Time to go, Cardinal Pell

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(Art by John Graham / @JohnGrahamArt)

Cardinal George Pell does not seem to know it yet, but last week his world changed. Once and for all.

LAST WEEK, in Ballarat, no fewer than 17 survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church told their stories. The horror and pain in each individual story was gut-wrenching, but the cumulative effect was far worse than that. What emerged was a dense and interconnected latticework of violence, and sexual crimes of young children on a large scale.

Always ready to defend himself, the pugnacious Pell issued an almost immediate statement. His statement was as predictable as it was irrelevant. What it showed was that Pell clearly does not realise this nightmare and his place in it has moved on to a new stage.

He still thinks it is about his personal actions and his personal innocence. What a proud, inflexible man he must be. And how blind he is — blind to the fact that this is not just about him, it is about an institutional failure so massive and so evil as to almost defy belief.

The scene of the tragedy was not in some school or church hall 20 or 30 years ago. It was and is unfolding in a Ballarat court house now. The tragedy is not just in the past, it is in the present and the foreseeable future.

Pell is not some distant figure from all of this. This is not something he can relegate to others or deflect to an irrelevant past life of his own. He was a priest in this diocese who lived and worked with some of the criminals. He personally knows dozens if not hundreds of the people involved — the victims and their families as well as the abusers. As we know, he shared the sports changing rooms with some of these boys. He lived in this community, with responsibilities for these children.

I seem to recall from my Christian upbringing something about the parable of the good shepherd. I think we were taught that our bishops were our shepherds. Where was this “shepherd” this week when he was needed? Enjoying the perquisites of his Roman lifestyle.

Where would Jesus have been? Or Pope Francis?

His personal and pastoral failures are bad enough. But Pell has also failed on another level.

He was a very senior authority in the Catholic Church when the court cases began in the 1990s and the top Catholic figure in Australia until he went to Rome. Prime ministers and premiers travel to the scene of tragedies and natural disasters, not because they are responsible for them, but simply because that is what leaders do. They go to talk to and support the victims and see what they can do to help. Pell was and is hopelessly missing in action on this score as well. Even if he had never been to Ballarat in his life, he was still the leader of a system that protected the guilty and failed innocent people.

I dont know if Pell is telling the truth or not. I find it hard to give him the benefit of the doubt, but that does not prove that he is lying. But my point is this: on an important level, it is does not matter anymore whether Pell is personally telling the truth or not. It is enough that he was the man in charge during many years of this scandal. Therefore, he can be held accountable and responsible for it. It is akin to being a Government minister or a CEO of a large corporation. They must resign if there has been serious wrongs occurring under their administration — whether they personally knew about the events at the time or not.

George Pell, this is not about you as a man, this is about you in your role as a boss – with power – and what happened on your watch. If you covered up, you are guilty; if you had no idea, you are incompetent.

After last week, it is impossible for Pell to try and defy the basic standards of public administration. He must resign all positions of privilege and responsibility in the church. If he had the guts, he should devote the rest of his life to making amends.

The crimes that have been committed in God’s name in Ballarat cry out for justice, even vengeance. The culture of violence and sadism that gave birth to these crimes has no right to public respect. These victims deserve much more than to just be forgotten, as one of the Bishops was reported last week as saying he hoped they would be.

I sincerely hope that Cardinal Pell reflects on his Christian faith, and on the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for the sins of the world. It is time for Pell to follow in those footsteps. Resign — not because you are personally guilty of sexual crimes or cover-ups or not, but because these crimes of others demand sacrifice and you are in the best position to make such a sacrifice.

If you continue the privileged life of a Cardinal in the Eternal City, you will show that you have understood and learned nothing. You will deserve the contempt that will surely follow you for the rest of your days.

Do the right thing, Pell. At the very least, resign. Go back to the parishes in the districts of Ballarat and do what you can to mend broken lives. Show that their suffering matters – really matters – to you.

The John Graham original artwork reproduced in this piece may be purchased from the IA online store.

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