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<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

“We are not interested in denying the extent of misdoing in the Catholic Church. We object to it being exaggerated.”

Restoring The Faith

A royal commission into child sexual abuse could go a long way to acknowledging the pain of victims, and allowing Christians to once more have faith in their institutions. But how should the terms of inquiry be framed, and how long might the cleansing take?

Australia’s Cardinal George Pell gave the worst media performance of his career at his press conference in Sydney on Tuesday. It was lazy, half-hearted and a complete waste of everyone’s time. He looked more than ever like yesterday’s man.

No wonder Pell’s former auxiliary in Sydney, retired bishop Geoffrey Robinson, said on ABC Radio’s The World Today program on Wednesday that George Pell was “an embarrassment”. Bishop Robinson also disagreed with the cardinal about the inviolability of the seal of confessional in cases where a paedophile priest makes a confession to another priest.

Tony Abbott, Australia’s most high-profile lay Catholic, also came out on Wednesday disagreeing with the cardinal on the same issue. “If they become aware of sexual offences against children, those legal requirements must be adhered to,” he told reporters. “The law is no respecter of persons, everyone has to obey the law, regardless of what job they are doing, what position they hold.”

That’s a measure of how isolated Pell now is within the Catholic Church in Australia. It was an extraordinary day for Australian Catholics. But then so was Tuesday, and the day before, when Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced there would be a national royal commission into the sexual abuse of children.

Cardinal Pell’s theme at his unfortunate press conference was that somehow the extent of the crimes had been exaggerated, that some of the claims about predatory clergy might be “fiction” and that the abuse, and the Church’s effort to cover it up, were a thing of the past.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

Cardinal Pell faces the media in Sydney on Tuesday, November 15.

So many of his sentences began well, but ended badly.

“It’s an opportunity to clear the air,” he said, but then added, “to separate fact from fiction.”

“We are not interested in denying the extent of misdoing in the Catholic Church,” he began, but then stubbornly continued: “We object to it being exaggerated. We object to it being described as the only cab on the rank.

“This commission will enable those claims to be validated,” he said, “… or found to be a significant exaggeration.

At one point, he tried to argue that a full inquiry into the monstrous crimes of Catholic clergy was somehow bad for the victims, rather than what it is, a disaster for the Church:

“Now one question I think that might be asked is just to what extent the victims are helped by a continuing furore in the press over these allegations. The pursuit of justice is an absolute entitlement for everyone; that being said, to what extent are wounds simply opened by the re-running of events which have been reported, not only once, but many times previously.”

Cardinal Pell should have been on his knees in front of the cameras begging forgiveness on behalf of the Catholic Church. Instead, he suggested, yet again, that the Church had been the victim of a one-sided smear by an anti-Catholic media.

Does he or anyone advising him seriously believe the Australian public has a shred of sympathy for such nonsense? The Catholic Church is not the victim here. Rather, it is ordinary Catholics who were the true victims of many of the crimes that will come before the attention of the royal commission.

Nor is there any credibility to Pell’s assertion that the Catholic Church has been singled out unfairly by the media. Back in October, child protection expert Professor Patrick Parkinson of Sydney University gave evidence to Victoria’s state inquiry into abuse that the number of offences reported against the Catholic Church has been six times higher than all the other churches combined, “and that’s a conservative figure”.

“A whole group of people in Canberra who made this decision to hold a royal commission are new to this area. I don’t think they understand yet just how vast an undertaking it is going to be”

Even worse for Pell, in a devastating interview this week on ABC Radio’s Religion and Ethics Report, Professor Parkinson, who the Church appointed to review its protocol for handling sex abuse, Towards Healing, announced that he had withdrawn his support for Towards Healing. He has called for a public inquiry into the activities of the Salesian order, and supports the national royal commission.

Cardinal Pell and his minders don’t seem to understand that the problem for the Catholic Church is not victimhood, but failed leadership. Failed leadership is also the reason for the appalling situation that has been allowed to develop — on Cardinal Pell’s watch — at St John’s College at Sydney University, which has virtually been overtaken by a bunch of marauding louts.

As with the sexual abuse crisis, this kind of scandal is what can happen when any institution suffers from poor and neglectful leadership.

THE PRIME MINISTER IS to be congratulated for announcing the national royal commission. It is what abuse victims and their families have been campaigning for over many years. This inquiry has the potential to be a major international milestone in the response to the sexual abuse of children, just as the Ferns Report (2005), and the Ryan and Murphy reports (2009) were in Ireland. The Government has a responsibility not only to victims and their families, but indeed to Catholics and members of other religious denominations here in Australia. The whole world will be watching, and it will be important to get it right.

This week I spoke at length to two very different advocates on behalf of the victims of clerical abuse. Angela Sdrinis is a solicitor with Ryan Carlisle Thomas Lawyers in Melbourne, and Dr Michelle Mulvihill is a consultant psychologist and a former member of the St John of God Brothers’s professional standards committee, turned whistleblower (more on that Catholic religious order in a moment).

Not surprisingly, their response to the Prime Minister’s announcement of the royal commission is very positive. “It’s fantastic and it’s essential,” says Sdrinis.

Mulvihill says the Prime Minister is “listening to the Australian people, and she’s listening to the urgency of what this means to thousands of victims across Australia.”



Dr Michelle Mulvihill, consultant psychologist who dealt with more than 120 abuse cases relating to the St John of God Brothers.

Mulvihill says the royal commission will be a good opportunity to “draw a line in the sand, and for every organisation to have their cases taken out of their hands so they’re no longer sitting on their own matters”. But she is sceptical of claims by the Catholic hierarchy that it has cleaned up its act and improved its complaints-handling processes. “The bishops say that in the past they were not very efficient and now they’re okay. I’d like to know when the ‘now’ began.”

