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Dealing with Pell

Yesterday, Cardinal George Pell lost his appeal against his conviction of child sexual abuse.

Children, when allowed to develop without debilitating trauma, often have an innate sense of fairness, together with a belief and the expectation that justice must be and will be made to prevail.

When you’ve been sexually abused in your childhood, this trust in the order of things is one of the first things to crumble. The disintegration continues into adulthood as you see that your abuser faces no consequences for their crimes against you, while your life is a daily struggle with traumatic stress that leaves no part of your body and mind untouched.

You often experience this loss of trust as feelings of angry hopelessness, despair even, disillusionment and bitter disappointment. Though of course you the child can articulate none of this, it’s inchoate, and black.

You might also as an adult speak of these things in the third person, when you manage to speak of them at all, because that creates some small distance from a chaos that might otherwise engulf you. The I, while recommended as a means of owning one’s life experiences and a step to empowerment, can be a bridge too far when dealing with experiences you don’t actually want to own. I use I sparingly, when I feel strong. It is empowering. I wish I could do it more often. For the moment, switching between the two persons is the best I can do.

I could not bear to hope that Pell would lose his appeal. I could not bear to deal with the blow of yet again witnessing a powerful man, backed by other powerful men and their female consorts, backed by the power of institutions and two former prime ministers, get away with it. So I prepared myself for his, their, win. That meant in the main trying not to think about it and when that didn’t work, steeling myself, calling up all my resources, so that I wouldn’t be entirely undone by yet another set of traumatic injustices over which I had no control. It meant forbidding myself expectations of anything other than our loss and their win.

When I heard the judges’ decision I was home alone. An involuntary and guttural cry, not dissimilar to the primitive roar a woman often makes in the last stages of birth, was my first reaction. It had happened. He’d lost. The institutions had lost. The powerful men and their consorts had lost. Two former prime ministers had lost. Survivors had won.

This was an unfamiliar relief, and it swept through me warm and strong. I didn’t have to deal with watching survivors lose again. You lose so much when you’re sexually abused, your losses are incalculable, this motif of crippling loss continues throughout your life and for many of us there comes a time when it is one loss too many, and we are done. A win over patriarchal power is rare and it is overwhelming. It makes you tremble, and it makes you fear that there will be consequences. How dare you defeat them?

The Pell verdict is just. It is an enormous victory yet at the same time, it changes little for individual survivors. Our childhoods remain stolen. For many of us, our potential remains curbed. Our daily struggles with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress continue. The fight for redress, in itself so horribly damaging and wickedly protracted by the guilty institutions, goes on. This is a turbulent time for survivors. As glad as we might be to see Pell fall, it is a tortuous victory when our histories, triggered by the circumstances, engulf us.

Despite my emotional and mental turmoil I am immensely grateful for this verdict. It gives me some small hope that things are changing, that abusers, no matter how powerful, can be made accountable for crimes against children. That the powerful enablers are not able to silence us, no matter how much effort they devote to achieving that end. My abuser is long dead, and I will never know the satisfaction of seeing him publicly disgraced and imprisoned. My gratitude today is to J, the man who made this possible, the man who steadfastly confronted power with truth and in so doing gave me, and many others, this extraordinary chance to vicariously experience justice.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

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22 comments

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  1. Jack Cade

    The Catholic Church (God rot it, and I was christened a Catholic) suggested it was a case of ‘mistaken identity.’ So, somewhere, there is another catholic identity called ‘big George’ hiding while an innocent man gets convicted…
    No doubt some people will believe that. After all, over 51% of Australians voted for Morrison and 37% of Americans are prepared to accept that Trump might be The Chosen One.

  2. Lambert Simnel

    It is said by some the verdict against as to paedophilia is unsafe, but what is not unsafe is the certainty that he knowlngly sent perverts reported to him back out to increase the human toll. Accessory is fine by me and the crime as despicable as the one he was charged over.

    As we all have discovered to our cost, Karma WILL get you in the end.

  3. Kaye Lee

    A society that cannot/will not protect its children cannot survive. The damage done by the loss of trust, the confusion and guilt and shame and injustice, can be crippling.

    A wise man once said

    “…the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

    They shot him.

    Are we learning that protecting power corrupts our society? Baby steps.

  4. New England Cocky

    The earthly focus of the Roman priests is best demonstrated by the fact that hundreds of thousands of dollars are propose to be spent on an appeal the the High Court while the numerous victims of priestly pederasty are denied compensation by these same fiends in backward collars.

