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First they screw children, then they screw their future

A decade of lying about climate change provided Australia's cardinal George Pell with the experience that he needed in order to front the Victorian state parliamentary inquiry into sexual abuse of children.

May had been a bad month for the Roman Catholic Church in Australia. In the state of NSW, there were claims of interference with police investigations of pedophile priests. However the real action took place in the state of Victoria (where infiltration of the police was identified as motorcycle gangs rather than catholics, although some commentators noted the similarities). There, the focus was on the parliamentary inquiry into sexual abuse of children.

Among the evidence heard was:
  • sustained abuse by a group of pedophile priests at St Aloyisus school in Ballarat;
  • that on the departure of one priest, the church had helped him set up trust funds, to keep his payout beyond the reach of legal action by his victims;
  • that the church had paid a million dollars for the defense of one priest who had already been convicted of other offences against children. (The church was quick to point out that the reason that the amount was so high was because it included the 10% goods and services tax.)
  • When Melbourne Archbishop Hart was asked about the decades of delay in being open rather than covering up, he smilingly replied "better late than never" - few others saw the humour.
In earlier commentary, church sources had felt that the reasons that priests tended to focus their sexual predation on children and/or males was that this didn't really count as sex and so was not a violation of the vows of celibacy. This sort of distinction is in line with earlier church doctrine such as avoiding meat-eating during Lent by dining on fetal cattle, or, in handing over convicted heretics, recommending that punishment by secular authorities avoid bloodshed (by burning at the stake).

Then on Monday, into this mess strode George Pell.

Pell had already been critical of the way in which these inquiries and allegations had focused on the catholic church. Indeed as Joseph Ratzinger had said, while he was pope (and thus infallible), sexual abuse of children is as evil as ordaining women. Thus, while sexual abuse of children is focused on the catholic church, protestant denominations have a virtual monopoly on ordination of women. In spite of Pell's complaints about unfairness, Australia has multiple inquiries into sexual abuse of children, and none at all into the ordination of women. (Opposition leader Tony Abbott has remained silent on whether he would take his catholic faith literally and initiate such an inquiry if he is elected as prime minister next September).

Cardinal Pell is seen as a traditionalist. One of the catholic traditions that he upholds most strongly is that of denying science until a century or two after the rest of the world has accepted it. Thus it was in 1992 that the inquisition's judgment against Galileo was overturned. In the case of evolution, it only took about a century or so for the church to give grudging and partial acceptance.
In the days leading up to his testimony, Cardinal Pell had been urged by the state premier to tell the truth. This was perhaps unnecessary, even apart from the spectacle of a politician telling a church leader to be truthful. In recent weeks the cardinal had taken the opportunity to join fellow greenhouse deniers in the favoured few who received first hand moral training as part of the live audience for
a lecture on morality by Mr Rupert Murdoch.

As anticipated, cardinal Pell's testimony did acknowledge that the cover-up was a failing of individuals. However, as was also anticipated, Pell concentrated on blaming people who were dead. In his evidence, cardinal Pell modestly disavowed the description of `sociopathic lack of empathy', from victims' parents, on the basis that 20 minutes was too short a time to make such a judgment. (Of course `sociopathic lack of empathy' has long been a tradition of the Inquisition (now called the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith) where Pell worked in the Vatican). However, in spite of this modesty, Pell did reveal his hidden empathy, in describing how he has accompanied one of the pedophile priests to court.

Such is the stuff of a Prince of the Church.

Andrew Nut
Religious affairs correspondent,
Waikikamukau, NZ