Five Points to Help You Understand Pell's Testimony
By Noel Debien
March 4, 2016
|PHOTO: Paedophilia would have been an odd word to be throwing around in the 1980s. It certainly wasn't used in ordinary conversation, and certainly not in Catholic households. (Gary Rivett: ABC News)|
Understanding the terminology used by the church, how its factions work, and the processes they have in place will help you make sense of Cardinal George Pell's testimony to the child abuse royal commission this week, writes Noel Debien.
Watching the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse can be frustrating.
Over the last week, establishing when Cardinal George Pell actually knew about paedophile offences committed by Gerald Ridsdale involves going back to the mentality and the language of the 1980s. In particular to the language and mentality of the Catholic church. And it helps to understand the factionalism of the Church and how the so-called anti-Catholic "culture wars" further complicated the issue.
Though the Cardinal testified it was 1972 when he first heard about clergy sex abuse in the Mildura parish, he firmly denied he knew about it (as a consultor) in regard to Gerald Ridsdale at the time.
Cardinal Pell testified "paedophilia" was not discussed with him in regard to Ridsdale. At least, not by anyone in time to prevent the damage.
Paedophilia would have been an odd word to be throwing around in the 1970s and '80s. It wasn't used in ordinary conversation, and certainly not in Catholic households. Ballarat ex-Bishop Mulkearns' testimony concerning the criminal Paul David Ryan showed he was having Ryan treated for "homosexuality". Mulkearns admitted he knew Ryan was offending against boys.
"Interfering with kids" has been another term used in testimony. I do not for a moment wish to confuse same-sex attraction with paedophilia, but I do want to point out there is a serious disconnect that arises from this differing language.
Church v state
Royal Commission hearings expose a very real confusion between the places and roles of religion, psychiatry and law, sexual orientation, gender, sin, crime, virtue, prayer, canon law and the police during the 1980s. And all this went into the Ballarat 1980s mixmaster.
The Australian church of the 1980s was wary of the state. Its seminaries and schools reminded Catholic students of historic state persecution, and British anti-Catholic penal laws that operated in early Australia.
And after the 1970s, the so-called Catholic "culture wars" added further complication.
There were (and are) progressive and conservative factions among Australia's bishops, priests and people.
Cardinal Pell has testified his fellow clergy, like Bishop Mulkearns and Archbishop Frank Little, deceived him or lied to him over many sexual abuse matters.
He testified they kept him in the dark. He said he was "not cut from the same cloth".
Whether he is right or not, and whether the factional enmity was indeed so reckless, the Cardinal is testifying to the divisions among Australian bishops, priests and people.
Concerning the man whose job he took, the Cardinal testified "it would not surprise me if Archbishop Little was requested to submit his resignation".
Pell in a position of power
The 2015 edition of the Vatican's Annuario Pontificio lists Cardinal Pell now sits on the Congregation in Rome that appoints the bishops of the world. So he is in a key position to determine the sort of bishops Catholics get.
In Australia, Lismore, Wollongong, Darwin and Parramatta need one. Melbourne needs an Archbishop and assistants. Sydney's recovering Archbishop has been unable to preside at mass since Christmas owing to serious illness, and the city has only one auxiliary bishop.
The Cardinal is sympathetic to groups like Opus Dei, so his preferred style of bishop and priest can probably be found in the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. This is a "union" or association for conservative Catholic priests that was founded in 1975.
The Australian branch of the CCC emerged as an alternative organisation to the pre-existing priest's union, the National Council of Priests. The ACCC says it works "for the achievement of purposes befitting the clerical state". Emerging conservative clergy deemed the NCP as comparatively lax and progressive.
Conservatism in the Church
The ACCC and Cardinal Pell are conservative. They emphasise "loyalty to the Roman Pontiff, commitment to theological study and strict adherence to the authentic teachings of the Magisterium." But here is where their conservatism poses a challenge for the Commission in understanding the sex abuse crisis.
Conservative Catholics historically thought and taught about sex and gender in terms of Adam and Eve. Two genders. Simple. But science and psychology in broader Western society has moved quickly over the last 50 years to a different and more nuanced position both on gender and sexuality.
Catholics have historically been taught there is one "normal" sexuality - heterosexual. The way God designed it. All other variations were "disordered", but "fixable" with the right sort prayer and of therapy.
A man now mentioned multiple times in testimony about the 1980s, American Father John Harvey, was a Catholic conservative "fixer". Bishop Mulkearns sent Paul David Ryan to him to be "fixed" in the 1980s. It didn't work. But rather than losing the confidence of the Australian bishops, Fr Harvey went on to tour across Australia as recently as 2003 when Cardinal Pell and five other Archbishops reportedly backed him.
He was promoting "Courage", a 12-step program aiming to "fix" what he considered "disordered sexuality". I was present as Fr Harvey presented his controversial views in Sydney's Mary's Cathedral chapter hall in 2003. It was being filmed. I found it weird that such a man had the endorsement of bishops.
As Cardinal Pell gave his testimony to the royal commission this week, gasps from observers in the Quirinal Hotel underscored the chasm of misunderstanding between him and the Australian public. The Cardinal didn't seem "interested" in aberrant sexuality, including all aberrations from heterosexual God-given design of adult male-female marital relations.
The Cardinal testified, "I had no reason to turn my mind to the extent of the evils that Ridsdale had perpetrated." Tragically for victims, the Cardinal's aversion to aberrant clergy sexual behaviour did not protect victims and survivors.
Calamitously, intended or not, it protected offending clergy.