NOAH’S RAINBOW SERPENT – observations by Ian MacDougall


Posted in Uncategorized by Ian MacDougall on March 10, 2019


And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.

 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on Earth shall be bound in Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on Earth shall be loosed in Heaven.

-Matthew 16; 18-19  KJV

That header from Matthew is pretty powerful stuff. All popes, even the likes of the Borgias, have claimed on the strength of it the right to make the rules not just on Earth, but also in Heaven. It is an open cheque, Heaven-sent, or perhaps more likely, clerically devised. Hence also the symbolism of the keys, so arguably overworked in Catholic everyday art.

On the strength of the above (pretty broad) licence, Pope Pius XII in 1954 crowned Mary Queen of Heaven.

Well OK. Pope Pius XII  crowned a statue of her. But as good as the real thing. And Pope Francis has just done it again. Crowned a different statue, perhaps; but as far as I am aware, no Earthly queen was ever crowned more than once. So Queen Mary beats them all.

Geraldine Doogue, by her own account a lifelong and committed Catholic, has written an interesting piece on her church’s present Pell Crisis. Find it at: ($$$ for the full text.)

She begins with appropriate Catholic modesty:

“Unaccustomed as I am to find myself in easy agreement with Cardinal George Pell, I did approve of his response to David Marr’s essay….”

Said Marr’s essay has been summed up as follows:

Marr reveals a cleric at ease with power and aggressive in asserting the prerogatives of the Vatican. His account of Pell’s career focuses on his response as a man, a priest, an archbishop and prince of the church to the scandal that has engulfed the Catholic world in the last thirty years. This is the story of a cleric slow to see what was happening around him; torn by the contest between his church and its victims; and slow to realise that the Catholic Church cannot, in the end, escape secular scrutiny. 

‘The Prince’ is an arresting portrait of faith, loyalty and ambition, set against a backdrop of terrible suffering and an ancient institution in turmoil.

So here is Doogue in full flight on the matter:

Unaccustomed as I am to find myself in easy agreement with Cardinal George Pell, I did approve of his response to David Marr’s essay. It was published in the same week that I was to conduct a Gleebooks conversation with David in Sydney, and I was intrigued as to how the essay’s subject  [Pell]  would respond.  Would he ignore David altogether? Would he forensically rebut all the accusations and the terrible timeline of clerical malfeasance and church neglect in Victoria? Would he try loftily to contextualise his decisions? As it turned out, he chose none of those options but did comment and land some blows, in my view. “Marr has no idea what motivates a believing Christian.” [My emphasis – IM.] That last statement especially rang true for me. My final sense was that for all David’s writing’s usual elegance and flair, it came with plenty of baggage, only some of it declared. And it didn’t wrestle sufficiently with its own conclusion: that, above all, Pell simply could not contemplate a world without an operating Catholic Church. So yes, his best efforts would always, always be expended on its behalf, without apology, because he believed he was acting, by proxy, in the long-term interests of the wider society. I think this is a correct core judgment on the perplexing Pell, the man David ultimately found somewhat empty and hollow. 

 Yes, Pell: somewhat empty and hollow, and with all the empathy of a cabbage. (Sorry for that slur, cabbages.) But Doogue here and in her own way is trying to rouse up a bit of support for Pell, particularly from disillusioned and disgusted Catholics.

The Sacristy of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, was off-limits to all choirboys. Two of them nonetheless had slipped away from the choir procession at the end of Mass, and were caught gargling a swig or two of altar wine, as choirboys have been inclined to do since time immemorial. (St Peter probably had much the same trouble with them at underground services down in the Roman catacombs.)  According to the main police witness, the Sacristy was where the offences Pell is presently jugged and banged up for occurred.

But the Pell case divides Catholics into those inclined to believe Pell on the one hand, and those inclined to believe the surviving victim, whose account the jury believed, on the other. Catholics are circling the wagons, battening down the hatches, manning the parapets, and generally getting ready for a long siege. At the other extreme and with a profound sense of betrayal, they are having serious thoughts about quitting the church and religion they were born into. A number of course are taking up positions somewhere in between. But clerical prestige is definitely in at the panel-beaters’ for a major workover.

