ABC, Australia. PM; Samantha Donovan, Ashley Hall and Alison Caldwell; Related Story: Pell admits cover-up of Church sex abuse; Related Story: Victims demand truth about church abuse; Catholic Church, Pedophilia, Australia, Cardinal Pell
The father of two girls who were abused by a Catholic priest says apologies by Australia’s most senior Catholic, George Pell, are meaningless unless they are followed up with actions. Yesterday Cardinal Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, told the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into child abuse that he was “fully apologetic and absolutely sorry” about decades of sexual abuse within the church.
Key Points :
- Apologised for decades of abuse in Melbourne diocese.
- Admitted a systemic cover-up of child abuse within the Church.
- Said former Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns destroyed documents relating to abuse cases.
- Said former Melbourne archbishop Frank Little covered up cases of abuse.
- Said abuse became widespread because the clergy did not talk about the problem.
- Defended the Melbourne Response, which he established to deal with abuse cases.
- Defended maximum compensation level of $75,000 for victims of abuse.
- In its submission to the inquiry, the Catholic Church said at least 620 Victorian children had been abused by its clergy in the past 80 years.
During sometimes tense exchanges, Cardinal Pell insisted individuals were to blame for what had happened, not the Church structure itself.
“I’m certainly totally committed to improving the situation. I know the Holy Father [Pope] is too,” he said.
Cardinal Pell denied the Church’s assets were hidden in trusts to avoid paying compensation to victims and said the Church would pay whatever lawmakers decided it should pay to victims of child sexual abuse and their families. Cardinal Pell was the Archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 until 2001, and one of the lead architects of the Melbourne Response, the Church’s response to abuse.
Anthony and Chrissie Foster’s two daughters were repeatedly raped in primary school by their parish priest, Father Kevin O’Donnell.
Emma Foster later committed suicide and her sister, Katie, took to binge drinking and was left disabled after being hit by a car.
Mr Foster says he hopes the inquiry leads to legislative changes to compel the Catholic Church to better look after victims.
“We hope that we will get the right recommendations out of this inquiry,” he said.
“Then we’ll get action by this government to change the legislation, to force the Catholic Church to look after victims, to enable victims to get true justice, and so that then there will be consequences for anyone who tries to do this sort of covering up in the future.”
Mr Foster has previously told the inquiry his family was unsatisfied with the way Cardinal Pell dealt with his daughters’ case. And after the hearing he said his feelings remained unchanged. He said Cardinal Pell’s apologies were delivered with a “sociopathic lack of empathy” and called on the Church to “go the extra mile” to try and look after victims.
“They don’t do that,” Mr Foster said. “In our case, part of our settlement was that once we had the money, they would provide no more care for Emma. “So they are not about going the extra mile, and they need to be about that.”
Mr Foster said in response to evidence given at the enquiry, the Government needed to make legislative changes to enable victims to receive much greater compensation. “Which will have two effects: one, it will help restore the lives of victims, and it will make sure that the Catholic Church has a real interest in this not happening again,” he said.
“I think [Cardinal Pell] failed to address the whole issue of compensation, [he was] very defensive, saying that the compensation was based on the same as the Government victims of crime system, where there is no comparison.
“He tried to draw comparisons between trying to say that the Catholic Church was not responsible for many of these victims’ injuries.
“I think we all know that the Catholic Church is responsible for all 300 of the victims that they’ve acknowledged, never mind the thousands of others that are out there, which he admitted today they have failed to systematically investigate and try to find.”
Father Kevin Dillon of St Mary of the Angels Catholic Parish in Geelong has been critical of the Church’s response to victims of sexual abuse. After the hearing, Father Dillon told the ABC’s PM program Cardinal Pell’s comments were similar to previous Church leaders who have given evidence at the inquiry.
“Which has perhaps been disappointing insofar as maybe people were hoping for some radical shift, to be able to ensure that people who have been abused can have a little bit more hope to believe in,” he said. “But nonetheless I think it’s had its role in the whole inquiry, and ultimately it’ll be when that inquiry gives its findings later in the year – I think at the end of September – that perhaps the real import of both today and the previous months will really be felt.”
Father Dillon said the Church’s leadership needed to do more to support and address the needs of abuse victims, their family and supporters. “I’d like to see a lot more emphasis put, on all levels, on what can be done for the people who are damaged, hurting, wounded, and we know who they are,” he said. “More of them have come forward as a result of these inquires and the Royal Commission to come, and we can do something about them.”
Father Dillon said Cardinal Pell’s admission that he believes the Church should face the same calls for compensation as any other organisation was “helpful”.
“I think we should face the same calls for compensation, more so, simply because of what we stand for, and simply because a greater degree of trust has been placed in Church personnel than would have been placed in members of other organisations where people perhaps have their guard up,” he said. “But for many decades, the amount of trust placed in Church personnel has been enormous, and that’s been part of the problem, and that’s why those who’ve offended have been able to get away with as much as they did.”