I’ve spent much of this week reading Cardinal Pell’s testimony at the Royal Commission. I wasn’t going to write about it, but it’s taken over my thoughts, and I want to show support for the survivors, who’ve shown courage and resilience and dignity throughout.
I’ve read some of the Cardinal’s statements with incredulity and anger, and now that his time in the witness stand has drawn to a close, I feel a sense of loss.
This was an opportunity gone begging—a chance for the truth and for a genuine apology. It was an almost purpose-built moment for Pell to say he’d failed in his duty to protect the children. To admit his responsibility, at least in part, for the suffering they’ve endured. To say he’d work openly with them towards ensuring it could never happen again. To say that every child has the right to safety, and these children had deserved his protection.
But he didn’t. Instead, once again, his detachment was unshakeable, and he protected his Church and his career. Apart from an occasional slip-up, he gave the rehearsed and defensive answers he’d been briefed to give.
He might as well have been a cardboard cutout. I got no sense that he understood the impact of sexual abuse on a child, or that he appreciated the consequences of his blind eye. The blood of these children slid off his Teflon-coated hands.
Pell could have helped, he could have led the way towards healing, but he’s chosen not to. I feel for the survivors and their dashed hopes. Once again, they’re left to get on with their lives, still waiting, still hoping, for the truth.
I wholeheartedly agree. It is also very disappointing that, reading between the lines, he appears to have the full support (and authority) of the Pope and the establishment. He said as much. Shame, shame, shame. This is a death knoll for the church. No longer can they get away with such a loveless, insensitive, patriarchal, power-greedy code of practice. So far from the spirit of Christ. How little has changed since Christ turned the money changers out of the temple.
I’m hoping for more from Francis, but I’m not hopeful. Instead of being guided by Christ, it seems that Christian institutions these days are guided by their lawyers. As children, these people’s lives were dispensable, and as adults, they still are.
The patriachy personified in this one man. The dignity of the survivors in Rome was in stark contrast to Pell’s testimony. The Church, we ordinary faithful women and men, are deeply ashamed of what has been done and said in our name.
Yes, he does personify the patriarchy: its coldness, detachment, and lack of empathy. It was like it then, and is obviously still like it now, but I suspect it’s not going to be allowed to continue like it. I’m anticipating the Royal Commission will recommend vast changes.
Some of Pell’s statements reminded me of the prevailing attitudes at the time—attitudes I remember well, but which have since changed. The word of a child wasn’t believed over the word of an adult, for example. Nowadays, people know children don’t make that stuff up, but I remember the pedestal on which the clergy were placed. They could do whatever they pleased, and a simple denial was enough for them to get away with it.
Well said, Louise, Christina and Maureen. There’s no winners in this sad episode. Pell has let so many people down, especially the children of sexual abuse.
He was very disappointing. You say there are no winners, but I can’t help feeling like he’s gotten away with it. Again. Actually, when I think about it more, he’s saved his own skin, but he’s lost everything else—respect, credibility, being viewed as human.
My sense, Louise, is that Pell may not have been briefed, or not to the degree we might imagine. My sense is that his is the behaviour of a man with as you so aptly describe, ‘teflon-coated hands’. He might as well have a teflon coated mind and heart. It’s so sad, but it confirms some our worst fears about the lack of understanding at least in some people and places for the long term effects of childhood abuse. The one good to come out of this though is that so many others now recognise the horrors those children have endured, and continue to endure, if they’re lucky enough to still be alive.
He has Teflon-coated hands, heart, and mind, and they earned him a Teflon-coated cardinal’s frock. He’ll never change, and the victims will never hear what they’ve been waiting many decades to hear.
You might be right about his briefings, but I think he was briefed to give stock-standard answers, to deny culpability if he could get away with it, and to say he regretted it if the evidence against him was indisputable. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t anticipate every question, and that’s when we glimpsed the real George Pell, when he showed his hubris and detachment. Anything he ‘regrets’ is only because it’s turned around to bite him on the bum, not because of the suffering his actions caused others.
I agree with you that it has brought publicity for the victims and their cases—I read the articles you posted on Facebook—one in particular was hard to read, and I couldn’t help but think that if it was hard for me as an adult to read, how hard must it have been for a child to live it.
Pell …. I have no words, I sit and shake my head every time he opens his mouth. How can he possibly sleep and night, how has he ever slept?
