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An unholy mess

Frank Brennan |  22 February 2016



Cardinal George Pell still has a lot of questions to answer before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. On medical advice he has decided not to risk the long plane flight home from Rome. This makes things much harder for victims seeking closure.

It makes things harder for others, including members of the Catholic Church and citizens wanting certainty about the appalling offences of the past and clarity about the failures of church leaders adequately to protect children from repeated abuse by pedophiles.

Given the response to Tim Minchin's song, it also makes things harder for Pell. But that's his decision. The rest of us have to live with his decision, and do the best we can to ensure the that royal commission can do its job well, primarily for the good of the victims and to ensure the future protection of children in institutions.

Victims travelling to Rome have asked that Pell meet with them. He has said he will. They have also asked to be present in the room while he gives his evidence. That request is not one Pell can grant; it needs to be considered by the royal commission.

This request could be granted only if it were possible to provide a suitable court room in Rome where Pell could give his evidence in the presence of the public. Such a room would need to be open to the public, and not just to victims.

Given that the room would be occupied not just by silent victims, there would be a need for court orderlies to be in attendance. There would also be a need for some police back-up on hand, as is customary for courts and royal commissions ensuring that order can be maintained so that the integrity of the judicial process might be assured.

Victims anxious to question the credibility of Pell's evidence undoubtedly will consult their lawyers as to whether it is best for them to be back in the hearing room in Sydney, or with their friends and supporters in the Ballarat Town Hall watching the videolink, or in Rome.

Usually, lawyers appearing for clients questioning the credibility of a key witness would prefer their clients to be on hand to provide immediate instructions in light of the witness' answers. Being on the other side of the world could be problematic.

Today the royal commission resumes its hearing of Case Study 28 in Ballarat. This case study is designed 'to inquire into the response of the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat and of other Catholic Church authorities in Ballarat to allegations of child sexual abuse against clergy or religious, and the response of Victoria Police to allegations of child sexual abuse against clergy or religious which took place within the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat'.

There are two institutions under the spotlight: the Catholic Church and the Victoria Police. Next week Pell will give his evidence from Rome in relation to Case Study 28 as well as Case Study 35 which relates to the Catholic Church's response to child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Melbourne. This case study will require the commission to study the relationship between the Victoria Police and the Catholic Church in the development of the Melbourne Response protocol.

George PellLast Friday afternoon, the Melbourne Herald Sun armed with leaked material emanating from the Victoria Police phoned Pell in Rome who was in bed. According to the newspaper's own report: 'The newspaper was seeking comment. Victoria Police was investigating historical claims that Pell had sexually abused five to ten boys.'

The Sunday edition of the Herald Sun spoke of 'calls by detectives to be given the green light 'as soon as possible' to fly to Rome to interview Cardinal George Pell': 'The Sunday Herald Sun understands senior Victoria Police are assessing the dossier of evidence collected by the Sano team in the past year, including witness statements from alleged victims.'

The newspaper claimed that 'legal sources (plural) revealed Sano Taskforce members were 'highly motivated but frustrated''. The source (now singular) was reported as saying that the Sano investigators wanted to go to Rome to interview Pell 'but that the ultimate decision isn't down to them. It is with senior figures who will have to give them the go-ahead.'

Pell is in no doubt that all this material relating to uninvestigated complaints against him was leaked directly by the Victoria Police to the media and at a time designed to cause maximum damage to his reputation. Pointing out that 'the Victorian Police have never sought to interview him in relation to any allegations of child sexual abuse', he 'has called for a public inquiry into the leaking of these spurious claims by elements in the Victorian Police'.

The Victorian government, one of the governments to commission the royal commission, is yet to respond. It is imperative for the integrity of the royal commission and its processes that the Victorian government ensure that its own police service or rogue members of that service have not been involved in the leaking of material resulting in the unproven public impugning of the reputation of a key witness in relation to the very matters being investigated by its own royal commission.

The public deserves this assurance, as do the other governments which have jointly commissioned the royal commission. No royal commission can operate with integrity if any arm of a government commissioning the royal commission is engaged in unauthorised activity aimed at undermining the public standing of key witnesses, especially when that arm of government itself is also subject to scrutiny by the royal commission.

