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Cardinal Pell: Cut from a different cloth

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The lack of accountability in Cardinal Pell's evidence before the Royal Commission is more indicative of a politician than a priest, writes Alex McKean.

CARDINAL GEORGE PELL'S words stand on their heads. His evidence is simply incredible.

The Cardinal would have us believe that a criminal conspiracy existed to keep him in the dark about the level of paedophilia, abuse and neglect of children happening under his watch.

For example, he says that the Catholic Education Office deceived him, failing to pass along the longstanding catalogue of serious crimes by Father Searson. Cardinal Pell proffers the explanation that he had a history of conflict with the Catholic Education Office, as he had been critical of its methods in the past.

He goes on to say that he was deceived because he had a reputation as one who could ask difficult questions and was, 

"cut from a different cloth." 

Presumably, the Cardinal means different from those other men of the cloth who were content to turn a blind eye to the suffering.

Incredibly, the Cardinal then goes on to say that he took no action about allegations of crimes by Father Searson, on the basis that he took the advice of the Catholic Education Office about that individual at face value. He says that he did not seek to look at the files, which would have revealed the extensive history of Father Searson’s offending, because he saw no reason to look behind the advice of the Catholic Education Office.

It is difficult to believe that if the Cardinal was actually a crusader against priest misconduct with suspicions about the Catholic Education Office, that he would not, as Auxiliary Bishop, have taken the simple step of looking at the files around the time that a delegation came to him to complain about Father Searson.

His failure to take that simple step, which would have revealed Father Searson’s criminal cruelty to children over years up to that date, led directly to further children being abused.

Cardinal Pell has missed an opportunity to demonstrate genuine contrition for his role as part of the structure which protected a network of child abusers, moving them from place to place and exposing further children to abuse — which could have been prevented.

Cardinal Pell is revealed as a politician more than a priest, whose primary concerns are – and seemingly always have been –  the protection of his personal reputation and the reputation of the Catholic Church, in that order. The protection of children in the future and the achievement of justice for those who survived abuse in the past, is of considerably lesser importance.

This is precisely the cultural problem the Catholic Church must confront.

It was fear of damage to the reputations of individuals and the Church which sealed the lips of Pell and his contemporaries about the widespread abuse happening on their watch.

A significant part of Cardinal Pell’s evidence has centred on events in the late 1980s — a time when it would have been thought that even an organisation as opaque and dismissive of criticism as the Catholic Church, would finally have developed effective responses to child abuse.

By 1989, another corrupt and opaque institution was dragged kicking and screaming to acknowledge its catastrophic defects: the Queensland Police Service. One of the matters dealt with in the Fitzgerald Inquiry, was the institutional culture of the Queensland Police.

The Catholic Church has been substituted for the Queensland Police Service in the following passage from the Fitzgerald Inquiry Report (p226), which concludes on this point:

With the passage of time, the [Catholic Church] has become an organisation in which the corrosive effects of its culture are almost totally unameliorated by outside influences, with the consequences which are now apparent.

The existing culture will not be rejected by the current elite or others who are among its central adherents, whose influence must be reduced and finally excluded. The commitment of peripheral adherents must be reversed, new recruits must be protected from absorption into the culture and fresh leadership must be found to educate and persuade the [Catholic Church] to modify its attitudes and practices and build up a mutually supportive relationship with the general community.

The performance of Cardinal Pell, now entrenched in the Vatican as a member of the elite of the Church, gives the general community little confidence that cultural change is on the way in Australia, or elsewhere.

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