    Th other churches and institutions have their too many perpetrators, but we all must give a big vote of thanks to retired Detective Inspector Peter Fox of Newcastle for sacrificing his stellar career because it was the right and correct thing to do. Thanks also to Joanne McCarthy and the Editors at the Newcastle Herald for running with this story during the four (4) years before PM Julia Gillard called the Royal Commission into child abuse in institutions.

  5. Karen Kyle

    It may not be over yet. Pell might appeal to the Supreme Court.That dissenting vote from Justice Weinstein might be the crack that could do it for Pell if what I read on the ABC website is correct. And it seems that Pell fully expected to go back to Rome. Press reports say his apartment in Rome was cleaned and dusted the day before the verdict was handed down.

    A terrible situation for survivors.Don’t exhale yet.

  6. Karen Kyle

    High Court…….not Supreme Court.

  7. Lambert Simpleton

    Karen Kyle, “Then
    ask not
    for whom the Pell tolls..”

    His reputation is ruined anyway, for his vile role in the vile cover up that multiplied all the cruelties, even over decades.

  8. Keitha Granville

    The first hurdle has been overcome, gird ourselves for the next. It must not be allowed to fail. Justice has been done and been seen to be done. One judge may have dissented from a part (only a part) of the judgement, but the appeal to the High Court can only be on a matter of law not evidence. I am quietly confident. We must all exude confidence. We must do that for the countless thousands of others like the writer, and J – we believe you, we support you, we will help you seek justice. We will continue to fight for it.

  9. wam

    Animals often kill young to bring mothers back into breeding mode..
    Humans couldn’t insure children, in our society.
    Religion is for men by men. No love of children in their institutions..

    In history of hunters/gatherers sex is young men old women and old men young women it is a preservation mechanism with severe social control..The admiration(perving) on the young is carried on from then till now. Yellow polka dots and twiggy made men free from waiting for a breeze a la marylin
    .
    But child abuse is not natural. Its perpetrators are secretly less than human, smilingly warped yet kept safe in family

    we all were spanked and felt violence when the horrible violence was seen the caning stopped and became reportable.

    There may be a diminishing of sexual abuse with the internet – spero
    The far right high court will support the appeal court’s decision- spero
    victims will be given a way to speak ill of the dead- spero

    ps
    my dad came home and kept me from the church and eventually took mum out.

  10. Terence

    Thank you Dr Jennifer Wilson for expressing your thoughts and feelings.

    I too was abused as a child (by a relative, not the church) and you are right. It never goes away, no matter how much you tell yourself and others that you have dealt with it. No matter how good you fake it. For me I manage it as best I can. Yes the years help but even now, it still brings tears if I talk about it. BTW thank you as you have just given me an insight into myself where you describe about talking in the third person. I’ve never have stopped to think about it, but now when I reflect on it, that is exactly what I do. Maybe for the reasons you outlined, I’m not sure.

    My wife and I were discussing the recent appeal and it’s interesting. She is no Pell fan but she feels uncomfortable about what if he was innocent? The “His word against the Witness J” argument. I know my opinion is biased but I justify the fact that I don’t have a problem with him being in jail because I think he is getting his karma. He’s only been jailed for 6 years which he can be released in 4 years. That is nothing compared to the life sentence he and his fellow rock spiders have inflicted on many. Let’s not forget that this is the man who at the RC when informed of these heinous crimes stated that it was a “sad story but was not of much interest to him” and didn’t think that every priest has responsibility for the safety of children taken into the Church’s care. Just let that rattle around in your head for a minute. Here is a man who could have done something, SHOULD have done something but basically said He couldn’t give a f..k. For that alone he should be in jail for failing basic human dignity and decency.

    Pell also set up the very difficult Melbourne Response Redress Scheme which many (including the RC) described as traumatic, intimidating and clearly designed to protect the Church’s interests. Clearly he is a corporate psychopath and if you believe in Christian teachings then he is a walking, talking antithetical.

    He is just an abhorrent man even if he is innocent of the crime he was convicted of and I don’t, for a second loose any sleep over it.

    Maybe there is a God after all because if you believe Sir Humphrey then “Apparently the Lord isn’t all that keen on them to join him.”

  11. Kaye Lee

    Dr Pell told his audience of World Youth Day delegates that “abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people”, during a public religious instruction session in 2002. When there was an outcry, he insisted his comments were not designed to downplay sexual abuse; he was merely trying to point out that sex abuse by Catholic clergy had attracted attention to the detriment of other issues.