It is grossly improper for a police service to leak to any person details of uninvestigated complaints against a witness to a royal commission commissioned by that police service's government. Whether police have leaked the material directly to the media outlets or to intermediaries is irrelevant. The police leaks risk putting the integrity of the royal commission at risk.

Any government conducting a royal commission must come with clean hands, informing the commission and the public about the source of the leaks and the action taken to punish the wrongdoing and to mitigate the damage.

Justice McClellan and his fellow commissioners have a daunting task in the next fortnight, according due process and natural justice to a high profile witness on the other side of the world who has been publicly labeled 'scum', 'buffoon' and a 'coward', being the subject of unauthorised leaks about uninvestigated complaints from a police service which itself is under scrutiny for its past cooperation with the witness and his Church.

The commissioners will have a difficult judicial task in determining the balance of blame between the Church and the police service given the earlier finding by the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry:

'It is clear that Victoria police paid inadequate attention to the fundamental problems of the Melbourne Response arrangements until relatively recently in April 2012 and that, when they did become the subject of public attention, Victoria Police representatives endeavoured quite unfairly to distance the organisation from them.'

The Victoria Police should be held to the same standard as any other institution appearing before the royal commission.

The business of the leaks needs to be cleaned up. Once the venue for the Cardinal's evidence is determined, everyone can prepare to hear his evidence and to test it. And yes, it would have been so much better for everyone if Pell had come home last December before Tim Minchin and the police leakers got to work. But there's no point in crying over spilt milk.


Frank BrennanFrank Brennan SJ is professor of law at Australian Catholic University and Adjunct Professor at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture.



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Submitted comments

We are witnessing the immense buildup of pressure caused by years of lack of action by the 'duty of care' holders, namely the Church and Law Enforcement. It may not be the right way to uphold the law, but it is happening because pressure looks for any crack to find relief.

Willie 22 February 2016

Recognising the validity of the writer's call for clear and fair judicial processes, for the assumption of innocence, as set against the irregularities and inconsistencies of governments, police forces, churches and other institutions, the cardinal's imminent appearance before the RC - in the Vatican, in an agreed location or even that now so-unlikely Ballarat - has been rendered moot in households across Australia. The concealment of the information subsequently leaked by whisteblowers adds more hostility, bewilderment and raging angst to the general perception in the community that the income, the good name, and the influence of the institutions of Australia - especially including the various churches that have appeared - are more important to those institutions than the survivors of abuse. It's that protectionist mindest that led to the early retirement of the Anglican Church's Archbishop Hollingsworth from the nation's governor-generalship. Rather than crying over spilt milk from satirical pens or whistleblowing murmurings, tears would be better wept over the numerous lives damaged. Compassion is best expressed without disbelievng the survivors of abuse, or blaming them for incidents of abuse. Ironically, in the eyes of many Australians, especially younger generations, the loudly atheistic Tim Minchin stands as more of a prophet than any of the representatives of Christianity/Christendom. Minchin, of course, has form when it comes to harnessing pop culture to understandable outrage at perceived moral failings, such as victime blaming, protecting offenders and overseeing 'coverups': And if you go by Christ's line about millstones, bodies of water and those who abuse little ones (Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2), Jesus may well approve of Michin's message, if not his potty mouth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTIorwtJbhE&ebc=ANyPxKr00w1ccHHJ7K1EVBCyLux4zi-TVvIt0wryHZHjlCwzkNGD0_K5xNGl8ac5wBJNEG7QqhVAzwSaCeotoHsq3HGzZsVqlw

Barry G 22 February 2016

When I first viewed Tim Minchin's song I was listening to the words but also watching his eyes. Kind of like what those sexual abuse survivors who travel to Rome will be doing when they are in the same room as Cardinal Pell. I've listened to the song a few times now and feel it's a song that was inevitably going to be written.

