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Perpetrators and enablers: Abbott’s deafening silence

By Jennifer Wilson

Watching convicted pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale give evidence at the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse yesterday was not easy, yet his appearance emphasised, as I believe is the Commission’s intention, the reality that his crimes did not take place in a vacuum. They were perpetrated within a community, and others in Ridsdale’s community knew of them, though the offender is unclear as to how many knew what, and how much. It might be more accurate to note that it is unclear how many members of Ridsdale’s community are prepared to admit what they knew or suspected. However, it seems that his crimes were known by at least one of his superiors, who did absolutely nothing to help either Ridsdale or his victims and who bears a terrible responsibility for the suffering of hundreds of children over decades because of his lack of intervention.

Revealing his own connection with Ridsdale on Radio National Breakfast, journalist Paul Bongiornio noted that pedophiles are extremely good at hiding their activities, and hardly likely to boast about them. He made a comparison with a partner who carries on daily life with his or her spouse whilst conducting an affair: the spouse can be completely unaware of the betrayal, even while living in an intimate relationship. It’s not surprising, then, that those who like Bongiornio shared a house and a community with Ridsdale had no idea of the man’s predilections, and the extent to which he was acting them out.

It was, I have to admit, a comparison that hadn’t occurred to me but on reflection I see that the two activities have much in common: secrecy, the thrill of the illicit, the ability to behave in a profoundly duplicitous manner, the talent to present one face to those closest, whilst concealing from them powerful and secret sexual desires and acts. Obviously there are also differences, but to take Bongiornio’s point, people are infinitely capable of constructing and living double lives, and it has become a cliché to exclaim, when the next door neighbour is found to have dead bodies buried in the cellar, oh, he seemed like such a nice quiet man.

What is incontestable is that senior members of the Catholic church worldwide knew of the activities of their pedophile priests and did nothing to help and protect the victims, or to assist their profoundly disturbed clergy. They enabled priests. They created the conditions in which it was possible for the priests to continue to abuse and destroy lives.

As I watched Ridsdale I thought, this didn’t have to happen. All the hundreds of children he abused did not have to suffer, for the rest of their lives, his appalling attacks and their ongoing aftermath. Multiply that by how many thousands globally who also did not have to suffer if only, if only those who knew about the pedophile priests had not enabled them, and created the climate in which they could continue wreaking their awful havoc on the young.

It isn’t possible to overestimate the guilt and responsibility of the enablers. I have no sympathy for Ridsdale, but I did think as I watched this man, now in his eighties, attempt to give an accounting of himself to the Royal Commission, that he did deserve assistance from his superiors as far back as the nineteen sixties when his crimes first were brought to their attention. They owed him guidance, advice, treatment, and even prosecution for his crimes against children. Instead, they let him loose, shunting him from parish to parish, an out-of-control pedophile with a mind so deranged and distorted he thought his desire for “closeness” was appropriately expressed and gratified by terrifying and damaging the young in his care.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott remarked yesterday, in connection with those who leave Australia to fight in foreign wars and will lose citizenship as a consequence of their choices, that “A crime is a crime is a crime.” I continue to be astounded on a daily basis that the Prime Minister remains so uncharacteristically silent on the crimes committed by pedophile priests and the superiors who enabled them. Abbott is a staunch Catholic, and a great friend of Cardinal George Pell, who was also Abbott’s confessor. Surely the Prime Minister, who has such enviable clarity on the nature of crime, ought to be passing some comment on the crimes committed by pedophile priest and their enablers on such a massive scale over so many decades? Were Abbott not so outspoken on practically every other crime that comes to public attention, his silence on this one would seem unremarkable, however, we have come to expect his moral opinion on just about everything of note, bar the criminal priests and their enablers within his own church.

This article was originally published on Jennifer’s blog No Place For Sheep.



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  1. kerri

    Maybe a better parallel is the responsibilities of dangerous dog owners to control their pet rather than introduce it to yet more victims?

  2. Rosemary (@RosemaryJ36)

    Abbott is not one to speak the truth when it does not suit him. The concern is how seldom it suits him.

  3. Aortic

    Even when on the slight chance he speaks the truth I don’t think many people would hear it as most people I know switch off or hit the mute button any time he or his cohorts come within cooee of a microphone.

