Confession with Waleed Aly: Excising our Hearts, Child Abuse, Royal Commission

Two pieces of writing by Waleed Aly with images by Andrew Dyson shaped our Prayers of Confession in November.

Firstly in response to the Australian Government’s decision to excise the Australian mainland for migration purposes and secondly in response to the Australian Governments announcement of a Royal Comission into child abuse.

Both events raise deep feelings and responses within us and the words and images in the articles started what turned ,on both occasions, into an honest and open extended dialogue about the complexities of confession and the nature of truth, justice, words and actions, reconciliation and forgiveness in our lives and our society.

Our conversation shaped by Aly’s incisive words was important however I found simply using the powerful images as icons for contemplation, confession enough.

Our desperate concern for the wellbeing of asylum seekers begins only when they board boats and ends when we intercept them. It’s like we’re excising the rest of their lives from our humanitarian concern. And here the artifice of our whole political discourse becomes clear: the studied, confected compassion is as much a convenient fiction as the one that pretends Australia doesn’t exist.

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Demanding laws that require priests to break the confessional seal sounds good. It sounds tough, uncompromising, common-sense. But it’s also the kind of thing you do when you don’t understand the problem you are trying to solve. That’s what we are witnessing here: irreligious people trying to address a religious problem with brute secular force. That might make perfect intuitive sense to the staunchly secular mind, but we need more than intuition and declarations of secular supremacy here. What matters is what works. And taking an axe to the confessional box won’t work. It might even make things worse…

You can’t legislate away people’s religious convictions, however much you might want to. And you can’t ignore them simply because you hold them in contempt. What matters here is the stuff outside the confessional box: the lame responses to abuse that seem calculated to protect paedophile priests rather than their victims; the legal manoeuvring to avoid paying compensation; the failure of police to follow through on investigations. These are the things we should be pursuing relentlessly. This should be the focus of our desire for justice. Let’s not dilute that by getting lost on some doctrinal excursion it’s clear we don’t understand.

– Waleed Aly  “Choir of dissent off key on the sanctity of confession”, The Age, November 16, 2012.


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