How the Catholic Church came to embrace its enemy Anthony Foster

This morning a State Funeral will be held for Catholic Church child sexual abuse victims advocate Anthony Foster, who died suddenly on 26 May.

In her tribute to 'the man who was integrity personified', fellow campaigner and Newcastle Herald journalist Joanne McCarthy says there wouldn't be a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse without Anthony and and his wife Chrissie.

Anthony and Chrissie Foster

'Anthony Foster's integrity left him devastated by the Catholic Church, but it also made him one of its most devastating and formidable foes.'

In earlier days I was not a fan of the Fosters. I did not like the way they treated the Church as the enemy. I was aware of the Church's often unsung role in standing up for victims of abuse in many other areas such as sexual slavery.

I knew that the Church was fundamentally on the side of victims of all sorts of injustice. So I did not understand why the Fosters couldn't work with the Church rather than against it in achieving justice for the victims of the rogue priests.

I was naive and wrong. Eventually I came to accept that sexual abuse was a sin of the Church itself more than the 'rogue priests', whom I believed were themselves victims.

I became convinced that the Church's culture stunted the priests' growth as sexual beings and that child sexual abuse was the result. The Church as an institution had to own responsibility for sexual abuse, and change its culture.

The Fosters were right. The Church could not be trusted to achieve justice for abuse victims using its own processes. The perpetrator of the evil of the abuse was the Church itself, rather than a few - or even more than a few - bad apples. Don't put Dracula in charge of the blood bank.

So I came to believe that the Church was indeed the enemy of the people, as it had been portrayed by the Fosters and the media. If it was really the champion of the poor and marginalised - as I'd previously believed - why was it using its considerable financial resources to engage the best lawyers to fight the hapless victims in court?

If the Church itself was taking an adversarial approach towards victims, why shouldn't victims' advocates like the Fosters take an adversarial approach towards the Church? I was fully on board with the Fosters.

Fortunately the Fosters and other victims' advocates had fellow travellers within the Church. Some were courageous and competent individuals in positions of influence such as Francis Sullivan of the Church's Truth, Justice and Healing Council. He was not afraid to slap down the Bishops - his employer - until they joined him in insisting that the Church's culture must change.

That is now happening, with some of the strongest and most moving statements and actions coming from bishops themselves. I think Parramatta Bishop Vincent Long's tribute to Anthony Foster must be the most notable. He reveals that he was quietly working with the Fosters to achieve justice for victims while some of his fellow bishops were fighting them in court.

Now others are joining him. These include Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, who personally castigated the Fosters during World Youth Day 2008 for 'dwelling crankily on old wounds'. These words of Bishop Long speak for themselves. The Church's own theological term metanoia (conversion of heart) comes to mind.

'At the end of the Royal Commission hearing of the five Metropolitans, the Fosters met with Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP. After he had left the meeting, Anthony [Foster] became very concerned how deeply affected Archbishop Fisher was. He contacted me and asked if I could check and make sure that the Archbishop was OK.'

Links: funeral McCarthy Long wounds


Describing the culture that produced church sexual abuse

A friend recommended I watch this week's ABC TV Compass documentary 'The Judas Iscariot Lunch Part 1', which I did. It featured 13 Irish former priests who looked to be in their 70s, speaking candidly about their training and ideals as young men and also their own humanity and experience of celibacy.

They called their lunch club after Pope Paul VI's suggestion that those who left the priesthood were betraying the Church.

The Judas Iscariot Lunch

However I didn't think they harboured any particular bitterness towards the pope or the Church. They were just telling it as it was. The Church offered them a way out of the oppressive social and economic circumstances of Ireland at the time, as an alternative to emigration.

As one of them put it, 'a way of dodging growing up and dodging Ireland'. It's what they wanted at the time, and what they got.

So were they suggesting that they never grew up? Possibly. At least not until after they left the priesthood.

They referred to celibacy as a gift. As a priest, you either had the gift or you didn't. In other words, celibacy worked for some but not others. If it didn't, things went awry. 'People sometimes took to the drink. Loneliness became a big problem'.

Put simply, that is what happens if you're part of an institution that allows you to dodge growing up. Instead of the usual 'growing up' preoccupations that define the lives of most young people - working out relationships and sexuality - these trainee priests would be focused on listening to and obeying '12,000 bells over [up to] 12 years' of formation.

