Cardinal George Pell backed by Catholic archbishops as 'man of integrity'

By Steve Lillebuen
Sydney Morning Herald
June 04, 2015

Australian bishops and archbishops have commended Cardinal Pell's handling of criticism.
Photo by Joe Armao

Australia's most senior Catholic clergy have been criticised for endorsing Cardinal George Pell's handling of child sex abuse cases during the middle of the royal commission.

Seven bishops and archbishops have signed a statement backing Cardinal Pell, saying he was one of the first bishops in the world to set up a response to abuse in the church.

"He is a man of integrity who is committed to the truth and to helping others, particularly those who have been hurt or who are struggling," said the statement, signed by two NSW bishops and five archbishops in Brisbane, Perth, Sydney, Hobart and Canberra-Goulburn.

"His style can be robust and direct; he does not wear his heart on his sleeve. But underneath he has a big heart for people."

But Nicky Davis, from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said the statement is offensive and yet another example of the church trying to protect its reputation above all other considerations.

She said clergy abuse survivors deserve far more respect from senior church leaders.

The clergy statement, which claims credit for helping survivors, may actually silence and undermine those who have been brave enough to testify, she said.

"If Australia's bishops, including Cardinal Pell, are truly men of integrity, they would cease trying to silence survivors, and call for police to investigate every single case of clergy child sexual violation for any cover-up," she said.

"But most of all, a man of integrity would understand how hard it is for survivors to speak truth to power, especially his level of power."

Cardinal Pell, who is now based at the Vatican, has been accused of trying to bribe a survivor to keep quiet and ignore the child abuse reports of another during Ballarat hearings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

He has repeatedly denied the claims, however, and has told the royal commission that he's willing to return to Australia to give evidence when the Ballarat hearings resume again. The commission had already urged him to appear later this year.

The archbishops' joint statement also commended Cardinal Pell for how he's handled criticism, saying he has acknowledged mistakes frankly, and apologised for them.

"We appreciate the Cardinal's strong and unfailing support for the important work of the royal commission and his constant readiness to assist the royal commission whenever he is asked to do so."

The statement came after Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart's own comments earlier this week, which strongly backed Cardinal Pell.

The only Australian archbishop not to speak out in support of Cardinal Pell is Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson, who took leave in March to fight a NSW charge of concealing child sex abuse committed by paedophile priest James Fletcher in 1971.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.