May 27, 2013

Cardinal Very Sorry for Everyone Else's Mistakes

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Cardinal George Pell is "fully apologetic" for sex abuse in the Australian Catholic Church, but he's not responsible for any of it. Testifying in the Victorian Government Inquiry, Pell came clean on many of the offenses committed by clergy and even members of the hierarchy. He was unusually plainspoken, but he put a lot of distance between himself and any of the offenses committed.

Pell admitted, for instance, that abusive priests were shuffled around from parish to parish and that it enabled them to prey on new victims.

He admitted moving paedophile priests around parishes allowed more children to become victims and in some cases the church's actions allowed abuse to happen.

Cardinal Pell said he did not personally cover up any offending.

He admitted that false documents were created and that it was all part of a cover-up to protect the reputation of the Church.

Fear of scandal prompted the cover-up of child sex abuse allegations within the Catholic Church, Australia's top-ranking Cardinal George Pell admitted Monday.

. . .

"The primary motivation would have been to respect the reputation of the church," he told the inquiry into the abuse of children by religious and non-government bodies.

"There was a fear of scandal."

He even suggested that priestly celibacy "might have been a factor in some cases."

This would probably be the most full-throated mea culpa delivered by a high ranking Church official yet, if it were delivered by someone who actually took some personal responsibility. But Pell appears to be fully insulated from scandal and also took care to insulate much of the hierarchy, who he is sure were as much in the dark as he was. That's how carefully hidden these crimes were, according to Pell. Why? Church officials don't engage in gossip.

''If we'd been gossips, which we weren't ... we would have realised earlier just how widespread this business was,'' Cardinal Pell said.

If only they weren't all so moral, countless children might have avoided being molested.

Questioned about his own apparent support for a prolific abuser, Cardinal Pell again demurred.

In May 1993, Cardinal Pell accompanied Ridsdale to court in Melbourne, where he pleaded guilty to 30 charges of indecent assault, involving nine boys aged between 12 and 16. It was the first of three court appearances where Ridsdale faced a string of sexual abuse charges, many of them committed in south-west Victoria.

After being heavily criticised for supporting the former priest instead of his victims, Cardinal Pell said at the time Ridsdale “had made terrible mistakes”.

Inquiry chairwoman Georgie Crozier asked Cardinal Pell why he referred to Ridsdale’s crimes as “mistakes”. Cardinal Pell said the comment was “just a suggestion on my lips”.

“This was 20 years ago. I knew there was a very significant number of offences, I didn’t know the details of those offences. I knew that Ridsdale was pleading guilty. His lawyer asked me to appear in court before him.”

He didn't know the extent, he was asked by the lawyer, and calling the molestation of children a "mistake" was just an offhand comment. It's kind of amazing how blameless a man in the thick of an abuse scandal can be.

Pell is part of an eight member panel, handpicked to advise Pope Francis on making the Vatican more transparent. If he delivers on his promise to provide the commission with all the relevant documents and files, it might go a way to demonstrating a less secretive Vatican.

He said he has received assurance from an official in the Vatican that all documents and files relating to child abuse in Australia would be made available to the Royal Commission.

What Pell remains less than forthcoming about is the Church's willingness to pay for its mistakes. He doesn't see the need for a cap of $75,000 to be lifted and says Australia won't see the million dollar payouts that have bankrupted American dioceses. He doesn't see it as a "moral obligation" and insists that it's not what a lot of victims are really interested in. Some of those victims might just disagree. A suggestion that Vatican property could be liquidated to compensate victims was dismissed.

The cost of the Rome property could have been enough to provide $75,000 - the cap the church places on compensation - to 400 victims, she said.

Cardinal Pell said the Rome property was a hostel and an investment.

"We don't need to sell our investments to pay our damages," he said.

He was asked by Ms Coote where the morality was in paying victims of clerical sex abuse a "mere $75,000" when he had the opportunity to stay at a $30 million residence in Rome and the Catholic Church in Australia has millions of dollars in assets.

Cardinal Pell's tetchiness about substantial restitution to people whose innocence has been stolen and who, in many cases, have suffered ruinous emotional damage is telling. But even more disturbing is the reminder of just how finite the Church's resources are. Selling off the Vatican property would barely make a dent. Just how the Church can actually make this right is an open question.

Victims and victim advocates who heard Cardinal Pell's testimony were less than impressed.

Cardinal Pell's explanations did little to comfort child sex abuse victim and former deputy Mayor of Campbelltown John Hennessey.

Calling on Cardinal Pell to stand down until the inquiry was over, the Ingleburn man said he was sexually abused on three separate occasions and raped once by the same priest during his time at a WA orphanage in 1960s.

"There was not a tear in his eyes while he was talking about the abused children and people who committed suicide,'' he said of Cardinal Pell.

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