George Pell’s heavy-handed comments ignore the pain of abuse victims

WA Today

June 1, 2015

Steve Dow

Cardinal George Pell should stop making threats and make good on his promise to return home and appear before the royal commission.

Cardinal George Pell’s deep bass tone has taken an ugly, threatening turn. His thinly veiled threat to sool the lawyers on Peter Saunders for the abuse survivor’s 60 Minutes interview shows a Catholic Church deeply disconnected from public opinion that demands free speech be heard and children be protected.

Saunders, founder of a British charity for abuse victims and handpicked by Pope Francis to sit on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, told the Channel Nine program that Pell was a “massive thorn” to the papacy and should be moved aside: “He has a catalogue of denigrating people, of acting with callousness, cold-heartedness, almost sociopathic I would go as far as to say, this lack of care.”

This internecine Vatican volley of words may well be defamatory, but how pathetic that the cardinal cannot see beyond his own bruised ego. Pell’s spokesman fired back that Saunders has never met Pell, the former Melbourne and Sydney archbishop: “The false and misleading claims made against his eminence are outrageous … there is no excuse for broadcasting incorrect and prejudicial material.”

His imperious “eminence” should drop the lawyerly threats, then put all his thinking into planning for the appearance he finally last week promised, to return home and make if requested by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. We need to know what he has to say, for instance, about the allegations of abuse in Ballarat, and whether he was complicit in moving Australia’s worst paedophile priest, Gerald Ridsdale, to another parish.

Here’s my tip: when he finally does appear before the royal commission, he will obfuscate and protect his and the church’s own naked self-interest. Way back in late 2002, I sat down with Pell in his office near Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral. He was by this time Archbishop of Sydney, having moved up from Melbourne.

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