Pam 22 February 2016

My interview with Jon Faine on ABC774 this morning was his first interview after the News. Unlike me, Jon didn't seem to think there was much of a problem with the Victoria police leaking uninvestigated, unsubstantiated complaints against Cardinal Pell even before such complaints were brought to Pell's attention. Maybe even our media intellectuals now judge Pell as beyond the pale. I think the test of the rule of law is its application to a witness even if he be reviled by the public, and perhaps especially if he be reviled by the public and many strands of the mainstream media (to say nothing of the twitter sphere). But then again public debate has reached the stage that people say, "Brennan would say that because he is a Catholic priest.' I say it because I am a lawyer who continues to care about due process, natural justice and the rule of law. At the end of the day when the royal commission is finished, children in Victoria will be adequately protected only if there are appropriate arrangements in place between the Catholic Church and the Victoria Police. The police behaviour of recent days will make that more difficult. My interview with Jon Faine this morning commences after the News on https://radio.abc.net.au/programitem/peJLGV7pmQ?play=true

Frank Brennan SJ 22 February 2016

This is a fair comment by Fr Brennan. However it does ES no credit to re-publish Tim Minchin’s foul-mouthed song. Minchin’s hostility to the Catholic Church is evidenced by his “The Pope Song”, with lyrics including “F..k the mother..king Pope.” One expects the anti-Pell hysteria from all the Usual Suspects, but it is often Catholics themselves who hate Pell most because of his conservative theology. I recall when not a single Catholic bishop objected to Archbishop Weakland of Milwaukee being invited to Australia, even though a published article revealed numerous instances of Weakland shielding clerical abusers, a number of whom were jailed for paedophilia. Instead, they attacked the publication that exposed Weakland. Subsequently Weakland resigned one day before Paul Marcoux revealed he had been paid US$450,000 to keep quiet about an “inappropriate relationship” he’d had with Weakland.” Archbishop Little, who invited Weakland, has been exposed by the Royal Commission as failing to keep records of offending priests and of moving them around. Although Pell, as an auxiliary to Little could hardly publicly criticize the invitation, he published an article in the same magazine’s issue that exposed Weakland. At that time, Pell became the only Australian bishop with any credibility.

Ross Howard 22 February 2016

This is classic framing tactics of Cardinals under Soviets of yore.Such was near successfully applied to Pius XII,Cardinals Mindszenty.Stepinac etcThe diabolical tactic now revived unconsciously or otherwise against Cardinal Pell.

Father John George 22 February 2016

Hi Frank I have been very impressed by your appearances in the media in the last week especially on The Drum. Your comments and support for victims are greatly appreciated. As you know I have often commented on your statements in regard to the Royal Commission sometimes critically ,and in the last week have seen some of them edited and when reading them complete your analysis is often apt and to the point. The Guardian calls you a "leading moderate voice" . Fine praise. Could you perhaps expand a little on how the nexus between the current furor over George Pell and the work of the Commission. From the guardian article as follows http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/feb/22/george-pell-leaks-could-undermine-royal-commission-says-frank-brennan. "Brennan suggested the reports about Pell could even damage victims of sexual abuse, saying their push for a national redress scheme would be “all the more difficult” if the “court of public opinion converts the royal commission into something which is unworkable”. I am unsure that the "leaking" of Police Investigations into one person should over-arch the more than 38 Case studies into multiple Institutions ? Would the interpretation be that the Truth and Justice Commission may find working with the RC recommendations when they are made more difficult and therefore make the aim for a Redress Scheme unworkable ? My thoughts are that this would be more grist for those who find the Institutional Response to Redress highly difficult. Again thanks for your advocacy and understanding of this issue. In my own opinion the "leaks" were not helpful to anyone's cause and actually takes the focus off the important findings of the case studies. It must be also frustrating to have to "defend" those in the institution who seem to lack basic skills of empathy. Again thanks for being " a moderate voice". Also glad the editor reposted Minchim's song .Also it would be excellent if the Editor could look at improving the comments section so that paragraphing and italics were available.

richie 22 February 2016

Well said Ross Howard. It has been blindingly obvious for at least two years that Cardinal Pell is to the 2010s what Lindy Chamberlain was to the 1980s; guilty of just about everything evil in the world based on no more evidence than their public persona. And as you say very often it is Catholics themselves, including some who contribute to ES, who are at the forefront of those baying for his scalp.

