The Wrong and Right Way to Address People

By Verity James
Perth Now
July 24, 2008,21598,24070173-5005371,00.html

DOES Verity James have the right to be disgruntled by Sydney Archbishop George Pell?

This may seem a small point, even trivial. It could have been a slip of the tongue. It might not have been meant as it sounded, which does happen in TV interviews. It concerns Sydney Archbishop George Pell and his interview with The 7.30 Report.

Actually there were lots of things to be concerned about: his apparent total misreading of the situation, which he claims was an innocent mistake; his complete support of his priest, despite evidence to the contrary; and only when he was told he could listen to recorded phone discussions that may prove otherwise did he really seem to question himself.

Perhaps in some ways we should laud such loyalty to his employees and his organisation after all there have been so many bosses who in the face of criticism crumble like a creme brulee. Maybe he is just unbelievably loyal.

The crux of my discomfort is nothing more than he failed to address the man, the victim, by anything other than his surname as though Cardinal Pell was a senior prefect regarding a lesser being. He referred to him only as "Jones", three times. Not his first name, not "Mr", not the "poor soul" nothing but "Jones", and it rankles, at least with me.

Like I said, I know it's small, tiny really, but wouldn't you think that one of the heads of the largest pastoral organisation in the world, both financially and numerically, might have referred to the victim in a slightly more gentle or conciliatory way? Especially as he was apparently saying sorry he'd made some innocent mistake.

The archbishop was asked what contact he had had personally with both perpetrator and victim alleged victim at that stage. He said there had been one meeting between himself and the then alleged perpetrator and that while he had offered "Jones" a meeting, "Jones" had never taken it up, but that he was still open to having a meeting with "Jones".

It just doesn't sound right. This omission could be a really honest mistake. Perhaps during a TV interview that may have been stressful he forgot "Jones's" first name. It's Anthony, by the way. But then why not just the general "Mr"?

Even with the political bickering on Question Time, even the most outrageous accusations are always preceded by the absolute basic prerequisite of "Mr", "Dr", "Ms" or "Mrs". And these are people who don't even have to pretend to like or care about their opposition.

In radio, we're taught to listen for words how they're used and why. It's often in what is not said directly that you'll find the true meaning of what is actually being conveyed.

I'm not saying the archbishop is not telling the whole truth about what is a very sad and sorry story. What I am saying is that in the face of raw emotions, of being found to be incorrect, of having made a mistake and still being a figurehead of an organisation that preaches love, understanding and tolerance, surely such a little courtesy, a little compassion, is not too much to expect?

It's basic stuff in many ways, yet maybe a tiny omission could lead us to an entirely different perception of the archbishop's attitude.


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