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An unholy mess

  • 23 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