One of the logical difficulties in being an atheist is the body of well-documented cases where individuals have used faith and prayer to defy the odds when science and reason suggested that all hope was truly lost.

His Holiness, pictured with the Pope last year

Atheism holds that all religion is fantasy and that its adherents have deluded themselves into believing in the existence of an all-powerful being with whom you can communicate via prayer.

On paper it sounds absurd. The only difficulty is – and I write this as a non-believer – it sometimes seems to work. If I were Sophie Delezio’s Dad I would probably regard the fact that this poor little girl had been hit not once but twice by a car as an argument against the existence of an all-powerful, all-loving God. But for the Delezios, whose faith was already strong before these two crashes, their convictions were strengthened by their ordeal.

In addition to the diligence and care of the medical team who rallied on both occasions to save Sophie’s life, the Delezios believe that it was the force of prayer – not just as a family, but through the conviction of other Christians the world over who dropped to their knees or lit a candle – which also kept their daughter alive.

The Delezios also specifically believe that it was Sister Mary Mackillop who watched over Sophie as she lay unconscious in intensive care, and have become the most public champions of her canonisation.

They deserve nothing but respect in their campaign, and should be shielded from the snide cynicism which infects modern expressions of atheist thought, with the likes of Richard Dawkins ridiculing anyone who expresses an adherence to the existence of God.

So put me down as a supporter of Mary Mackillop’s canonisation, on the simple grounds that it would bring such joy to families such as the Delezios.

But put me down as a cynic when it comes to Kevin Rudd’s decision to use his audience with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome this Thursday as a chance to do some very public lobbying on behalf of Sister Mary.

There are certain things you expect from a Prime Minister – an ability to manage the economy, spend taxes wisely, defend our national security, fund schools and hospitals, just to name a few.
Until now I hadn’t thought that buttering up the Pontiff to win His Holiness’s support for our first Aussie Saint was one of them.

The Australian prime ministership has been blessedly free of the kind of religious grand-standing which has muddied the separation of church and state in other countries, none more so than the US, where it’s now obligatory for every would-be president to project or affect an air of holiness and publicly reveal their frequent one-one-one conversations with The Almighty.

The decision by Rudd – who isn’t even a Catholic – to pre-announce his intention to lobby on behalf of Mackillop’s canonisation sounds more like a pitch for the Catholic vote than a sincere representation.

This is because the campaign to have Sister Mary canonised is already well-advanced – indeed, it is the Delezio family which in its own dignified and quiet way has led the push, with little Sophie meeting His Holiness during World Youth Day in Sydney last year.

Rudd as such looks like a Johnny Come Lately on the issue. Given that it now seems a formality that Sister Mary will be canonised, you would hope that his actions are not some 11th-hour exercise in bandwagon-jumping so that, when she does get the nod, the PM can insert himself among those who are celebrating and hope that some of the credit rubs off.

It’s not as if the Pope urgently sought an audience with Kevin Rudd to discuss this and other issues. It was of course the other way around.

The Rudd Government has already been challenged over its highly expensive decision to appoint former National Party Leader and Deputy PM Tim Fischer as Ambassador to The Holy See, a role that was once served by our Ambassador to Dublin, and has not existed as an independent post for almost 40 years.

As Patrick Walters wrote in The Australian last year, the mission will cost well over $1 million a year to run, and comes as the Government cut the budget for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and wound back its diplomatic representation in Europe.

If the Fischer appointment was jobs-for-the-boys stuff aimed at showing Rudd is not only bi-partisan but a friend of the one true faith, then a bit of last-minute grandstanding on behalf of a woman who’s going to be canonised anyway can also be viewed with a degree of cynicism, setting aside that other small point about the separation of church and state.

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    • Peter K says:

      03:45pm | 06/07/09

      Arrogant Rudd just can’t stop himself. This guys ego is out of control, and an embarassment to Australia! He’s not only trying to impress us with his show pony antics, he wants to impress the world at our expense! Stop making a fool of us Rudd on the world stage, and actually make some worth while decisions at home. Put Ausrralia first not your precious self or your religious beliefs.  Turnbull might be down at the moment, but the way Rudd is prancing around like an ego maniac makes him look like a far better PM than what we have at the moment. Turnbull for PM.!!