Sdrinis and Mulvihill also have a number of concerns that Ms Gillard would do well to heed. In fact Sdrinis has written to the Prime Minister.

In particular, they are concerned that the PM probably does not yet fully comprehend the true scale of misery and horror that the inquiry is likely to unleash on victims and on the Australian public.

“A whole group of people in Canberra who made this decision to hold a royal commission are new to this area. I don’t think they understand yet just how vast an undertaking it is going to be,” says Mulvihill.

She expects that there will be “literally thousands of people turning up to the commission to tell their stories”, and she says there is a danger that the commission will go on for too long.

“Is there going to be a time limit? Victim advocates are saying it could go on for 10 years. Some of the victims and perpetrators will be dead by then, and I don’t think that’s good enough.”

Sdrinis’s firm alone has represented in excess of 1,000 clients, and she warns that nationally in the past half-century, half-a-million Australians were in care as minors.

As a psychologist, Mulvihill is also concerned that the hopes of victims will be dashed yet again if the commission drags on too long. “The commission needs to be time-based, it can’t be allowed to run on forever. If it does, there is a danger that people can get worn out, it’s like battle fatigue.”

“Documents detailing sexual abuse of children are constantly in danger of being shredded. ”

She warns that the Prime Minister needs to be aware that much of the evidence that will be presented will be horrific, and says the royal commission must be properly resourced with counselling services — not just for victims reliving the trauma of what was done to them, but also for public servants and others listening to their harrowing testimony day after day.

“There is always a danger of re-traumatising somebody. But on the other hand, if a person doesn’t feel they have been heard in the past, the royal commission may provide a forum where they can begin to leave that trauma behind. Others never leave it. Some people will have high hopes for themselves and not get their dreams fulfilled. This commission must put back-up services in place for everybody.”

Angela Sdrinis says the broad scope of the inquiry presents its own problems, “no doubt about it”.

“But the alternative — just to focus on the Catholic Church — would have been unacceptable. That would have left it open for the Federal Opposition to cry ‘witch hunt’, and we can see the Catholic Church is already doing that. Cardinal Pell talks about anti-Catholic bigotry, but the truth is that this inquiry is a response to decades of frustration and grief.”



Angela Sdrinis, from Melbourne's Ryan Carlisle Thomas Lawyers, who have represented over 1,000 clients on the issue of abuse.

Sdrinis says there are “hundreds and thousands” of Australians who were abused, but not by the Catholic Church, who would want to come forward to tell their stories, and that in many instances they will be new revelations that open new lines of inquiry. Many of these will have been children in state-run institutions or foster care.

But Mulvihill and Sdrinis are also adamant that the commission should have the capacity to reach as far back into history as it needs to. “Anyone alive who has a claim should be able to be heard if they wish to,” says Mulvihill. There will be people from the 1930s, 40s and 50s coming forward. Sdrinis notes that her own clients include people who were abused in the 1930s, and says a similar inquiry in Northern Ireland was recently forced to backdate its cut-off date from 1945 to 1922 because so many older people were coming forward.

It will be important for Australian Catholics that the inquiry reach back as far as possible into the past. Catholics have been told by some conservatives in the Church that the abuse that happened was the result of the loosening up of sexual mores in the 1960s, the influx of gays into the seminaries in the 1970s, and even that it was caused by the liberalising tendencies of the Second Vatican Council. The truth is otherwise, of course, but it will be important to demonstrate this as clearly as possible to put minds at rest once and for all.

But Sdrinis says the abuse the commission will hear about is not all in the past: “Underage girls are becoming pregnant in state care even while we speak.” Knowing what we know about how long it takes many abuse victims to find the courage to report their abuse, many of these children may not come forward for decades to come.

One particularly horrific example Sdrinis gives of abuse that does not involve the Catholic Church occurred in Salvation Army homes that were run by paedophiles, unchecked, for decades.

“In the 1970s the Bayswater Boys Home in Melbourne was run by what I would describe as a nest of paedophiles, one of whom has been prosecuted and convicted, another two are currently under police investigation whilst another died whilst facing charges. I am aware of at least 130 complaints of sexual and/or physical abuse. In some cases, the sexual abuse occurred over long periods and was committed by multiple offenders. Whilst these allegations have been investigated by the police, I am concerned that the investigation may not have been as comprehensive as it could have been because police are under-resourced and these claims of historical abuse are very costly and difficult to investigate,” Sdrinis says.

Ryan Carlisle Thomas Lawyers has lodged with the Victorian state inquiry a three-part submission, only one section of which is public. Another section contains several hundred statutory declarations collected from clients. In relation to the Bayswater Boys’ Homes the submission states: “Other allegations that have been investigated by police but not proven are that children were killed at the Bayswater facilities or allowed to die as a result of physical abuse or neglect.”

“Underage girls are becoming pregnant in state care even while we speak.”

Sdrinis says that, to avoid duplication, it will be important for the royal commission to begin with a major exercise obtaining and collating all the evidence from other inquiries that is already on the record. These include the Forde Inquiry in Queensland (1999), the Mullighan Inquiry in South Australia (2008), and the current inquiry in Victoria. There have also been three Senate inquiries — into child migrants, the stolen generations, and children in institutionalised care (2009). Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland also set up “redress funds” to compensate children abused in state care, for which claimants were required to provide statements.

That approach also has its drawbacks. Australian Catholics and the Australian public want to hear Chief Inspector Peter Fox’s allegations of a cover-up in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese sooner rather than later. If a major collating exercise takes precedence, it may be years before he takes the witness stand. And years, too, before evidence under oath is heard from the likes of Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide, retired bishop of Maitland-Newcastle Michael Malone, and Sydney priest and lawyer Father Brian Lucas, who at one time regularly advised bishops on how to handle abusive priests.

