The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, today claimed that calls for a royal commission into the sexual abuse of children by priests and brothers are a “disproportionate attack on the church.”
Pell goes on to claim that the Catholic church is not the only culprit, or the only community producing culprits, and that the sordid history of coverups, removal of offenders from one school, parish, diocese or state to another is no indication of a systemic failing in the church.
If this widespread protection of sexual offenders isn’t an indication of systemic moral and criminal collapse, I’d like to know what is.
There is no doubt that the Catholic church is not the only culprit, and that sexual abuse of children occurs in other institutions and indeed, within families and friendship circles. I fail to see why this tragic reality is an argument for letting the Catholic church off the hook. “He did it too” is hardly a rational justification for avoiding investigation.
The phrase “disproportionate attack” is an apt description not of proposed moves against the Catholic church, but of the crimes perpetrated by its priests and brothers against children. Cardinal Pell continues to confirm suspicions in the wider society that he just doesn’t get it. His priority is his church, not the children who suffered abuse perpetrated by members of the church community.
Given the nature of these attacks, their prevalence, and their disastrous long-term effects on the lives of victims, it is hard to imagine how any “attack” on the Catholic church could be seen as “disproportionate” to the crimes it has allowed to be committed, unchecked, for decades.
Indeed, I would argue the Church is not being “attacked” at all, rather it is being called to account for these crimes. This accounting may well go on for some time, and may well increase in its rigour. However, nothing that is done to the Church or its hierarchy will come anywhere near the damage and havoc created in the lives of victims and their families.
Sexual abuse of a child is a crime. Anyone who sexually abuses a child is a criminal. Anyone who covers up the crime is also a criminal. George Pell continues his efforts to minimise the role of the Church in enabling circumstances in which a network of criminal pedophiles could continue their vile practices for years. He does this because his loyalty is to his church, not to his God, who according to scriptures would see anyone who offends a little one tossed into the sea with a millstone round his neck.
George Pell’s loyalty and devotion is to an institution, an institution that appears increasingly corrupt in its convoluted efforts to avoid legal scrutiny, and increasingly divorced from the passionate ideals of its prophet, Jesus.
As Leonard Cohen puts it: “It was you who built the temple, it was you who covered up my face…”
What is “disproportionate” is the Catholic church’s resistance to a Royal Commission. What is “disproportionate” are protests by the like of Joe Hockey, Bill Shorten and others who attempt to conceal their objections to a royal commission behind a faux concern for the church’s victims. In so doing, they contribute to the repression and suppression that has allowed these crimes to continue, unchecked. Victims of child sexual abuse live with the consequences for the rest of their lives. Silence and denial are not their friends. Transparency and accountability won’t entirely take away the pain, but they will go a long way towards easing the torments of life after childhood sexual abuse.