Of course the elephant in the room was sexual abuse, which I suspect they will discuss in more depth in Part 2. But in a way it was better they left that alone because it allowed the documentary to describe more dispassionately the culture of the Church that made the ground fertile for sexual abuse.

It reminded me of the term 'thick description', which was developed by the anthropologist Clifford Geertz in his influential 1973 work The Interpretation of Cultures. His idea was that the setting or context for particular behaviour is more meaningful than the acts of behaviour themselves.

Trainee priests

Participant observation - such as the accounts of these ex-priests - is the key to evaluating a culture. This, he argued, was what anthropologists doing field research needed to pay close attention to.

I think that it is also crucial in achieving justice for church sexual assault victims. It provides a clear answer to the question of whether the blame lies with a 'bad' culture or 'rogue' priests. The implication is that if it can be established that a bad culture that produced rogue priests, the more appropriate course of action is redress from the institution that embodies the bad culture (i.e. the Church), more than locking up the perpetrators.

Too often media accounts let the Church off the hook by demonising the abusers. They focus on the experience of the victims at the hands of the abusers without painting a picture of the particular way of life that was the precondition for the abuse.

Learning the other side of the story at the National Museum

While in Canberra on Sunday, I visited the National Museum of Australia as part of my resolve to see as many of the national capital's cultural institutions as I can while my six month NSW country train pass remains valid.

Often I visit a place and only learn about its significance afterwards. There are many stories of Australia's past contained in the Museum but I must have missed the story of the Museum itself, in particular that of its building and location.


The Museum was established by an Act of Parliament in 1980 but did not have a permanent home until the current purpose built facility was opened in 2001. It is located on the Acton Peninsula near the Australian National University. The site was previously the location of the Royal Canberra Hospital, which was demolished in tragic circumstances in 1997.

These involved a failed implosion that accidently killed one spectator and injured nine others. Large pieces of debris were unintentionally projected towards onlookers positioned 500 metres away on the opposite shore of the Lake. This was a location unwittingly considered safe by the ACT Government, which had encouraged Canberrans to come out to bid farewell to the hospital.

Yesterday I walked past a cream brick building that I imagined would have been part of the hospital. I guessed that it was retained as a memorial to the hospital. I noticed a sign indicating that it was now the Museum's Administration Annexe.

National Museum of Australia Admin Annexe

Most people regard mid 20th century cream brick buildings as eyesores and are quite pleased to see them demolished. But I very much like them and regard them as important examples of our built environment heritage. I thought that it made a fitting historical counterpoint to the spectacular modern architecture of the other Museum buildings.

Inside the main building, I found that I was able to connect with a number of the hundreds of stories contained in the exhibits. One that comes to mind is that of the Canning Stock Route in Western Australia, which begins at the town of Wiluna and takes a route north to the Kimberley.

I visited Wiluna after I drove across the Nullabor in 2003. I recall that I would have loved to have travelled through the Western Desert along the Canning Stock Route in my Hyundai hatch back, which I had driven to that point from the east coast. But common sense got the better of me and I spent an hour or so in the town before proceeding along the straight dirt road to Meekatharra.

It was only yesterday that I learned of the surveyor Alfred Canning's poor treatment of Aboriginal guides following his appointment to the stock route project in 1906. He was criticised for his inhumane practice of using chains to deprive them of their liberty, effectively using them as slaves.

The legacy of Alfred Canning

This led to a Royal Commission, which saw Canning exonerated after the Lord Mayor of Perth appeared as a witness on his behalf. The cook who made the complaint was dismissed. White Australians still celebrate Canning as the pioneering surveyor who plotted the Rabbit Proof Fence. It is good to know the other side of his story.

It was the exhibits involving indigenous Australians that I found most engaging because they unlocked for me the perspective on history that I was denied when I first learned Australian history at primary school. These included the furphy that Tasmania's Aboriginal population was completely wiped out.

Ian Thorpe chases bullies but ignores bullying

A day after seeing the film Moonlight, I went to iview to watch the first episode of Bullied with Ian Thorpe, which first aired on Tuesday evening.

I knew the ABC program's treatment of school bullying would be worlds apart from that of Moonlight's meditative approach, and I wasn't wrong.

Bullied with Ian Thorpe - website banner

Moments after I pressed play, I wanted to press stop. The drums in the soundtrack set up the tension that marked the program. It was about the thrill of the chase. Nailing the bullies.