    • Jack says:

      03:49pm | 06/07/09

      Is this the best we can do for a PM? What a joke he is turning out to be. Turnbull is streets ahead of this guy!

    • Stephen says:

      04:03pm | 06/07/09

      C’mon how is this evidence prayer works? Gimme a break, it’s evidence we have some Grade-A doctors in Australia, not evidence prayer works. The Delezios can claim whatever they like about prayer working for them, it doesnt make it evidence it worked.

      Gimme a break, Penbo.

    • Julie says:

      04:14pm | 06/07/09

      Well the PM’s at church every Sunday praying as he shows us on TV all the time and look at his polls. Maybe praying does work? LOL

    • iansand says:

      04:15pm | 06/07/09

      You are perfectly correct. Politicians should not be allowed to grandstand.  Why did you let Joe Hockey use this space to tell the world that he will be levitating up some African mountain?

      Think of the children.

    • Jack Scanlan says:

      04:43pm | 06/07/09

      The problem with claiming that prayer works because people that are prayed for seem to get better is that there isn’t any control group for those situations. Without a control group, there’s no way of knowing if a person would have gotten better or not if they weren’t being prayed for.

      I think that the reason that in a majority of the cases where people, especially children, are prayed for and they get better, is selective reporting. The family of any sick person, if they are religious, is going to pray for their loved one. If that loved one dies, they’re not going to blame their deity for that death. But if they get better, some serious worship goes down.

      Look at it this way: most people are religious. Thus, I would assume that most people who are very sick are prayed for. This means that the majority of people who die in hospital from illness are being prayed for, yet they still die! Doesn’t seem like a very effective form of treatment to me.

      Plus, where are the cases of people who got better from a serious illness with just prayer alone? In all the cases that you hear about, modern medicine usually plays a fairly major role in the recovery of that person. Just sayin’.

      About Rudd… Well, the man does what he can to get media attention. I don’t have that much of a problem with that, but if he starts going around telling people that religious faith is an effective alternative to modern medical treatment, which I hope he never does, then he’s lost to me. At least in that respect. Remember, never base political decisions around a single issue. Most of the time. wink

    • James says:

      04:47pm | 06/07/09

      Prayer definitely works huh?  I’m sure Ava Worthington would love to hear that bit of interesting information.

    • Shelley says:

      04:54pm | 06/07/09

      Meet with Pope to discuss world poverty? Meet with Pope to discuss world homelessness? Meet with Pope to discuss global warming and his need to cut heating bill in Vatican City? Nah. Muscle in on the work already done by others to get a leg up for an unrecognised Aussie Saint. What a photo op!
      Let the circus begin.
      Did any actual reporters get an invite to this event or is it only camera crew and a PM press release again? I suppose it’s safer for our PM. If none can ask questions, he can tell no lies.

    • James says:

      05:00pm | 06/07/09

      Well said Penbo.

      So what is the PM going to say to the Pope…I used to be a Catholic, couldnt stomach it, became and Anglican and now want to influence internal Church matters. It’s like the Pope suggesting greater tax cuts in Australia.

    • kibbet says:

      06:14pm | 06/07/09

      I agree totally.  Prayer works equally as well in the treatment of serious disease and trauma as does homeopathy, acupuncture, reflexology, crystals, leeches, blood letting..  Oh sorry?  Yes, you’re right, they don’t work, and neither does prayer.

      I for one will be heading not to a priest, but to a surgeon if I happen to cut my leg off, and I would wager that near 100% of Australian’s would do the same - religious people included.

    • Adam says:

      06:18pm | 06/07/09

      Prayer works? Next time your hit by a car I bet the first thing you call is an ambulance not your priest!

    • Chris says:

      07:51pm | 06/07/09


      “One of the logical difficulties in being an atheist is the body of well-documented cases where individuals have used faith and prayer to defy the odds when science and reason suggested that all hope was truly lost.”

      I think you might just have “logical difficulties” in general. Come on. Mate!

