Editorial: Pell Haunted by Past Ghosts

Geelong Advertiser

July 14, 2008

THE timing really could not have been worse for the Catholic Church in general and Cardinal George Pell in particular.

With the largest event to be staged in Australia beginning tomorrow, Dr Pell should be welcoming the hundreds of thousands of the world's youth to Sydney for World Youth Day.

Instead, he is heavily on the defensive. He has been roundly criticised for his handling of sexual assault allegations against Father Terrence Goodall. Dr Pell dismissed the allegations against Goodall in 2003 after accepting the priest's claim the sexual encounter was consensual.

Since then, Dr Pell has been accused of misleading victim Anthony Jones and has been forced into appointing an independent panel to look at the allegations.

The panel, which will operate under the Towards Healing protocols, runs the risk of being labelled as an ``in-house'' investigation without the rigour of a legal hearing.

For Dr Pell, there must be a touch of deja vu in the situation in which he has become embroiled. Five years ago former Anglican bishop Dr Peter Hollingworth was forced to resign as Governor General over claims he had in the past mishandled a sex abuse claim.

Political figures have called for Cardinal Pell to resign and Broken Rites leaders have been critical of his handling of the case.

It must be galling for Dr Pell as the leader of the Catholic faith in Australia that the Jones allegations, which occurred more than 20 years ago, is diverting public attention from World Youth Day and the first visit to Australia of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.

The five-day event will attract more than 125,000 international visitors, more people than the Sydney Olympics.

However, it seems the church's enthusiasm for World Youth Day is not shared by everyone. There has been criticism of several aspects. Some claim tomorrow should have been declared a public holiday to ease public transport demands. Extra train and bus services have been commissioned and a transport strike was only narrowly averted.

Local activist groups under the banner NoToPope Coalition will be protesting by handing out information and providing free condoms.

Security will be at heights not seen since the Olympics and APEC conference of last year and police will be granted extraordinary new powers to ensure order during proceedings.

Members of the public can be subjected to random vehicle and baggage searches at more than 40 city sites, including the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.

Police have been given the power to arrest or fine people thought to be annoying or inconveniencing pilgrims.

A rather incongruous introduction of powers for an event based on faith, hope and goodwill.


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