What kind of inquiry should the royal commission be? Not a truth-and-reconciliation-style inquiry. “Emotionally, I think we’re past that,” Sdrinis says.

She says the commission will need to be far more forensic in its approach, and that success will depend on its willingness to compel the production of documents “from all the churches and all the state human services departments” — and on using its investigative powers to pursue lines of inquiry. She also warns that documents detailing sexual abuse of children are constantly in danger of being shredded.

“Unless someone takes the step of compelling the production of documents, evidence will be destroyed. In its investigation of the Victorian Government’s record keeping of wards-of-state files, the Victorian Ombudsman found that some of the records were in an appalling state, and that would lead to concerns that boxes of files containing evidence of sex abuse of children in state homes may either have been destroyed or be unable to be found.”

In relation to pursuing lines of inquiry, the royal commission will also have to be prepared to pursue its inquiries beyond Australia’s borders. If it doesn’t, Mulvihill says, “for some of these organisations half the evidence will be missing.” For example, paedophile priest Denis McAlinden was moved to New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. He also spent time in the UK. The Salesians of Don Bosco moved abusing priests offshore to Western     Samoa. The St John of God Brothers moved backwards and forwards between Australia and New Zealand, and are also active in Papua New Guinea.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

Mulvihill says the Gillard government also needs to indicate whether the terms of reference will include allegations relating to minors in the Australian defence forces and refugees in care.

It will also be important that a decision is made, probably upfront, about whether this commission is going to make recommendations about compensation. Former Irish high court judge Seán Ryan told ABC-TV’s Lateline program on Tuesday that his inquiry was warned by lawyers representing abuse victims that they would not recommend that their clients come forward unless a compensation scheme was put in place.

Michelle Mulvihill says there needs to be some kind of restitution for victims even though “some organisations will be terrified about that”.

“I hope they do offer compensation in many cases, otherwise it’s not going to mean anything. So far, many victims have walked away empty-handed, often because they are vulnerable people whose stories happened too long ago or weren’t believed.”

THE IRISH PARLIAMENT, in my view, missed an important opportunity after the Ryan Report revealed horrific and systemic physical and sexual abuse in institutions run by Catholic religious orders.

The Church should have been forced to close down several of those Catholic orders altogether — even orders with otherwise illustrious histories such as the Irish Christian Brothers. Or else the Dial should have passed legislation seizing their property and declaring them to be illegal organisations in the Republic of Ireland.

The PM probably does not yet fully comprehend the true scale of misery and horror that the inquiry is likely to unleash.

Here in Australia, such recommendations should be available and they should be relentlessly pursued. The Catholic Church must be taught, once and for all, that it is not above the law and that it cannot act with impunity.

One Catholic religious order in particular comes to mind. This is the nauseating St John of God Brothers. I first interviewed Michelle Mulvihill in 2007, when she alleged that 75 per cent of the brothers in the order had paedophile allegations against them registered with the police, and that the entire order in Australia was a cesspit of collusion, corruption and denial. Back in 2007, the order had paid out $14 million in compensation to victims and lawyers.

Five years later, nothing has changed. The St John of God Brothers are an international organisation who originally came to Australia from Ireland. According to Michelle Mulvihill, the order is only “in Australia at the invitation of the Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell, and the Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart. Those archbishops should disinvite them and send them back to where they came from.”

And if the bishops have not acted by the time this royal commission is over, the Australian Parliament should have the courage to take whatever action is necessary to close the St John of God Brothers down, along with any other religious orders or institutions whose corruption is judged to be so deep that they cannot be reformed.

38 comments on this story
by marcus halberstram

Your Twitter note taht you were reviewing Pells presser is a great bit of false advertising. Apart from using it as a soapbox from which to launch your pent up tirade the reference was brief and connection tenuous.
I struggle with your multiple references to ehat 'catholics want' and suggest nest time you might consider teh phrase "what I want" or "what i hope Catholics would agree with"

November 15, 2012 @ 2:31pm
by Claire Duffy

"Cardinal Pell and his minders don’t seem to understand that the problem for the Catholic Church is not victimhood, but failed leadership". Absolutely. He has got his communications completely wrong, and all the other issues are blotted out by that. More here:

November 15, 2012 @ 3:57pm
by Fiona Williams

Great piece - sharp, scathing and with guns ready to fire on a hair trigger. You mention in your first couple of paragraphs the former bishop Robinson; he has written an opinion piece on the ABC Drum site which would make an exceptional accompaniment to this.

The truth will out, but at what cost?

November 15, 2012 @ 4:22pm
by Patrick Lane

I am a catholic, finally lapsed in disgust at the hypocrisy, and this royal commission is exactly what I, and almost every other catholic I know, want.

November 15, 2012 @ 4:52pm
by John Fraser

Strange how Pell appears to be so terrible in front of the media and yet from all accounts is quite formidable when defending the Catholic Church.

My personal opinion is that the Royal Commission should sit for as long as it takes and be prepared for the Catholic Church (it does have form) to go to the High Court of Australia in every effort to stymie the Royal Commission (biding for time or a change of government) at every turn.

November 15, 2012 @ 9:43pm
by Bob O'Toole

Cardinal George Pell is an embarrassment for all who call themselves Catholic. His TV performance alleging that there is no cover up was as unconvincing as it is untrue. His own consultants have publicly confirmed that he and other Catholic hierarchy are not truthful. The orchestrated response by Pell and Bishops is a nonsense - the Catholic Church is not a scapegoat, nor is the problem being exaggerated. Roll on Royal Commission.