Paul 23 February 2016

I met cardinal Pell many times and I found him to be a very disciplined man. I can personally vouch for his character and swear that as a man in authority he would not allow any abuse to occur under his watch. I am also a victim of abuse by homosexuals and I am on the side of the victims and was satisfied with the reforms of the church. These problems were fixed up a long time ago. I am sorry for the victims who haven't received justice after 20-30years, I think they should also be investigated, sadly they are bundled in now with a socio-political agenda by anti conservative progressive drug and sexual deviant degenerates from the institutions of anarchy.

Neil Bridgewater 23 February 2016

Frank, Tim Minchin's lyrics may be in bad taste but don't allow that to distract from their underlying truth. Priests like you need to stop protecting the repuations of the likes of Pell. I'm ashamed of your shameless defense of the good old boys club. Listen more to Pell's accusers and less to Pell and his handlers.

Tim Stier 23 February 2016

The strident common tone of the media treatment of Pell should be a signal to people to wonder whether we are being manipulated. When all public commentary seems to agree on something, it is a duty of those who do not take their opinions from the media or from shock jocks to raise a small squeal of protest. Thank you, Frank Brennan.

Frank 23 February 2016

Frank s absolutely right. As one who was subjected to such outrageous leaks from officials confirmed as sources designed to harm I say that everyone is entitled to do e process, the presumption of innocence and investigations free from those zealous to have the scalps of unpopular personalities George Pell included. The rule of law is too precious to taint.

Moira 23 February 2016

I think that the majority of Australians think that Pell's failure to return to Australia was cowardly, unchristian and designed to provide him with an advantage answering questions.

Lee Boldeman 23 February 2016

Years ago someone said that in Australia we had trial by jury whereas in the USA they had trial by the newspapers. There has been a real media frenzy to 'get' Cardinal Pell. If he has done anything wrong, which he strenuously denies, that is really something for the courts to decide. He deserves natural justice. I find Tim Minchin's song execrable and unhelpful as I do some of the comments from the usual media heavies supporting the crowdfunding activity to get victims to Rome. Pell has agreed to see the victims: he is not hiding anywhere. There is no doubt the current Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse has uncovered some ghastly truths about recent Australian institutional history. Not all the abuse was perpetrated under the auspices of the Catholic Church but it appears that this Church has been made a major target of those who want 'justice': any 'justice'. That 'justice' appears to work on the lynch mob mentality.

Edward Fido 23 February 2016

Well Pell can now never return to Australia having evaded his responsibilities before the Royal Commission. Isn't he the leader of the faithful in Australia. Our most prominent Catholic. Why isn't he here leading his church through this quagmire of endlessly abrogated responsibility.

Peter Goers 23 February 2016

Thank you Frank for supporting fair play and the rule of law. One respondent looked at Tim Minchin's eyes and thought of victims of sexual abuse. I looked at Tim Minchin's eyes and thought of those who sent their victims, dare I say innocent victims, to the guillotine.

James Grover 23 February 2016

I don`t like George Pell. He has been quite inappropriately "brusque" to me on a couple of occasions, and more importantly what he did to our liturgical language, and the aggressively arrogant way he did it, were just disgraceful, and indeed damaging to the Church I love. But the personal vilification and the undermining of a witness in the Commission, by forces including the police, are quite indefensible.Thank you yet again Fr Frank for a very well balanced article and indeed all the work you do to keep the Church respectable.

Eugene 23 February 2016

First, I think the personalising of this issue is a great distraction from the real issues which must be unravelled. If we must look at personalities, the question then is why has Cardinal Pell attracted so much criticism? Secondly, for those writers here (and elsewhere) who bemoan the personal attacks, is there not a touch of hypocrisy in the vitriolic attacks on those who criticise the Cardinal? All sides of the argument (and there are more than two) should keep it civil.

