Tag Archives: George Pell

George Pell. “These people.” Language. Yet Again.

28 May

This admission may not make me popular, however, as I watched Cardinal George Pell front the Victorian government inquiry into child sexual abuse yesterday, I felt an increasing pity for the man.

Pell can be found seriously wanting on any number of his attitudes and statements. It’s clear he has a minimum understanding of, or empathy with, those who’ve endured sexual abuse. The most that can be said for him is that he tries to the best of his extraordinarily limited ability, and that is damning him with very weak praise indeed. One would hope for more humanity, imagination and sincere regret from the country’s most senior member of the Catholic church.

However, it was a very simple phrase Pell used that provoked my deepest and most contemptuous reaction to the man. When speaking of survivors of rape and molestation by his priests, he more than once referred to them as “These people…” He even, at one particularly low point, suggested that “these people” were not always innocent of blame in the situation.

“These people” means people who are not like me, or us. Once again, as I pointed out in this piece on Clementine Ford’s use of “we” and “our” when discussing survivors of sexual and domestic abuse, language is (unconsciously) employed to manufacture a divide between those who have suffered and those who have not, casting the former as “other” who are, because of our experiences, linguistically excluded from the discourse of power and belonging, except as objects of sympathy or, in some instances, derision.

This attitude, widely held I believe towards victims and survivors of all kinds of situations, is what I think of as a vertical system of human relations, rather than a horizontal, or side by side system. Simply by virtue of finding oneself a victim of another, one is in some way made less equal to those who are without that experience. One is assumed to be weakened, and therefore lessened, by the experience of being injured.

Being injured is among many other things, a humiliating experience. It brings into stark relief our vulnerability and powerlessness. It makes obvious how easily our will can be overwhelmed by the will of another, leaving us impotent, weakened and ashamed, whether we’re adults or children when the injuries occur.

It occurs to me that one of the reasons some of the uninjured need to distance themselves from the injured, is that we frighten them. We confront them with the awful reality of the human vulnerability we share. This could have been, could still be,   you. The only way to avoid that reality is to make the injured different. Certain kinds of injuries only happen to “these people.”  Not to “we” or “ours.”

We also see this manifest in our treatment of asylum seekers.

It’s interesting, and rather disheartening, that two people with such disparate views as Clementine Ford and George Pell choose vertical language when speaking of victims/survivors of sexual assaults.

I felt surprisingly little anger as I watched George Pell deliver his inadequate responses to the Victorian government inquiry. I felt extremely weary. I thought I could see, not for the first time, the entire dysfunctional hierarchical system that allows this man, and others like him, to construct a narrative that is corrupt to its core. I don’t only refer to the Catholic church. I’m talking about the corrupt system of human relations that is based on the othering  of one group of human beings to separate them from another, no matter what the grounds. As is demonstrated in our language, this othering is endemic, even in the most apparently well-intentioned.

I’ll have to leave it to others to rage against Pell. I see a crippling, piteous ignorance that will imprison this man for the rest of his life. That this should be so publicly displayed is, to my mind, only to the good. We need to see the characters of men and women who wield power over us, of those who control our discourse and construct our realities. Victims and survivors, most of all, need to see that these emperors have no clothes.

 

Cardinal spin

14 Nov

Happier times: Abbott & Pell breaking bread

In his press conference yesterday, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell gave a compelling display of belligerent bafflement as he wrangled with reality to spin his institution’s appalling record of child sexual abuse as a smear campaign by the media against the church.

It is all an exaggeration, the Cardinal protested, a breathtakingly disingenuous stance given the church’s record in the Hunter Valley alone, which goes something like this:  Four hundred known victims. Eleven clergy tried and convicted since 1995. Six Catholic teachers convicted since 1995. Three priests currently on trial. First priest charged this year with concealing the crimes of another. Twelve priests involved in compensation claims. 

As the conference progressed it became increasingly clear that a significant reason  for Pell supporting the proposed Royal Commission is because he believes it will exonerate the church by proving its clergy are no worse than any other institution’s employees when it comes to sexually assaulting children. “We are not the only cab on the rank,” the Cardinal huffily claimed, and went on to demand that the police check their stats and tell us just how many of the total complaints of child sexual abuse received are made against the Catholic church, because that’s the only way the church will get any justice and by gods, the church deserves justice, for the church has been persecuted.

It is an indication of the morally parlous state the Catholic church is in, if George Pell is its most senior member, and the best spokesperson they can come up with. The man obviously has no grasp of the magnitude of the problem and is blinded by his loyalty not to his god, but to his institution. If ever there was a time a bloke should ask himself what would Jesus say, this is it for the Cardinal.

Just what the Royal Commission will achieve is an unknown, however what the promise of a commission has already achieved is validation of the suffering of survivors of institutional childhood sexual abuse. The offences against them are being acknowledged as serious enough to warrant outrage, and there is overwhelming support for a public accounting.

There is another group of survivors, of whom I am one, who are the victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by family, friends and acquaintances. For many of us there is no hope of justice, and we have had to learn to live with this reality. I am deeply relieved that institutional sexual abuse is finally receiving the scrutiny it deserves, because my life experience is also validated by this acknowledgement, even though my story can’t be told within a commission’s terms of reference, and the perpetrator and his enablers can’t be held accountable. I want to see a profound cultural change in attitudes towards the sexual abuse of children, and I believe we are on the way at last. This is grounds enough for rejoicing.

If the Australian Catholic church wants to get on board with this change, they first need to get rid of George Pell as their leader. His sickening whining is a disgrace. Pell is yet another example of the angry ageing Anglo male who just doesn’t get it. Like the rest of his ilk, he’s a boil on the arse of progress.

Pell claims a “disproportionate attack on the church”

12 Nov

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.

 

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