We are all gearing up for World Youth Day here in Sydney. My sons attend …a superb [Catholic] private school for boys …, and as you'd expect, are heavily involved in WYD activities; my eldest son is in one of the official choirs and will be sleeping out in the open with all the other pilgrims at the Randwick race course, which has been converted into the venue of the Papal Mass.
The event is not without controversy: first, the State Government of New South Wales has paid some $40 million to the owners of the race course to compensate for lost earnings while they can't hold race meetings. This has led to a lot of complaint about the money being better spent on schools and hospitals and why can't such a wealthy church pay the compensation itself (aside from the fact that we have a perfectly good and underused Olympic Park which would be ideal for this event). And, for that matter, why should an industry raising money hand over fist through the misery of betting deserve any compensation....You may not know this, but Eastern Australia was struck by a very nasty outbreak of Equine Flu last year, which halted all racing (a loathesome "sport") for several months. Several wags said that this was divine revenge for messing with the Pope.
In the last week, the State Government (a bunch of jumped up student politicians and other amateurs) announced new powers for the Police during the Pope's visit, similar to the draconian powers to stop and search and ban people from decelared areas which we had during last year's awful APEC Summit here in Sydney. Fair enough to a degree, in these days of Islamic terrorism you can't be too careful, particularly where the Pope is concerned. However, it has also been made a crime (punishable with a $5,500 fine) to engage in "annoying behaviour".
Aside from some comment about not wearing insulting tee shirts, there has not been a clarification or definition of what constitutes annoying behaviour, which leads to the conclusion that it is whatever the Police want it to be. Oh, and
Firemen or State Emergency workers who have been given temporary powers of arrest. Now Australians are generally in contempt of authority at the best of times, so there is no finer way of envouraging various pranks and other forms of protest than by introducing such temporary powers.
Cardinal Pell and various spokesmen have denied asking for these measures, and I believe them as it has been a public relations disaster. There are daily reports from various organizations (inclduing those representing victims of alleged abuse by clergy) of intimidating phone calls from the Police asking how and where they intend to demonstrate. All of this is presenting the Catholic Church in a rather unfortunate light, and encouraging the people who complain about the high level of government funding given to Catholic systemic schools to come out in force.
It's going to be an interesting week.......