Frank Golding 23 February 2016

Who can deny the possibility that it was a victim of abuse who had given information to police over the past year or years who is now frustrated at the lack of feedback from police has decided to leak his/her information to the media? Were the leaks copies of official Vic Police documents? Or was a Vic Police Deep-throat the source? I find it easy to believe that if it was a member of Vic Police who leaked the alleged investigation, Cardinal Pell may not have been the primary target, but rather stonewalling senior officers or their political masters. All in all administration in Victoria - political, policing, judicial and ecclesial - seems to be in a mess. And the media are loving it.

Uncle Pat 23 February 2016

Bravo Fr Brennan! well said and clearly illustrating an understanding of all. As an Australian Catholic, it is becoming harder to explain and to understand our church leaders, I wonder if the only thing that will work is an organised refusal to donate to our parishes. It seems we have no voice in the church, no matter what Councils's have decided and recommended.

sandra colley 23 February 2016

I once had some respect for Tim Minchin and thought his satirical music had a message - but I now only see him as gutless and opportunistic, and actually attacking innocent people who just happen to hold religious beliefs. If atheists pride themselves on rationality, Minchin seems to suggest that anyone who identifies as Catholic or Christian or even religious or spiritual for that matter must by default also condone paedophilia. In the face of this new form of nasty fundamentalist atheism, I find myself defending my faith more vigorously then ever - and refuse to cave in to this banal, cynical and often nasty and personal form of atheism.

Aurelius 23 February 2016

I think that Minchin's involvement was a cheap stunt. We all agree with some of the sentiment but it has only managed to galvanise opposing sides. Catholic loyalists vs Catholic haters. As for me and mine...I am an Anglican!

Stephen Clark 23 February 2016

Frank Brennan, give to God what belongs to God and to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.

Jackie 23 February 2016

The Royal Commission is turning into a circus, which must be distressful for victims as well as the general public. Will it ever end? Money should be given to victims - not wasted on lawyers. Australia has had enough of the misery and suffering emanating from the Commission. Let's look to a happy future in which our children are fully protected against sexual predators.

Paul Keighery 23 February 2016

Once again Frank leaps to the defence of George. Why? Because everyone, including George, deserves due process? Does anyone really think that George will not be treated justly by the Royal Commission or receive due process from it? Popular opinion, soundly based or otherwise, will never hang George or put him behind bars. That would take a court of law. In any case, given the state of his health, it is highly unlikely that he would ever appear in an Australian court to face whatever charges might come out of whatever Police inquiry might be in process.

Ginger Meggs 23 February 2016

A Koan for a painful, entangled path: I was speaking with a suffering, sick friend, a little hard of hearing. I said : It's about finding inner peace. She replied: Inner pigs? I answered: No, no, inner peace, inner peace'. She replied: Oh... Then we wondered what the opposite to inner peace might be? She said: Inner pigs and then added, inner pigs 'eye'. Which made us then think of Matthew 7:3 and other words. My friend has meet the 14th Dalai Lama.

AO 23 February 2016

Another clear article by Fr Frank Brennan. We are all deserving of natural justice & due legal process. CSA Royal Commission will eventually decide on whether charges are recommended against Cardinal Pell or not. The human side of RC Church is not "the Body of Christ" - that's the people. So many of us "traditional RCs" need to stop being so defensive when Cardinal Pell faces hostile media or social media. It may seem unfair & can be so. However, anyone who has read for himself or herself just a small amount of what CSA victims have endured for decades must want the full truth from Cardinal Pell. Canon laws and Popes right up to Benedict have covered up institutional CSA in the RC Church administration & Bishops like Cardinal Pell were its agents. All clergy involved in this cover-up, lasting many decades, must tell the truth, accept responsibility for their part and face a fair trial if indicted. The Vatican congregations and current Pope must also tell the truth & change any bad canon laws impacting reporting of CSA. We can apply the thoughts of Jesus Christ & deal in mercy and forgiveness plus just outcomes for victims.

