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Abuse scandal asks not for whom the Pell toils

Surely god has to take some responsibility.

George Pell has been suitably castigated by his interrogators at the Royal Commission into child abuse.

His description of the church’s behaviour towards child rapists within the ranks, and his place in that institutional behaviour, won him few plaudits.

Often his testimony was directly contradictory.

Pell maintained that he was not aware of specific offenders and the complaints made against them.

Yet he also described the times, and one particular diocese in Ballarat, as lousy with “crimes and cover ups.”

How can you know about crimes, and efforts to conceal them, yet be largely ignorant of their existence at the same time?

He variously explained the fact that this crime and cover-up did not come his way because he was not terribly interested in that aspect of daily life, and also because he was an outspoken lion of truth who would have exposed any wrongdoing if it was revealed to him, except that it wasn’t.

Except that it was from time to time, he also admitted. He accompanied one of the worst offenders to his court hearing, knowing he intended to plead guilty.

He knew rapists were moved around parishes to conceal their crimes, regretted some of his actions were not satisfactory, was for a time an advisor to senior clergy who he admitted made decisions to relocate offenders, but cannot remember such discussions coming up in the meetings he attended, as advisor.

Pell was told by one victim that he was being abused, but Pell said he did not interpret the boy’s approach as being a request for him to take action.

So it was just conversation: “Oh, by the way Father, I am being sexually attacked by one of your clergymen.”

It’s like the paramedic told by the stabbing victim that he has a knife sticking out of his back, and saying afterwards that he did not think the wounded man was asking him to take any action, just raising the matter as a talking point.

But just as religious organisations exist in a semi mystical world, so it would seem the secular world seems hesitant to enter their realm.

The royal commission is a long overdue step, and to be fair to church organisations, it has found astonishing levels of sadism and sexual abuse under just about every rock it has overturned: places where children were vulnerable or separated from adult protection seem to have been rife with appalling crimes.

Though none could exceed the churches – especially the Catholic church - in the lengths to which the crimes were unreported, victims paid off and intimidated, and perpetrators moved around to diffuse the offending in the knowledge that more abuse was a certainty.

So it might have brought more credit on the enormously powerful religious establishments had they seen fit to throw open the doors of scrutiny upon themselves, rather than comply with a secular royal commission.

And for all Pell’s weaving and apparent lack of empathy, he didn’t make the rules: he seems to have been a creature of the organisation, rather than instigating a culture of criminal secrecy, he just slipped into it.

The pattern in Australia was identical to that in Ireland, Canada and the United States: countries that have also been stunned by the extent of the church’s crimes, the enthusiasm of the conspiracy to elude authorities and the comparative indifference to victims.

As a society we need to hear more about the safeguards and changes put in place by these same religious organisations that continue to play a role in public life, including in proximity to children, or we as a society need to seriously reconsider the extent and appropriateness of that role.

Almost a dozen clergy from Bathurst and Orange are currently at various stages of legal proceedings for allegations of sexual abuse of children.

Surely god should intervene.

Lest more of the faithful lose faith.