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Australian Catholic Cardinal Centre of Child Sexual Abuse Scandal

This Human Rights post is part of Blog Action Day on 16 October 2013. It is a cross-post from Global Voices Online.

Two sisters were repeatedly raped by their parish priest in an Australian primary school. One later committed suicide. The other became a binge drinker and is disabled after being hit by a car. Their parents want laws to make the Catholic Church look after victims properly. Their mother told the story in her book Hell On The Way To Heaven.

Since its publication in 2010, action is finally being taken. There are currently three government inquiries in Australia into institutional responses to sexual abuse of children.

As Clerical Whispers reported in May 2013, the State of New South Wales investigation followed police whistleblower Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox’s allegations of Catholic church cover-ups in the Hunter Valley region.

In the State of Victoria, the Family and Community Development Committee of parliament has the task of reporting:

…on the processes by which religious and other non-government organisations respond to the criminal abuse of children by personnel within their organisations

The committee was set up after admissions by the Catholic hierarchy of forty suicides among 620 victims of child sexual abuse by its clergy. It is due to report in November 2013.

Then Prime Minister Julia Gillard established the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in late 2012. The commission is examining:

…how institutions with a responsibility for children have managed and responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse.

…any private, public or non-government organisation that is, or was in the past, involved with children, including government agencies, schools, sporting clubs, orphanages, foster care, and religious organisations.

Despite the broad brush of the terms of reference, the Catholic church has taken the brunt of public criticism so far. In particular, the Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell has been the centre of the controversy for his approach to offenders and victims over an extended period. His appearance at the Victorian committee in May 2013 created a storm when he admitted church cover-ups.

Ian Richardson’s reaction was typical of the twitterverse:

Rock in the grass was incensed by the Cardinal’s moralising:

Sam Butler made the inevitable comparison with Rupert Murdoch’s evidence in 2011 to the British parliamentary committee concerning the phone hacking scandal:

It was just one of a multitude of tweets linking to well-respected journalist David Marr’s report for the Guardian.

Meanwhile Cartoonist Jon Kudelka had his usual eye for The Details:

Jon Kudelka cartoon - The Details

Cartoon – The Details. Courtesy Jon Kudelka

At The Conversation blog Judy Courtin assessed Pell’s apology:

If we were to rate his performance as an actor with his apology he would have just passed as an actor. The apology, along with any empathy or compassion, was entirely lacking.

Subsequently David Marr has written an in-depth essay for the September Quarterly magazine: The Prince: Faith, Abuse and George Pell (Essay 51):

He [Pell] knows children have been wrecked. He apologises again and again. He even sees that the hostility of the press he so deplores has helped the church face the scandal. What he doesn’t get is the hostility to the church. Whatever else he believes in, Pell has profound faith in the Catholic Church. He guards it with his life. Nations come and go but the church remains.

Jeremy von Einem’s tweet is representative of the general reaction to Marr’s essay:

John Lord captured the revulsion and the anger that many readers felt:

Whilst reading it I had to stop many times and reflect on the enormity of the sins of the fathers. More than once I shed a tear whilst uttering the word, bastards.

But this essay is as much about Pell (I don’t feel the need to be particularly aware of protocol and use his title) the man as it is about child abuse. When all is stripped back we see a man of very little love for flock but great love for the institution of church, the privileges that come with it and the power it commands. Consequently Pell is adored by the church but despised by the people.

Cardinal Pell responded to the essay with a written statement:

A predictable and selective rehash of old material. G.K.Chesterton said: ‘A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; a bad novel tells us the truth about its author’. Marr has no idea what motivates a believing Christian.

The Prince has its critics. Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor at Eureka Street, the online publication of the Australian Jesuits. In his analysis Marring the Cardinal’s image he sees the essay as “elegant” but “unfair”:

The limitations of Marr’s account are the obverse of its virtues. It is not a dispassionate judgment but a prosecution brief. It sifts Pell’s motives and words but not those of his critics, and simplifies complexities.

Kate Edwards at Australia Incognita is a critic of Cardinal Pell but thinks Marr missed the ‘Real Story’:

The article provides no new insights on the Cardinal’s various disastrous interactions with victims and the laity in relation to the scandal; no new insights into just why he and many others in the Church were so reluctant to listen or act. To me that seems a great shame.

Despite being the central player in the sordid history of abuse and cover-up, the Catholic Church was not first case study off the rank at the Royal Commission public hearings. That dishonour went to the Scouts, reinforcing a long-held stereotype.

The Catholic Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council has made a lengthy submission to the Commission’s Towards Healing processes. Meanwhile, an appearance at the inquiry by Cardinal Pell is eagerly awaited by both critics and supporters.

Outside the Victorian inquiry, support group CLAN (Care Leavers Australia Network) spoke for people brought up in “care”:

The Royal Commission is expected to take several years to complete its investigations and make recommendations to the Federal government.[For more on this story at AIMN, please see John Lord’s The Prince. Faith, Abuse and George Pell (7 Oct 2013)]


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  1. Geoff Of Epping

    Pell, neither caring nor christian. A corporate spinmeister with his own needs and requirements uppermost in his mind….. hence the well stocked cellar, the invitations to conservative functions, the guest of honour role, the gold, first class flights etc. Man of God? “Prince of the Church”?…..nothing could be further from the truth. Simply a pin up boy for the worst excesses of the catholic church.

