Pell A Magnet For Abuse Ire

29/5/13; Jack Waterford;Jack Waterford is Editor-at-Large

It was not even the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, but there was George Cardinal Pell, truculent, embattled, irritable and defensive taking on the bowling from Victorian parliamentarians inquiring into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations. It was not a public relations triumph – not even intended to be. One can sense, however, that Pell left thinking he had given as good as he got, and that a few of his hits reached the boundary.
He has shown over and over that he simply lacks the self-awareness to know that his every appearance on the subject throws fuel on to the fire – if only because his every facial tic makes it clear that he does not get it.
No one has reached stage one of argument suggesting that Pell condoned or facilitated a culture of abuse in his dioceses.
But his combativeness and what one of his critics last year described as ”a sociopathic lack of empathy” seem to be one of the key factors guaranteeing that an array of public inquiries will continue to embarrass and humiliate the church over the next few years.
The archbishop of Sydney, previously the archbishop of Melbourne, has made it clear he is very sorry that there was any sexual abuse of children, particularly if it occurred at the hands of Catholic priests or religious or even lay teachers. The Catholic church, he admits, handled things badly when there suddenly seemed to be an epidemic of complaints of such matters about 25 years ago…
There seemed a strong and consistent line to Pell’s refusal to submit. This seems to be: yes, the abuse was reprehensible beyond measure, and the church, more through ignorance than ill will, seriously and culpably mismanaged its response. But it’s ancient history now, and I suspect your motives in continually coming back to it.
It’s ancient history, Pell suggests, because church leaders – Pell actually – ultimately addressed the problem with firm leadership, and the problem has more or less disappeared. While there are still ”historical” cases emerging – of abuse from any time between the 1930s and the 1980s – there have been few cases come forward of recent sexual abuse…
In these circumstances, there’s an implicit and aggressive question: so why are you still going on about it?
It’s bad, yes.
Embarrassing, yes.
Shameful, yes. We’ve said sorry, again and again, and we say it again. But surely we can, at least after we ”mop up” the remaining survivors, move on, as the prime minister might put it?…
Pell seems almost oblivious of the moral authority being squandered by his legalism, or the joy given to his many enemies inside the establishment, and to news editors everywhere, every time he puts on his humble but exasperated face.
Pell is not, of course, the only Catholic bishop who has expressed irritation and impatience at the seeming determination of journalists to continually harp on the topic…
or the possibility that exploitation of this point of weakness in the church might be part of some anti-Catholic plot…
Mark Coleridge (now Archbishop of Brisbane), has been critical of the harping on the subject, and attacked some, including his fellow bishops, who have responded with their hearts rather than their heads. When Melbourne diocesan spokesman, he once said of Broken Rites, one of the groups whose efforts on behalf of victims have helped produce the inquiries…
Later, in Canberra, Coleridge was one of the first to follow the then pope’s example of making an absolute apology to victims in his diocese. It was the better for its admission that the problem was systemic and cultural – caused in part by perverted notions of human sexuality that ran in the church. He was, in short, apologising not only for slowness to act, inadequate responses, a tendency to put the interests and reputation of the church ahead of the needs of victims, and institutional cover-up. He was promising a change of heart and approach.
It is by no means clear that the church has delivered on this promise…
The Victorian inquiry, like the inquiry in NSW into whether ‘‘a Catholic mafia’’ frustrated police inquiries in sex abuse by Catholic priests, has found Pell a willing enough witness, if only because he has examined his conscience about the matters being investigated and found himself blameless…
Most of his fellow bishops wince every time they see him stride to the wicket, and have done their level best to have a more human, empathetic and humble representation at the Commonwealth royal commission. Pell may be the most senior Catholic statesman, but he has no authority over, and does not speak for, bishops outside Sydney, and few, if any, want him to try… Pell has always seen himself as the solution rather than the problem. He’s not famous for listening to advice to the contrary…
Those in the church know the church will be judged, here as well as in the hereafter, not by its ‘‘management’’ of the sex abuse disaster but by its humility, its justice to victims, and its adoption of a precept of its founder about manifesting love of God by love of the least in the community.

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