Cardinal Pell does not deserve scapegoat status

MANASSAS (VA) – Trinity Publications

May 7, 2020

By Phil Lawler

An Australian royal commission has found that Cardinal George Pell was aware of sexual abuse in the 1970s “but failed to take action.” Cardinal Pell says that he is “surprised” by that finding, and observes quite accurately that the evidence against him is very thin.

But even if the commission’s finding is accurate—and keep in mind that it is in dispute—that finding does not justify making Cardinal Pell the scapegoat for the sex-abuse scandal in Australia. What he did (if he did it) is what most bishops did—but at the most relevant times, he wasn’t a bishop!

The abuse in question occurred in the 1970s. Cardinal Pell was not appointed as a bishop until 1987. Even then he was an auxiliary in Melbourne, acting as an assistant to Archbishop Thomas Little, rather than making policy decisions for his own diocese. He became Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996. The BBC report on the royal commission’s finding says that he “failed to take action” against abusers. But as a parish priest he did not have authority to take action. The worst that could be said is that he did not urge the archbishop to take action.

It is alleged that Pell was aware of abuse by the notorious ex-priest Gerald Ridsdale in the 1970s and early 1980s. But it is an established fact that the late Bishop Ronald Mulkearns of Ballarat moved Ridsdale from one parish to another to cover the abusive priest’s trail. Here the worst that can be said (and again, Pell disputes it) is that Pell, a parish priest, was aware that his superior, a bishop, had covered up abuse. Literally hundreds of Catholic priests could be indicted on the same charge.

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