George Pell case: Ballarat’s deep sense of relief

The Australian

June 30, 2017

Victorian Chief ReporterMelbourne

In the more than 30 years since George Pell left Ballarat, the Victorian gold rush town where he was born, schooled and served as a priest, he has travelled further and soared higher than any Australian clergyman, rising to a position of immense power and authority within the Vatican. Yet, through all those years, no matter how high he climbed, Pell has never ­escaped the broken community he left behind.

On a cold, winter’s day in Ballarat, news that Cardinal Pell had been charged by Victoria Police with historical sex offences was greeted, overwhelmingly, with a sense of relief. For the best part of two years, the prospect of Australia’s most senior Catholic winding up in the dock has dangled before an abused generation with the promise of ultimate vindication and perhaps, a healing salve.

Lawyer Ingrid Irwin, a survivor of sex abuse whose clients include two Ballarat men who have ­publicly accused Pell of abusing them, describes it as a watershed ­moment.

“He really had a gravitas in this town that carried him to where he is now,’’ she tells The Australian. “He is quite a formidable character and that has kept people scared and at bay, to a certain extent. There is a feeling of relief that ­finally they have been heard.’’

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