Cardinal Pell Missed Perfect Chance to Wash Stain Away

By Madonna King
Courier Mail
July 19, 2008,23739,24039539-27197,00.html

AS POPE Benedict XVI began his first official day by congratulating Australia on its apology to Aborigines this week, a Sydney jury was retiring to consider its verdict.

The trial was like many others before. It related to a Catholic priest accused of raping and indecently assaulting boys.

Father Paul Raymond Evans has pleaded not guilty in the New South Wales District Court to 20 charges involving seven boys between 1977 and 1988.

It is likely the Papal party would have been unaware of the jury's deliberations, after weeks of evidence, but it and cases like it remain a serious taint on the Catholic Church in Australia.

This week the church's leader in Australia, Cardinal George Pell, could have helped wash that stain away. But he chose not to.

Indeed, it seemed as though the church leadership was almost mean when compared to the joy and wonder spread across Sydney by the pilgrims who had travelled the globe for World Youth Day.

At a time when traditional churches are fighting to keep young people, Pell had an unbridled opportunity to envelop hundreds of thousands of young followers, showing them that generosity begins at home.

It's disappointing that he didn't.

In one of his addresses this week, Pell warned that following Christ was not always easy because it required "struggling against what St Paul called the flesh old fat relentless egos, old-fashioned selfishness".

"Don't spend your life sitting on the fence, keeping your options open, because only commitments bring fulfilment.

"Happiness comes from meeting our obligations, doing our duty, especially in small matters and regularly so we can rise to meet the harder challenges."

The Catholic Church might have met its obligations over the trail of human wreckage left by a small group of criminal priests who took advantage of young followers, but Pell's response to the issue falls way short of doing his duty.

And by not grasping the issue and dealing with it in a way that showed the church as an open and accountable church with deep concern for those it hurt, Pell allowed isolated instances of sexual abuse involving clergy not the joyous invasion of the pilgrims to become the story of the week.

Just take the example of Emma Foster, a story Pell described as "tragic" and which had prompted an apology from him 10 years ago.

The story of Emma and her sister Katherine is more than tragic. It's disgusting, reprehensible, horrific.

Emma, as a little girl in primary school, was raped by a Melbourne priest who was later convicted of abusing 12 children aged between eight and 14.

This week Emma Foster's family accused Pell of stalling a compensation claim, and initially offering $50,000.

The family pushed ahead with legal action, eventually winning what is believed to be one of the biggest settlements of its type in Australia.

Earlier this year, and only in her mid-20s, Emma committed suicide.

Her sister Katherine, who drank heavily, was left disabled by a drunk driver in 1999.

Emma's and Katherine's parents boarded a plane in London this week to fly out to tomorrow's World Youth Day final mass, in the hope of facing Pell.

Details of Emma's case came on the back of accusations by Anthony Jones that the cardinal had tried to cover up a non-consensual sexual experience with another priest.

Pell now has referred that latter case to an independent panel, and said this week he apologised to Emma in 1998.

"I met with her parents. We offered them some financial help. We also offered them counselling," he said.

"Emma availed herself of that counselling for 10 years and we contributed substantially towards those counselling costs."

But Emma's family and many in the Catholic Church don't just want an apology. That's the easy part.

They want the church, led by its cardinal, to show justice and compassion and to guide us in teaching those same values to our children.

The influence of Pell's position was clear when WYD co-ordinator Bishop Anthony Fisher said the sex-abuse issue was detracting from the youth day and some people should stop "dwelling crankily on old wounds".

But it was Pell himself who told the story of the lost sheep.

In a sermon this week, touted as possibly his best in 41 years, he spoke of caring not only for the 99 healthy sheep in a flock, but for the one lost sheep who regards himself or herself "as lost, in deep distress, with hope diminished or even exhausted".

For a moment, it seemed the thousands of young pilgrims with their big hearts and matching smiles were going to receive a lesson we should all tell our children.


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