Monday, 27 May 2013

Cardinal Pell at the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry on Child Abuse

In the Traditional calendar, today is the transferred feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, patron of Australia (in the Ordinary Form the feast was celebrated last week).

We certainly need her help and intercession, now more than ever in the light of the various inquiries currently in progress on the child abuse scandal.

Today the fuel for the fire was Cardinal Pell's appearance this afternoon before the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry.

His appearance attracted a packed hearing room, hundreds of tweets, and was broadcast live on ABC News 24 and it made for several hours of riveting viewing.

The Cardinal generally held his own...

It wasn't pretty.

But it wasn't until very late in the afternoon on the last day of hearings that it started turning into the train wreck I had feared, with the revelations starting to come out.

In particular, in terms of the Cardinal's own actions, surely the most damning revelation was that he had authorised the provision of financial support to a priest who had been suspended from ministry due to abuse and fled overseas to avoid prosecution!

Why we need the Royal Commission...

There were some real clangers along the way, and some of the language the Cardinal uses ('those people') reinforces the impression of being unsympathetic.

But on the whole, for most of the hearing, the Cardinal did, I think, the best that could be expected of him, particularly in the face of some particularly silly and blatantly anti-Catholic lines of questioning.

Frankly, the Committee members wasted a lot of time due to apparent ignorance of Church structures, and a determination to score political points on the amount of monetary compensation victims should get.   In particular they were arguing that the Church should increase the compensation it pays out, and targeted 'Pell's Palace' in Rome (Domus Australia) as a possible source of loot.  The Royal Commission won't make the same mistakes.

Late in the day, though, there were a series of new revelations that will only add to the outrage the laity feel at the hierarchy's management of abuse cases and will feed the opprobrium with which the Church is currently  viewed.

Overall, the Committee managed to hone in on three key issues: continuing financial support for suspended priests; continuing breaches of processes due to the lack of any serious monitoring and audit of compliance to procedures; and details of some of the cover ups and subsequent inaction that had occurred.

Financial support for priests who fled the country

Early on in the hearing, Cardinal Pell suggested that laicizing priests was something of a side issue, since once their faculties were removed, that was the end for them.

Later in the afternoon, though, the Committee finally hit the money in my view, in extracting the revelation that Cardinal Pell authorised the continuing payment of a stipend to accused abuser Fr Pickering (amongst others) despite the fact that he had fled the country without permission and the Cardinal wanted him to return.  It was stopped by his successor.

The revelation raises a number of questions, not least about how many other abuser priests are still receiving financial support from the Church.

Ongoing breaches and auditing compliance

Another key line of question covered the actual checks in place to ensure that procedures are actually being followed, and to ensure that all cases are properly and thoroughly investigated.

The short answer, when it came down to it, seemed to be that there aren't any really.

And the net result is that the Archdiocese of Melbourne, in the face of the Inquiry, has been scurrying around doing some last minute attempts to tidy things up on the 'better late than never' principle articulated last week by Archbishop Hart.  Let's hope that every other diocese is also doing a thorough audit of its records.

But the evidence did seem to suggest that the religious orders in particular are still straight out ignoring the rules they've signed up to.

The other key revelations concerned details of the cover ups that seem to have been actively facilitated by Archbishop Little - and the years it has taken to do anything about it.

Other reports

These are the stories that appeared as the hearing went on.  No doubt there will be more detailed reports where you read the gory details if you feel so inclined:

Our Lady Help of Christians, pray for us.


Joshua said...

Dear Kate,

Have you picked up on the frightening submission by the in some ways perceptive, in other ways biassed Desmond Cahill? In it, alongside much that is good, and much that is questionable, he suggests that the Victorian Parliament should impose reforms upon the Church rather as did the English Parliament under Henry VIII:

"(c) That the Victorian Parliament immediately abrogate the exemption of marital status under the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act given to religious bodies and that marital status not be a bar to admission to any religious leadership rank"

"(d) That the Family and Community Development Committeein association with the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission conduct an investigation in [sic] abrograting the other exemptions under the Equal Opportunity Act in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights"

"(l) In respect of the four Catholic dioceses in Victoria... the Family and Community Development Committee working with the Eminent Catholics Task Force [a body he suggests ought be set up to be appointed for the Victorian Government - he even suggests a list of names!] and in association with the Office of the Child Safety Commissioner work with Latin-rite Catholic church authorities to implement the following measures:
"(2) As a confidence building-gesture inactive married priestly ministers be immediately re-instated into active service...
(3) That a strategic plan be developed to incorporate newly trained married men into the priestly ministry in the State of Victoria...

[Dr Cahill is, surprise, surprise, a laicised priest, now married...]

"(4) That as a confidence building-gesture, the third rite of penance of the Sacrament of Penance become the norm for a ten year trail [sic] period instead of the first rite requiring private confession"

[The old aCatholic desideratum rearing its ugly head again!]

And in "(l) (7) he even mandates the calling of Diocesan Synods to include "a theology of Christian theology [sic] grounded on an empirically grounded anthropology" - by which I would guess, given his comments in the rest of his submission, he implies not Theology of the Body and adherence to the Magisterium on questions of sexual morality, but their rejection. In other words, he wants new and carnally-oriented Synods of Pistoia.

The nerve of the man! Alas, I have a nervous feeling that many will be itching to use this opportunity to tell the Church what to do, and that these seemingly outrageous proposals would be music to the ears of many.

Kate Edwards said...


No agenda there, certainly!

That is of course the problem with inquiries and commissions - everyone with an agenda comes out to play. Hopefully no politician will take such ideas too seriously.

I'm afraid most of them would prefer to find a way to abolish the Church altogether, perhaps by stripping it of all resources than actually attempt to run it....