Using hidden cameras to hunt down and intimidate the bullies, rather than fostering understanding by opening everybody's eyes to the bigger picture, as Moonlight did.

There were a lot of positive values articulated by the sincere Thorpe and authoritative expert Professor Marilyn Campbell. But the main game was action of giving the bullies a bit of their own medicine, as if two wrongs do make a right. You violate my right to respect and I'll violate your right to privacy.

There was no suggestion of the ambiguous nature of school bullying, where bullies and bullied alike are victims of a system that is made up of chains of manipulation and coercion.

Bullied with Ian Thorpe - Kelsey

In Moonlight we saw the main character Chiron bullied by his best friend Kevin because Kevin was forced into it by those further up the chain. In turn, those higher up would have been bullied by others - drug dealers perhaps. I don't think you'd ever find a bully who wasn't being himself or herself being bullied or intimidated by some more powerful person or life circumstance.

About a decade ago, I ran into one of my school bullies and he apologised to me. I mentioned this to a friend who was in the same class. He said: 'What? You bullied him as much as he bullied you'.

My friend was right. I was mostly the victim of bullying, but would not hesitate to take it upon myself to bully others if they were weaker than me and the opportunity presented itself.

Do I feel the need to apologise or to admit my guilt? No. Do I think the dynamics of the system that fostered my bullying need to be studied and acted upon? Most certainly.

My point is that targeting bullies - by hidden cameras or other means - only makes bullies out of those attempting to halt the bullying.

Thorpe was the gentle giant superhero on a mission to stamp on the bullies with his secret weapon the hidden camera. I would suggest that some set of circumstances would have manipulated him into taking part in this show business game that really wasn't him.

In doing so, he was himself a bully, a bit like Kevin in Moonlight. He was working as a proxy for the dark sources of real power, whatever they were. The program's mistake was that it had Thorpe nailing the bullies, rather than the culture that produced them.

A view of the Royal Commission from the End of the World

Yesterday I caught a bus to the End of the World. It was not exactly how I usually imagine the end of the world. More heaven on earth than hell on earth.

It took the form of a large open air seafood restaurant named the End of the World. It was at Teluk Bahang, near a fishing village in the relatively remote north western corner of the island of Penang. The original restaurant has been destroyed in the 2004 tsunami and subsequently rebuilt and relocated to higher ground.

I selected my live red snapper from the fish tank and had it served to me steamed Hong Kong style, with garlic, ginger, light soy sauce and rice wine. But my thoughts turned to the hell on earth experience of the victims of child sexual abuse in Australia and the justice that could be around the corner for them.

As I enjoyed my snapper, five of Australia’s Catholic archbishops were fronting the Royal Commission in Sydney. I was thinking of the brief conversation I’d had with a friend in Sydney on Sunday, hours before my departure for Malaysia. My friend is a mental health professional who has counselled many victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

He was angry with Archbishop Fisher after reading a long interview with him in the previous week’s Sunday Telegraph. The thrust of the interview was contained in the archbishop’s description of the sexual abuse crisis as a ‘kick in the guts’ for the non-offending majority of good priests. The archbishop said they had felt ‘contaminated, betrayed and demoralised by the paedophiles in the church’.

My friend was dismayed that the archbishop appeared to have minimised the suffering of the victims.

Upon reading the interview, my reaction was to be stunned at Archbishop Fisher’s apparent discounting of an underlying reality I thought the Church was gradually coming to accept. That is the argument that child sexual abuse is primarily a product of the culture of the Church, rather than numbers of rogue priests and brothers. But his message in the interview was that the priests who had ‘given their all’ had been ‘tarred with this brush’ that belonged to those who had physically carried out the abuse.

I was surprised that the archbishop would say these things publicly, even if this is what he thought privately. It was as if he had not learned from the public outcry that followed his infamous advice to parents of victims (the Fosters) during World Youth Day 2008 when he suggested they should get over it and not ‘dwell crankily on old wounds’.

However when he was before the Royal Commission yesterday, Archbishop Fisher did describe the Church’s response to victims as ‘criminal negligence’. He admitted that allegations were covered up in the past to protect the Church’s reputation.

My hope is that the Catholic Church will emerge from the Royal Commission contrite and not triumphant. In the Sunday Telegraph interview, Archbishop Fisher was still expressing pride in the Church’s role in building the social welfare infrastructure of Australia through its schools for the poor, its orphanages and hospitals ‘where there were none’. To me, it appears the Church was unwittingly constructing breeding grounds for child abuse for which it must now take responsibility.

