While reading Peter Westmore’s “I accuse A Travesty of justice” I couldn’t help but think of the “scapegoat phenomenon.” This is the phenomenon where a victim will be chosen or indeed a substitute is chosen to atone for sins in lieu for the sins of the real sinners, and this victim will be seen to expiate and have atoned for the “sins” of the others. We have Jesus as the most perfect “scapegoat”
It is an interesting phenomenon because we in our enlightened society would be scandalized to think that we would use or have a “scapegoat” mentality or even think of punishing anyone other than the guilty party, but the reality is that we have recently been made privy to this phenomenon. The media in all its forms has clearly shown that someone has to “pay” for the “sins” of those offending and molesting priests of long ago.
The media in all its forms (print/visual/social) which we know even supported the victims and their supporters to travel all the way to Rome, to confront Cardinal Pell as he gave his evidence, together with Counsel for the Commission, who seemed intent on breaking down the voluntary witness (Pell) showed an intensity of fury against the witness (Pell) that one would have thought that it was he himself who was responsible for all the criminal acts committed. That he was the criminal. That it was he who had committed all the offending acts.
As I watched Counsel for the commission, Ms Gail Furness SC I kept being reminded of the Old Testament priest who laid his hands on the chosen “goat” and placed all the sins of the community on its head and then sent the goat out into the desert to die and so all sins of the community were expiated. (Hence scapegoat). Is this what Ms Furness was trying to do? Lay all past sexual abuse sins by sinful priests e.g. Frs Risdale, Searson, Day and others laid on the head of Card. Pell and he was to take the fall for them? Goodness? What a scalp!
As we watched the proceedings being telecast from Rome it became obvious that truth was not the goal, but a side issue of this Royal Commission, and that the presumption guilt rather than the presumption of innocence was that which was to be proven. The presumption of guilt overhung the whole proceedings like an unpleasant damp overcast Melbourne day, and even from thousands kilometres felt intolerable.
Mr Peter McClellan QC Chairman of the Royal Commission also appeared to make no effort to temper the belligerence of his counsel (Furness) who was intent on proving the guilt of the Cardinal. Of showing him to be a liar and a non-caring person. From the beginning, Counsel for the commission (Furness) set out to find him guilty at least of knowing what was happening and doing nothing about it. This was difficult to watch as the palpable hostility made it possible for anyone of goodwill to see that there was a long list of other individuals closer to the perpetrators who may have noted or seen something happening and more likely to do something about it but it was Pell who was to be the fall guy. Why?
The scapegoating phenomenon can be found in all manner of situations where it seems like an injustice has been committed and no reparation done. The “sin” has not supposedly been atonedfor and so sinner/s appear to have escaped punishment. A “scapegoat” is chosen because of some link or association and for no other reason the denunciation, humiliation, persecution and removal from the community begins in earnest and persists until the “scapegoat” is finished, that is, dead.
Whilst scapegoating is not a preferred term but a more modern term “witch-hunt” was used in the Pell experience I would suggest scapegoating is a more apt description because of the wave of hatred against the Cardinal and the Catholic Church, which was incited by all forms of media and media personalities and which was also clearly demonstrated in the conduct of the members of the Royal Commission itself.
The anti-Pell saga played out before the eyes of the world and was done with the sole purpose of bringing down Cardinal Pell, to make him pay. To humiliate him, to embarrass him and the Church and to call into question his position at the Vatican.Someone had to pay for the sins of Ridsdale, Searson, Day, Ryan, and all the other other offending priests and the bigger the scalp the better the prize.