November 15, 2012 @ 10:20pm
by Polydore

A royal commission into abuse will do some good, but as Hal Wooten has already indicated, expectations might be pitched too high. What if the RC concluded that a bunch of unworldly prelates dropped the ball because they were in thrall to the Vatican and naive about their brother priests? That would not satisfy the victims or their families. The horror of child abuse has understandably made people reach for the strongest weapon in the arsenal, but I wonder whether this hunger for some justice from a wracked church will satisfy them. How can a RC take the place of the police and courts or the interventions of therapists? What an RC might do is expose paedophile rings that have hitherto been protected. Some of these will exist in churches, but there will be high flyers outside them, caught at last - one hopes. The worst of the abuses in the Catholic Church are well known, not that that makes new ones less worthy of attention. Surely the RC must now expose some of the other shameless bastards that exploited children. That will be of some satisfaction to the victims, but will it go far in eradicating a stain on our society? Hardly? Don't invest too much in this process.

November 15, 2012 @ 11:20pm
by Chris Grady

Spectacularly excellent piece, Stephen.

Some say Pell's a "dead man walking." (The "slump" is getting worse, but he's not dead, not yet anyway.)

People need to underatsnd Pell doesn't have much, if any consideration for his archdiocese of Sydney, or Australia - his eye is always on one place: Rome.

Pell loves bad media, thrives on it, lives for it. Details of this and other pieces in this week's Australian media, and on blogs, along with video of the ABC's 7.30 from earlier this week, will already be in the inboxes of the Pope and all the other 119 cardinal-electors round the world - more evidence of the way Pell is mistreated and harrangued by the "anti-Catholic" Australian media.

Pell has the cardinal-electors all thinking that he is some modern day Mindszenty or Wyszinski, threatened and held back from the fulfilment of his goal of restoring True 1950s Catholicism (a key policy of this pontificate, appropriately mis-named "new evangelisation") by a tyrannical government - led by, of all things, a socialist female atheist - and an increasingly hostile media. The Pope and the other cardinals don't see that Pell causes and arouses the hostility - they just see the valiant oppressed cardinal-victim.

But he's not invincible. The end might just be nigh.

November 16, 2012 @ 12:43am
by Mick Reed

I am not religious, still less a Catholic, but I am still embarrassed by George Pell. I have been for years. What is always obvious with Pell, is that he never prepares for an interview or discussion. He is indeed, lazy, or arrogant, or both. To claim the support of Patrick Parkinson as he did in his recent press conference without mentioning the fact that the latter believes that Catholic clergy are responsible for six times as many abuses as all other denominations combined shows that he is contemptuous of the rest of us. No wonder Parkinson had to appear on Lateline to disavow Pell's comments.
The man is a disgrace to his cloth, and if I was a Catholic I would be in despair. The Church must surely make it known that Pell speaks for nobody at all beyond himself.

November 16, 2012 @ 5:28am
by Gail Doolan

I was appalled and saddened by George Pell’s statement:
“We are not interested in denying the extent of misdoing in the Catholic Church. We object to it being exaggerated.”
Whilst recognizing that child abuse occurs across society and not only within the Catholic Church, this unfortunate statement fails to acknowledge the trauma resulting from such "misdoing".

November 16, 2012 @ 8:09am
by Mick

It's hardly surprising, really... This organisation has been a pervaer of misery for centuries - side by side with the Conquistadors in South America, the Inquisition, countless women burned or drowned as witches in Europe, the brutalisation and sexual abuse of children in Ireland.... And on it goes.
Bring on the Royal Commision.... May it help bring some form of resolution for those many good Catholics and others that are the most recent victims of this old, but not so reputable, organisation.

November 16, 2012 @ 9:18am
by Shirley McHugh

I have to agree with everything that is said. George Pell needs to get that tap on the shoulder to move over. He is still covering up, hence his extraordinarily embarrassing presentation of views on ABC TV. If he thinks he is going to be Pope, he can forget about it, indeed, Archbishop Wilson doesn't look too good, either. Hoorah for Geoffrey Robinson.

November 16, 2012 @ 10:50am
by Mary Sawyer

Clergy of all persuasions historically been able to manipulate the vulnerable by the power of words, using thier so called venerated positions to confuse their followers.
George Pell"s latest attempti to justify his position is once again a manipulation of his followers and the general public, with the clever use of words. Or not so clever in my view. This is an abomination that minimises the severity of effect on the vulnerable. Having worked with some of the victims of St John of God Brothers, the extent of the psychological damage is unmeasurable and long lasting.
I laud the Prime Ministers"s swift action as a beginning to stamp out this dreadful and illegal behaviour and bring the offenders to justice.

November 16, 2012 @ 11:05am
by Geoff

Excellent article. It is worth noting that Card. Pell is not himself untouched by blame of cover up. In an account on it is claimed that he heard the evidence of a victim, and seemily ignored it with the result that the offending priest continued his predations for years until he was gaoled. Excellent summary Stephen.

November 16, 2012 @ 11:07am
by tom creigh

Everyone interested in the catholic churches practices of cover-up leading up to this call for a royal commision should read a book written by Geoffry Robinson QC and human wrights commisioner for the UN. He spent many years investigating our current pope and decree issued by the vatican as to how the catholic church world wide has avoided the law of the lands in its cover ups by claiming they govern themselves by using cannon law to protect thir cardinalls bishops and priests and when court proceedures seem eminett they have had some of the worst offender returned to rome to stay prtected by the vatican walls.Its a sad but true account of what has gone on in the vatican for years.This book is very powerfull in its disclosures and will disturd any practicing catholic as it describes the vatican bank and how it was used as a laundry by the mafia in past years .He tells of his thoughts on the death of Pope John Paul the first whose sudden death was not fully investigated.He tells of the deal done with Mussolinee to create the vatican state and from that the belief by the church that no one can touch them because in there eyes they are a separate country.Lets pray for the success of this enquiry and for all who will be called to work in it.