The former choirboy reportedly gave testimony that the hefty Pell had planted himself in the doorway, blocking the exit, and said something like “what are you doing here?” or “you’re in trouble”. (Contrast this with Christ’s reported injunction in arguably similar circumstances: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for such is the Kingdom of God.”)

There was this moment where we all just froze and then he undid his trousers or his belt, like he started moving underneath his robes,” the victim said.

Pell then pulled one of the boys aside and pushed his head down to his exposed penis.

Pell then forced the other choirboy to perform oral sex on him before fondling him as he masturbated.

That former choirboy told the court that, two months later, Pell molested him in a brief incident in a corridor at the back of the cathedral after mass.

Not exactly trivial stuff.

Now I think I can speak with some authority on this, as I am a Christian by marriage. That is to say my darling wife is one, and she lives her religion (save for the odd irrational and totally undeserved outburst at me) 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

At this point I would like also to quote from my own Facebook page:

“Worth a read:

“Clare Linane, whose husband Peter Blenkiron is a survivor of clerical child abuse, writes in response to Andrew Bolt’s  defence of  George Pell (yes, Bolt’s in there, full steam ahead):

“If you want to support Pell, go and visit him in jail. Help fund his appeal. Take Miranda Devine with you.
“In the meantime, here in Ballarat we are going to continue to try to deal with the fact that our suicide rate among males is twice that of Melbourne and 65% greater than the Victorian average.
“We are going to keep helping women, children, mothers, fathers, and siblings pick up the pieces as their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers prematurely end their lives.
“We are going to keep lobbying for the redress scheme that the royal commission recommended, so that our survivors get the practical and emotional assistance they need.
“We are going to keep trying to figure out how to reverse what has now become a cultural problem whereby males in our community resort to suicide instead of seeking help.
“Honestly, the fact that our most senior Catholic has been jailed is the least of our worries right now.”

 Certainly puts Bolt in his place. Which as the Germans might say, ist in der schiesenhaus. (Modesty forbids me from providing a translation.)

What modesty does not do, however, is prevent me from revealing a bit of my own family’s history: particularly regarding the attitude to religion displayed by my own father, and to suppose a reason for it, particularly in the light of the above.

His mother (Pakie Macdougall, my grandmother) was in her day a pre-WW1 suffragette, and a freethinking bohemian. Her husband Duncan Macdougall (my grandfather) was at the same time trying to make a career for himself in the theatre, as a (reportedly consummate) actor, director and also producer. Thanks to his theatrical contacts, Duncan managed to secure for Robin (his son, my father) the leading role in the first full-length feature film produced by the New York studio Famous-Players Lasky. That was Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Blue Bird. The film was shot in a warehouse in New York, under the supervision of Adolph Zukor. (Following the film’s release, Zukor rebadged the Famous-Players Lasky enterprise as Paramount and moved the whole show to the sunnier clime of Hollywood, California.)

My grandparents’ activities and interests, both theatrical and political, took them at times far from their rented apartment in New York. For one of these trips, they found accommodation for the quite young Dad in a small farming community in West Virginia, that by his own account was straight out of L’il Abner. (School was at that time optional in the US. Dad was never formally enrolled in one until he got to Australia in 1919, aged 12.)

But there was no topic of conversation that could get him more steamed up or ready to launch into intemperate language, from ridicule to full-on invective, than the subject of religion. He did not mind Judaism, (some of his best friends were Jews) or those quaint Asian religions that involve lots of gong-banging, chanting, ritual river-bathing and incense-burning, but he could not abide Christianity, and particularly not its God-bothering Protestant variant. He would ridicule and pour on scorn by the bucketful on it at every opportunity. And when he attended those unavoidable occasions like church weddings of family members (I myself had two such during his long lifetime) nearby members of the congregation would find him sniggering and snorting his way through the whole business. In short, religion brought forth his rational side to such an extent that it turned itself into its own opposite. (However, my cousin married a Greek in an Orthodox ceremony. He did not find that too difficult; rather strange and interesting in fact.)