In my view, Vatican II’s vision of a ‘pilgrim church in need of redemption’ must be realised. The Church’s theologians could take the Church’s doctrine of ‘social sin’ as the basis for admitting that the whole Church, including the ‘good’ priests and laity, should take responsibility for the abuse.

My final thought is prompted by the archbishop’s admission of criminal negligence, and it may or may not be too far-fetched. It is that child sexual abuse is a crime against humanity, and on that basis it could be fitting to take the Australian Catholic Church to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, in order to secure ultimate justice for victims.


Sex abuse monster portrayal lets Catholic Church off lightly

I was interested in the Australian Catholic Church's release yesterday of data revealing the relative percentages of child sex abusers in the various dioceses and religious orders between 1950 and 2009.

What was most significant for me was that there were no mention of names of individuals - it was just dioceses and orders. In addition, there was a large disparity among the dioceses and also among the orders. For example, 40.3 per cent of the St John of God Brothers were subject to complaints while the figure for the Dominican Friars was only 1.5 per cent.

This tells me two things. The first is the recognition that child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is primarily a cultural problem - it has less to do with rogue priests or religious. The second is that child sexual abuse is a significant part of the culture of some dioceses and orders and not others.

It is the first time I can recall names of particular offenders being left out of the equation. I interpret this as a statement that the Church itself is the offender - and not rogue individuals.

This is qualified by the statistics that reveal that some dioceses and orders are over-represented. The Church is a confederation of cultures, some more conducive to child sexual abuse than others.

I think it is regrettable that until now, individual offenders and alleged offenders have been portrayed by the media as monsters, and punished as such. In my view, the media have played into the hands of the Church by demonising particular offenders and occasionally individual bishops and heads of religious orders.

Monster portrayal makes for better media stories and more effective community awareness of the problem. But as a result, the rest of the Church has got off lightly and the 'cultural' aspect of sexual abuse has been underplayed or even ignored.

Perhaps the best expert witness the Royal Commission didn't have - because he died in 2008 - is Professor Greg Dening. He was an ethnographic historian - Professor of History at the University of Melbourne - and for some years a Jesuit. His honours seminar History and Anthropology in 1985 was a highlight of my Arts degree.

In parallel with his academic research and writing, he wrote a number of histories of religious institutions - including Xavier College, Melbourne, and the Jesuit Parish of North Sydney - from the point of view of culture.

I would summarise culture as the range of practices we as a community do without questioning.

Dening explained in his North Sydney parish history that pre-Vatican II Catholics would hate themselves without questioning what they were doing. After Vatican II, the culture shifted to encourage them to love themselves humbly.

With reference to sexual abuse, it seems the St John of God Brothers would take sexual liberties with minors without questioning whether what they were doing was right or wrong. It was just the done thing. Sanctioned by the order's culture. For the Dominicans, the 'done thing' would not have included sexual liberties with minors.

I think the implication for this cultural view of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is that the punishment of individual offenders should receive less emphasis. And the Catholic Church as a whole, correspondingly more (with possible variations according to the level of offence within particular dioceses and orders).

The nature of the communal punishment is less relevant than the principle, but it could include property confiscation or loss of tax breaks and other privileges that were granted on the assumption that the Church would maintain its place of honour in the community.

How I can be both pro-life and pro-choice

I have just read Catherine Marshall's powerful Eureka Street article 'Trump moves against vulnerable women'. It is about his recent executive order that health organisations receiving funding from the US must not provide abortion services or advice, even if the money is not used to fund these services.

It has reminded me of my own inner struggle with regard to abortion. I am resolutely - but not proudly - pro-life.

In my own personal world, I cannot accept that any human being has a right to choose when to end the life of another (born or unborn) human life. That is God's prerogative.

But I am in favour of the current civil laws permitting early term abortion if the mother's physical or mental health is at risk. These are the vulnerable women that Catherine is talking about in her article.

I also think that it is perfectly acceptable for a Catholic publication like Eureka Street to advocate pro-choice positions in this way because they are pro-tolerance positions.

Tolerant Catholics - including me, I hope - do not impose their religious views on others. That is what religious extremists do. I accept that my particular religious views are out of step with the common sense reality of the community I live in. I don't mind that. In fact I cherish it. I like living in a multicultural, multifaith society.

