By Heidi Schlumpf
Heidi Schlumpf is a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter and teaches communication at Aurora University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
(CNN)The news that a high-ranking Vatican official has been charged with sexual abuse is a reminder that the church’s sex abuse crisis is not over — and that it has potential to affect the entire church, across so-called liberal or conservative lines, even to the top echelons of the church hierarchy.
Cardinal George Pell, former archbishop of Sydney and Melbourne and current head of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, denied the allegations that will require him to return to Australia from Rome to face multiple charges of sexual assault.
Speculation about Pell’s abuse is detailed in a recent book, which the publisher has now pulled from the shelves in the Australian state of Victoria so as not to prejudice the court. Pell also has a less than credible record for his handling of sexual abuse allegations against other priests, especially his involvement in the case of Gerald Ridsdale, a former priest who was convicted of abusing more than 50 victims. Last year, testifying via video to the Australian child abuse royal commission, Pell said the church made “enormous mistakes” in its handling of the matter.
Pell’s story is significant not only because it marks the first time authorities have charged a Vatican official with sexual abuse, but also because it shows that the decadeslong sex abuse crisis is not a “once and done” thing. Catholics will be hearing about this for a while.
Certainly, the early 2000s were the peak, with the Boston Globe bringing the issue to national prominence, resulting in lawsuits, criminal charges and the Academy Award-winning movie “Spotlight,” about the journalists who uncovered both the abuse and the coverup by the church hierarchy.
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