This post is provided by a lawyer and it is a must read for those – expecially Catholics – who wish to know the truth about our Catholic Prime Minister.
Some may question why I have been so critical of Tony Abbott, especially when he appears to be a much better alternative to either Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard. I would answer that appearances are deceptive.
Two points need to be highlighted stongly about our new leader. Firstly, Mr Abbott has the potential to be so much more than simply the guy who was not as bad as Kevin. Unfortunately, on many issues he is content to wallow in the same valueless mire as our former PM. Secondly, unless Mr Abbott is going to act as a real Catholic, he will cause greater and more serious scandal than an atheist like Julia Gillard. Mr Abbott’s reputation as a Catholic must be lived up to, or he will ‘set up’ real Catholic politicians for destruction in the press. Politicians will not want to be ‘seen’ as being on the right of Abbott, nor will they risk being labelled as more Catholic than him. And when he eventually moves on, the political class will claim that our nation needs to move back to the ‘centre’. A liberal Abbott with a mythical Catholic persona will do much greater harm to our national values than good, not least because of the confusion caused by his support, as Australia’s most prominent Catholic, for all manner of anti-Catholic teachings.
I do not publish this post in order to highlight scandal because it already burns clear and bright for those with open eyes. But I do publish it for those who are still blinded by the myth that Mr Abbott is a good Catholic. I wish he was. I also know that he may still become a great Catholic leader. Let us pray for our bishops and for our Prime Minister that they uphold truth, protect virtue and put God’s honour before their own.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott is probably this country’s most prominent lay Catholic. Although Abbott leads the ‘big L Liberal’ Party in politics, he may well become the standard bearer for ‘small l liberal’ Catholicism. He is consistently, perhaps pertinaciously, heterodox on many of the issues his co-religionists have mistakenly assumed he was actually orthodox on. He has become a public scandal to such a point that nothing short of public condemnation by the Bishops or other prominent Catholics will do. His errors have sown confusion and on his current trajectory he will inflict much more damage in the Prime Ministerial years ahead…
Recent coverage of Mr Abbott’s strong convictions in favour of in-vitro fertilisation surprised many faithful Catholics, who had been pining affectionately for the ‘Mad Monk’ as the political answer to Ms Gillard’s atheistic worldview and then Kevin Rudd’s ‘gay marriage’ pledge. However, faithful Catholics cheering on Abbott from the gallery were only blindsided by his deviations because they did not wish, or did not choose, to see Mr Abbott’s repeated failures to stand up for the Church and the common good on nearly every moral issue of import over the past few years. In fact, Tony Abbott has regularly given material aid and comfort to the enemies of the Roman Catholic Church; the same Church he is said to be a devout member of.
When did he become a liberal Catholic?
English-born Abbott went to the prestigious St Ignatius College at Riverview in Sydney and graduated as Debating Prefect in his final year at the Jesuit school (circa 1975). An early mentor with a formative influence was Father Emmett Costello SJ who taught at the college in those confusing years after the Second Vatican Council. Fr Costello is an enduring influence in Abbott’s own estimation. What books did Fr Costello place in the hands of this ambitious and gifted student? Unfortunately, it was neither Thomas (Aquinas nor a Kempis). The man Fr Costello insisted Master Tony read, re-read and emulate was actually Winston Churchill.
A curious choice for the priest to peddle Churchill to his pupil. The Freemasonic wartime leader (initiated into the Craft at the age of 26 in the Studholm Lodge No 1591) was actually a noted anti-Catholic. Said the wartime Prime Minister of Great Britain, “I deprecate all Romish practices and prefer those of Protestantism, because I believe that the Reformed Church is less deeply sunk in the mire of dogma than the Oriental Establishment.” Although one cannot stretch too long a bow on this point, it might be noted with regret that Abbott himself would later betray the ‘Popish practice’ regarding the seal of confession in his pubic life (by failing to defend it), many years after Fr Costello put the secular before the religious by placing the infernal Churchill into the hands of his eager understudy.
After attending Riverview the student Abbott enthusiastically took up politics during his time at Sydney University. By all accounts he was the consummate contrarian and adopted conservative positions on many of the social issues the student- political left consider sacred cows. Because Tony Abbott did have a penchant for the politically incorrect in those days a stubbornly persistent rumour that he is a conservative Catholic has stuck to him for all the years since. However, his dual membership of the Liberal Club and DLP affiliated Democratic Club at university is also a noteworthy contradiction. It would seem that from his earliest stages of philosophical reckoning Tony’s intellect was wrestling with two distinct and ultimately incompatible worldviews: political liberalism and religious conservatism. In the end we know that the latter would be unceremoniously jettisoned in favour of the former.