November 16, 2012 @ 12:35pm
by Richard

In providing such a burdened article I’ve finally understood the need for journalist to write top-heavy, from sensationalism to the banal. The appeal of this particular article is disconcerting since as a new time reader I had thought that this site appeals to the independent mind. This article is unbalanced regarding the plight of the victims at the hands of the Catholic institutional form. Rather this represents a critical perspective of the current political situation, and its ‘postmodern’ sensibilities as symptomatic of the ideology that is pervasive in current civic mentality and its will to conformist discontent.

Under the guise and theatrics of moral correctness, this article but seeks to normalize and reinforce their own malignant negativity in but the latest global threshold of neo-liberal expansion.

This is why at present, especially those espousing as ‘postmodern’ citizens, act as if they exist in a human world in which everything is ‘negotiated’ and implemented through democratic debate and legal ratification, wilfully oblivious to the fact that it is not so even in their most immediate institutional domains, including families. This is the type of sensibility that endorse acts such as the military intervention in NT, without a pint of reflection on their own unfreedom which, by the way is the dominant ideological value that is promoted as that as ‘rights.’

The institution of the church has existed beyond the historical violence of the recent Western pursuit of freedom to later become transmuted into civic ‘rights’ (and only upheld through the might of Western military). At least try and provide some context to this tenuously tied subject matter concerning the Cardinal before you let of this presupposed salvo under the pretence of a concern for the ‘victims.’ Rather this promotes the readers to further discrimination, distortion and misunderstanding. This write up but throws more mud onto the windscreen of a perilous vehicle, with the malicious joy for whoever gets injured, whether driver, passenger or passer-by.

November 16, 2012 @ 12:58pm
by Richard

In providing such a burdened article I’ve finally understood the need for journalist to write top-heavy, from sensationalism to the banal. The appeal of this particular article is disconcerting since as a new time reader I had thought that this site appeals to the independent mind. This article is unbalanced regarding the plight of the victims at the hands of the Catholic institutional form. Rather this represents a critical perspective of the current political situation, and its ‘postmodern’ sensibilities as symptomatic of the ideology that is pervasive in current civic mentality and its will to conformist discontent.

Under the guise and theatrics of moral correctness, this article but seeks to normalize and reinforce their own malignant negativity in but the latest global threshold of neo-liberal expansion.

This is why at present, especially those espousing as ‘postmodern’ citizens, act as if they exist in a human world in which everything is ‘negotiated’ and implemented through democratic debate and legal ratification, wilfully oblivious to the fact that it is not so even in their most immediate institutional domains, including families. This is the type of sensibility that endorse acts such as the military intervention in NT, without a pint of reflection on their own unfreedom which, is the dominant ideological value that is promoted as that as ‘rights.’

The institution of the church has existed before the historical violence of the recent Western (nation-state) pursuit of freedom to later become transmuted into civic ‘rights’ (and only upheld through the might of Western military). At least try and provide some context to this tenuously tied subject matter concerning the Cardinal before you let of this salvo of presuppositions under the pretence of a concern for the ‘victims.’ Rather this promotes the readers to further discrimination, distortion and misunderstanding. This write up but throws more mud onto the windscreen of a perilous vehicle, with the malicious joy for whoever gets injured, whether driver, passenger or passer-by.

November 16, 2012 @ 2:18pm
by Bob O'Toole

Open your eyes Richard - Crap!

November 16, 2012 @ 7:38pm
by cscviews

Richard you amaze me - such obfustication dressed up as a defence of the indefensible

November 17, 2012 @ 10:46am
by Dave

Most readers would understand that journalism is not science and it will always be driven by the opinions of the journalist. It is why we readers express our preferences for various journalists, often because the articles align with our own opinions on the matter. In this case I applaud Stephen Crittenden's piece because he has espoused a position that I believe in and he has added to the debate through his inclusion of the views of Michelle Mulvihill and Angela Sdiris.

On the other hand the turgid prose of Richard in his comment on the article leaves me confused. Richard, what was your point? I have read both of your duplicate posts in the faint hope that reading them several times would allow me to distill your intent, alas I have failed. You complain that in your perception Stepehen's article contains tenuous links between elements yet your own comment leaps from one unconnected element to another. As the saying goes "people in glass houses shouldn't ... " and as an ex-member of the "Western military" I respect your privilege of free speech gained through mine and others continuing service but I can and will lament your appalling use of it. When a privilege comes at great cost it should be valued. For future reference heed the words of of one of my mentors that "quantity is not quality".

November 17, 2012 @ 10:51am
by Ron

Waheed Aly wrote a very good piece in the Sydney Morning Herald during the week. The basis was that secularists have no understanding of religion, and vice versa. Everyone knows that faith and logic are incompatible. That is also the basis for Pell's argument that the confessional is sacrosanct . Three 'Hail Marys and go, sin no more'. The clever thing about the private confessional is that it puts power in the hands of the priest taking it. It must be a uncomfortable feeling to be a member of a Catholic congregation, sitting there, knowing that the priest, up front, knows all the wicked things that you have done. OK, so you have said your 'Hail Marys' and done the Rosary and given Absolution but the priest still knows. Now, whether he uses that knowledge or not, and very likely not, it still gives him, and ergo, the church, power, and what is that saying about power and corruption? I'll leave that to the reader.

November 17, 2012 @ 12:22pm
by Michael Harvey

Bravo Stephen again, you appear to have got right under the skins of the faithful, like Richard, above. Pell is a joke. I'm surprised that, rather than protesting, any Catholics left in Australia don't simply crawl away and die of embarrassment. There appears to be a surreal disconnect in the way Catholic minds work - that this scandal does not have anything to do with them or their private beliefs - so of course this issue thrives "in full view" like the Jimmy Savile saga. I second Tom Creigh's suggestion for those exercised by this sorry mess to read "The Case of the Pope" by Geoffrey Robertson QC. Pack up all the men in skirts and the illegal Vatican state.