Each time a different school/priest/parish was discovered to have/be a pedophile I dreaded hearing the name of a family member or friends being the victim of one of these demonic men. For a long time we were safe but now I watch interviews of an old school friend recounting her families story at the hands of Ridsdale . The bravery of this family is astounding. I often wonder how her children cope hearing the abuse their uncles endured which ultimately led to a suicide.
I know many priests as my siblings and I were lucky enough to be surrounded by these truly great men throughout our childhood. .Ridsdale and Best did cross our paths, perhaps we were just lucky.
This must have been a hard week for you, Kooky. I have the utmost admiration for the resilience of the survivors and their families.
I grew up knowing many kind priests, too, and that’s another sad thing about this sordid business—Pell and the paedophiles taint the vocation for all the nice ones, of which there are many.
Yes the certainly do Louise.
Unfortunately, many Catholics are feeling the shame right now. But they needn’t. Just those who perpetrated it, and those who turned a blind eye or covered it up.
This article may give some perspective to the matter: Sexual abuse in social context: catholic clergy and other professionals
Thanks, David. I’m giving you a bit of leeway here and surmising that you’ve made this comment because you wanted to offer some reassurance to Kooky and myself that child sexual abuse isn’t any more prevalent in the Catholic clergy than in any other religion. To be honest, I don’t think old, self-serving reports like this are very helpful.
I find this article quite abhorrent. The authors are only concerned with their own interests. I know they said they weren’t going to defend the indefensible, but to preface an article with: ‘to discuss the incidence of sexual abuse committed by Roman Catholic priests without reference to the level of offense found among the clergy of other religions, or to that of other professionals, is grossly unfair‘.
Grossly unfair, seriously? Much more grossly unfair is the violent sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests. Of course a community will be upset when their children are raped by men in positions of moral authority and who have been entrusted to look after them. It’s not grossly unfair, but very understandable.
Rather than sticking up for the civil rights of the perpetrators of repugnant crimes, some understanding of the degree of disappointment and hurt within the Australian community, both Catholic and secular, would be nice.
It’s quite appalling to listen to his responses. To say that back then times were different is atrocious. ‘Suffer the little children’ springs to mind. I think this has damaged the Church irrevocably.
I was stunned by his coldness and detachment—he just doesn’t ‘get it’. As David Marr said, there was no human warmth. He didn’t comprehend the impact of his inaction, his ‘regrets’ sounded hollow, and he tried to defend the indefensible. Times were different back then, but paedophilia was a criminal act even in the 70s.
I hope it’s been a big wake-up call to the Church—that they aren’t as powerful as they thought they were, that they aren’t above the law, and that they have a duty of care to all people in their care.
I admire the survivors who met with him—I don’t think I could have.
I agree, you have articulated well the lost opportunity for Pell to acknowledge his short comings. Unfortunately Pell is not and will not take the stance you have written because he is not you nor I nor any one of the many compassionate people who see this as totally unjust.
He is not a woman, not a father, and certainly not carrying out the lessons Jesus taught through his parables.
I do have faith in Pope Francis and await him to speak out, not in defence of Pell, but to speak out to the victims, and the families and friends of the victims who also endure pain.
Pell can not be so totally heartless as to not understand the pain caused. He did struggle with his recounts, not eloquent nor confident. How long can this man maintain his cold facade.
Something must give. Something must break in him before he is able to put right the wrongs.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Renata. Yes, Pell lacks human compassion, that’s for sure, but I don’t think he’ll change—not at seventy-five.
I hope you’re right about Pope Francis. I suspect, though, that he’ll be guided by the Church’s lawyers who will be guided by cost of damages to survivors, and they won’t want to have to sell off any Renaissance paintings or mortgage the Vatican.
All the words in the world are empty unless they’re followed up with action, and the action needed is vast—they need to look after the survivors, instead of their paedophile priests or their own careers or the institution of the Church. And they need to start following the guidance of their God rather than their lawyers.
So sad. So beautifully summed up Louise. Yes, for those who are strong of faith and in leadership positions it would be good to see more guidance of God than lawyers, more humility than arrogance, more affirmative apology than defensive protectionism.
Thank you for responding, Jo, and beautifully said. I especially love your phrase about humility, which Christ exemplified. I think the people in power have forgotten that.
