Red Mass Crime Scene

Red Mass for judges, lawyers defended amid protests at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne

Author: Paul Kennedy

Publication: ABCNews website

Date: 30JAN2020

A leading lawyer has defended the Catholic Church’s right to hold a traditional mass for judges and lawyers in Melbourne, despite protesters saying it should be scrapped.

Key points:

  • The “Red Mass” tradition for the legal fraternity dates back to the 13th century
  • Protesters have called for lawyers and judges to not attend anymore
  • The Melbourne Archdiocese says all are welcome

The Archdiocese of Melbourne hosted its annual “Red Mass” this week after the Victorian Bar Association promoted the event.

It was well attended by senior judges wearing their robes and wigs.

After the service and blessings, the judiciary, members of the legal profession, staff and their families were invited to join Archbishop Peter Comensoli to stay for morning tea in the presbytery.

Representatives of the legal sector enter St Patrick’s for the Red Mass this week.(ABC News)

Child sexual abuse survivors’ advocate Chrissie Foster was among a group of people involved in a silent protest outside.

She was holding sign that read “crime scene”, in reference to the venue, St Patrick’s Cathedral, where convicted Cardinal George Pell abused two choirboys in 1996.

Cardinal Pell is appealing against his conviction in the High Court.

Ms Foster had previously asked legal professionals to think about staying away.

“What is the purpose of the Red Mass get-together with the judiciary? Why is it necessary?” she wrote in The Australian.

“Does the Catholic hierarchy hold a Red Mass for housewives? Or apprentices? Or unmarried mothers? Or students? Or doctors?

“Perhaps judges, magistrates, tribunal members, judicial registrars, court officials and barristers should reconsider attending this event.”

‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’

Senior lawyer and media commentator David Whiting told the ABC the tradition — which dates back to the 13th century — was a “positive thing”.

Mr Whiting conceded priests had committed crimes against children and said this should not be ignored.

“My view is that the Catholic Church has stuffed up badly on a lot of levels,” he said.

“The church and the state are separate, but logically they need to work together.”


Mr Whiting said it was up to the judgement of individuals whether they should attend the Red Mass.

“If you are a judge, or a magistrate or you hold a position in the law, and you think that going to a service like that indicates that you are showing a bias or it’s inappropriate for you to attend, then you simply don’t attend,” he said.

“I think that the concept of a blessing by the church as to the people in judiciary and in the legal system and the performance of justice is, in fact, quite a positive thing. I don’t see it as a negative thing.

Ms Foster responded to Mr Whiting’s comments, saying he could have chosen different words.

“As a lawyer, he must have many words he could use to properly describe the crimes which thousands of Australian children have suffered,” she said.

“If it were his own child or grandchild who had been orally raped repeatedly over months or years would he still be describing the crime and the situation a ‘stuff-up’?”

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