A more intriguing scholastic adventure for the pre-public Abbott was his subsequent stint as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford from 1981-1983 (until he was about 26). The Monthly Magazine’s profile of Abbott states that Fr Costello of Riverview (a critic of humanae vitae predictably enough) was also indispensable in assisting him to get this exclusive prize which is granted to only a handful of students nationwide. British businessman and politician Cecil Rhodes set-up the scholarship (posthumously by his Will) for rather esoteric goals; mainly linked to his deep desire to ensure a worldwide apotheosis for the British Empire. In one of his earlier Confessions of Faith (which formed the basis of his last Will) Rhodes wrote of a secret society he wished to establish that could base its Constitution on that of the Society of Jesus and wherever ‘Roman Catholic Religion’ appeared in that Jesuit text he dictated that it be replaced by the ‘British Empire’. The scholarship is like an induction into this secret society. So, in a circuitous way, Fr Costello the Jesuit may have achieved just that Rhodesian transposition with Tony, insofar as his pupil’s dedication to the Empire has long outlasted any Roman Catholic religious orthodoxy he may have once possessed.
What happens immediately before, during and after a period as a Rhodes Scholar? Does a solemnised Oath to uphold enlightenment principles occur? For some, perhaps. What is more likely is that the milieu at Oxford amongst Rhodes’ heirs militates against any retention of the ‘Romish dogmas’. Mr Abbott, on his recent return to Oxford where he gave speech gives us a few hints as to the ‘qualities’ instilled there: “Cecil Rhodes sought to bring to Oxford the best young leaders from the world’s strongest countries because he was convinced that the Oxford tutorial system would give them a shared understanding of what really counts and create an international brotherhood for peace and progress.” Centrally planned utopia is the ultimate goal of Rhodes and his heirs.
Mr Abbott went on, “Truth matters – it matters as much as anything – but it is far more likely to be approached than ever finally to be grasped. This insatiable curiosity and ceaseless questioning that Oxford at its best embodies is the hallmark of Western civilisation (especially in its English-speaking versions) and provides our comparative advantage among the cultures of the world.”
“With its question-everything tradition, it’s hardly surprising that this university has educated so many democratic politicians from around the world. Democratic politics, after all, means mounting an argument that not only can withstand the most withering scrutiny but also can appeal to a majority of voters. Long ago, the senior members of this university who had understood that no one, however eminent or holy, had a monopoly on truth also grasped that no one, however exalted, should have a monopoly on power…”
Aside from the exquisitely relativistic line ‘truth matters as much as anything else’, what also stands out is Tony’s assertion that no one has a monopoly on truth. Perhaps we cannot blame Mr Abbott for contracting the virus of relativism at Oxford for it is endemic and near unavoidable in that hot-housed company; however, it is a simple enough concept for any Christian, no matter what their level of education, to interiorise the article of faith that Jesus Christ is the way, truth and life (rather than a way, a truth, a life). No wonder Abbott took to criticising a famous fellow alumni of Oxford who was a champion for the Catholic cause in the public arena when he opined: “Hilaire Belloc once said that becoming a Catholic provided the answers to a thousand questions and got them all right. This attitude might explain why the champion debater and master of Christian apologetics was such a failure in the house of commons because something justifiable by revelation alone shouldn’t be part of the political debate.” Politician Abbott’s revelation has been that revelation is irrelevant.
Off to the seminary, out of the seminary
Rhodes Scholar Tony Abbott entered St Patrick’s seminary at Manly in 1984 (hopefully still believing things known by ‘revelation alone’). He was there for three largely unhappy years in his remembrances of that place. Father Michael Kelly says Tony-the-ambitious had high hopes when he went to seminary: “He wanted to be Archbishop of Sydney.” Some have stated that Mr Abbott left the seminary precisely because of its failure to teach the orthodox faith. However, Abbott himself has never really stated this, and has put the crisis in his own vocation at an even more fundamental level: “One of the reasons why I didn’t end up staying in the seminary was because I didn’t think I had religious faith at the depth necessary to sustain a life in the priesthood. I don’t have any difficulty believing in God and I readily thrill to the stories of the New Testament, but I find it hard to believe Jesus touches my life all the time. My religious faith waxes and wanes, mate, but it’s never been anything like as intense as [it is for] a lot of people who I’ve met over the years.” In some ways this is a touchingly candid explanation from him, but it also provides a window into what has gone wrong with Tony’s pronouncements on the faith in more recent times.
