Frank Brennan: The Cardinal and the Royal Commission

Cardinal Pell

Cardinal Pell's critics found fault with his mode of delivery at the Royal Commission. But I am one Catholic who is relieved that he has been man and priest enough to apologise for his failures and the failures of those under his supervision, writes Fr Frank Brennan SJ.

- Eureka Street

Prior to the Cardinal's appearance before Justice McClellan at the Child Abuse Royal Commission, I wrote that 'the spotlight on the Ellis case should lead to better Church administration for the good of everyone, especially those abused or wronged by those in authority. Together, Cardinal Pell and Justice McClellan can provide us with a better-lit path through the thickets of past abuse and maladministration.'

It has been an excruciating week or two. But there can be no doubt that the Australian Church with the forced scrutinies of the State has been assisted in getting back to its mission and basic values, espousing truth, justice, compassion and transparency. 

As an institution, it has been dragged kicking and screaming. Cardinal Pell has been put through the wringer, though admittedly nowhere near to the same extent as was John Ellis when the Church decided to unleash the legal attack dogs on him in litigation which was euphemistically described as vigorous and strenuous.

In his written statement to the Commission, Cardinal Pell was upfront in apologising again for the sexual abuse which Ellis had undoubtedly suffered at the hands of a priest. He wrote, 'I acknowledge and apologise to Mr Ellis for the gross violation and abuse committed by Aidan Duggan, a now-deceased priest of the Sydney Archdiocese. I deeply regret the pain, trauma and emotional damage that this abuse caused to Mr Ellis.'

Under cross examination on Wednesday, Cardinal Pell had to admit that he, his advisers and his staff had fallen well short of the standards expected of a model litigant, let alone a Christian organisation. He finally admitted to the vast chasm between Christian decency and the tactics employed in pursuing Ellis in the courts. 

Having blamed various members of his staff for earlier errors and omissions, Cardinal Pell was anxious to exculpate his lawyers who had acted on instructions and perhaps with insufficient supervision.

He said, 'I believe in a legal sense there was nothing done that was improper, and any reservations I might have about particular stands of our lawyers, I would not want to suggest that they did anything improper. But from my point of view, from a Christian point of view, leaving aside the legal dimension, I don't think we did deal fairly (with Ellis).' 

At the conclusion of this afternoon's hearing, Cardinal Pell made a long-awaited apology to Mr Ellis, not just for the initial and sustained sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of a deviant priest but for the hurt which had been inflicted on him by the Church ever since, saying:

'As former archbishop and speaking personally, I would want to say to Mr Ellis that we failed in many ways, some way inadvertently, in our moral and pastoral responsibilities to him. I want to acknowledge his suffering and the impact of this terrible affair on his life. As the then archbishop, I have to take ultimate responsibility, and this I do.

'At the end of this gruelling appearance for both of us at this Royal Commission, I want publicly to say sorry to him for the hurt caused him by the mistakes made, admitted by me, and some of our archdiocesan personnel during the course of the Towards Healing process and litigation.'

Full article: Cardinal Pell at the Royal Commission (Eureka Street)

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