November 17, 2012 @ 1:27pm
by Bill

I find it interesting that it takes an atheist PM to go the GG and request a royal commission. I cannot imagine Abbot or even Howard doing this! Those that don’t have an emotional investment in the church seem much more objective when these issues arise.... poor old George looks really really tired.

November 17, 2012 @ 3:23pm
by rumtytum

Could somebody please provide a translation of Richard's contribution?

November 17, 2012 @ 4:17pm
by daryl

It is unfortunate that the Catholic Church is seen in such a poor light, but this is a result of years of abuse and uncontrolled lust by sexually deprived males. I would go a little further in saying that the Catholic Nuns should also be the subject of scrutiny because of years of physical abuse of children. Certainly, not all of them are/were bad, but there were/are too many bad apples spoiling the barrel. I have said before, that this organisation which cloaks its employees or adherents in the guise of a family using friendly names, eg, Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers have used this family style influence to gain access to children for their own depraved purposes, supported by their superiors. I am not a Gillard fan at all, but in this case she has not only been politically astute, she has done the right thing.

November 17, 2012 @ 4:32pm
by Oscar Jones

Richard identifies the NT Intervention which was a vast event of child abuse in itself for political purposes.
It identified an entire race and numerous communities as somehow collectively guilty when the State ruthlessly invaded with the army and that Intervention that has decreed Aboriginal communities as second class citizens still goes on today with their rights removed for 'their own good'.

The one thing the Prime Minster has done correctly is decree this will be inquiry into abuse in all it's forms and in all institutions. That should mean via neglect as well although various State and the Federal governments may find themselves in the dock on that issue. Even then some opinion writers are accusing her of collaborating with Pell because she spoke to him first.

I hope the burgeoning child protection industry will be looked into as well. There are groups who hoover up taxpayer dollars and produce little except hot air and the odd demonstration outside an art exhibition they deem pornographic. No-one, absolutely no-one should escape the gaze of the Royal Commission.

The sheer hate directed at the Catholic Church has been abominable : for sure it has serious questions to answer and hopefully all will be revealed but I am not convinced that the so-called experts know of what they speak of. Is it all anecdotal or backed up with investigations and facts ?

the author quotes various 'experts', lawyers and so on : their part also needs to be examined if only to ensure their credentials are secure. I have an inbuilt skepticism towards lawyers who represent hundreds of victims.

And those who claim the Catholic Church is the worst offender : they need to present their proof : is it anecdotal or do they simply not know of other cases in other institutions.

The whole matter of child abuse brings on a subtle hysteria in which fevered minds begin to go a bit haywire and that is reflected in this article to a very minor degree : such as quoting a police detective deemed a 'whistleblower' who has made sensational claims : they could well be true but nothing has been proved yet the entire media talks as though he were a hero. I'm reminded of a former NSW detective who did similar about crime figures and it took 10 years before he was shown to be a fantasist egged on by shock jocks but not before a dozen innocent scalps were claimed.

As it is a raft of tabloid and media commentators are lining up to claim knowledge and nod their heads sagely as though they know the facts which is unlikely.

November 17, 2012 @ 7:33pm
by udi

George Pell has never been with it - a dinosaur from another, maybe imaginary, era. When the Irish held their commission into child abuse by the church, they found it to be endemic, systemic and pervasive. I have no doubt that a royal commission here will have similar findings. Blind freddy can see that child abuse, while a problem in society at large and in other organisations, is far more pervasive in the catholic church. It is also obvious that despite it's various promises over the decades to change it's attitude and it's behaviour, the church has made few, if any, substantive moves to reform itself in this regard. To think that we can still be having a debate about whether priests should obey the law of the land with regards to reporting abuse is a mark of how little has changed. The catholic church may never catch up with the rest of society in its approach to this horrific blight but it's time we stopped waiting for them to change and forced them to obey the law. A royal commission exposing the wrong will be a first and necessary step. If Cardinal Pell is shown by this enquiry, to be an irrelevant embarrassment and is sidelined because of it, it can only be a good thing for Australia and for it's Catholic community.

November 18, 2012 @ 3:34pm
by John

Appalling statistics, but misleading and mischievous of Mulvihill to claim that the St John of God brothers are in Australia at the invitations of Pell and Hart. And uncharacteristically sloppy of Crittenden to adopt and fail to correct the statement. The order was encouraged to come to Sydney by Archbishop Kelly in 1939 and his successor Gilroy. The order's local establishment was accomplished in 1947 and it answers to Roman superiors, not local bishops.

November 19, 2012 @ 2:17am
by Michael Ellis

The fact that sexual abuse is so clearly widespread not only in Australia but in ireland, the US and anywhere else you care to scrutinise the Catholic Church surely demonstrates that the entire basis of the religion is fundamentally flawed. Why would anyone want to take any form of moral guidance from it? But people/politicians continue to treat it with this reverent respect it long since should have forfeited -- because it pretends to have a direct line to God. I mean, come on!

November 19, 2012 @ 12:56pm
by Richard

I have observed that we find it easier to be aroused by moral dogma than to open our hearts to the demands of truth. We are definitely more willing to hand over our free will to a rigid moral attitude than to keep our judgement always open, at any moment for the desirable reform and correction. One might say we embrace the moral imperative like as weapon in order to simplify life for ourselves by destroying immense portions of the globe. On a local level, just ask the inhabitants in NT. This article only looks to score political mileage by way of inserting their ideological fallacies and pass it of as informative.
My argument did not address the topic of the church and the crimes they have committed; it addressed the uncritical acceptance of an ideology that is increasingly becoming our political climate. If, as David has written, one feels compelled to agree with journalists because ‘It is why we readers express our preferences for various journalists, often because the articles align with our own opinions on the matter’ this idea should in itself be a cause for alarm.
Unfortunately, this indeed is the case for most people and is the reason why so much of our media is often governed with reports that are unquestioned and ideologically loaded. Don’t people ask why and how professional opinions coincidentally tie neatly into the authors overall argument (or intent).
Where was such deafening reporting on this front prior to this subject becoming sensational media coverage? Normally I do not post, however I became concerned when journalists alike take on a ‘moral’ vestige on the back of the legitimate suffering by those who cannot or could defend themselves. It advocates a cowardice and intent to manipulate the emotional climate of the public, cloaked in the ‘clarity’ and the ‘informative’ that it pretends to contribute in. I wrote the above to abate and question journalist that look to use hatred, often in order to pursue their agenda.
The second post placed above was a mistake on my part.

