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Innocent until proven otherwise, whatever Pell’s outcome, it must eliminate the society of abuse in the Catholic Church system – Rob Idol
It’s shaping up to be a very big week in the life of the Catholic Church, and by extension, it’s most senior Australian member, Cardinal George Pell.
Pell is scheduled to present evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse from Rome. Pell, according to his physicians, is not safely able to fly back to Australia to front the commission for the third time, although many have questioned the authenticity of the diagnosis.
It is an incredibly important day for the survivors of child abuse within the Catholic Church, and the families of those no longer with us. So much so, that a crowd funding campaign successfully raised enough funds for fourteen survivors to travel to Rome to “look (Pell) in the eye” whilst he is questioned. A chance to face the man that they believe is in part responsible for the coverup of the abuse they experienced is the primary mission, but in the words of survivor Andrew Collins, it also represents “enemy territory.”
Cardinal Pell, like anyone else, is entitled to be considered innocent until proven otherwise. The ferocity with which the public campaign against him is now being waged has caused some to ask whether he is being treated fairly. Although, the few that have spoken publicly in his defence are the same that have used their position of influence to do so for some time. The ferocity was borne from the trail of delays and the subsequent questioning of the authenticity of those delays; an understandable reaction when the victims have already waited so long for some semblance of justice.
The bottom line is, now is the time for the truth to finally come out.
The result, however, needs to represent more than truth. If Cardinal Pell is found to have had no part in the coverup, then his vindication represents an opportunity for him to use his seniority within his organisation to find those responsible. He has a moral, ethical and spiritual obligation to seek out and remove the cancer lurking within the organisation that he has so consistently defended. To do any less removes his innocence as he becomes immediately complicit in this ongoing issue – and make no mistake, this is an ongoing issue destined to repeat if the veil of secrecy is not finally lifted.
This topic is a very personal one for me. Thankfully, I have never been a victim of abuse, nor has anyone close to me, to my knowledge. However, I was educated in the Catholic system and, for a time, at least, identified as Catholic. I went through my schooling life being expected to revere Pell and men like him for no other reason than the fact that they had a title. A title, divinely given, many would argue, but a title in reality given by an organisation. An organisation that is like any other organisation; susceptible to corruptibility and with a natural inclination to protect it’s own. To err is human, after all.
During my schooling, I knew (and have remained friends with) some incredible Priests. Men who were not only living up to their spiritual creed, but more importantly, lived up to the highest levels of humanity that one can, through their empathy, generosity and love. From one of these men coming out in the middle of the night (after I had only met him for the first time two days before) to give my Grandmother her last rites, to another who took me under his wing for years as I suffered the torment of schoolyard bullying, I am forever in their debt. Not just for their actions, but for the very human lessons that they taught me. As I look back now as someone who no longer identifies as a Catholic, I don’t revere these men for the uniform they wear or title they are given; I revere them for being some of the best human beings I’ve ever met.
I also firmly believe that the vast majority of Priests around the world are probably very similar to the some of the ones I’m lucky enough to know. In fact, out of the dozens of Catholic Priests that I have met over the course of my life, there were really only a small few that were bad eggs in my book. The problem, and it’s a significant one within all organised religion, is that very human constructs are applied to something that is supposed to be divine. The Catholic Church is one of the wealthiest organisations on our planet, a wealth that is only surpassed by its power.
It is also an organisation that simply must answer to a higher standard than any other organisation, whether they are businesses or governments. A church has the potential to wield more influence over a human being than anything else; particularly those at their most vulnerable. Human history is littered with atrocities erroneously undertaken in the name of God. It is the most powerful tool of manipulation in existence in the wrong hands. From children being indoctrinated from birth to those just desperately looking for answers to the many cruel mysteries that the human experience is capable of offering, the burden to ensure that this influence is not used unduly or nefariously simply must be beyond reproach.
The reality is, it hasn’t been.
Abuse within the Catholic Church, and others like it, has been very well documented; I fear that we have really only scratched the surface when you consider the difficulties in coming forward, or on a baser level, survival. For many years, the responsibility of ridding this element from the Church has been left to the Church to handle as an internal matter. An organisation of its size cannot avoid the politics that come with power. There have been coverups – plenty of them – not necessarily to vindicate the perpetrators but, more often than not, to protect the organisation. A motivation that I can somewhat understand; I would hate to see some of the fantastic men I spoke of before tarred with the same brush as the monsters that commit these acts. A motivation, however, that goes beyond hypocrisy; a motivation that, in my eyes, at least, rises to the level of blasphemy.
Not putting the welfare of those under the care of the Church before the welfare of the organisation is an absolute insult to the teachings of Christ. Christ, from my reasonably comprehensive reading of his teachings, was no fan of large organisations that put profit and power before people. Christ taught that a connection to God was personal, and didn’t require an organisation for validity. Matthew 18:20 clearly states that “For when two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” His message was of community, not one of the divinely appointed few holding the keys to the kingdom. He certainly didn’t want a situation where the human construct of an organisation held more importance than the welfare of his followers.
So, whether Cardinal Pell is directly complicit in the matters being investigated by the Royal Commission will be something that is hopefully discovered this week. If he was complicit, then he must face the highest punishment allowed by the law and the highest punishment from his organisation. If he is found to not be complicit, then it his responsibility to now become a champion on behalf the victims. The challenge to Pell is to use his seniority within the Church to seek out and remove not just the element that committed these heinous acts, but also those who seek to protect the perpetrators.
I can think of no higher mission from God.