  4. David

    Perhaps Jennifer you have answered your own question on Abbott’s silence……’Abbott is a staunch Catholic, and a great friend of Cardinal George Pell, who was also Abbott’s confessor.’ We have learned in all probability Pell knew of many many of these clergy and it also could be within those realms of probability so did Abbott. It beggars belief the topic was not discussed between two very close friends. Not something he would care to be known in his current position.

  5. RoaminRuin

    Surely you’re not suggesting Abbott is a hypocrite?

  6. Michael Taylor

    And gutless to boot.

  7. mars08

    How would this be handled if the spiritual leaders of a non-Christian religion was accused of such crimes????

  8. The AIM Network

    mars08, he’d go into a fit of rage.

  9. The AIM Network

    Abbott, that is. With Murdoch behind him all the way.

  10. Gangey1959

    And an embarrassment.
    Having watched some of Ridsdale’s antics yesterday i assume that the phrase “confession is good for the soul” is what gets them all through. Personally, drag pell back here in chains and put the weak bastard on the stand. Maybe confession will be good for the victims too. Maybe they can share a cell at down Barwon, punishments fitting crimes and all.
    On a lighter note, it is a shame that confession doesn’t work with the bank. “Oh mr bank manager, I have both f*cked up a job, and been screwed over by a big client, please help me in my hour of need” “That is all ok my poor self employed person, here is a cash grant to tide you over, we will chase your debtors. Please try to avoid these situations, but if they do arise again you know here to turn.” ” Oh thank you sir……” exit stage left, grovelling.
    Unless you are a politician……………

  11. diannaart

    Abbott; his predictable tirade against Middle East terrorism – he thinks if he berates a minority loudly and often enough, he can remain silent regarding the local horrors.

    Wot Murdoch calls, ‘fair and balanced’.

  12. captain51

    And lets not forget that abbott provided a character reference for a paedophile priest. As for Pell having no knowledge, the you have to wonder why he would not at the very least query the need for the continual shunting around of Ridsdale and others.

  13. Michael Taylor

    Gangey, let me know if you find an obliging bank manager and I’ll book an appointment with him. Or her.

  14. David

    Any doubts I may have had about Pells honesty have been thrown out a) with his continual denying of any knowledge and b) the facts say he is lying. If I and heaven knows how many others have reached that conclusion, Abbotts silence as PM is even more disturbing and my him..what is he hiding? Or is his fear of Pell so great he is hoping it will all just go away?

  15. Kaye Lee

    In 2002, in response to a question from a youth minister from Kentucky who was a World Youth Day delegate about what Catholics should say when asked about the sex abuse crisis in the US Catholic church, Pell told his audience that “abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people”.

    He said he was merely trying to point out that sex abuse by Catholic clergy had attracted attention to the detriment of other issues.

  16. Jexpat

    “…he did deserve assistance from his superiors as far back as the nineteen sixties when his crimes first were brought to their attention. They owed him guidance, advice, treatment, and even prosecution for his crimes against children. Instead, they let him loose, shunting him from parish to parish, an out-of-control pedophile with a mind so deranged and distorted he thought his desire for “closeness” was appropriately expressed and gratified by terrifying and damaging the young in his care.”

    That’s an interesting way of looking at it. Essentially we’re talking about a non-delegable duty here (both morally and as a legal “term of art”).

    That duty is owed primarily to parishioners, but it may be said to apply in throughout and among members of the Diocese, flowing ultimately to (and from) the bishops- up to the very top, which in the present situation, under domestic Australian law, would be Cardinal Pell.

    The Church makes arguments to avoid tort claims in these cases, claiming among other things that vicarious liability doesn’t attach because the conduct was intentional or beyond the scope of emplyment. But when viewed in terms of a non-delegable duty, those sorts of distinctions are beside the point.

    Once reframed, the issue turns on whether there’s evidence of a breach of duty- and the commission has indeed been dredging up such evidence.

    Unlike their 21st Century counterparts in Canada, the US and the UK, Australian courts haven’t yet accepted and applied this analysis in sexual abuse cases, but times may be ripe for a changin’ in the common law not too far down the track.

  17. Jexpat

    Kaye Lee:

    Speaking of 2002:

    Sex Abuse Scandal Flares In Australia
    June 3, 2002

    “The head of Australia’s Catholic Church on Monday refused to resign over accusations that he offered money to buy the silence of three people sexually abused as children by priests.