Why I am not proud to be pro-life is that those who are proudly pro-life are often intolerant of the views of others. They are bigots. I like to think that I am not a bigot.

I might try to pretend that abortion is not my business. That it's for women, and perhaps couples, who are having to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. But if I think of it, that's not fair on unborn human beings, who are defenceless. They need the state to advocate on their behalf.

The only point of contention is a big one. It's when human life begins. My religious belief is that this point is the moment of conception. But I don't have a right to impose that on anybody else. In reality, I support the common sense definition that life begins when the foetus is at an advanced stage of development, as determined by the state.

Without considering myself an expert, I think the state - Australia - has got it about right. Until a week ago, America had it about right. That this has changed is reason for protest and civil action.

The blessed duality of the Catholic Church

Yesterday Fairfax published an unlikely article by columnist and occasional Catholic Joel Meares. It was titled 'Growing up gay, Catholic school was a haven for me'.

He was thanking the lay teachers at his Catholic school for 'nurturing [his] difference'.

He said: 'These people put into quiet practice so much of what is beautiful about the religion, and did very little preaching as they went.'

With some degree of understatement, he then acknowledged that his story was not everybody's story.

This reminded me of the blog I wrote last month in which I mentioned my personal recollection from 1980s of 'a retired Jesuit preparatory school principal boasting of "sending out" his students to bully peers who were homosexual'.

I put that in the context of a Fairfax report from 2015 that revealed the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart had buried a 2007 report aimed at protecting LGBTQI students in Catholic schools from homophobic bullying.

I don't live in Melbourne and I've only met Archbishop Hart once or twice, but I've heard him characterised as a doctrinal hardliner who is capable of empathy with marginal Catholics.

This is obviously not true of all clerics. Fairly or unfairly, Hart's erstwhile colleague Cardinal George Pell is often regarded as a narcissistic hardliner not capable of showing empathy to marginal Catholics.

Pope Francis has famously shown signs that he wants to 'include' LGBTIQ and other marginal Catholics in the life of the Church. That's what he was about when he proclaimed 2016 the 'Year of Mercy'. But he's also made it plain that he does not intend to change the doctrine.

In other words, the lives of LGBTIQ Catholics will still be 'objectively disordered' in the eyes of Catholic doctrine. But in practice, he wants LGBTIQ Catholics to be encouraged and affirmed, as Joel Meares was in his Catholic school.

Understandably many angry LGBTIQ ex-Catholics are not impressed by this wondrous contradiction. They ask why the Church's doctrine cannot be brought into line with its pastoral practice. They will have nothing to do with the Church until it is, and they will be waiting a long time.

My answer to them is that they should allow themselves to enjoy the blessed duality that is the Catholic Church. The supportive 'haven' Meares' Catholic school was for him as he grew up. Let the actions of the Church's quiet pastoral achievers hold sway over its loud clerics and the declining relevance of particular sections of doctrine.

Two visions for indigenous enterprise

Perhaps the most challenging experience of my day is walking past the Aboriginal people who are always begging for money outside the IGA supermarket in King Street Newtown. I've been walking past that supermarket most days for the past 23 years, and they've been there for as long as I can remember.

They present as very needy but I have never ever given them money. Sometimes I feel guilty and at other times I resent them for exploiting the guilt of passers by. I speculate that they're probably doing quite well out of it. I reason that they're getting their own back on white Australians, as collectively responsible for their continuing displacement. In a small but enterprising way, they're managing to turn our guilt to to their advantage. Good on them, kind of.

But my money goes to a small organisation called Life for Koori Kids (LFKK), in the form of a modest but regular monthly donation. It does makes me feel good, but more importantly it helps an organisation that has a defined purpose, which is to help ensure indigenous children go to school and get the education they need to build more prosperous and fulfilling lives for themselves.

Gnamoroo Book Anthony

LFKK buys provisions such as shoes, uniforms and books to help convince indigenous families that there are no excuses for not sending their kids to school. There is also help for placing indigenous young people in universities and TAFE, and for those entering the workforce.

Ailsa Gillett founded LFKK in 2001. Her vision is that 'education is a key priority in bringing confidence and pride of heritage to young people's lives'.

Ailsa knows well the importance of confidence, also to the lives of non-indigenous young adults. In the 80s I was a young Jesuit assigned to teach secondary school students at St Aloysius College in Milson's Point, without any teacher training or aptitude for the job.