    They called him “the Pell Pot of Australian Catholicism”.

    https://www.smh.com.au/national/pell-comes-under-fire-from-sex-abuse-groups-20020729-gdfhr1.html

  12. LOVO

    Jennifer and Terence you have made me cry.
    Some times I sit inside myself but I don’t see anyone in there….’nough said.
    P.S.
    I’m currently sitting out the front of Flinders Medical Centre, my daughters is inside in the birthing suite with contractions 2 minutes apart.
    Life goes on.

  13. Terence

    Lovo all the best to you and your daughter. I hope all goes well.

  14. Peter F

    Terence, I accept your story as legitimate, and feel for all who have similar experiences: my own mother among them.

    I also believe that the “His word against the Witness J” argument is invalid: Pell did not speak in his own defence (which is his right). However, we are entitled to ask’Was he avoiding cross-examination; could he swear on the bible to tell the whole truth?; will we ever know.

    One thing we do know: it was not Pell’s word against witness J. Quite simply, witness J was believed. We will never know if the same could have been said about Pell.

  15. Zathras

    If it was Father Smith on trial and not Cardinal Pell I’m sure most people wouldn’t give the matter a second thought.

    The “not guilty” brigade are like climate denialists – lashing out desperately because it challenges their reasuring world view.
    Like those who moved on from “no warming at all” to “warming yes, but not man-made” out comes a new argument of “abuse but mistaken identity”.

    As someone who has been empanelled in juries the guilty finding must have been “beyond reasonable doubt” as there may always be a sliver of a chance that the verdict was faulty but that sliver was obviously insufficient to sway the final decision and now two out of three judges have agreed. Those making the loudest claims of Pell’s innocence probably didn’t attend the trial to hear the evidence presented and think “It’s the vibe”.

    Remember there were other allegations made about Pell but these were not followed up because the prosecution (rightfully) thought they had a sufficient case based on the matters raised in court.

    As usual, the victims are seldom considered.

  16. Terence

    Thank you Peter F

  17. LOVO

    It’s a boy, 7.1 lb. ……..just sayin’😆

  18. Kaye Lee

    Congrats LOVO 🙂

  19. Michael Taylor

    Fabulous news, LOVO, and congrats from Carol and I.

    Let’s swing open the cellar door.

  20. Michael Taylor

    BTW, LOVO, is he gonna be a Port supporter? … Just askin’ 🤭

  21. Lantanaman

    So witness “J” was lying, the twelve jurors got it wrong, the trial judge got it wrong, he would not accept evidence provided by Pell`s legal team, the Appeals Court Judges allowed themselves, two anyway, to be swayed by public opinion to find against Pell, so say the the Church of Rome. All conspired to bring down a true and honest servant of an honorable institution. The, “tear down the tall poppy syndrome”, aided and abetted by the forces of evil.

    Well I, like so many, witnessed Pell giving evidence to the Royal Commission into child abuse, i was stunned by the cold, callous demeanor he presented and reflected in the answers he gave, devoid of any feelings one might expect when hearing about the the kind of abuse we were told had happened. How can anyone hear these things and remain emotionally detached to the degree he was? That he must surely be a psychopath is the only explanation I can come to. I understand psychopaths often reach the heights in their chosen career, ruthlessness suits their management style.

    I watched and listened to the statement read by witness “Js" lawyer, who has acted for him pro bono, for many years. I listened and I cried at what I heard, it became obvious to me why his lawyer had taken on his case without fee, why the jury believed him, and why the Victorian Appeals Court also found him so credible not just convincing, the majority at least, two out of three aint bad. The third judge only dissented on one of the matters that were appealed if I am not mistaken.

    I expect it will proceed to the High Court, the stakes for this case are high indeed no less for the church, Pell is only a soldier, a high ranking one certainly but he will be dead like all of us sooner or later, the church lives on, it would hope in perpetuity, if it, (the Church), could throw him under a bus and it would all go away, they would. Not that simple however, the stain of the crime will linger for a very long time after Pell sleeps permanently under the grass. The Vatican will throw as much money at a High Court appeal as required, not to restore Pell`s reputation, but the collective reputation of the church. The money so miserly disbursed to victims, will flow without limit towards an appeal.

    I am sure the wise heads, High Court Judges, will apply themselves to the serious matters they are to decide, unswayed by public opinion. The alternative, allow the church to decide guilt or innocence of it`s servants?

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