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Compass – The Cardinal’s Cousin (2005)

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An open letter education content clip 1, 2

Original classification rating: PG. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

Monica tells us why she felt obliged to make public her letter to her cousin, Cardinal George Pell, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney. It’s a heart-rending appeal to a family member to treat her as a human being and not to call her depraved, as decreed by the Catholic Church, just because she is homosexual.

Curator’s notes

This is powerful storytelling and great television. Using simple but effective techniques, and allowing the well-chosen subject to carry the message, the director opens up for examinaton the huge gulf between modern sexual sensibilities and traditional religion.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows Monica Hingston, a former nun who left the Catholic Church after ‘coming out’ as a lesbian, describing the anger and frustration she felt at her realisation that the Vatican was attempting to deprive gays and lesbians of what she sees as basic human rights. Hingston describes her need to ‘do something about it’, a decision that resulted in a letter of protest to her second cousin, Cardinal George Pell, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney. A reconstruction shows Hingston sitting at a table writing the letter and she reads a portion of it in voice-over.

Educational value points

  • Hingston, shown in the clip, undertook a number of strategies to combat what she saw as discrimination. When her private letter to her cousin Cardinal Pell met with no response Hingston allowed it to be published. In 2004 she was asked to lead Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade as an acknowledgement of her criticism of the Vatican’s stand on homosexuality. Her cooperation in this Compass story also helped to publicise her cause.
  • The Vatican’s doctrinal position on homosexuality and in particular its opposition to the legalisation of same-sex unions is based on its belief that sexual relations are ‘human’ when they mutually express and promote a couple within marriage and may result in children. It also recognises what it calls a moral truth – while seeking not to discriminate against gays and lesbians as individuals it does not approve of homosexual acts.
  • Hingston’s letter did not lead to a dialogue with Cardinal Pell. The letter became public in 2004 when Hingston sent it to major newspapers. Pell issued a brief statement saying that he supported the Church’s view, a view that would not change, and while he acknowledged the contribution Hingston had made he regretted the path she had chosen. Cardinal Pell referred readers to the first 11 verses of Chapter Eight of St John’s Gospel.
  • For Hingston sexuality is just one part of her identity but she argues that it is of prime concern to the Church, which judges her on this alone, ignoring the fact that she considers herself to be a ‘morally good, decent person’.
  • In a 12-page edict titled Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons, the Vatican sought to reverse what it saw as the spread of laws legalising same-sex marriages, calling on Catholic politicians to oppose existing legislation allowing such unions and to vote against any proposed legislation. Critics cited this edict as encouraging discrimination and as interference in the political process.
  • Compass is an ABC television program that critically examines beliefs, ethics and values and, like the episode The Cardinal’s Cousin, which focuses on the Catholic Church’s attitude to homosexuality, has presented issues that may be confronting or controversial. Through exploring individual spiritual and ethical journeys, the program aims to reveal broader community issues.
  • Hingston spent 26 years as a nun advocating for the marginalised and oppressed, including ten years in Chile under a brutal dictatorship – however, as she says in the clip, the Vatican’s edict made her realise that as a lesbian she too was marginalised and must fight for her rights. Gays and lesbians still face discrimination and even violence, with a 2005 study showing that 35 per cent of Australians regarded homosexuality as immoral (Australia Institute, Mapping Homophobia in Australia, 2005).

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australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described here and elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions. ALL rights are reserved.

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