November 19, 2012 @ 3:29pm
by Rex

Richard - your second post is only slightly less gibberish than your first. What in heaven's name is your point?

November 20, 2012 @ 7:38am
by Clare Pascoe

Pell has a demonstrated history of lying about the extent of abuse and the way the church deals with it. But he's not alone in that. All denominations have much the same problems, because it's the figurehead's job to talk the organisation out of trouble. And, of course, one of the standard lines they use is that any inquiry will be traumatic for the victims. Yet, if they REALLY "got" it, they'd know that denial and obfuscation is far more traumatic for the victims than openness and accountability.

As a clergy sex abuse victim who fronted the NSW Wood Royal Commission, and spent the next 10 years fighting for even a basic apology from the denomination (not Catholic), and has been a victim advocate since 1996, I can vouch for the fact that little has changed in 16 years, and victims who come forward now are still being intimidated into silence and denied justice and accountability.

November 20, 2012 @ 10:25am
by xr

Nail em up!!!!

November 20, 2012 @ 6:32pm
by Roy

As a person without any faith in organised religion, it is hard, perhaps impossible to understand the point of view of someone such as Cardinal Pell.
When faced with the incontrovertible facts of these many cases, it beggars belief that his response should be anything other than shame-faced, embarrassed. Whether he believes it was in any way his personal responsibility, or failing is irrelevant.
What is relevant is the misery and suffering that has befallen people that the institution he represents purports to support and uphold. Children. Ruined adolescent lives. Prolonged, supported criminal actions.
All I can see to make sense of Cardinal Pell's lack of grace and perspective is that he must have a belief in the sanctity of the institution itself. That it is somehow beyond blame, perhaps through divine provenance. Perhaps he also, therefore, sees that provenance extending to himself.
Bluntly, it seems he believes that he and the church are above the laws and common standards of our community. He and the church somehow know better.
A foundation point of our society and commonwealth is the separation of church and state, the principle that all are equal before the law. I suspect that Cardinal Pell is about to finally learn what this means.

November 20, 2012 @ 6:34pm
by Andrew Starkie

I am a practising Catholic and until recently employed in the Victorian Catholic Education System.

I applaud the Federal Government's decision to stage a Royal Commission into institutionalized abuse and for the decision to instigate a broad sweeping inquiry, not one focusing soley on the Catholic Church. To do so would have meant political suicide for Ms Gillard who obviously anticipated the Opposition's cries of 'witch hunt' and the weight of the most powerful private institution in the country coming down on her.

Obviously, victims and families deserve to be heard - and compensated if they have not already been so.

The commission should be an opportunity for institutions to cleanse themselves of past wrongdoings and lay at the public's feet, pleading for forgiveness.

This inquiry should also be for the countless humble, law abiding people - clergy, nuns, teachers, volunteers, health workers - who serve these bodies. They deserve to have their good names exonerated from blame and be recognized for the tireless work they carry out on a daily basis in the name of the institution they serve.

Guidelines need to be defined and followed in terms of issues such as time span, while, as said above, counseling should be offered for those whose testimony re-opens old wounds.

Those bodies and individuals found responsible for acts of abuse - or for covering them up - should be held accountable under law. The grey areas surrounding Religious organizations must be made black and white. Crucial to this is the sanctity of the confessional - it must be broken and mandatory reporting made law.

Above all, everyone who wishes to speak must be given the chance. For we must rid our society of this scourge forever. And start again.

November 21, 2012 @ 1:46pm
Show previous 35 comments
by Michael Furtado

Superbly reported, Stephen, especially from the perspective of the real victims and the importance of prioritising restorative justice for them. I applaud your focus on their legal representation: this is as it should be and the Cardinal has displayed a shocking lack of humanity and judgment in his comments that has resurrected the spectre of anti-Catholics only too willing to dust off and replay a script that goes back to the shock-horror Victorian era revelations of Maria Monk, when his unreserved sympathies ought to have been for the victims. Its hard not to conclude that he has done the Church a very great disservice.

I suspect that there's a reason for this and its here that the terms of reference for the Royal Commission will be critical, because the Church's legal representatives will be charged with doing their utmost to minimise compensatory pay-outs, which, beyond therapy, are really the only way of ensuring that the agencies in question are made accountable and some semblance of justice done.

I think there are two additional accounts, complementary to yours, to be divulged about the culture of Church institutions in relation to transgressors as well as about the disparate and inexact lines of authority and accountability that apply within the Catholic Church, and especially in its educational administrative structure. Both narratives, in my view, have allowed such abuse to proliferate, despite the Church's efforts in recent years to educate its workforce and clients about protective behaviours.

The first is about the Christian preference for healing, forgiveness and reconciliation, rather than on restorative justice. This emphasises compassion for the transgressor and constitutes the kind of imbalance in pastoral care that often marginalises the victim, while seeking to rehabilitate the offender. For this reason alone, the Church's internal protocols cannot be absolutely relied upon to adequately respond to complaints of sexual abuse.

