Cardinal George Pell returned this week to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in relation to the Ballarat and Melbourne case studies.
Giving evidence over the course of four days, via video link from Rome, Pell modified slightly his previous public positions. But, fundamentally, he insisted that he knew little, and fulfilled his duties in relation to what he did know.
On several occasions, counsel assisting the royal commission suggested that Pell’s claims to be ignorant of child sex offending in various contexts was implausible. If everyone around Pell knew, how could he not have known?
One of the most important lessons we have learnt from Pell’s appearance is the church was – and still is – in a state of denial. It is in denial about the harms of sexual abuse, and about the adequacy of its responses to allegations of abuse.
Being in denial is a curious thing. In denying something, you implicitly admit that there is something to deny.
The late sociologist Stanley Cohen examined this phenomenon in his last book. Cohen argued that we have myriad techniques of keeping disturbing knowledge at bay: there are many ways of not knowing.
The simplest is literal denial. We saw plenty of this from Pell. He repeatedly said that he never knew of allegations of abuse; that he never heard rumours of Gerald Ridsdale’s offending when they shared a presbytery in Ballarat.
Even less plausibly, Pell claimed that advisors and colleagues deliberately kept information from him. As journalist David Marr wrote, Pell was apparently:
… hoodwinked decades ago by an archbishop, a bishop, his colleagues and even the Catholic Education Office.
A more nuanced way of avoiding knowledge is interpretive denial. This involves keeping knowledge at a distance by accepting a fact but giving it a different interpretation.
So, when questioned about his time as a consultor in Ballarat, Pell insisted that paedophilia was never mentioned in discussions of why priests were being moved unexpectedly between parishes. Many of his fellow consultors knew that child sex offences had been committed, and “homosexuality” may have been mentioned as the reason for the priest’s removal.
But Pell, incuriously, chose not to see the possibility that the homosexual conduct may have been intergenerational. He asked no questions, and admitted:
It was a sad story and of not much interest to me.
The most disturbing form of denial on display in Pell’s four days of testimony, however, is implicatory denial: a refusal to see the legal and moral implications that follow from information.
Pell went to great lengths to explain that, in almost all cases, he did everything that was appropriate to his role at the time. He was repeatedly challenged by counsel assisting and the commissioner, Peter McClellan, that a priest might have a moral responsibility that exceeds the literal duties assigned to their role. But Pell rejected this proposition:
He has a moral responsibility to do … what is appropriate to his position.
Pell claimed that in his positions as priest, consultor and auxilliary bishop, he did all that was appropriate to his position. He simply reported any allegations that he thought were plausible to his superiors. That they neglected their duties was not his responsibility.
Pell may be right that that the lion’s share of blame for the gross miscarriages of justice being examined by the royal commission should be laid at the feet of his dead and dying former superiors. But what is also emerging is graphic evidence of the dysfunctionality of Catholic governance on this issue.
As my research has shown, Roman Catholic canon law – ironically – has the oldest and most clearly articulated legal provisions for the prosecution of sexual offences against children. Yet the enactment of these provisions is entirely in the diocesan bishop’s hands.
A diocesan bishop has a fundamental conflict of interest in the discipline of clergy in their diocese. He is simultaneously responsible for the pastoral care of the priest and for their punishment. This contravenes a basic principle of natural law – that no-one should be a judge in their own case.
If church authorities had believed the children’s allegations, investigated them and kept records of those investigations, it is possible that offending priests could have been removed and disciplined. Instead, allegations were regarded as implausible, offending priests’ denials were believed, and records were destroyed.
And where allegations were too stark to be denied, the gravity of the offending was denied, and priests were sent for “counselling” and relocated.
It is evident that Archbishop Frank Little and Bishop Ronald Mulkearns neglected their responsibilities and even contravened canon law in their dealings with sexually offending clergy. But Pell’s claims to have fulfilled his moral responsibility in the face of this dysfunction ring hollow.
Pell chose to keep knowledge of his fellow priests’ offending at bay and allowed his superiors’ neglect and malpractice to continue. After the exposure of this legal dysfunction and moral cowardice, we can expect the royal commission’s recommendations will include changes to Roman Catholic governance and canon law.
The current ‘marriage equality’ debate, is really a debate about a redefining of what marriage is. From a Christian perspective there is no debate as the Bible is clear on the issue and so for Christians there is no change no matter what may or may not happen around us. What happens in the world happens there and that is not something the church has a say over in real terms. Certainly God does have something to say about it and he has said it through the Scriptures to the world today. Whatever happens in that world outside of Christianity, the Christian definition of marriage will never change, regardless of the pressure that may or may not be brought to bear upon it and/or the church of Christ.
It would seem to me that the next logical step – the next progression for relationships in the civil marriage/relationship space, but not necessarily with those seeking same-sex civil marriage legality, would be the polyamory culture that appears to be growing out there in the world.
For more on ployamory see:
I remember a year or so back when an Indian student or two had been bashed here in Australia that there was a great outcry from India about racism and the like in Australia. The odd bashing doesn’t make the whole country guilty of the crimes that had taken place at the time. Perhaps India could get serious about dealing with what is very obviously a major problem in that country – sex crimes against women. Deny it they may, but hide it they can’t – there is clearly a major problem there. I would suggest this isn’t the only major issue facing India, as this Blog clearly demonstrates time and time again.
The link below is to an article reporting on yet another example of major sex crimes against women in India.
The link below is to an article that takes an in depth look at the Bill Cosby sexual assault allegations. Why have I decided to post a link about this? Because I’m totally against any hint of sexual crime against a woman (or any person for that matter) and those that have suffered these crimes should not feel guilty for reporting them (or made to feel so). I could could deliver a more detailed post on my thoughts on this, but this will do for expressing my outrage at such crimes.
For more visit:
Article on Bill Cosby Allegations
The link below is to an article that reports on some strange views held by Richard Dawkins on pedophilia crimes.
For more visit: