Cardinal Pell can lift veil of secrecy around church sex abuse

Big moment

In the coming week, Cardinal Pell will face a cross-examination on the Archdiocese of Sydney's handling of the John Ellis case. But the Royal Commission will also question him about the history of the Church's handling of abuse allegations, writes Fr Frank Brennan.

Cardinal Pell has often expressed his disgust and regret at the sexual abuse of children by Church workers, especially priests. Since 1996, when he was appointed Archbishop of Melbourne, Cardinal Pell has worked hard to reduce the prospect of such abuse and to set in place procedures for helping victims and weeding out perpetrators. Initially, he decided to establish his own process in Melbourne, rather than working with the other bishops and religious leaders who were developing the Towards Healing protocol.

Cardinal Pell has already faced the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into child abuse. Having been auxiliary bishop in Melbourne between 1987 and 1996, he told that inquiry: 'As an auxiliary bishop to Archbishop Little, I did not have the authority to handle these matters and had only some general impressions about the response that was being made at that time, but this was sufficient to make it clear to me that this was an issue which needed urgent attention and that we needed to do much better in our response.'

The Victorian inquiry was critical of Archbishop Little and the Church processes before 1996. Many people inside and outside the Church were left wondering if Archbishop Little didn't respond adequately between 1987 and 1996, why didn't his Auxiliary Bishop Pell, do something? And if the Archbishop knew during those nine years, why didn't his Auxiliary?

In November, the Victorian parliamentary committee reported. Welcoming the report, Cardinal Pell admitted past mistakes by the Melbourne archdiocese during his time as auxiliary bishop there.
Signalling a change of approach, Cardinal Pell wrote: 'The report details some of the serious failures in the way the Church dealt with these crimes and responded to victims, especially before the procedural reforms of the mid 1990s. Irreparable damage has been caused. By the standards of common decency and by today's standards, Church authorities were not only slow to deal with the abuse, but sometimes did not deal with it in any appropriate way at all. This is indefensible.'

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