June 20th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Is 'same-sex marriage' a square peg in a round hole?

CANBERRA OBSERVED Rudd, Gillard squabble over slim enough legacy

HUMAN RIGHTS Conscience may be free, but its exercise ... ?

SOCIETY Children of same-sex households have a say

EDITORIAL No need for alarm over new anti-terror laws

CHILD SEX ABUSE Cardinal Pell: the bishop the media love to hate

HISTORY The diverse character of Indonesian religion

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Greece and EU stare into abyss of debt, austerity

HISTORY World War II and the origins of American unease

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Joan Kirner's legacy: VCE, Emily's List and abortion

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS China's sandcastles give its neighbours the jitters

PUBLIC HEALTH Case for legalising cannabis up in smoke

CINEMA Dystopia gives way to a little hope: Tomorrowland

BOOK REVIEW Rumours of peace

BOOK REVIEW The banality of Eichmann

PAPAL ENCYCLICAL Pope Francis reminds us to care for our common home

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Cardinal Pell: the bishop the media love to hate

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, June 20, 2015

Following evidence given to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Ballarat, the media and some witnesses have targeted Cardinal George Pell, blaming him for both the sexual abuse cover-up and the Church’s poor response to abuse allegations that were made during the 1970s and 1980s.

Cardinal Pell sits at the

desk of Blessed Cardinal

John Henry Newman.

Cardinal Pell was born in Ballarat and served as a priest of Ballarat Diocese from the time of his ordination in 1966 until 1984.

He was therefore in the diocese when some of the worst offences took place. Further, he was a member of the Council of Consultors, an advisory body to then Bishop of Ballarat Ronald Mulkearns, and lived in the same presbytery for a year with Fr Gerald Ridsdale, who was later exposed as a serial paedophile.

Although allegations were made by some victims against Cardinal Pell, they were not supported by evidence from any priest or religious in Ballarat at the time. Significantly, Gerald Ridsdale, who gave evidence by videolink from prison, indicated that he knew little about Pell, and was not close to him at any time.

Several victims explicitly blamed Cardinal Pell – the only Catholic Church leader from Ballarat still alive from that period – for the cover-up.

Media coverage

These allegations were widely reported in the media, including the ABC, and in an extraordinary interview on Channel Nine’s Sixty Minutes with a British child-abuse survivor and campaigner, Peter Saunders.

Mr Saunders has no direct knowledge of the sex-abuse issue in Australia. His credibility rests mainly on his appointment by Pope Francis to an advisory body on sexual abuse in the Vatican last year.

Cardinal Pell endured torrid cross- examination at a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into sexual abuse in 2013 that cleared him of any wrongdoing.

Most significantly, he was the first bishop in Australia to engage directly with victims of child sexual abuse by clergy, and when appointed Archbishop of Melbourne was the first to set up a protocol, the Melbourne Response, for the Church to support victims of sexual, physical or emotional abuse.

Cardinal Pell had previously given evidence to the royal commission and indicated his eagerness to give further evidence about events in Ballarat.

In a statement, he said: “Like everyone who has been following the royal commission’s hearings in Ballarat this week, I have been horrified once again by survivors’ accounts of the abuse they have suffered.

“Also the terrible impact it has had on their lives and families and the Catholic community of Ballarat.

“The suicide of so many victims is an enormous tragedy. The crimes committed against them by priests and brothers are profoundly evil and completely repugnant to me.

“A number of claims have been made concerning my own response during these years. Many of the issues have already been addressed by me in the Victorian parliamentary inquiry in 2013, and my submission to that inquiry, and a transcript of my evidence, are available on the Victorian Parliament’s website.

“I stand by the statements I made to the Victorian Parliament.

“Over the last 24 hours I have been accused of being complicit in the moving of a known paedophile, of ignoring a victim’s complaint, and of bribery. These matters again require an immediate response and it is important to correct the record ...

“I was a member of the College of Consultors for Ballarat from 1977 until I left Ballarat in 1984. Membership of the Consultors gave me no authority over Gerald Ridsdale or any other priest in Ballarat.

“My recollection is that Bishop Mulkearns did not raise any paedophi­lia allegations against Ridsdale at the Consultors meetings I attended, or at any time before or after such meetings.

“Contrary to some media reports, minutes of the meetings of the Consultors are not ‘secret’ and were produced to the Victorian parliamentary inquiry ...

“Finally, I was and remain ext­remely sympathetic to David Ridsdale who because of his uncle suffered horrible abuse. I continue to regret the misunder­standing between us.

“At no time did I attempt to bribe David Ridsdale or his family or offer any financial inducements for him to be silent. At the time of our discussion the police were already aware of allegations against Gerald Ridsdale and were investigating.

“Then, and now, I supported these police investigations. I have previously made a sworn denial of these allegations and I reiterate that denial.

“I have the deepest sympathy for the victims of abuse, their families and the community of Ballarat. Once again, I will answer allegations and criticisms of my behaviour openly and honestly.”

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