By way of example from a recent incident in the Catholic Diocese of Toowoomba, it emerged that the teacher in question had been molesting children for a long period of time and that the School Principal and Officers responsible for Child Safety at the Diocesan Catholic Education Office had known about it but failed to report the matter to the police. It was only the persistence of parents that blew their cover on the issue and, while Bishop Bill Morris acted categorically thereafter, the fact remains that if the matter had been dealt with sooner fewer children might have been abused.

To my second point: while I dont hold the Catholic Church as solely responsible for this aberrant behaviour, Jesuit priest and lawyer, Fr Frank Brennan, noted in his recent ABC Lateline television interview that Law Professor Patrick Parkinson's own investigation revealed that Catholic Church agencies were six times more likely to offend in this regard ( I assume he meant in terms of 'cover-ups' and obfuscatory behaviour) than in the Anglican Church.

This is a matter that must be investigated by the Royal Commission as it appears to result from a systemic flaw, peculiar to Catholic institutions, that seem to have positioned them for far too long as above the law. While I accept that Catholic Education Offices now inform the police at the slightest hint of an abuse allegation, one has to ask why it has taken so long and so many accusations of cover-ups going back many decades for this to happen.

I myself worked for eight years in a Catholic Education Office, where there were persistent rumours of past wrongdoing on the part of the Deputy Director and an Assistant Director. Needless to say, the entire morale of the place was adversely affected by this, leading to intense gossip and an atmosphere of mistrust; yet the two senior administrators in question continued to exercise tenure through appeal to fudged lines of authority, which led all the way up to the Archbishop.

My investigations showed that several priests in the diocese in question knew of the allegations, particularly in relation to the Deputy Director, but no one did anything about it. This reflected the reluctance of this senior office bearer's victims to take their complaints to the police and their vulnerability to threats of legal action by him in case they did; and so an intolerable atmosphere of deceit and innuendo was tolerated at the highest levels of the diocese simply because of the supposed pusillanimity of the victims.

I regard these pathologies as cultural and structural, reflecting the flawed ways in which Catholic religious institutions administering schools are structured. Unlike the public administration of state schools, there are no clear lines of authority, reflecting instead religious proclivities about 'shared praxis' and 'servant leadership' that translate felicitously when leaders exercise charismatic powers but collapse disastrously when there's no attention to due process.

The principle of election and democratic representation, evidence of the separation of powers, and rights-based ethical demarcations properly distancing accusers, investigators and decision-makers, are attendantly unclear and disputes and problems resolved mainly through appeal to medieval canonical precedence and, it has to be said, clerical privilege.

This doesn't always satisfy the principles of natural justice, which saw the dismissal by the Pope quite recently of the self-same Bishop Morris of Toowoomba, without him ever being granted access to the accusations and investigatory report that found against him. In short, he was denied a right of appeal, which is what the secular code would have allowed anyone in a similar position!

In the absence of enlightened leaders, we can see that distantiation from the administrative machinery of state education administration and practice, especially in reference to following proper standard administrative practice and procedure, can lead to mistakes as well as power abuse of horrendous proportions.

Catholic Education Offices pride themselves on bypassing the excessively 'bureaucratised' modus operandi of State Education Offices. Instead, various appeals to the principle of subsidiarity have been used to justifying 'liberating' schools from the burden of reporting practices and procedures that imply a criticism of public education administrative structures. My doctoral research found that such 'liberation' has at times played into the hands of school-reform/education restructure lobbies with deregulationist/ anti-public education agenda of their own.

Additionally, Catholic Education Offices generally administer only systemic schools, while order-owned or religious-institute schools are administered by religious congregations of priests, brothers and nuns, who are self-governing and who appoint boards or councils to represent them in the overall management of Catholic independent schools.

While state-based Catholic Education Commissions do provide a forum that draws together such complex and disparate educational interests, my observations suggest that their authorities are mainly advisory and rely on the goodwill and volition of constituent members.

With the singular exception of Australia, no other polity that so substantially funds its Catholic schools from the public purse relies on Catholic Education Commissions and Offices to administer them. Accordingly, there are serious questions to be raised about the adequacy of such structures to administer and, indeed, to police themselves, which in effect is what they have evidently been inadequately doing since state-aid was recommenced in earnest in 1973.

A serious case can therefore be made on the basis of the scandal that's engulfs us for dismantling the administrative machinery of Australian Catholic Education and replacing it with a scaled down alternative structure, responsible mainly for religious education in Catholic schools, but otherwise administered by the state in exactly the same way as state schools.

This is as it exists in other countries, and my doctoral thesis shows that there is nowhere the same level of proven instances of abuse except in those jurisdictions, like the Republic of Ireland, in which the state has relinquished (to devastating effect) its responsibility to administer the vast majority of Irish schools according to the secular law of the land to the authority of the Catholic Church.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to submit this detailed post, Stephen. Based on your stentorian record as a former journalist for ABC Radio National's Religion Report, I wish you every success in your continued investigations of this harrowing subject.


November 21, 2012 @ 3:43pm
by benny

This religious nonsense and the perverted people who are attracted to its access to our children ,schools and hospitals should be banished from our land...

November 21, 2012 @ 8:28pm
by John

Great reporting, on a complex and opaque subject. One must be mindful of the potential for inadvertent retraumatisation of those who suffered at the hands of the perpetrators of what many term 'abuse', but should really be termed 'rape' .

As a former Catholic, I am convinced that the Catholic Church in Australia has scored the biggest 'own goal' in its history by insisting that the enquiry encompass a broad range of organisations. Not only will the Catholic Church be judged to have the highest proportion of abuse and rape cases, but there will be incontrovertible baseline data for the broadest array of comparable institutions. If the enquiry were to be limited in scope, the Catholic Church would be able to say that inferences could not be drawn...

November 25, 2012 @ 10:58pm
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