During the reformation, Pope Francis set up an advisory council of cardinals, shortly after his election in 2013, and named, alongside his fellow liberal colleagues, the arch-conservative Cardinal George Pell, he drew the Catholic church by surprise. Therefore, Pell’s appointment later that the pope is the chief financial advisor. But it also made sense: Pell is a bruiser and if the byzantine workings of the Vatican and its mired in the scandal of the financial transaction necessary to make the sorting, and then Pell may be the prelate to knock heads together.
George Pell takes leave from the Vatican to combat the sexual abuse charges in Australia
Now, if Francis could well regret her choice of attack-dog-in-chief. For australia Pell room on the side of the pope has brought the church child sex abuse scandal right in the heart of the Vatican city. Pell was charged with historical sexual assaults on children.
Police in the Australian state of Victoria, where Pell was a rural priest 40 years ago, have not specified the charges against the cardinal, the age of the alleged victims or where the abuse was said to have taken place.
Pell said that he is innocent and has said that he will return home to Australia to defend itself – a reversal of last year when he refused to go to the house to give evidence to the Australian royal commission of inquiry on the abuse of children, saying he was too ill to do so. Instead, he gave evidence via a video link in a hotel room in Rome, an event that became a media circus with victims of sexual abuse flight to Rome to protest.
This event was embarrassing for Francis, who has professed zero-tolerance on abuse, although it has been careful not to make judgments before the commission or the courts. But criminal charges against a key adviser are even worse.
The Catholic abuse scandal in the world, and has led to disturbing cases be exposed not only in Australia but also the united states, Ireland, Germany and great Britain. There are common denominators when it comes to the way the church has handled the case: the victims are often maligned, the focus is on the plight of the accused rather than the victims, and the church attempts to cover the scandal, concerned above all about his own position.
This came through strongly in the Boston sex abuse scandal, highlighted by the Oscar-winning film Spotlight, which shook heavily Irish-American Catholic of the city. Then the scandal was exposed by the Boston Globe, the journalists, who discovered a systemic cover-up involving the Catholic church and lawyers. Cardinal Bernard Law was accused of having actively participated in the cover-up of abuse by pedophile priests. He resigned in 2002 and it took the church years to Boston, to repair the damage caused, not only by the assaults, but by concealment.
That father Klaus Mertes, a German Jesuit who has studied the church of the management of abuse cases, has said, this lack of concern for the abuse “is usually just as painful for victims, as it is sexualised violence by an individual offender”.
This approach, however, is not unique to the Catholic church. Last week’s report in the Church of England, and the manipulation of Bishop Peter Ball case – Ball, has been sentenced in 2015 to the abuse of 18 teenagers and young men between the 1970s and the 1990s – revealed a similar propensity among the Anglicans to cover rather than address the issue.
The review of the chair, Dame Moira Gibb, said that the Church of England was “in cahoots [to the offender] rather than seeking to help those he had harmed”.
Cover-ups are clearly objectionable, but the reasons are not clear. It probably has a lot to do with a desire to avoid scandal at all costs – an approach that has dramatically turned for both the Catholic and Anglican churches, when the exposure leads to even more scandal. They can also be influenced by the insurance companies, which have often persuaded the bishops to fight against the abuse cases all the way, rather than be willing to pay a compensation to the traumatised.
Some Catholics believe that the church is the target of those who want to harm the institution. If this is the case, then Pell would be their biggest scalp, given its close proximity with Pope Francis. Cardinal Law was not involved in the abuse of himself; but one who is facing the charges was the Cardinal Hermann Groër, former Archbishop of Vienna, who has been stripped of all his functions of bishops by John Paul II in 1998. But in Austria, a period of limitation meant Groër was not the face of prosecutors general, which seems unlikely with Pell.
In recent years, efforts have been made to improve the safeguarding of children. The Catholic church in England and Wales has had children, protection measures in place for some time, as the Church of England. At the Vatican, Francis set up the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, but which has also been mired in controversy with victims appointed as commissioners to vacate its members.
But in spite of these efforts, always the case, keep emerging, with Pell of the presentation of the church with the most serious test so far. No wonder, then, that the latest British Social Attitudes survey this week revealed a decline in the number of Catholics to accept the church’s teaching on abortion and homosexuality. When an organization has such a tainted track record on the issue of sexual abuse, it loses its moral authority. The catholics will certainly not follow the words of a church that refuses to love same-sex relationships, if some members of its male-only, unmarried priesthood are raping children.
The first sex abuse scandal in the church, I remember was 30 years ago, when a local newspaper exposed this case in rural areas of Louisiana, the bishop of pressure-Catholic businessmen to withdraw their advertising. Over the years, this scandal has taken its toll mainly on the victims, and sometimes, also, on the media messengers. Now, the church itself is now paying the price. And so are the ordinary Catholics; our confidence in this institution is in the process of being tested to the limit.