Methought he did protest too much; far too much. On the strength of all that, I think he might well have been sexually molested by some fundamentalist preacher over there in God’s country at some stage during his childhood. If that was the case, it certainly explains a lot about his behaviour and attitudes. Particularly so for his slump into depression after I joined the local Sydney-suburban Anglican church, (mainly for the youth arm known as The Fellowship) and  VERY PARTICULARLY after I returned home from a week-long fellowship house party in the Blue Mountains just west of Sydney, and announced with all the maturity that a 14-year-old can muster, that I wanted to become a missionary in South America. (The Fellowship had been addressed by one such, who was keen to recruit a few more. But please remember, this was the year 1954: Billy Graham was then in his globally-reaching prime.)

Looking back on it, I doubt there could be any project more forlorn on the face of God’s Earth than trying to convince genuine South American mestizos,  bandidos,  peons, comancheros, and the rest of them in all of their poncho-wearing, caballo-riding, flamenco-playing and tango-dancing variants, breeds and ethnicities (as found within any of their marvellous social formations that have never been defeudalised) that they are living in a darkness beyond imagining, and that their only way out is by becoming Anglicans. …!!! The mind boggles; not once, but again and again and again, in a positive feedback loop.

My father at this point truly descended into Hell. But on the third day, he rose again, and ascended into Heaven, or into the closest state to it: Nirvana, Paradise or whatever possible for him, because that was about all the time it took for the jumping euphoria of that Anglican houseparty to wear off and fade from my mind, and for me to resume something like normal transmission.

But for all his generosity and conviviality, my father remained forever trapped like, and as, an overgrown child, and in so many ways. An inability to express himself verbally or emotionally was one. His inner tension and apparent frustration, and a business (started in 1929 by his mother) kept him away from home for long periods, leading him to find solace in the arms of a mistress, and planning a new life with her after getting himself a mooted divorce from my mother.

When my mother, in his view unreasonably, objected to this, he started his measured and reasoned response one sunny day by throwing a chair or two across the dining room, busting one completely and driving a chair-leg right through the kitchen door, and also by knocking her down: one punch. Then he took off in Mum’s little 1927 model Morris Minor, but not before I could jump in beside him into the passenger seat, fearful that in his rage he would do something stupid like drive it off a cliff.

But after a while, he grew remorseful, and explained to me that Mum had been making his life really difficult. I replied along the lines of “… but you shouldn’t  have hit her.” To which he replied, almost in tears, “I know, I know.”

So we drove back home, with him subdued and reflective; which was all right, until it all happened again. And again; and again.  By which time he had moved out of the house and had decided that he wanted a divorce. So Mum would go visit him to discuss issues relating to that, property settlement and such, and return as often as not with facial bruises and one day with a black eye.

I lost all respect for my father after that, and stopped addressing him as ‘Dad’. In fact, I did not address him as anything, until just short of his dying day, when I tried to make up for all the lost time and foregone father-son companionship as best I could. And I hold it to be self-evident and highly likely that all of that sorry history was because some Bible-thumping, Jesus-jumping Ozark mountain pervert had taken him as a pretty defenceless young boy to Hell and back.

The sad thing is just this: the Pells of this world never have to face the real consequences of their own choices and actions, can remain oblivious to them, and can shed them as water gets shed off the proverbial duck’s back.

But let us return to that profundity of Pell’s, as quoted by the profundity-struck Geraldine Doogue: “Marr has no idea what motivates a believing Christian.” Doogue goes on:  “This Catholic Church is a vital provider of services to the current fabric of Australian life. Seven hundred thousand schoolchildren … 82,000 staff; sixty-six hospitals… St Vincent de Paul … largest welfare provider outside government…vast network of engagement. Spelling some of this out … may have highlighted the very confusion that plagues many of us, trying to imagine how this committed church restores itself beyond the shame.”

Well Geraldine, I suggest that every believing Christian should read a bit of the writings of the French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858-1917). A good start can be made at .

Durkheim’s major contribution to human understanding of what we humans really are about (as distinct from what we say we are about)  can be summed up quite simply, and as follows: in any religious ritual, from Catholic High mass to an Australian Aboriginal camp-fire corroboree, what is really happening is that the congregation is worshipping itself.

Catholicism has at least four gods: Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and Mary, and a multitude of others if we count in all the gallery of saints. But whatever gods, deities, sacred objects and acts of veneration are involved for any given grouping large or small, they symbolise that worshipping group. They effectively are the people in the worshipper’s life who, like him or her, have been born into the religion and have an ancestral past steeped in it. So the Mass or church service literally serves us by uniting us in a continuity with not only each other, but with our ancestors.

