The main purpose of prison is to protect the community from offenders and to impose punishment commensurate with the seriousness of their crimes. The principal hardship is the loss of liberty. Of course, there are incidental hardships that necessarily follow from the loss of liberty, such as the inability to associate with family and friends and severe work and study restrictions.
Additionally, the cardinal is not allowed his breviary which contains all the prayers for reciting the Divine Office (a requirement for Catholic priests) and is denied the elements to offer daily Mass. But these restrictions are clearly not enough for critics. They would also deny him visitors.
In other forums, these are probably the same people advocating for the latest rage in social justice — the abolition of prisons altogether and the freeing of convicted offenders. It seems the prisons of the future will only contain priests convicted of sexual abuse, but only if the mob doesn’t get to them first.
I suspect that the public conversation would be vastly different if a prominent figure from the Left went to visit a poor, misjudged, radicalised convicted terrorist, but no matter. I say that a dose of mercy is exactly what’s required in today’s public discourse, and in the hearts and minds of those participating in it.
I know that Shakespeare is just a dead white male and a cultural imperialist in 2019 but Portia’s speech from The Merchant of Venice seems particularly apt.
The quality of mercy is not strain’d
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes…
Try it, you might like it.
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