John Cronin, Toowoomba 23 February 2016

Frank Brennan's article "An unholy mess" (23 February 2016) is both forthright and balanced, as we have come to know and expect from this eminent commentator. Professor Brennan's analysis would no doubt be insightful and therefore instructive were he to address that which appears to lie at the heart of George Pell's credibility as a compassionate leader of the Melbourne Arch Diocese—whether the Melbourne Response was a genuine attempt to show compassion and precipitate closure for victims of sexual abuse through psychological support and financial compensation, or a clever contrivance for the Catholic Church to manage risk through the minimisation of legal costs and compensation payouts.

Bill Jolley 23 February 2016

I am an experienced lawyer. I greatly respect Father Frank and always enjoy his articles. He is a person with an excellent intellect, a sound conscience and a good heart. However I do not think that the Tim Minchin song or the police leaks will have any effect, let alone an adverse effect, on the findings to be made by the RC about the factual allegations made against Cardinal Pell. Also it is my strong suspicion that the police leaks occurred because of internal divisions within Vicpol between, on the one hand, the officers in Taskforce Sano who have taken witness statements about Cardinal Pell's alleged past behaviour and, on the other hand, their superior officers whose alleged failure to authorise further investigations, including a visit to Rome to formally interview Cardinal Pell, has caused the investigating officers to feel frustrated and increasingly irritated. Consequently either some of those officers or persons close to that group have decided to go to the media to exert pressure on higher ranking officers in force command to authorise the next stage or stages of the investigation. Unfortunately that conduct, occurring at the same time as the release and widespread publication of the Minchin song, has ineluctably led to the conclusion that a hate campaign is being conducted against Cardinal Pell. The police leaks, if I am correct about their origin, are understandable, but ultimately inexcusable. They are properly being investigated by IBAC. But as Father Frank, either expressly or impliedly, said Cardinal Pell has brought upon himself (and for that matter the Church he professes to care about) what is embodied in or represented by the Minchin song and the popular support it has received. Photos taken in Rome last Sunday and reports of him maintaining his work schedule make it sufficiently clear, in my opinion, that he could have returned to Australia under medical supervision this month. His heart condition has been well managed for years. During that time he has flown between Australia and Rome on many occasions without incident. In my view the public perception of a reluctant witness is credible and the public campaign against him (excluding the police leaks) is not at all surprising.

Ted 23 February 2016

An unlholy mess indeed! And it could get worse! Cardinal Pell's predicament is merely a symptom of flawed Canon Law - clericalism supported by a conspiracy of silence (cover-up). Archbishop Hart's perhaps justifiable defence of Pell has failed to recognise the fundamental problem or underlying cause. Pell I is close enough to the power base to urge reform but has not done so. The Vatican (Benedict), by instructing Bishops to report abuse only when local civil law requires it, is promoting double standards, thereby demonstrating it does not care about safety for all (just some) children. And Father Brennan, you have been noticeably silent about the need for Canon Law reform.

John Casey 24 February 2016

The outrage over institutional “cover up” of child abuse may have exceeded the bounds of civil and legal propriety but only because the insensitivity towards the victims , the lack of acknowledgement and accountability ,the protectionism and the various defensive positions(The Ellis defence , “can't remember “, “too sick to cooperate”) have been unconscionable. Pell has been found wanting by his actions so far but he is not alone. In fact the behaviour of all institutions as borne out by the Royal Commission are uncannily alike. This puts paid to the “targetting" defence. Who will take responsibility for these despicable acts of historical child abuse? Or will it be ok to wait for all the perpetrators to die or lapse into forgetfulness and hope the victims are too intimidated, damaged (or dead) to come forward for their measly compensation? This too is despicable and a continuation of the abuse.

johnm 24 February 2016

Precisely, John Cronin, Ted, John Casey, and Johnm. Frank's laments for the injustices being done to George are all about legal niceties and nothing about justice. Does anyone really believe that George is unable to find a way to travel safely to Australia so as to satisfy those victims who want to look him in the eye? Does anyone really believe that he would return to Australia if charges were to be laid against him? When is someone in the hierarchy going to say 'mea culpa' and actually mean it? When is some parish priest or religious who knew or suspected what was going on going to say 'mea culpa', I should have spoken out or gone to the civil authorise? No, the boys' club was very much in force and does anyone really believe that anything has changed?