I don’t believe a word that comes out of his mouth, the arrogance astounds me. I am sad for the people who have had their faith tested. Great post Louise x
Thanks, Rae. I don’t believe him either—his words were hollow. Something will happen as a result of this, though—it’s inevitable. xx
The link wasn’t right, but I think I found the article at: http://www.mercatornet.com/above/view/what-happened-to-the-presumption-of-innocence/17712.
I have a couple of articles in response:
Pell, even by his own admission, could have and should have done more. We’ll have to wait and see what the Commission decides and recommends.
All I can say is that the whole thing is awfully, awfully sad. It’s easy to demonise Pell – I’ve done it too – but I don’t really know the man. My parents had a protestant minister who was an academic theologian but had no pastoral care skills. When our family suffered the sort of tragedy no-one wants to experience, he wasn’t there for my parents (I’d moved and left the church by then and sought support elsewhere). He wasn’t a bad man, I’m sure, but he just couldn’t empathise. Until these hearings, I was very anti-Pell. Now, I just feel sad for all involved. But, above all this, the church, the Pope it seems to me, should be more on the front foot than it is, and that is a huge failing.
I suspect you’re right, Sue, in that Pell can’t empathise. Part of the problem, I guess, comes from being a celibate male and never having kids of your own. And you’re right about the Church never being on the front foot—I think all institutions follow to some extent, rather than lead, and the Catholic Church and its Pope have never been known to be progressive. In many ways, they get held up by traditions with which they don’t want to part. However, they may be forced to …
Have you seen SPOTLIGHT. A really excellent movie – about people who WERE on the front foot and methodically, sensibly and empathetically stayed there until they got the result they wanted.
No, I haven’t seen it yet, but I really want to! It sounds like something I’d love! By the way, what are you doing up so late? x
Oh, I’m often up very late. I sleep better if I go to bed very late. I don’t seem to need a lot of sleep these days – maybe 5-6 hours a night. If I go to bed, say midnight, I end up tossing and turning but if I go to bed between 1 and 2 am I’ll go to sleep promptly. Too many people I think go to bed when they think they ought and then complain of insomnia when, maybe – I know this isn’t everyone – they just don’t need the traditional 8 hours? Still you’re a doctor and I’m sure you know all about the terrible insomnia troubles people have, and I’m just trivialising it with my little solution that works for me!
I know exactly what you mean, but I’m the other way around—I have to go to bed early because I wake really early, between 3 and 4am! Even if I go to bed late, I still wake then and can’t get back to sleep. I find it’s when I’m at my most productive, so I get up and make the most of it.
I know what you mean about thinking we ought sleep eight hours between 10 and 6, but many people don’t, particularly as we age. My husband is actually a sleep physician, and he says a lot of nursing home staff are upset with their residents wandering the corridors at all hours, but it’s the natural way of things for many older people. Of course, they have their ‘nanna nap’ during the day to keep them going. Stay up late if you want, Sue, and as you’re going to bed, think of me just about to get up!
Haha, I will Louise. And thanks so much for telling me what your husband says re sleep. I wish they’d interview someone like him on the radio! So many older people get themselves into such a tizz about insomnia and I can’t help thinking that for some it’s because they believe they have to sleep at a certain time and number of hours.
Funny you should say that, because he has been on the radio talking about sleep—it’s a passion of his—but I suspect it was only broadcast in Perth. He sees a lot of worried people who think they need a prescribed amount of sleep between prescribed hours. He spends significant periods of his day reassuring people that if they’re not tired, then it’s okay. 🙂
If only people had more common-sense eh. Surely it’s pretty obvious that if you’re not tired, are able to function properly/effectively in the things you need to do in your day, you must be getting the sleep you need! That doesn’t sound like brain surgery to me (hmmm, perhaps not the best simile in the circumstances!)
Well, you’d think so, but the recommended hours for sleep are so ingrained, and ‘Early to bed, early to rise’ and all that. I remember being told that only the hours before midnight were of any benefit. People get really worried they’re not following the recommended sleep protocols, but if what you’re doing works for you, then do it.
My husband also blames the invention of the electric light! There’s evidence to suggest we slept a lot more before that.
That’s fascinating re the light. I suppose the question is whether we needed more sleep.
As for sleep being best before midnight, was that aren’t a wanting you out of their hair?!
Maybe we just cram all the sleep we need into a shorter time now! 🙂