Joe Spagnolo: Stolen Innocence the Cardinal Sin
By Joe Spagnolo
March 5, 2016
|Cardinal George Pell reads a statement to the media after a private meeting with the clergy victims in Rome. Picture: Ella Pellegrini|
I AM embarrassed to be a Catholic. It is with a heavy heart that I feel moved to say that. I’ve worn a crucifix around my neck for most of my 51 years — a gift from my devout Catholic Italian grandparents when I was born.
I was baptised Catholic, attended a Catholic primary school at Brunswick Junction, I was an altar boy, and was married in a Catholic Church. My children were baptised Catholic.
But this week, as the eyes of the world focused on Australia’s most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell — as he gave evidence to Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse via video link from Rome — I was underwhelmed by his actions, his words and his attitudes towards victims of crime.
I just wanted to see some sympathy from Pell. I wanted to see some empathy.
Instead, all I saw was a church leader who was quick to blame others, and quick to blame ignorance, for the atrocities committed against Catholics by the very men who were supposed to protect them — priests.
|Anthony Foster shows a photo of his daughters who were raped by their parish priest. Picture: David Mirzoeff /i-Images|
Not every priest is like Father Kevin O’Donnell, who raped Anthony Foster’s daughters Emma and Katie in the 1980s.
Not every priest is like Fr Gerald Ridsdale, one of Australia’s worst paedophile priests.
For example, I have fond memories of Fr Cunningham in Brunswick — a grand old priest who used to drive an old Mercedes and who was loved by both young and old.
But the likes of O’Donnell and Ridsdale have cast a dark shadow over a Church which teaches love and morality.
What we now know — more recently through the painful and confronting accounts of victims of crimes and testimonies during the royal commission — is that the sickening crimes of several Catholic priests were ignored by the very establishment which preaches propriety.
And what Pell showed this week, was that even after these crimes were exposed for public condemnation, accepting blame by the church appears to be a very difficult concept.
Watching Pell, who refused to come back to Australia to give evidence, was painful.
This week he gained global condemnation by claiming he had “not much interest” in Ridsdale’s offences in the 1970s and 1980s.
Pell added: “The suffering, of course, was real and I very much regret that but I had no reason to turn my mind to the extent of the evils that Ridsdale had perpetrated.”
On day two of the royal commission hearings, Pell’s evidence that he knew nothing of the allegations against Ridsdale was branded implausible.
On day three of the hearings, counsel assisting the royal commission Gail Furness SC rejected Pell’s claims he had been deceived by church leaders about abuse in Ballarat and Melbourne.
“Cardinal, I have to suggest to you that your evidence in relation to not being briefed properly or adequately by the Catholic Education Office and the reasons for that are completely implausible,” she told Pell.
And yet, he told journalists this week: “I have the full backing of the Pope.”
My belief and trust in God is unwavering. But I struggle to support a Church which seems to be so out of touch with reality.
How, for example, do you oppose contraception, when the spread of AIDS in places like Africa continues to be rife? Why shouldn’t a priest marry?
Is it responsible that what is revealed to a priest in the sacrament of confession cannot be repeated or shared with anyone else, when that confession involves a crime?
Maybe I am changing. Maybe, as I grow older, the Catholic Church is no longer relevant for me.
Hearing the stories of people whose innocence was stolen by priests, and seeing the way the likes of Pell are responding to these crimes, makes me question further whether I still believe in an organisation of which I have been a member for more than half a century.