THE LEADING FIGURE in Australia’s Catholic Church has admitted that a fear of scandal and a greater concern for reputation led to a systemic and massive cover-up of abuse within the organisation.
Facing a formal inquiry by Victoria’s parliament, Cardinal George Pell said he was “fully apologetic and absolutely sorry” for how the Church dealt with abusers and victims. He said that there was awareness of the problem as early as 1988.
“There’s no doubt about it that lives have been blighted,” he said.
When asked if “the fear of the scandal led to the cover up”, he answered simply: “Yes, it did.” And the follow-up question: “Do you agree that the systemic cover-up allowed paedophile priests to prey on innocent children?”
Yes, you have to say there is significant truth in that.
However, the cardinal noted that “the incidence of misbehaving, crimes has significantly reduced”. He also confirmed that every document and file that the Vatican has on alleged child sexual abuse in Australia will be made available to the Royal Commission inquiry.
Pell denied playing any personal role in the cover up, stating he was “unaware” about the culture of abuse.
I think the bigger fault was that nobody would talk about it, nobody would mention it. I was certainly unaware of it. 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.
On his colleagues, the cardinal noted that former Melbourne archbishop Sir Frank Little did cover up abuses but added, “He inherited a situation where there were no protocols and no procedures, and for some strange reason he never spoke to anybody about it.” He also recently discovered that former Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns destroyed documents.
The parliamentary committee has already heard that about 620 children were criminally abused by clergy from 1930s on.
Victims including children as young as seven or eight who were raped by priests, have told of their experiences at the hearing, which comes ahead of a national royal commission into institutional responses to child sex abuse.
Asked to explain the incidence of abuse, Pell said he could not but that celibacy and access to children were possible factors.
The entry procedures… the investigation of candidates back say in the middle of last century was much too loose.
He was also questioned and criticised for the maximum pay-out of AUS$75,000 paid to survivors.
Pell agreed this was not as much as paid in the United States but said it compared well with other countries.
“We are always ready to pay whatever the law of the land says about compensation,” he said. “Many of the victims aren’t particularly interested in money. The more important thing is due process, justice and help with getting on with their lives.”
According to broadcaster ABC, a number of victims were in the gallery and heckled the cardinal at certain stages throughout the procedure.
-Additional reporting by AFP