Ginger Meggs 24 February 2016

Cardinal Pell is paying the price for putting the reputation of the Church, at least for a time, ahead of the duty of care for the victims of abuse. The Church is a human interpretation of the Universal Call of God to rise above the inherited human instincts, emotions, and our bonding to limited and out-dated traditions which give us a vested interest in preserving our assumption that we alone have a God-given guarantee of how God is to be served. Recognition of this analysis will help to solve not only current problems, but if accepted by all religions, will dissipate the many religious conflicts around the world.

Robert Liddy 24 February 2016

Come on Frank - it's time to let go of George Pell and clean up his mess. Tim Minchin's taunts of Pell are nothing compared with the pain & suffering of countless victims of systematic abuse over a very long period of time within the Catholic Church. I don't know any victims, I am a lawyer and a very angry Catholic.

Elizabeth O'Connor 24 February 2016

Richie asks me to ‘expand a little on how the nexus between the current furore over George Pell and the work of the Commission’ ‘could even damage victims of sexual abuse, saying their push for a national redress scheme would be “all the more difficult” if the “court of public opinion converts the royal commission into something which is unworkable”.’ I have three major concerns. First, the proponents for a long running federal royal commission claimed that it would help victims bring closure. I don’t think there is much closure going on these days with the frenetic media activity focused on Pell. In fact, it’s the very opposite of closure. Another two years of this will be very difficult for everyone (and not just the bishops of the Catholic Church). Second, victims and their advocates always stress that a national redress scheme is their highest priority. The politicians are yet to commit. They are more likely to commit if a broad cross section of the community see the need for such a scheme. This cross section must include not only those who now see Cardinal Pell as the devil incarnate but also those who see him as a senior churchman who tried his best AND those who are undecided about him and who want to see his evidence properly and fairly scrutinized. If a significant minority of the population (or of opinion makers) form the view that Pell has been unfairly treated, there is less likely to be the necessary political pressure for a national redress scheme, especially in light of the fact that the average payout under a national redress scheme will not be that much different from what is received under Pell’s condemned Melbourne Response (with CPI adjustments etc) which presently provides ex gratia compensation of up to $75,000 and free counseling and professional support. The Commission has modeled a national scheme with average payments of $50,000, $65,000 and $80,000. Third, if children in Victoria are to be safe in future, there needs to be co-operation and trust between the Catholic Church and the Victoria Police. The unjustified and malicious leaks of police material adverse to Pell this last week will make that co-operation more difficult in the future, especially if the Victoria Police and Victorian Government (one of the governments convening the royal commission) fail to respond appropriately to the evidence about the leaks and the motivation of those police officers who leaked the adverse, unsubstantiated uninvestigated material in the first place. There will of course be those who think my concerns are misplaced. I respect their view. But I stand by the political claim that a royal commission without the surrounding police leaks and Pell vilification a la Minchin would be more likely to deliver real results. I have seen far too many recommendations of royal commissions disappear into the ether once the commission has delivered its report.

Frank Brennan SJ 24 February 2016

1.There will be no closure until their is full and frank disclosure . 2. The catholic church is wealthy enough to pay for its own damages bill without recourse to the broader tax base. 3.The( alleged)police leak is likely to have been motivated by very understandable frustration within the investigating police ranks . Surely SANO is now obliged to go to Rome or risk accusations of cover up of clergy abuse by the Victorian police (not a fact without precedent)

Johnm 25 February 2016

A just and lasting closure will not be achievable until the Vatican admits publicly that it's Canon Law is at fault and in need of reform AND council(s) of laity are in place to oversee accountability. None of my family is directly affected but I know seven families (school,work,friendships) who are struggling with it. If that number was only one, it would one too many.