  2. Graeme Rust

    pell is a mate of toxic tone , need I say anymore ?

  3. Rachana Shivam

    It has occurred to me that many of the clergy may well have been themselves abused as children and are either in denial or convinced that they must protect the church. There has to be a deeper explanation for their awful behaviour towards the victims.

  4. Kaye Lee

    But though Pell says he never directly covered up abuse and that he is “committed to working to make improvements,” Pell’s track record tells a different story. Twenty years ago, Pell appeared in court with his colleague Father Gerald Francis Ridsdale while Ridsdale was on trial for sexual abuse. Ridsdale was eventually convicted of molesting and raping 40 children over a 26-year period. At the inquiry this week, Cardinal Pell defended his support for Ridsdale, saying, “At that stage nobody knew — well, I certainly didn’t — what proved to be the full extent of his infamous career. I did know that there was a very significant number of charges but I had no idea about all the other things that would unfold.” During the same period, Pell continued to authorize payment of a “frugal” allowance to Father Ronald Pickering after Pickering fled to England in the wake of sex abuse allegations and refused to cooperate with authorities. It was Pell’s successor who stopped the payments and launched an investigation.

    That’s not where Pell’s ignorance ends, though. Eleven years ago, Pell told a group of World Youth Day delegates that “abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people” because abortion “is always a destruction of human life.”

    And although, when he spoke on Monday, Pell said, “I am fully apologetic and absolutely sorry,” his degree of not-getting-it is still pretty staggering. Pell insisted, “I don’t believe we have a moral obligation” to increase the settlement amounts for sex abuse victims. And in an epic case of poor timing, he railed against “25 years of hostility from the press” and noted that the Australian government “was not active earlier” in pursuing sexual abuse cases. He also, outrageously, declared, ”I’ve sometimes said, if we’d been gossips – which we weren’t – and we had talked to one another about the problems that were there we would have realised earlier just how widespread this awful business was.”

    Here’s a hint: When you’re talking about systematic coverups of child rape, it’s best to stick with apologizing.

    TONY ABBOTT: Well, Tony, I may well have been going to confession to Cardinal Pell, I may well have been seeking pastoral counseling from Cardinal Pell. What’s so sinister about that?

    Cardinal Pell is one of the greatest churchmen that Australia has seen. I am a very imperfect Catholic. Why shouldn’t I go and seek counsel? Why shouldn’t I go and trespass on the time occasionally of someone like Cardinal Pell.

    If you spent more time with Cardinal Pell, your life might be more interesting.

    – Tony Abbott interviewed on ABC’s Lateline

  5. Graeme Rust

    It’s a club .

  6. bliss

    ……a club with GIANT blinkers of ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ which permitted the cardinal to ignore all sense of care for and responsibility to his congregation – over DECADES! wilful negligence.

  7. Graeme Rust

    I think you will find that it is centuries not decades.

  8. Kevin Rennie

    I googled my old school Xavier College to see if the Jesuits have been exposed to scrutiny. Allegations at the Victorian parliamentary inquiry of sexual abuse at the Burke Hall junior school and Kew senior school were well publicised earlier this year.

    Broken Rites Australia who are ‘researching the Catholic cover-up’ posted an article with further accusations about Xavier, naming Jesuits including one of the College’s most prominent priests.

    Problem priests were a regular topic of gossip throughout the school community in the early 1960s. My direct encounters were limited to inappropriate hand on knee experiences. Some of my peers have mentioned more traumatic instances whilst others seem unaware or unconcerned about what was happening.

  9. Chris Gould

    Willful negligence smacks of passivity. This cover up of these hideous crimes is done with full awareness and deliberate intent to subvert justice, shift blame and keep this child molesting cartel free to continue their crimes. Pell and many others should be charged and convicted of these ghastly crimes. How anyone can remain a Catholic or indeed religious in the face of this ongoing generational scandal is beyond belief.

  10. Stephen

    The catholic church is a paedophile ring masquerading as a religion.

  11. Kevin Rennie

    Despite my background, or perhaps because of it, I am an atheist. Nevertheless, blanket generalisations or hyperbole against religious organisations such as the Catholic Church, or other bodies such as the Scouts, do not help to uncover the truth or assist victims. That is why inquiries such as those in Ireland and the Australian ones mentioned above are so important.

  12. doctorrob54

    Pell is a filthy criminal that will rot in Hell.

  13. Tony Biviano

    A global petition initiated by Australian Bishops Geoffrey Robinson, Bill Morris and Pat Power is calling for the Pope to make changes to address the institutional causes of sexual abuse and cover up. Named ‘For Christ’s sake end sexual abuse for good’ it can be signed on line at To date it has over 120,000 signatures. To find out more about the initiative go to

  14. Kevin Rennie


    For everyone sake!

    Incidentally, David Marr suggests that it’s instructive that Cardinal Pell has never been chosen as the president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

  15. Mark Needham

    doctorrob54October 18, 2013 at 11:00 pm

    Pell is a filthy criminal that will rot in Hell.

    Wouldn’t it be Justice, if, The stuff they preach were true and it bit them on the arse.

    Please, Please, let there be a God, just once, Please!

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