Unsurprisingly the experience knocked out most of my self confidence. Ailsa, who was there as the headmaster's secretary, did a great deal to encourage me to think that my life had a value and meaning beyond the chaos of my inability to control unruly teenagers.

Gnamoroo Book Cover

This year I received my best Christmas present in a long time. Ailsa sent me a copy of Gnamoroo, a professionally produced and beautiful coffee table book LFKK volunteers have just released. The volunteers include Mitchell Library Indigenous Services Librarian Melissa Jackson, who chose the title because it means 'compass'.

She explains how the title encapsulates LFKK's purpose: 'Gnamoroo [pronounced with a silent 'g'] is broken up into "gna" meaning "to see" and "mo-roo" meaning "a path"'.

The book, which was produced for LFKK's families and supporters, has a simple but mesmerising format that depicts its young people by name, photograph, nation, age, totem, quotation and artwork. It has been artfully presented in a way that is carefully thought out to reflect LFKK's people-centred ethos that focuses on the kids' talents.

Maybe Ailsa can enlist King Street's enterprising beggars to raise funds for LFKK.

My traumatic memory of Davao City gun violence

Last night an SBS TV news report on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte triggered for me a difficult memory from my own stay in Davao City in 1983-84. Duterte was quoted telling business executives that he personally killed people while he was serving as mayor of Davao City several times from 1988.

The memory is consistent with Duterte's narrative about the lawlessness that existed in the city at the time and is now fostered by Duterte himself. It is from my stay with a poor family in a squatter area of the city as part of a three month exposure or immersion program that I did as part of my Jesuit formation.

President Duterte - I was looking for an encounter so I could kill

The family lived in what I recall was a two room hut that was one of many built on a wooden platform over a swamp next the Jesuits' Ateneo de Davao University High School, the school Duterte had earlier been expelled from for misconduct. One of their sons had been killed days before in gun violence. I remember noting that he was about my age (23), or perhaps younger.

I vividly recall seeing the body laid out in a glass top coffin in one of the two rooms. I remember thinking that it looked peaceful and dignified even though he would have died in violent circumstances. It was only the second time I had seen a dead body (the other being my father four years earlier). For the duration of my two day stay, mourners would come by to pay their respects, as was the custom.

I guessed that the family must have agreed to having me stay, some time before this tragedy occurred, and felt that they could not withdraw from their commitment. But they did not seem particularly embarrassed or concerned about this circumstance of my visit. They played it down. I'm not sure if that was because they were embarrassed or in some kind of denial, or if - unthinkably - it was nothing out of the ordinary.

It could not have been true, but I couldn't help thinking that they regarded my visit as more important than the need to honour their own son in the wake if his killing. There was so much I did not know about what had happened. They did not give details and I did not ask.

In fact I was struck dumb by it and did not want to know any more. After saying goodbye to the family, I did not mention it to anyone. It was an experience unlike any I'd had before, and I could not process it. The Jesuits in the university community where I was based would have offered me good support, but my instinct was to repress it. It was something that I just put in a drawer like other souvenirs of my three month experience, and I have never spoken about it since.

There was another experience that I did talk about frequently because it involved a minor shock that I could handle much more easily. I even used it as an anecdote to report generally on my Philippines experience after my return to Australia. I was staying with somebody elsewhere in the country and observed a pistol in the drawer of his bedside table when he opened it. He saw that I noticed and was shocked, and explained that it was necessary to have a gun handy. That was a memory I could process and in fact dined out on it.

Both of these memories are consistent with the violence and lawlessness we are now hearing about during the Duterte presidency. I spent quite a lot of time visiting tribal peoples with the articulate and outspoken Irish Columban missionary Father Sean McDonagh, who would generously and helpfully interpret Philippine society and politics for me. Central to his narrative was the refrain 'life is cheap' in the Philippines.

Another socially aware figure who would share his analysis with me was a young Jesuit Joel Tabora. I noticed from a Google search this morning that he is now 69 and currently President of the Ateneo de Davao University. He has a long and very balanced interview from six months ago in a national newspaper, in which he goes a fair way towards justifying what Duterte is doing.

The interview does add some perspective to what is occuring in the Philippines. I took it as a suggestion that our rush to criticise Duterte's encouragement of extrajudicial killings requires more nuance than we as outsiders tend to give it. It helps me to begin to make sense of my freshly triggered memory of the slain son of my 1983 host family.