Such continuity can be as found as much if not far more so in the small bush church so beloved of the immortal Father PJ Hartigan (‘John O’Brien’, author of Around the Boree Log) as in St Peter’s in Rome, St Paul’s in London, or in any of the neo-Gothic architectural marvels in Australia in which we find say, mass celebrated by say, Cardinal George Pell; or one of his present clerical supporters or apologists.

The Catholic, Protestant or whatever congregation is worshipping itself. Believing is the means to belonging. That is why it is so important that we all pray together, and out loud, so everyone can hear. (God does not need it, because he reportedly knows our every unuttered thought.) For our group cohesion, we all must believe the same doctrine, propositions or ‘stuff’, and why a group recitation of the essentials of its shared faith, as in say The Apostles’ Creed is so powerful, and so important in group life, as well as other group vocalisations, sung hymns, recited prayers and so on. Count how many times the collective is mentioned in the Lord’s Prayer, by use of the words ‘our’ (3), ‘us’ (5) and ‘we’ (1).  That prayer, as the congregation recites it, contains nine collective nouns or pronouns in all, and the whole prayer totals just 70 words in the Anglican version I am used to.

Our Father, which art in heaven,/ Hallowed be thy Name; /Thy kingdom come;/ Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven:/ Give us this day our daily bread;/ And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;/ And lead us not into temptation,/ But deliver us from evil: /For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, /For ever and ever. /Amen.

An extra dimension in all of this is the difference in responsibility and ceremonial privilege between the priesthood and the laity. The ceremonial dress of the clergy emphasises this apartness: robes (symbolising perhaps the simpler, far less clean, less than white and far from gilded garment  worn by Christ himself) stained-glass windows not only depicting sacred scenes, but filling the church interior with all the glorious and heavenly colours of the visible spectrum; Gothic arches soaring Heavenwards, and the mitres of the highest clerics likewise doing their own bits of mimicry, pointing upwards to the Heavenly source of clerical authority.  And the Sanctuary, off-limits and out of bounds to lowly congregationists, at least while worship is proceeding in the building.

All of this is true whether we are speaking of a simple lowly weatherboard Protestant church somewhere in the bush or of one of those huge neo-Gothic stone cathedrals in a state capital like Sydney and Melbourne. And most importantly, no ceremony in any church building can proceed in the absence of officiating clergy. The one exception to this rule I know of is the case of the Quakers, most admirable people generally, but for at least one of whose devout American members was the untried and unpunished war criminal Richard Nixon, whose military operations in Vietnam so closely resembled those of Hitler’s Wehrmacht in Poland.

Contrast all that with the scene of the first Eucharist, as depicted by Leonardo da Vinci and generally known as The Last Supper. It is painted as a mural, on the wall at the far end of the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. One’s eyes are drawn to it immediately one enters through the front door of the building. (One day in 1977, I was in there when there was nobody else around, and was able to contemplate it for some time in total silence.)

The image of Christ himself is literally central to the painting, with the disciples in two groups of six on each side of him, but none the less with Christ not physically above his disciples, as if on a higher spiritual level. Christ is sitting on the same level, and presumably on the very same (undepicted) bench. He is not as a modern parson or priest, physically raised to the level of the Sanctuary and above the level of the pews the mere laity sit on; that is, when not on their knees before God (and also, as it always happens, the officiating priest, God’s spokesperson here on Earth.)

Spokesperson.  Let us pause to consider in conclusion here Catholicism post-Pell. Ordination of women is likely only a matter of time, despite Pope Francis’ final, complete, total and infallible ban on it forever and ever amen. I think that is now inevitable, and an indirect and unintended consequence of His Eminence Cardinal George Pell, third-highest-ranking Catholic in the world, residing now in Melbourne Assessment Prison, a grim maximum security facility which can hold about 250 prisoners..

Whatever arguments are advanced by conservatives against, the easiest and most telling retort will be “but the exclusive black (some would say satanic) brotherhood gave us Pell, protected Pell, covered up for Pell, and was dragged kicking and screaming  all the way to admitting and facing the truth about Pell.”

“How can anything we might do be worse?”









%d bloggers like this: