Once Again Cardinal Pell Has Thrown His Men to the Wolves – It's Everyone's Fault but His
By Kristina Keneally
March 3, 2016
| Australian Cardinal George Pell arrives at the Quirinale hotel in Rome, Tuesday, March 1, 2016, to testify via videolink from the Rome hotel to the Royal Commission sitting in Sydney. Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/AP|
“ ... on that Monday 24 March I watched Cardinal Pell being questioned in the royal commission and I woke up at 4.40 the next morning and thought, ‘It’s too disgusting, the way he threw his men to the wolves to protect himself.’”
So said church historian Father Edmund Campion at the Catholic Institute of Sydney on 27 May 2014.
So he could have said on 2 March 2016.
Cardinal George Pell’s evidence this week to the royal commission on institutional responses to child sexual abuse is – to many – shocking. Audible gasps can sometimes be heard from the public gallery in Sydney.
The criticism of Pell emanates along a spectrum from Ray Hadley to David Marr. Even Andrew Bolt was moved to condemnation – though that position didn’t last. Bolt came to his senses, so to speak, and remembered that he was, after all, Andrew Bolt.
Most of the criticism of Pell is sparked by this one stark statement, given in response to questions about what the younger Pell knew about convicted serial paedophile Gerald Ridsdale: “It was a sad story and it wasn’t of much interest to me ... I had no reason to turn my mind to the evils Ridsdale had perpetrated.”
Let’s set aside that perhaps any priest – indeed, any human with a functioning conscience – might have shown some interest once stories and rumours started to swirl in Ballarat. Pell shared a house with Ridsdale, Pell sat on a committee of priests who made decisions to move Ridsdale from parish to parish, Pell was vicar for education when Ridsdale was a school chaplain at St Alipius, and Pell accompanied Ridsdale to court when he was finally charged.
Pell had more reasons than most to turn his mind to what Ridsdale was perpetrating.
Back to Ed Campion’s comments. In 2014 Pell threw his men – John Davoren, John Usher, and Michael Casey – to the wolves. What Campion observed back then is a now an established pattern. In responding to the Victorian parliamentary report into child sexual abuse in 2013, Pell sheeted home the blame to dead church officials: “By the standards of common decency and by today’s standards, church authorities were not only slow to deal with the abuse but sometimes did not deal with it in any appropriate way at all. This is indefensible.”
The wolves keep getting fed. They must be getting satiated by now. This week it was the Cardinal’s then-superior in Ballarat, Bishop Ronald Mulkearns, who Pell says lied to him in an act of “gross deception”. Then it was his fellow Ballarat consultors, or formal advisors to the bishop, who wilfully withheld details from him. Then it was the Catholic education office who lied to him about allegations against Father Searson. Then it was fellow curia members, monsignors, who didn’t tell him details of children’s complaints of inappropriate touching and reports of grotesque acts of cruelty and physical assaults even in meetings where they were discussing what to do about Searson. Then it was Archbishop Frank Little who deceived his auxiliary bishop Pell.
Over and over again, Pell gave evidence that it was others who failed to disclose the apparently crucial details he would have needed in order to act.
When counsel assisting, Gail Furness, put to Pell that his version of events – essentially, that he was a victim of a conspiracy to keep him in the dark – was implausible, Pell was ready with an answer: they did it because they feared him, because he alone would have asked the hard questions, because he alone would have challenged the status quo – if only he had known.
After all, Pell proudly proclaims that he brought in the Melbourne Response, one of the first processes in the Catholic Church globally to address child sexual abuse. I’ll grant him that, but I’ll also grant that the Melbourne Response is about handling complaints, limiting publicity and liability, and it goes nowhere near far enough to ensure this atrocity never happens again.
Pell tries to portray himself as the bobbing cork in the ocean, drifting along unaware of the flotsam and jetsam around him. Others polluted the waters, others failed on the clean-up – but not him. Once secure dry land, once he got into power, Pell apparently looked around and decided to clean up the problems of which he had previously been unaware.
It’s everyone’s fault but his. According to Pell, it has always been thus. Ed Campion may not be the only Catholic sleeping restlessly tonight, wondering how our Church and its leadership has come to this.