The great disparity and the Mad Monk myth
If we pause here it is easy to see why so many bloviators in the media and in the parliament retain a long since disproved thesis that Tony Abbott is the Vatican’s man in Parliament. The former DLP aligned university student, former seminarian who then had a brief career as a journalist, writing politically conservative articles, was never going to be a darling of the elite Left. He came to be known alternatively as the ‘Mad Monk’ or ‘Captain Catholic’ and his ‘devout Catholicism’ is incessantly mentioned by the media at every turn. It is hard to say when Tony Abbott became a liberal Catholic but it is impossible to guess what Tony Abbott will have to do in order to disabuse those who still maintain that he is a conservative Catholic that he is, in fact, no such thing.
Tony Abbott entered federal parliament in 1994, after stints at Liberal leader John Hewson’s advisor team and the head office for Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy. During his time in parliament most pro-life and pro-family groups would give Tony Abbott a ‘solidly reliable’ rating; having voted against euthanasia, embryo research and a number of other Bills that included various incremental steps on Canberra’s trajectory towards Gomorrah. However, in recent times, particularly as Minister for Health in the Howard Government and as Leader of the Opposition, Abbott has strayed so far and so often from Catholic orthodoxy that it needs to be called for what it is: a betrayal.
Tony Abbott’s pro-IVF views have received much coverage in the past few months. However, he has long been on the public record as proudly and materially cooperating with the ‘concentration camps in freezers’ that are our IVF clinics. He had claimed that the Howard Government was the ‘best friend that IVF ever had’. His recent boast that within Cabinet he ‘saved’ Medicare funding for IVF is an alarming admission, given that the Church opposes IVF because, among other things, it always involves the deliberate killing of human beings (Abbott himself has said that embryos aren’t quite actually human). Liberal Catholic Abbott thinks he knows better than the Church stating during the Peta Credlin media blitz that ‘I have never opposed IVF’. To be so proudly wrong on such a black and white issue means that Abbott might as well say ‘I have never been pro-life’.
In truth, during his public life Tony Abbott has never held the Catholic line on the abortion issue either. His constant refrain has been that abortion should be ‘safe, legal and rare’. This is a long held view of Abbott’s, not a recent reinvention. How an abortion can ever be safe for the unborn baby is still unknown to real pro-life Catholics. Where did he get this inane little bumper-sticker slogan from? Bill Clinton naturally (Rhodes Scholar 1968). If Abbott was an American politician he would likely be a moderately-left Democrat, but in Australia he still passes for a ‘conservative leader’.
It goes without saying that Tony Abbott, heterodox on abortion and IVF, has also publicly supported contraception. He did a puff-piece with Australian Women’s Weekly to reiterate his support for access to contraception in the lead-up to this year’s election. Given all of Tony Abbott’s deviations from the pro-life teachings of the Church it is no wonder he has now become exasperated that his ‘devout Catholic’ tag still follows: “Contrary to myth, as health minister I never sought to restrict access to the morning-after pill, never sought to prevent the importation of RU486 and never sought to limit access to abortion.” Certainly Mad, but pretty asinine for a Monk.
Also, as Health Minister Tony Abbott introduced the subsidised Gardasil injection into the secondary schools of Australia. After initially observing that it might send a message to young girls just hitting puberty that the injection was a like a license to have pre-marital sex with a greater level of ‘safety’, Abbott then became an enthusiastic peddler of this anti-STD ‘super shot’. A widely disseminated PR photo of Abbott smiling next to a young girl getting this monstrously inappropriate jab was, of course, at a Catholic college. The real Catholic approach to this issue was exemplified by Bishop Fred Henry in Calgary, Canada who rejected the rollout of the vaccine at his schools: “If we don’t attempt to change sexual behaviour that is responsible for transmission of the HPV, but attempt to solve the problem by getting a series of shots, then we don’t have to exercise self-control, nor develop virtue, but can use medicine to palliate our vices,” Bishop Henry wrote. “The technological solution requires no change in behaviour.” To summarise, Abbott is pro-IVF, pro-abortion and believes contraception and the HPV shot are good measures to palliate our vices.
Endorses homosexuality, denigrates the Papacy
As Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott took to the gay airwaves on Joy FM to reassure the homosexual pride network that he really is sympathetic to their cause and that he supports gay relationships (read non-celibate couples engaged in sodomy). This is a radio station that has programs called the Vixen Hour (hosted by ‘sex workers’) and Drag Time and many other shows with taglines that should not be repeated in polite company. Even ‘conservative’ columnist Andrew Bolt breathlessly announced on his blog that ‘Abbott Embraces Gays’.
