Sunday, August 24, 2014
Cardinal Pell drives further into failure
Editorial Brisbane Times August 25, 2014 Leadership is about asking a simple, profound question - ''is this right?'' - and then acting appropriately in response. On this measure, Cardinal George Pell, who now resides in the Vatican after his stints as archbishop of Sydney and before that of Melbourne, has serially failed. His performance throughout the slow and painful emergence of evidence during the past few decades of rape and other abuse of children by Catholic priests on occasions has been disgraceful. Let there be no mistake: he has been at the pinnacle of an important organisation - one in which so much trust is placed - that has sought to minimise the financial and reputational damage to itself of the despicable criminal behaviour of some of its clergy. It is an organisation that previously even protected perpetrators by covering up their crimes. Instead of seeking prosecution of these men, this is a church that in some instances merely transferred them to other dioceses, where their predatory acts continued. As the chairwoman of the recent Victorian parliamentary inquiry into child abuse, Liberal MP Georgie Crozier, said early in the hearings: ''The evidence is quite clear; the criminal sexual abuse of children occurred under the watch of the Catholic Church and it was covered up … These facts are not in dispute.'' Up until it was announced in November 2012, then-Archbishop Pell had argued that the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse was not needed. His latest failure to show leadership, let alone empathy or compassion, came last Thursday when he appeared before that commission. He asserted that by setting up its internal investigations, compensation and counselling unit, known as the Melbourne Response, in 1996 when he was archbishop of Melbourne, his church had been ''ahead of the curve''. While the Melbourne Response was indeed an improvement on the church's earlier failure to do other than try to conceal the crimes, it was shown by the experience of victims to be far from adequate. It can be seen as part of a pattern of damage control by the church, rather than appropriate atonement and compensation for damage to children and their families and loved ones. Astonishingly, Cardinal Pell on Thursday likened his church's responsibility for the behaviour of its clergy to that of a trucking company for the behaviour of its drivers. It was consistent with the insensitive dissembling he has long shown. Anthony Foster, the father of two tragically abused daughters, has personally encountered this comportment from Cardinal Pell, whom he described as showing ''a sociopathic lack of empathy''. The many kind and decent priests, nuns and parishioners in the Catholic Church are, in a different way, victims of the crimes perpetrated by a small but significant minority of priests. They, too, are being let down by the Cardinal Pell's ''leadership''. When he was president of the United States, Harry Truman famously kept a sign of his desk that said: ''The buck stops here.'' It was a sign of leadership. Cardinal Pell clearly does not see leadership the way Truman did. Last week, with the royal commission examining the Melbourne Response that he had established, Cardinal Pell felt it appropriate to appear via video link from the Vatican rather than make the time to fly to Melbourne and appear in person. It was a further insult to the victims of his church. In the absence of him taking proper responsibility, it is better for the Catholic Church that Cardinal Pell has left Australia. The head of a trucking company whose drivers committed heinous crimes would he held to account. He would resign or be forced out. That would be the appropriate response to the question, ''is this right?''