Catholic Response to Abuse Scandal Still Leaves Much to Be Desired
By Kelly McParland
March 11, 2016
|Dominic Ridsdale, a survivor of sex abuse, travelled to Rome to witness one of the highest-ranking Vatican officials, Cardinal George Pell, testify before an Australian commission.|
It has been 14 years since the sexual abuse scandal hit the Catholic church, yet the revelations keep coming. While the church maintains it is disgusted and appalled and is working doggedly to make things right, the charges accumulate faster than the apologies can be issued.
In Australia this month, a royal commission has been hearing testimony from Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’s finance minister and one of the Vatican’s most powerful figures. Earlier in his career, he was a key figure in a diocese where some of Australia’s most notorious abuse cases occurred.
Pell was ordained a priest in Ballarat, near Melbourne. Dozens of victims have launched charges of abuse against 14 priests from the diocese, from the 1960s to the 1990s. At one time, as many as five priests preyed on children at the same time, a situation Pell dismissed as a “disastrous coincidence.” Several victims committed suicide.
An organization really committed to finding the truth wouldn’t wait for revelations to leak out before acting.
The worst offender was Gerald Ridsdale, accused of more than 100 cases of abuse, including against his own nephew. Pell once shared living quarters with Ridsdale, but says he noticed nothing unusual. He also served as a consultant to Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns, who moved Ridsdale from parish to parish for years. Pell says he remained in the dark about rampant abuse, even as he rose through the ranks to archbishop of Melbourne and later as archbishop of Sydney. Ridsale’s nephew says Pell once told him: “I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet.” Pell denies this.
|Cardinal George Pell was compelled to testify this weekend in a public hearing about clerical sex abuse in his home diocese in Australia.|
The Vatican says Pell is too ill to travel, so he testified at the Australian hearings via video link from Rome. Australians raised $200,000 to send 14 victims to Rome so he would have to face them. He admitted he did too little to counter the abuse, paid too little attention to accusations and was too willing to turn a deaf ear.
“I must say in those days, if a priest denied such activity, I was very strongly inclined to accept the denial,” Pell said. He added that the church “mucked things up and let people down,” and its response was “indefensible.” He offered to help victims who wanted to meet Pope Francis.
While Pell was testifying, a grand jury report in Pennsylvania indicated two Catholic bishops helped cover up the abuse of hundreds of children by more than 50 priests over 40 years.
The report was based partly on evidence from a secret diocesan archive uncovered through a search warrant executed in August. The findings were depressingly familiar: rather than remove abusive priests or allow them to be prosecuted, the bishops moved them from one parish to another, even to an all-boys school. One abusive priest “would have been prosecuted and convicted except that the bishop intervened and he was sent to Michigan for treatment and then placed in another parish upon his return,” the grand jury found. Another was convicted of having sex with orphans on mission trips to Honduras.
Neither of the bishops was prosecuted and there will be no charges now, because some abusers have died and the statute of limitations has expired. One bishop died in 2005, the other retired in 2011.
|The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament part of the Altoona-Johnstown Two Catholic bishops who led a small Pennsylvania diocese helped cover up the sexual abuse of hundreds of children by more than 50 priests and other religious leaders over a 40-year period, according to a grand jury report.|
The church would love to put the scandal behind it, and has become adept at offering apologies and contrition. The current Altoona-Johnstown bishop, Mark Bartchak, said in a statement, “Someone recently shared the expression, ‘When you know more, you can do more.’ With the grand jury report, we know more, and we will do more.”
But there was no reason the bishop couldn’t have known more: the information came from the church’s own secret archives. The documents even included a “payout chart” for hush money: $10,000 to $25,000 to victims fondled over their clothes; $15,000 to $40,000 to those fondled under their clothes or subjected to masturbation; $25,000 to $75,000 for those subjected to oral sex; and $50,000 to $175,000 to those subjected to intercourse.
An organization really committed to finding the truth wouldn’t have waited for the state to reveal these details. The church can offer any number of apologies and arrange any number of meetings with the Pope, but as long as the revelations keep appearing, it will be hard to accept that it’s doing all it can to get to the truth, punish the guilty and root the evil from its ranks.