Abuse Claims Dog Pell Ahead of WYD

Special Broadcasting Service
July 11, 2008

Amid a frenzy of preparation for Pope Benedict XVI's arrival on Sunday, Cardinal Pell was suddenly forced to confront an issue which has haunted the church for years - sexual abuse.

This time, the issue related directly to Dr Pell's handling of sex abuse allegations, and he was soon on the back foot.

Sydney Archbishop George Pell
Photo by AAP

ABC TV's Lateline program this week reported the archbishop had dismissed a claim of indecent assault against a priest who was later convicted of the crime.

Dr Pell had dismissed the complaint against Father Terrence Goodall in 2003 after giving weight to the priest's claim the encounter was consensual.

The victim, Anthony Jones, consistently claimed otherwise, and in police wire tap evidence given to church investigators three years ago, Goodall admits to forcing himself on Mr Jones.

Allegation referred to independent panel

Dr Pell said he had no knowledge of the taped conversations and has referred the allegations against the former priest to an independent panel, to be chaired by retired NSW Supreme Court judge Bill Priestley QC, which will advise him on what options to take in dealing with Mr Jones' complaint.

Earlier, Dr Pell admitted he was mistaken when he wrote to Mr Jones in 2003 saying no one else had contacted the church with complaints about Goodall.

It has been revealed he wrote to another man the same day, stating a church investigation confirmed he was sexually abused by Goodall.

A church investigation into Mr Jones' claims found they were substantiated, and Dr Pell has acknowledged he wrongly attributed his personal dismissal of rape allegations as being the finding of the church investigation.

"That was an overstatement. That was an innocent error," he said.

Pell also admitted his letter to Mr Jones "was badly worded and a mistake", and that he had meant to convey there was "no other allegation of rape" involving Goodall, not that there were no other abuse allegations.

But denied a cover-up.

It's not the first time Dr Pell has been involved in allegations of sex abuse.

In 2002 he was cleared by an independent inquiry of allegations he had molested an altar boy during a 1961 summer camp.

The same year he denied claims he had tried to buy the silence of a man who made sex abuse allegations against a former priest, Gerald Ridsdale.

Pope apology expected

The timing of the latest controversy is particularly embarrassing given growing speculation the Pope will apologise during his visit to Australian victims of abuse by the clergy.

Dr Pell called the timing of the revelations an "extraordinary coincidence" but said it would not taint the upcoming celebrations.

The pontiff raised hopes of an apology when he met with victims in the US last month, saying he was "deeply ashamed" of the long-running scandal.

Church sources in Australia say he may not raise the issue here, given World Youth Day is a global event and not a pastoral visit to address the concerns of the church locally.

'Words of apology not enough'

But even if an apology is forthcoming, abuse victims long critical of the church's handling of the issue say it won't be enough without action to back it up.

"What's the point of an apology when the senior ranking titled cleric in the Catholic Church of Australia is still covering up sex abuse," Mr Jones said of Dr Pell.

A spokeswoman for support group Broken Rites, Chris MacIsaac, said victims had requested a meeting with the Pope but had not received a response.

She also accused Dr Pell of failing to show leadership over the issue, saying many Catholics would find his role in the latest scandal unacceptable.

"People must lose faith in his ability," she said.

"Clearly there was not a mistake made, there was an error of judgement."

Ms MacIsaac said if any apology was to be meaningful, it must be followed by meetings and dialogue between clergy and victims.

"The apology is necessary but the apology must come with action," Ms MacIsaac said.

"The church's processes to date don't provide adequately for all victims.

"We believe the church's attitude that it's best to cover it up has not changed."

Broken Rites was formed in 1992 and since then there have been 107 Catholic Church-related abuse convictions in abuse cases in Australia, a figure Ms MacIsaac says is just a fraction of the true picture.

A World Youth Day spokeswoman said she couldn't say whether there had been any communication from the Vatican on the issue, and the Vatican failed to respond to calls from news agency AAP.


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