Daily Archives: August 3, 2010

What do we think of Henson’s argument “children can give consent”?

In The Age today, we have this report of Bill Henson’s speech defending his actions in photographing and exhibiting pictures of a nude female child in 2008. What do we think of his arguments?

People do get confused with notions of consent and harm…

A 10-year-old can consent to something that might otherwise be unlawful assault – dental work. In this state a 15-year-old can consent to a sex change. These are pretty serious things. Children’s consent plays a major part in divorce proceedings all the time…

I’m talking about the harm that results from under-age contact sport. ‘Imagine being a happy, healthy, 12-year-old boy kicking a football around one minute and then finding yourself in a wheelchair the rest of your life.

There’s no specific documentation to suggest anywhere, so far as my legal researchers have been able to discover, that shows that life modelling by children for artists results in physical or psychological damage.

The problem with this is that Bill Henson is comparing apples and oranges.

Of course, he is right – there are indeed a range of activities in which children can engage because they are legally empowered to give their own consent; just as there are other activities for which the legal consent of parents is required. But are there some other activities in which we wish to have the right, as a society, to say: “No; neither the child in question, nor any adult, is legally empowered to give consent for that.”

Certain obvious activities in this category come to mind. This category includes any action in which adults would seek to use a child for their own purposes, in particular those uses which touch upon the child’s physical or psychological vulnerability. Using a child as a model in the advertising industry falls into this category, especially if the child is sexualised in any way.

Art needs to be very careful that it does not fall into this category. Of course, many children model for photography and painting, or act on stage or in film, or perform in dance or music. The questions must always be: 1) are the interests of the child paramount (ie. is the child the major beneficiary of this activity?), and 2) is the vulnerability of the child protected in every way?

In Henson’s case, I cannot believe he fails on both counts. He took the photos for his own sake, not for the sake of his model. He initiated the photographic sessions, and he took the photos in order to exhibit them before the public for his own personal acclaim. Now this may have been excusable if he had not also exposed her physical vulnerability by photographing her naked.

It is one thing for your 10 year old daughter to give her consent to have tooth pulled by the dentist; another thing to give your consent for your 15 year old daughter to sail around the world; it is yet another thing entirely to suppose that a 10 year old girl can give her own consent to be photographed naked for the purpose of public exhibition. Not even a parent can give this consent on their child’s behalf.

Sorry Bill, your arguments do not convince.



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Christ’s Church, not mine.

From the pen of Abbo of Fleury, c.1000AD, cited by Fr Aidan Nichols on page 223 of “Rome and the Eastern Churches”:

Let him who wishes the health of his soul beware of believing that the Church belongs to any save God alone. For he said to Peter, the prince of the apostles, “I will give thee my Church”: “mine”, not “thine”… In truth, dear princes, we neither live nor speak as Catholics when I say, “This church is mine”, and some other says, “That church is his”.

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“Mutinous Rumblings”?

I was just wandering around the ABC’s Religion and Ethics website, which has had quite a makeover recently, and is a very interesting source of news from about the place – not just downloadable audio, but a lot of commentary and articles that has not been published elsewhere.

I clicked on this article which was posted today “The necessity of reform in the Catholic Church” by Geraldine Doogue just to see what she was on about now, and in her article found a link to this report by Noel Debien from a few weeks ago, entitled “Mutinous rumblings among senior Australian Catholic clergy”.

Apparently, Ms Doogue gave her paper at something called the “2010 gathering of the Australian National Council of Catholic Priests in Parramatta, NSW” held in mid-July. Other speakers included the American priest, Donald Cozzens, who was recently hosted here by John Garratt Bookstores, and our own Bishop Geoffrey Robinson. The latter is quoted by Debien as saying:

“Everyone in this room knows very well that George Pell was transferred from Melbourne so he could get the red hat so he would become an elector of the pope. And that was the sole reason … Most bishops would be in favour of the bishops electing the cardinals … What happens at the moment is the pope appoints the cardinals who then elect the pope who then appoints more cardinals and on and on it goes. So it’s a vicious circle. And it is deliberately designed to ensure we do not have another Pope John XXIII.”

Riiiiiight… A conspiracy theory by anyone’s definition, but apparently these words were greeted by “sustained and loud applause”, so he doesn’t appear to be the only one who believes it. Apparently Bishop Robinson received “a 5 minute long ovation from the priests when his arrival was noted”. A popular conspiracy theory then.

The NCCP gathering was, according to Debien, attended by “250 or so priests and bishops”. He describes them as “senior” – a word that could have at least two meanings. As for “mutinous rumblings”, Debien described the atmosphere as something like “pre-revolutionary Paris of 1789”. He writes:

If there had been any pulling of punches early on in this week’s conference, the gloves were well and truly off by the third day. Though I have heard much of what was said before in other places, I have never heard it all said in front of 250 Catholic clergy and five Australian bishops. I have never heard it said so strongly or clearly.

I heard calls for a third Vatican Council, married priests, discussion of women priests, warnings of church implosion, calls for cardinals to be elected by bishops, as well as public criticism of Cardinal Pell’s appointment to Sydney. That was just for starters, and all coinciding with this week’s strong condemnation of women’s ordination by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. At one point I leant over to a bishop – not noted as a progressive radical – and asked if I could check his pulse. He had the good grace to laugh, though I am not all that sure he was feeling all that jocular. It was pretty strong stuff.

In Australia, there are two organisations for Catholic Clergy. One is the National Council of Catholic Priests, which ran this event. The other is the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, who would not, I think, invite Ms Doogue, Bishop Robinson or Father Cozzens to one of their parties in a blue fit. One comparison is instructive: the average age of ACCC membership is about twenty years younger than the average age of NCCP membership (but I guess that would mean that the ACCC is less important than the NCCP because that would make them “junior” in comparison to the NCCP’s “senior”). The ACCC is actually a leading light for the world wide Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, and a large number of their group went to Rome recently in answer to the Holy Father’s invitation for priests to gather with him for the closing of te Year for Priests.

Debien finishes his report by saying:

I am still ruminating over what I heard. The real test will be discerning whether this is all just steam being let off by grumpy clergy, or whether it is the enormous glacier of the Catholic church loudly cracking.

What was it that Marie Antoinette said about cake?


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