    Sydney Archbishop George Pell said the church could have shown more compassion to the victims in its attempts at damage control. But, “the allegations that I attempted to silence anyone are totally unfounded and untrue,” he told reporters, stressing there was no “hush money.”

    Pell admitted on Nine Network television Sunday night that he offered the family of two child sex-abuse victims 50,000 Australian dollars ($28,000) if they kept silent about the sexual abuse of their daughters by a priest….

    …Pell’s statements come amid a crisis that has shaken the Catholic Church in the United States, with revelations that priests across the country abused children sexually and that senior clergy tried to conceal incidents by moving known offenders to other parishes.

    Pell said while some 90 priests and Catholic Church employees in Australia have been convicted of sexual abuse over the last 10 years, the situation here isn’t as bad as in the United States.

    “I’m hoping that the worst is behind us,” Pell said.

    It looks from where I sit that there’s a fair chance the worse for Pell may be yet to come.

  18. pete

    Rosemary, Abbott is not one to speak the truth…..ever, about anything. His life is predicated on self-delusion in perpetuity.

  19. pete

    Kaye Lee, do you have a reference for your Pell, abortion and sexual abuse quote?

  20. mars08

    Is this an example of those glorious “straaaayn values” the conservatives are always banging on about???

  21. stephentardrew

    I would love to see the bastard humiliated as he humiliated these abused people and their families.

    From one kind of abuse to the other and the fool can’t see.

    Or maybe he can because his hidy hole in the Vatican was supposed to be the escape route.

    Bad luck snivels.

    Bring him home.

  22. Phi

    Abbott’s silence on the crimes of child sexual abuse by pedophile priests and the crimes of enabling them, leaves a chilling residue in my mind as to the extent of Abbott’s captivity to the predilections of Cardinal Pell. Is Abbott hiding dark knowledge?

  23. Bilal

    Vocal on Muslims, especially those imams who, when they speak of peace, do not really mean it, Abbott was loudly silent on the vilification of the Australian Muslim community in the Reclaim Australia rallies. Now he is loudly silent on the crimes of those priests and their superiors who are child rapists and hiders of rapists. He is vocal on taking away the nationality of Australians without judicial process, which violates the rule of law, but has not raised the potential removal of nationality from serial child rapists despite his mantra that a crime is a crime is a crime. His stance is surely becoming clear to the electorate. Perhaps he just hates Muslims! There is the potential for real abuse of power if this insane policy gets support from Shorten et al.

  24. mars08

    Bilal…. “Perhaps he just hates Muslims…”

    That knuckle-dragger will hate whatever group it takes…. as long as he snares the bogan, bigot and bed-wetter vote. I suspect it’s nothing personal … just sleazy politics.

  25. Wally

    “abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people”. I assume people who believe this do not see any issue with a girl who has been raped having to give birth to a baby who’s creation was totally out of her control. Time to make Pell and all his vile paedophile mates pay for the horrendous crimes they have committed/condoned/failed to prevent.

  26. oldfart

    if the kitchen gets to hot, Pell will not come back, he will have a Vatican passport by now and the diplomatic immunity that goes with it

  27. Ross

    You have to ponder why one of the many adult victims did not just take a stockwhip to this Ridsdale person one Sunday morning during church service?
    Seems the most sensible and reasonable thing to do.

  28. Möbius Ecko

    One of the victims of Ridsdale, who has been on the news a few times lately, is someone I knew quite well and worked with for a short time many years ago. I attended some of his early court sessions in Melbourne when he first bought charges against Ridsdale and others. It was eye opening for sure.

    My friend would turn up and be given a young inexperienced legal aid lawyer. The Catholic priests would show up with an army of legal representatives, and on one occasion I saw three senior wigs. They cost an arm and a leg an hour.

    Stephen said that when his father found out his son had been abused he was on the way to see Ridsdale with a shotgun in the car, but was talked out of seeing the perpetrators. That would have been the case for many of the parents and something the church would have counted on at the time.

  29. suspicious

    Did Abbott encourage George Pell to go to Rome. Was Father Kevin Lees murdered in the Phillipines when he was about to speak out about Abuse in the Catholic Church. Abbott met Father Kevin Lees when he was going to stand for the Liberal Party but lost pre-selection on account of corruption.

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