Included in the cringe-worthy interview with Joy FM’s Doug Pollard is Tony Abbott setting up Jesus’ teaching against that of the Pope: “[The] traditional teaching of the church is often expressed in ways which people find alienating and I don’t like that any more than you do. I think, though, if you read the Gospels, as opposed to necessarily read papal encyclicals, you’ll find a religion and a Jesus who wants us to have life and have it unto the full and unfortunately this sometimes gets translated into dry legalisms and that’s a real pity….” It is classic liberal Catholic denigrate the Church by distinguishing it from the Saviour’s ‘real teaching’ tactic. To use the ‘have life to the full’ quote in the context of softening the Church’s stand against sodomy is really an act of blasphemy on Abbott’s part, insofar as it ascribes a libertine value to the words of Our Blessed Lord himself.
Comfortable in the company of the enemy
As the interview with Joy FM demonstrates, Tony Abbot willingly walks into those places set-up as citadels against orthodox Christianity. Another public example would be Tony Abbott’s glad-faced keynote reception at the Lodge in 2006:
Just because Tony Abbott is a Rhodes Scholar who appeared on the cover of the October 2006 magazine cover of the United Grand Lodge of NSW & ACT and who likes to talk about the Scottish enlightenment (of all things!) does not necessarily mean that he is or has been a Freemason. It does surely leave the possibility open though. He was keynote speaker at the Lodge in his capacity as Health Minister. A practicing Catholic’s sensus catholicus is demonstrably broken once they have been seen stepping over that threshold and Catholic politicians should definitely refrain from bowing to the apron.
“According Grahame Cumming’s Freemasonry: Australia’s Prime Ministers (Masonic Historical Society, 1994), most of Australia’s politically conservative prime ministers up to the early 1970s were members of the Masonic Lodge. Namely Edmund Barton, George Reid, Joseph Cook, Stanley Melbourne Bruce, Earle Page, Robert Menzies, Arthur Fadden, John McEwen, John Gorton and William McMahon”, relates Sydney journalist Gerard Henderson. Is Abbott on this list? Impossible to know at this time (the Apollo Lodge’s archived member records from the early 80s are held at Bodleain Library in Oxford, which will no doubt reveal many captains of industry and currently active politicians signed up whilst at the University… but the seal of secrecy on these donated records won’t be lifted until 2057!) Even if Abbott did join Apollo Lodge, and once again we cannot say he did or did not, there would be hope for him yet as Oscar Wilde put on the obligatory purple coat of Oxford masonry but eventually underwent a fine deathbed conversion.
The ultimate betrayal
On their best reading many of Tony Abbott’s unfortunate public statements and attendances have an element of personal defect about them; naiveté, poor catechesis, over ambition and perhaps plain misunderstanding. He jokes about missing Mass on Sundays, does not seem the least bit embarrassed that his children don’t practice the faith of their father and he thinks that homosexuals can raise children as well as traditional families. Pretty pathetic all in all. However, Mr Abbott’s recent pronouncement that he does not absolutely stand by the seal of confession has the character of a frontal attack on the Church which by reputation Abbott is a lay leader of.
During the recent media storm around the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse much of the anti-clerical focus has been on the seal of confession and the desire of some civic leaders to do away with it. Cue ‘devout Catholic’ Abbott to defend this inviolable and universally known teaching? No, he instead says that disclosures must be made regardless of the circumstances, including sacramental confession. Faithful priests would die rather than betray the seal of confession but Tony sees a political point to be made at the expense of his Church. One might relate the incisive words attributed to Saint Thomas More in Man for All Seasons: “Why Tony, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… but for Canberra?”
A Sydney priest with a bit of common sense said: “Jesuit educated and formed in the seminary, [Abbott] knows full well the rules and penalties concerning the inviolability of the confessional and I am convinced he believes in it… On Thursday, he joined the chorus of politicians and others wanting to change the present civil law about this matter for his own particular political ends, so that he would not be targeted and criticised and aligned with those who, it is said, don’t care about child abuse victims… This was political expediency of the worst kind and this needs to be pointed out to him by those in the Liberal Party.” Noble sentiments and a fine rebuke. However, we should not hold our breath that a party which includes ‘Catholics’ like Malcolm Turnbull and Joe Hockey will be sufficiently scandalised to force Abbott into any kind of rethink.
