I just spent the morning watching Cardinal George Pell give evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, from Rome, via video link.
You may recall that despite Tim Minchin’s musical appeal, Pell refused to return to Australia to give his evidence on the grounds of ill-health.
The Commission is attempting to ascertain what Pell knew and when he knew it. It is Pell’s task to thwart them at every possible opportunity.
Pell predominantly uses the “I don’t recall” defence in its many variations to achieve his goal. Gail Furness SC has the responsibility for persisting when possible, ironically thanking Pell when persistence proves futile, and weaving her web of questions in such a manner that Pell hopefully slips up,and honestly answers one or two.
Ms Furness is brilliant. Pell, not so much.
For most of the lengthy questioning (beginning at 2am Rome time) Pell was controlled and careful. However, now and again he became rather snippy, allowing his mask to slip and his arrogance to momentarily show itself in impatience and curmudgeonly testiness.
It is inconceivable that a man with the ambitions of Pell worked his way through the church hierarchies without acquiring considerable knowledge of the widespread paedophilic activities of priests in his parishes. Someone of such ambition would make it his business to know what was going on around him. It was politic for Pell, and continues to be so, to refrain from any kind of involvement or acknowledgment of these activities, even when living in the same house as one of the most infamous, Gerald Ridsdale.
When it became impossible to avoid acknowledgement of these crimes against children, Pell minimised them, as he did again in his evidence today, stating that he did not know if they were crimes or merely “misbehaviours.” He went so far as to accompany Ridsdale to court when he was finally charged, because he had no choice at that stage but to pretend disbelief of the priest’s crimes if he was to maintain consistency.
At one point in the questioning, Furness forces Pell to admit the “misbehaviours” of a certain priest were known to practically everyone in the community, except, apparently, Pell himself. This was explained by Pell as follows, and refers to several well-known abusers of whose activities Pell denies knowledge:
No parishioners told me about problems with brothers. I was rarely in the parish. I did three masses on Sundays. I had Saturday off. I wasn’t around
I heard they swam naked. It was common knowledge. It wasn’t uncommon but no improprieties were ever alleged to me
I didn’t hear anything at that stage except about Fitzgerald kissing boys, but that was done in front of everybody it wasn’t hidden. It was common knowledge he kissed the boys. It was harmless enough, he was an older man
No he didn’t mention any incidents of sexualised conduct by Christian Brothers to me
I know next to nothing about him. I can’t remember him. I’ve never heard of any massages
It’s difficult to answer that absolutely.
I can’t remember.
I’ve no such recollection
I can’t remember, not clearly, not definitively, but as a possibility
A woman in Mildura said Day was innocent & I was impressed by her view.
I wasn’t around. I wasn’t in Australia
You’ll find all of this and much more on my Twitter feed, but you get the gist.
Pell is far from stupid. It takes some intelligence to focus on what you aren’t supposed to remember, and continue to get it pretty much right. He hasn’t slipped up so far.
The victims in this are the survivors, and truth. Pell cares little for either. If he indeed, by some miracle, did escape knowledge of crimes against children perpetrated so prolifically under his nose, he is an appalling failure as a church leader and ought to admit that and cower in shame, not seek to publicly defend his ignorance and lack of awareness.
But for mine, any ignorance on the part of Pell was and continues to be wilfully and disingenuously chosen by him, inspired by rampant ambition, and persisted in to save himself.
To paraphrase Dylan, sometimes Satan comes as a man of god.