For all the controversy I’ve gotten into with Twitter, I’ve never received an email from their legal department. Until two weeks ago. Attached to the email was correspondence alerting me the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney’s lawyers were threatening to sue them (and me) for a meme I had tweeted from my account. I’ve removed the offending tweet, but you can read the letters the Archdiocese’s lawyer’s sent Twitter here.
I have no proof Cardinal George Pell is a pedophile. I there is no proof Cardinal George Pell has raped children. I never intended to suggest to others he has.
I apologize unreservedly for any hurt Cardinal Pell may have suffered from me tweeting a meme on April 10 that used his image and five words he said on Q&A the night before. Clearly it was significant enough hurt and embarrassment caused for him to lawyer up and spend the Catholic Church’s money to pursue defamation action against Twitter and me. There must have been deep deliberation over the decision to spend thousands of dollars of parishioners’ money on legal fees. Spending money that could have been spent feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless or alleviating suffering of the thousands of children raped by priests protected and supported by the wealthy powerful 2000 year old international child sex ring that trades under the business name Roman Catholic Church. Money that could have been spent burying nuns, in the same way as priests in private crypts instead of the mass graves they are currently buried in at Melbourne Cemetary. Instead of spending it on defamation litigation, clearly illustrates how serious the breach I allegedly committed was in the eyes of Cardinal Pell.
I assume I’m just one of the many people the Archdiocese’s legal team pursued. There must be many more, considering hundreds of people distributed the meme. I’m certain they would not have decided to commit to potentially lengthy and expensive legal fees pursuing Twitter and only me. My tweet could not have hurt more than others. No one, least of all a high ranking Catholic and follower of the teaching of Jesus Christ would have selectively chosen to attempt to silence one person. A person previously banned from speaking in a basketball court owned by the Catholic Church for International Women’s Day 2010. Such a decision would fly in the face of a Church that promotes their girls’ schools as places that foster ‘pursuit of excellence in a spirit of freedom, justice and sincerity’ and ‘nurture well-informed, articulate and independent young women who respond to the challenge of the real world with spirit and compassion.’
No one will ever see the offending material I tweeted, (unless they do a Google search), but I’d like to comment on what led to my alleged transgression and occasioned this response. It started during the Archbishop’s discussion with Richard Dawkins on Q&A, when the Archbishop was interrupted by laughter when he used the expression “we were preparing young English boys … for Holy Communion”. The Archbishop hadn’t gotten “Holy Communion” out of his mouth when members of the audience burst into laughter, forcing Cardinal Pell to pause as the laughter grew.
No comedians were needed, because if anyone, be they a comic or cleric, were to say the words that Archbishop Pell said, the way he said them, the part of the brain responsible for the fight or flight response is triggered. This part of the brain is not conscious, it is ancient and is the place were we store our fear of snakes and other things that we think may hurt us. Like priests.
Some would accuse those instructing and pursuing legal processings of vanity, pride, narcissism and being more preoccupied with self-perception than heartfelt concern for the victims of the abuse. I wouldn’t. Though one could argue the name George Pell is so integral to the Catholic faith that the Cardinal’s reputation is indistinguishable from the church itself, he is just a man. And therefore entitled to his reputation – and again, his reputation does not involve sex with boys. The Church’s reputation does.
I’m calling on Archbishop Pell to forgive me as I have forgiven others for alleged damage to his reputation or damage likely to occur as a result of material published. I have been legally advised any reasonable person viewing my tweet could conclude I was suggesting the Archbishop was a pedophile.
Could, not would.
I accept this. But it is one thing to question my words another entirely to assume my intent. I was truly surprised. The humor I found was the type of the gallows. Not a personal attack on the Cardinal but an association created by a response to the large amount of sexual abuse inflicted by priests. A healing response.
Laughter is medicine. And what I do, while offensive to men who oversee the church, is a salve to others. Others who have suffered at the hands of Catholic priests.
I won’t lie, I’ve made the occasional joke that exploits the fact the Catholic Church’s brand has become so linked in people’s minds with child rape, the public doesn’t even need to hear the punch line to get the joke. The situation has been so worked over that comedians have to work very hard to get a laugh, if you don’t believe me, watch how far Lewis CK has to take this to be funny. The reason Louis CK didn’t get a letter from the church’s lawyers for doing this is because, the church isn’t a person. One of the freedoms people have more or less recently obtained is the freedom to tell jokes about religion and about churches. As long as no actual clergyman is named, telling jokes about priests raping children is perfectly acceptable. Or even singing songs.
The Bishop’s words were fed into LOL speak, photoshopped and forwarded via the inter-tubes where I tweeted it – and in so doing I allegedly became complicit in the defamation of Cardinal George Pell.
The law is the law, and we are all equal before it. Just as priests must be held to the same standards as the laity, so must comics. It is not OK to call someone a child rapist, unless they are a child rapist, and I’ve made clear I do not believe Cardinal Pell is a child rapist. And I never intended to insinuate it. It is however a fact that that people might quickly wonder if he is a child rapist if he does not choose his words carefully. This is not because there are comedians like me. This is because of what priests have done and what inquires like the Ryan Commission have made it impossible to deny or the response to it by survivors. As the Q&A footage shows – it doesn’t take a comedian to make the joke work.
I don’t attack people, I attack ideas. I may prick pomposity, but I don’t tell jokes to tear others down. I’d like to offer a bit of wisdom to the Church’s legal team monitoring my twitter feed. Because while child rape is unquestionably wrong, much of the anger that makes people laugh at Archbishops on national TV, without the aid of my tweets, is from anger at the fact the church appears to many to be more concerned for the reputation of priests and the church rather than the welfare of rape victims.
We may be all equal before the law but we are not all equal before the banks. Most people can’t afford lawyers to protect their reputations or guard against trespass with the method ‘kill one scare a thousand’. For those people there is laughter.
I extend the hand of friendship and forgiveness to you Cardinal Pell and suggest we work together to raise money to help heal the pain of the thousands of Australian victims of sexual abuse at the hands of the clergy and the rehabilitation of the pedophile priests. We could do this by appearing together in a speaking engagement. We could come from a place of love and healing to discuss shame, grief, reputation and forgiveness. We could give all the money to Broken Rites, a grassroots organization that supports victims of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy. Or to raise money for a campaign to call for a Royal Commission into child abuse in religious and other non-government organizations.
Together, let’s change the immediate association with the words ‘Catholic Church’ from ‘child abuse’ to ‘healing’.
I would love to donate some money to help pay the legal costs but unfortunately I am a bit broke right now. If it’s any conciliation generations of my family have donated millions to your institution over centuries.
And Cardinal, if you want to discuss the speaking engagement, do give me a call. I’d be thrilled to hear from you and please, call me Catherine.
Peace be with you.
P.S. If you’re interested in the current projects I’m involved in with the Catholic Church to promote healing check this working with Catholic social justice organisation Edmund Rice Centre to have the cases of wrongly deported Afghani refugees reopened and to Griefline, an organisation established by the Catholic Church I am proud patron of.
Before we went on stage he offered to represent me pro bono. I tweeted out the news at 6.30pm. By the time we got off stage Cardinal George Pell had caved and called off the defamation litigation.
The Age Lawyer Judy Courtin speaks on sexual abuse by Catholic clergy here.
Four Corners ‘Unholy Silence’ here