The coming tidal wave of scandal
Tony Abbott has now been elected as Prime Minister and he will inevitably be seen as a kind of yardstick for professionally engaged and successful lay Catholics. This will be a dangerous moment for Australian Catholicism. In this term of Parliament the Royal Commission’s work will come into central focus. Now that Abbott is PM, the man at the Canberra Lodge will speak as a Prime Minister and as a Catholic. Based on his record we cannot trust him to handle any controversies involving the Church, or any other moral issue that arises, in any way different than we would expect from an atheistic politician. In fact, he will be worse. Abbott has become so reflexively self-conscious of his reputation as a Catholic he sees genuine political advantage in casting aside the Church when it is inconvenient for him to defend it. Alternatively, Abbott has actually cultivated a forked tongue on purpose, and speaks phrases through thin veils so as to impress the NCC on one day and then the sodomites at Joy FM on the next. In one of his last interviews before becoming Prime Minister, Tony Abbott reassured 7.30 Report viewers that he won’t remove taxpayer funding from abortion drug RU 486. ‘That’s a done deal’ said he. Really? A deal with whom? No wonder real Catholics see major party politics as a Faustian bargain.
Whether Abbott’s liberal Catholicism is a long-planned and sinister political ploy or simply a personal failure of his faith being subjugated to his ambition, the consequences are the same. That is a deep and broad scandal which will be exacerbated by his exalted status as the most powerful Catholic, in the secular realm, this country has ever seen.
Abbott on the record
- “For the record. I would not support withdrawing Medicare funding from abortion, let alone trying to re-criminalise it. With former US president Bill Clinton, I think there’s much to be said for ensuring that abortion is “safe, legal and rare.”
- “An embryo may not literally be a human being but it certainly has the potential to become one…”
- “I have never said that people should not use contraception, never.”
- “I would be appalled, absolutely appalled, to think religion drove anyone’s politics in a secular democracy like ours.”
- “Faith has influenced my life but it does not, and I believe should not, shape my politics.”
- ‘‘I think it is essential that someone of faith understand that while faith is a splendid thing in private life it can often be quite a misleading guide in public life.’’
- “Christianity has made its peace with the Enlightenment, or at least with the Scottish version of it…”
- …[T]he trouble Christians have practising the high standards they preach has stripped the church of any assumed authority. With a better understanding of their own limitations, it might be time for the protagonists of faith and reason, authority and freedom, to restart the dialogue that was at the heart of the Scottish Enlightenment.”
- “[At] my instigation, the Howard government had introduced a new help line to give more support to women facing an unexpected pregnancy. It seemed to be the best way to nudge the abortion rate down without affecting women’s right to choose.”
- “…I would like to see a way for gay relationships to be celebrated, acknowledged and recognised…”
“…there is no reason why a gay couple can’t provide just as much love and affection and support as a child as any other couple.”
- “In fact, during my time as health minister, the number of women accessing IVF and Medicare support for IVF rapidly increased. I have never opposed IVF. How could any pro-family politician not encourage people to have children and make it easier for them to do so?”
- “There are many types of bravery, including the courage that’s found close to home. It’s brave to persist with IVF. To do so while shouldering the burdens of a difficult job is extraordinary yet there are thousands of women in this position. They deserve our admiration and support.”
- “I’ve embraced a comprehensive national paid parental leave scheme is because I think that a modern conservative philosophy acknowledges that if you’re going to be fair dinkum about the family it can’t just be the so called traditional family, where dad is at work and mum is pregnant in the kitchen with the kids.”
- “I sometimes miss mass on Sundays but I think I’ve got a pretty big credit balance in that particular bank account.”
“The social gospel case for a re-regulated labour market would not pass muster from an undergraduate student of moral philosophy. It is not improved simply because it comes from a Catholic bishop.”
- “[Abbott’s] view was the church’s position was simply misguided and that there was nothing more important or exciting than the birth of children and if IVF could help bear children, then it was a good thing not bad.”
Christopher Pyne MP, fellow Catholic, user of IVF
- “Well, [IVF] drugs? That’s easy – we will just put them in my bar fridge, no one will go in my bar fridge.”
Tony Abbott’s words according to his Catholic chief-of-staff and IVF user Peta Credlin
- “How should the church deal with homosexuals, remarried couples, women who have had abortions and sexually active young people? The standard response is to “love the sinner but not the sin”. But what if the sin is an almost inevitable, ongoing part of someone’s life? For instance, why should the “sin” of loving someone who was formerly married exclude a person from communion, while the sin of hardness of heart does not? Can this be reduced to a question of what’s “objective” (to use the old Thomistic language that [Pope] Benedict rejects)? How can loving someone be more of a sin than self-righteousness?”