An article on Tony Abbott entitled ‘The Whirling Dervish’ appeared in The Monthly magazine for February 2010 pages 22-29. Its author,  Louis Nowra,  has a number of revealing things to say about Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition. If Nowra’s information is correct, and the Liberal Party wins the election, Abbott has been groomed for the top political job in Australia by some of the most conservative elements of the Catholic church in Australia. This is of particular interest to those who have been long term fighters for public education and separation of church and state.

Schooling: Ongoing Influence of Father Emmet Costello

Abbott was a child of the Sydney’s North Shore, an enclave of spacious suburban houses, families and, in his famile’s case, swimming pools. His father was a dentist and his mother a science graduate. Abbott’s first school was the Jesuit’s St. Aloysius , and his next school, St. Ignatius, Riverview on the lower North Shore was also a Jesuit college. Nowra informs us that:

He found a mentor at Riverview in Father Emmet Costello, the chaplain, a worldly Jesuit from a wealthy background who was fascinated by politics. He knew many of the important politica players and Abbott often sought hinm out. Like Santamaria, Costello saw politics as a vocation, a way of giving glory to God in the human realm. Indeed, by the time he went to Sydney University, Abbott was convinced that he had a bright future, perhaps in politics.

Influence of Santamaria

Nowra claims that in 1998 Abbott called Bob Santamaria a philosophical star by which you could always steer and the greatest living Australian. His further research indicated that Santamaria’s influence on Abbott was  immediate and profound.  His analysis of Santamaria, the National Civic Council and the DLP is worth reading. Supporters of public education remember that after he succeeded in splitting the Labour Party and gaining State Aid for his church’s enterprises, Santamaria was sidelined politically. As far as the Church was concerned he had done his job for that generation, and the hierarchy now had bigger fish to fry. Given his upbringing and predilections, in 1972, at the age of 15, Abbott was drawn towards the DLP, despite the traditionalist party being in its death throes.

Nowra’s personal view of Santamaria at the time of his influence on Abbott, is revealing:

Near the end of his 60-year career, he had doubts about liberal democracy, and in his wish to return to traditional Catholic values there was a touch of the theocratic Taliban about him…Abbott has said that what impressed him about Santamaria was the courage that kept him going as an advocate for unfashionable truths.

After all, with the Labor Party and Liberal Party’s old boy networks doing the church’s bidding, what further need was there for Santamaria’s little splinter group?

Studying for the Priesthood; Influence of Paul Mankowski

After a sojourn at Oxford where he was much influenced by an American trainee Jesuit priest, Paul Mankowski, Abbott decided to become a priest. He entered St. Patrick’s seminary at Manly. Nowra then writes:

..instead of finding a form of Catholicism that featured social engagement, poverty and service to the community, he ( Abbott) found himself surrounded by a strongly homosexual fraternity. A Catholic friend of mine who mixed with St Patrick’s priests said, still with surprise in his voice, that they were ‘the most effeminate men I had ever seen. And this was when the Church unconditionally condemned homosexuality. …like half of the young seminarians, he left before becoming a priest.

Ongoing Relationship with Cardinal Pell

Abbott may not have been priest material, but the Church had alternate plans for him. In the Liberal Party, he was influenced by John Howard, but

on spiritual matters turned to Cardinal Pell. Like all his mentors, from Santamaria onwards, he hero-worshipped him uncritically. To Abbott, Cardinal Pell is ‘one of the greatest churchmen that Australia has seen.’

Pell is the type of Catholic Abbott likes- someone who excelled at sports, is not introspective and takes a close interest in politics. He is a divisive man who was at the centre of a controversy over his maladroit dealings with victims of sexual abuse by priests…Pell acts as Abbott’s personal confessor.

Abbott on Relationship between Church and State

Nowra, who appears to have personal experience and understanding of Abbott’s Church and its Australian representatives believes that Abbott would be unable to keep his adherence to this institution out of his political decisions.

Abbott may be touchy about his close friendship with Pell because the Cardinal pushes hard, like Santamaria did, for Catholic intervention in politics. But Nowra’s evidence for his willingness to be the Church’s man in the top job is extensive. She notes that Abbott has said:

A Minister of the crown is scarcely supposed to abandon his principles simple because he is a minister of the crown. You don’t become an ethnical-free zone just because you are a minister.

and concludes:

the institution that has made him, the Catholic Church has also shaped his principles, so that he finds it difficult to disentangle his religious convictions from his political agenda. Like all his mentors he loathes abortion, IVF, the morning-after-pill and RYU486. He sees abortion as a national tragedy, as he does no-fault divorce…


Throughout his life , Abbott has needed the Church and its teachings sometimes to a desperate degree, because he realizes that without it he would be morally and even psychologically lost. He knows he has personal demons to quell. Between his belfry-bat ears is a coil of such saturnine weirdness that no one, not even his closest friends, would want to unravel it…

DOGS make no further comment. The information collected and presented by Louis Nowra, a writer whose mother came home from Mass annoyed by the priest telling her to vote DLP, speaks for itself.





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