Cardinal, George Pell says, "I have always been on the side of the victims." But the archbishop of Sydney has a funny way of expressing his support.
Cardinal George Pell of Australia
During an inquiry this week into "rampant" child sexual abuse by priests going back decades, Pell admitted, "We’ve been slow to address the anguish of the victims and dealt with it very imperfectly."
He also recognized that this predecessor, Sir Frank Little, "did cover up" sex abuse and that former Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns knew of accusations, destroyed documents and moved suspects to other arrivals, actions that were "followed by disastrous consequences."
The Victorian parliament has already assessed that roughly 620 children were sexually abused by clergy in Australia from the 1930s to the present.
It was abuse that was not just perpetrated but concealed by the nation’s hierarchy. "The primary motivation would have been to respect the reputation of the church," Pell admitted. "There was a fear of scandal."
In his remarks, Pell was apologetic and specific in his acknowledgment of wrongdoing.
"I don’t think many, if any, persons in the leadership of the Catholic Church knew what a horrendous widespread mess we were sitting on. There’s no doubt about it that lives have been blighted. There’s no doubt about it that these crimes have contributed to too many suicides."
But though Pell says he never directly covered up abuse and that he is "committed to working to make improvements," Pell’s track record tells a different story.
Twenty years ago, Pell appeared in court with his colleague Father Gerald Francis Ridsdale while Ridsdale was on trial for sexual abuse. His colleagye was convicted of molesting and raping 40 children over a 26-year period.
At the inquiry this week, Cardinal Pell defended his support for Ridsdale, saying, "At that stage nobody knew — well, I certainly didn’t — what proved to be the full extent of his infamous career. I did know that there was a very significant number of charges but I had no idea about all the other things that would unfold."
During the same period, Pell continued to authorize payment of a "frugal" allowance to Father Ronald Pickering after Pickering fled to England in the wake of sex abuse allegations and refused to cooperate with authorities.
It was Pell’s successor who stopped the payments and launched an investigation.