Thursday, 15 September 2011

Parliamentary privilege

is a curious thing. It allows politicians to make statements in the parliamentary chamber without having to face the consequences the rest of us would face if those statements libel someone. It is a privilege which needs to be used with great caution. Politicians are aware of that and rarely abuse it.
There is currently debate here as to whether one of our Senators abused parliamentary privilege by naming a priest who is accused of rape of another priest. The alleged incident took place decades ago.
I have not met the alleged abuser but he denies the allegations. Two of his parishioners also spoke out in his defence.
I have met the alleged victim. My three meetings with him have been brief. I do not claim to know him well. He struck me as a decent man. It was not his choice to go public.
That choice was made by the Senator in question, a man who is well known for speaking his mind. He offered the church an option, "remove the priest until the matter is fully investigated or face the consequences". The church has chosen to face the consequences. They claim the Senator has abused parliamentary privilege by naming the priest.
There was heated debate about this among a number of commuters yesterday. I could not help overhearing what they had to say. They obviously know one another well enough to debate politics. Two felt the priest should not have been named the other four felt it was the right thing to do. Not one of them fully understood the concept of parliamentary privilege.
Whether the Senator was right or wrong however the church was wrong. It claims that the delays have all been on the alleged victim's side and that the alleged victim has "not been ready" to take the matter further. If this was an isolated case it might be possible to believe this. It is not an isolated case. There are many other cases where there are similar delays. The churches involved are still very powerful organisations. They wield considerable influence.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of the cases the churches are also in positions of power and privilege. They, like the Senator, cannot be seen to abuse the power or the privileges they have.
The priest should have been asked to quietly step aside until the matter was resolved. It would have been better for everyone.

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