      “Atheism holds that all religion is fantasy and that its adherents have deluded themselves into believing in the existence of an all-powerful being with whom you can communicate via prayer. On paper it sounds absurd.”

      Penbo that’s because it is absurd! There’s no logic in your next few paragraphs!

      “The only difficulty is – and I write this as a non-believer – it sometimes seems to work.” How do you figure? If indeed you are a “non-believer” and yet you concede it “sometimes works”, how are you not actually “a believer”? It either works or it doesn’t! The Delezio’s recent tragedy has nothing to do with whether you believe religion works or not! You don’t even make a coherent point about that anyway, simply a statement that their religious belief was strengthened by the events. Nothing revelationary here!

      Penbo stick to politics for you are one very confused atheist!

    • Sandra says:

      11:51pm | 06/07/09

      Pictured: Pope meets spawn of Satan

    • Joel B1 says:

      08:44am | 07/07/09

      re “Why did you let Joe Hockey use this space to tell the world that he will be levitating up some African mountain?”

      Am I correct in saying it was Rudd who first mentioned his wife Therese is headed for that same mountain? In response to those obviously staged/leaked gym pics?

    • Nick says:

      08:57am | 07/07/09

      The follow up to an article like this should be a compulsory reading of Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” where he deals among other things, with the supposed efficacy of intercessionary prayer and details the double blind experiments. Even in your own terms, Penbo, I reckon the number of failed prayers for those who succumbed would far outweigh the so-called successes.

    • Andrew says:

      09:01am | 07/07/09

      There is so much to dislike about K.Rudd. Aside from being a dishonest shonk as a politician, he is an egotistical wanker. What right does he have to step into this debate? Oh that’s right, he is the K.Rudd that parted the seas and led Australia to the holy land.

    • iansand says:

      09:35am | 07/07/09

      Joel B1.  Quite possibly, but if Mr Pemberton excoriates Mr Rudd for grandstanding he should be an equal opportunity excoriater.  I am not particularly politically partisan, but I do find journalists’ hypocrisy immensely entertaining.

    • Marcus says:

      10:33am | 07/07/09

      Chris said :“Penbo stick to politics for you are one very confused atheist!”

      To be honest most of his writing about politics makes as much sense as his writing about religion, i.e. it is illogical, rambling, openly biased and smugly self-satisfied.

    • Florence Howarth says:

      12:59pm | 07/07/09

      Was not Mr. Rudd asked by two nuns to raise this issue with the pope, who is a head of state as welll as the catholic church.

    • Rob says:

      01:10pm | 07/07/09

      If a little girl had been knocked down by a horse and cart in 1899, suffering severe internal injuries and broken bones, she would have died. No amount of prayers said on her behalf would have saved her because, alas, medical SCIENCE was simply not advanced enough at that point in time.

    • Deon says:

      01:15pm | 07/07/09

      Politics & religion aint do naything for me, unless it involves Silvio Berlusconi.. lol

    • watty says:

      01:42pm | 07/07/09

      “Sorry ,who are we trying to canonise here” asks the naive Penberthy.

      It’s Kevin….stupid.

    • Nikka says:

      01:51am | 08/07/09

      Rudd’s ham-fisted attempt to lobby the Pope isn’t going to win any fans amongst Catholics… It’s an embarrassment to have the frequenter of strip clubs, our potty-mouthed PM, try to “influence” the Holy See. It’s the tawdry sales tactic of a lobbyist on his fourth cup of coffee at Aussies, rather than an honest, respectful dialogue with the Pope.

    • B.wendt says:

      07:33am | 08/07/09

      The oldest trik in the spy game.tell the double agent what to tell the enemy
      so the enemy ends up with eggs on the face

    • John says:

      01:02pm | 08/07/09

      “...the body of well-documented cases where individuals have used faith and prayer to defy the odds when science and reason suggested all hope was lost.”

      Really? What a load of rubbish, please use some thought and reason before you write anything so stupid again. There have been several studies that have concluded that praying to a magic man in the sky does NOT work.

      I have tremendous sympathy for what the Delezio’s have been through but believing that Mary Mackillop watched over Sophie is absurd and delusional.


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