John Casey 26 February 2016

John Casey has the most important agenda: Church Reform! The church constitution has false values that allow for the proliferation of evil. Every clergyman must be compelled to have regular supervision just like all professional psychologists. The hierarchical structure is such it ignores Christian ideals such as humility; and treat others as you yourself would be treated. Most importantly where is evidence that it places the highest value upon the safety of children? This was a premium value in the teachings of Jesus. Throughout history the Church leaders have profoundly betrayed their mandate to represent Christ, the system nourishes and protects neurotic and unhealthy attitudes amongst priests which uphold and promote emotional pain and suffering in young and old.

Trish Martin 26 February 2016

An excellent article Frank. Cardinal Pell has made it very difficult for all Catholics in Australia and in particular the decent clergy. I do not like George Pell at all, but I dislike Tim Minchin even more. Will the current Pope who is the last man standing to save our church, ask George to stand down?

Roger Christiansz 26 February 2016

"Will the current Pope who is the last man standing to save our church", order the lynch mobs to drop dead?

Father John George 26 February 2016

Do Cardinal Pell's critics and detractors here really think that the charges against him have been proven beyond reasonable doubt? To Fr Brennan and Aurelius: Well said.

John 26 February 2016

The Ballarat case study at the royal commission continues to throw up evidence not just about the appalling failures of the Catholic Church authorities but also about the failures and oversights of the Victoria Police (particularly in the light of today’s standards). The despicable Fr Ridsdale was first referred to the psychiatrist Dr Evans in 1975, yes 1975. Here is his evidence (at pp C16162-3; 25 February 2015): Q. Was it conveyed to you, either by Father Ridsdale or anyone else, that you were seeing him to assess his suitability to do parish work? A. No. The reason he was referred was because, while he was a priest at Inglewood, an allegation was made against him of child sexual abuse, which he denied, and he was referred to see me, or came to see me, largely with symptoms of anxiety about being investigated and the challenge that that might make to his priestly status. As I mentioned in that submission, I was leaving the Franciscan order within four weeks of first seeing him and saw him on four occasions. After one or two sessions I received a communication from the police, who were looking into the case by the way, it was reported to the police, the exact mechanism I don't know, but the police were certainly investigating it and knew about it. The police informed me that they would not be pressing charges. However, the policeman added that they - I forget the actual word - felt, believed, thought, he was guilty and would benefit from treatment, to which I replied, "Well, we'll do what we can.”

Frank Brennan SJ 27 February 2016

I will be available for interview on SkyNews up until 8am on Monday. I will confine myself to the due process questions, answer queries about church structures and outline the likely areas of examination of Cardinal Pell’s evidence. I will then make no further comment on Pell’s evidence after 8am on Monday, believing that the royal commission should be left to do its job – receiving and testing the evidence. I will not comment again until the royal commission publishes its findings on the evidence.

Frank Brennan SJ 27 February 2016

According to the preaching of the Catholic Church parents are the primary educators of their children. That phrase is from my memory as I have not heard it for several years. Does the Catholic Church have a definition of "primary education" and where could I find such a definition. Jeffrey

Jeffrey Olsen 28 February 2016

Cardinal Pell has become a windmill that the Left finds itself unable to resist from tilting at, to the detriment of justice. To "get Pell" has obscured the very purpose of the Royal Commission, his guilt is presumed and any defence is ridiculed. This presumption of guilt has allowed the media to sit back comfortably while police leak all sorts of tripe across the countryside; critical analysis dormant until Frank Brennan speaks out. The media and fellow players are playing a heavy hand in obstructing justice to survivors, the commission is not a vehicle for the jaundiced few to breathe life into their prejudices and act out long held fantasies of revenge against an ideological foe.

Paul Triggs 24 March 2016

The clergy abuse is the most obscene in Australia's history. Every one has a right to fair legal process, even the victims and George Pell. While the Catholic Church isolates and targets particular people, what they don't want to come to terms with is that it is Catholic victims, Catholic families, Catholic journalists, Catholic police and Catholic witnesses who blew the whistle. The whistle noise has not stopped. Decent people are doing decent things. The Former chairman of the Bishops' National Committee for Professional Standards (— part of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, which dealt with complaints of sexual abuse) has requested Pope Francis to call for Bishops who concealed sexual abuse to resign.

Concerned Catholic 25 March 2016

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