Tag Archives: Royal Commission

Was Pell a decent man? No


George Pell’s funeral in Sydney has shown clearly the divisions within the Australian community at large, the Catholic Church itself, and the conservative side of politics. It all boils down to whether or not Pell was a decent human being.

Aside from the well known path from obscurity to eminence, there is the ongoing debate as to whether he was an innocent victim of ‘the mob’, pursued unfairly to his death, or was he, as Tony Abbott recently stated, “a saint for our times”?

The fact that the ribbons of remembrance were being cut and removed, as quickly as they were put up on the fence surrounding St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, was not a clear-cut battle between radicals and conservatives. The ribbons were placed there to remember the victims of child sexual abuse.

There are diametrically opposed views on Pell’s character, and his legacy, and they cannot both be right. We know a lot about Pell, and it is only fair to look at both sides. The central question is whether he was at the least a facilitator of pedophiles, or was he a spiritual leader for the Catholic Church?

In the matter of whether Pell was a child abuser, he has been ‘tried’ twice.

The first was in The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The second was more personal, in that he was the accused, rather than the church.

The findings of the Royal Commission

The Royal Commission found that: “by 1973, Pell was not only conscious of child sexual abuse by clergy” but that he had “considered measures of avoiding situations which might provoke gossip about it”.

In some cases, he actively moved the perpetrators on. Of course this only facilitated their actions in a whole new area, with no warnings given. He put the interests of the Church (his employer) above those of his charges.

When he later claimed to have been misled on the matter of moving dangerous priests from parish to parish, the Royal Commission found: “We are satisfied that Cardinal Pell’s evidence as to the reasons that the CEO deceived him was implausible. We do not accept that Bishop Pell was deceived, intentionally or otherwise.”

This conscious ‘looking away’ continued for at least two decades. Rogue priests Gerald Ridsdale and Peter Searson, and two Christian Brothers, Edward Dowlan and Leo Fitzgerald, were the subject of complaints and statements that they were abusing children in his region. Subsequent court cases established their guilt.

The Royal Commission’s conclusion was that he was aware of child abuse, particularly within the Victorian diocese of Ballarat, and that he failed to take the required actions to protect children from predatory priests, and other religious staff.

As I have written elsewhere, Pell’s negligence was not about minor infractions. Whatever Pell thought, being raped is not like grazing your knee. You do not ‘get over it’. You suffer, and your family suffers. Your life often spirals out of control, and it often ends in suicide or premature death.

So, if we follow the Royal Commission’s reasoning, Pell was at least guilty of gross negligence, in that he was aware of criminal behaviour, he was in a position whereby he could have stopped the behaviour, and instead he re-located it.

Later on he concocted systems to either deny responsibility, or to lessen liability for the Church. He acted in the best interests of the Church, at the inevitable cost to the victims.

The victims lost their right to be heard, they were ignored or marginalised by the very organisation that their parents had entrusted with their care. Their physical and mental health was often ruined, and one can only speculate about their spiritual journey after their abuse.

It has been argued that Pell’s ‘solutions’ to the Church’s legal woes re-traumatised the victims. The removal of ribbons around the cathedral in Sydney merely reminded many of the disregard the Church has shown, for so long, for victims.

He was acquitted of sexual offences after two trials and two appeals

His other trial was in the courts. He was found guilty, then again at appeal, but the decision was reversed by the High Court.

This sequence of events appears to be the only part of George Pell’s journey that Pell’s supporters remember.

The outcome then is that his supporters ignore the findings of a Royal Commission, but are prepared to accept the findings of the High Court. To suggest that this is ‘cherry-picking’ verdicts is as true as it is bizarre.

He abandoned the children in his ‘care’, although he likened his actions to a trucking magnate whose employee rapes a hitch-hiker. This is a very poor analogy, and it completely ignores the pastoral side of his calling, which roughly translates to a duty of care.

Melissa Davey, writing in the Guardian, quotes Pell’s barrister, Robert Richter as stating that the reason Pell was convicted was “three years of royal commission shit”. He at least acknowledges that there had been a Royal Commission.

The verdict on Pell

George Pell has divided the country, and he will continue to do so. He was found to have facilitated the actions of known pedophiles, by consciously ignoring criminal behaviour, and by moving them on to fresh pastures.

He was charged with sexual offences against children, and eventually acquitted. This does not mean he was innocent. It means that the case was not proved beyond reasonable doubt.

On a moral basis, he spoke of having “not much interest” in hearing accusations against what were his ‘staff’. He seems to have had no understanding of what it takes to manage people, and to protect children. He appears to have had no insight into victims’ suffering, nor that of their family and friends.

For the conservative politicians who are swarming to support Pell, take a look at your own, contradictory position. Abbott, Howard, even Dutton are singing Pell’s praises, while apparently totally ignoring the findings of a Royal Commission.

As politicians they are aware of the legal and moral power of a Royal Commission, and yet two prime ministers and someone wishing to become one, dismiss the institution. I would call that contempt for Parliament, or contempt for logic.

A saint for our times? I would describe Pell as a rather shabby individual who failed on every measure. The fact that the conservative side of politics is now rallying around such a man, proves there is something rotten in our fair land. Children are our most precious resource, and look how they were treated.

George Pell was an ambitious bully


It doesn’t matter whether you are a Catholic or not. George Pell is a success story. From humble beginnings to a Prince of the Church. You don’t have to be steeped in Roman theology to know that a cardinal is a person of great eminence and power.

But it is inescapable that Pell had a blind spot. He never liked children, and he did not seem to understand them. He clearly did not value them, nor did he see their innocence as fragile, or precious.

Pell’s attitudes were formed at school, and I have a special insight as to why he was so blind to children’s needs. I went to the same school, around a decade later than he did.

St Patrick’s College is in Ballarat, and it prides itself on a form of education closer to a gulag than a school. Pell himself personified many of the qualities that they valued.

Courage, resilience, toughness, a willingness to bear pain without showing it – these are their virtues. Add a rigorous education, with generous amounts of physical discipline thrown in, and you have the recipe for what Pell became – an intellectual bully, with a chip on his shoulder, and unlimited ambition.

Many of us have spent a lifetime undoing the harm that that form of education unleashed on us. Not Pell, though. He used it to get to the top of an international organisation.

We were schooled in mythology; the mythology of the downtrodden Irish, but no matter the odds, we would triumph through stubborn persistence and, a belief that we were on the right side of the religious divide. We were still taught Latin, and adherence to ‘the Faith’ was not optional.

Young people these days are blessed, in that they have not had to endure the prejudice that Irish Catholics underwent when I was young. We were even drilled in how to wear our school uniforms when we were in public. We had to present better than the Protestant students, because we were ‘the other’, and we were expected to be louts.

So we were in our own minds an oppressed community, but we would prevail because we were stronger, and better educated, and whenever we were presented with a level playing field, we would prevail. Society as battleground.

Pell was a ruckman in the First XVIII, and a feared and ruthless competitor. St Pat’s were perennial champions, and Pell was their captain and their enforcer.

In those days many Catholic families followed an informal policy of ‘giving’ a child to the church. This meant one, boy or girl, would be selected to become a member of the religious community.

This was an ancient tradition, and it saw boys choosing to become, if they were clever, priests. If not so bright, religious brothers. Girls were suitable candidates for nuns. The parents usually made the call; seldom did the child. This serves to remind us of the primacy of the Church in many Catholic homes.

When the horrors of the sexual abuse scandals broke, many of the victims were not believed by their parents. Many were sent back into the very classrooms they had escaped; sometimes they were abused by those they had complained to.

It does not matter that Pell escaped conviction for actual sexual predation. He was found to have facilitated the acts of others, by looking the other way. He knew about the abuse, but he was not that interested.

Presumably he believed that children who were raped would recover, as they would from a grazed knee in the playground. That can be the only reason he repeatedly moved-on those he knew, or even suspected, to be rapists. Send them to another parish, or diocese, and after a time spent offending in new pastures, move them on again.

How do you grow to be an adult and still not know that rape is wrong? How do you rise through the ranks of an organisation of educated individuals, and not know that not only is it against the law of every civilised nation, but that it is devastating to the victims?

How did this man, a Doctor of Philosophy, not understand that he was meant to regulate his staff, and to ensure the safety of their youthful charges?

Pell failed on every measure of a good life

Pell’s failures were not only moral. He failed in every aspect of his elevated career. He failed as a Christian, as a leader, as a priest, as an administrator, and as an adult.

He knew about children’s suffering, but he placed the reputation, and the finances of a corrupt organisation above those for whom we are all responsible. There can be no excuse, because he KNEW, and he did nothing.

The commission concluded that “by 1973, Cardinal Pell was not only conscious of child sexual abuse by clergy, but he also considered measures of avoiding situations which might provoke gossip about it.”

Why is he supported by so many prominent Australians?

John Howard and Tony Abbott have both been conscious supporters of Pell. Both have served as prime ministers, and their opinions carry weight. It appears that the further you are to the right of the political spectrum, the more likely you are to support Pell.

Although Pell was acquitted of sexual assault, he was not found innocent. The charges were set aside by the High Court of Australia, as being “unsafe”.

Both Howard and Abbott have degrees in Law. They presumably know that, notwithstanding the High Court’s ruling, the Royal Commission found that Pell, at the least, knew, but did nothing. The fact that he was not crippled with guilt, and self-loathing, speaks volumes about his character.

The fact that these two eminent Australians continue to support him, suggests men who care little for what is right, but who continue the endless culture wars.

That leaves us living in a curiously barren landscape, where we forget the words of their saviour, “Let the little children come to me and do not stop them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”