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Cardinal Pell, his lawyers and the Royal Commission


The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is about to recommence its case study on the Catholic Church in Ballarat. Last week, the Melbourne Herald Sun reported: 'Victims of child sexual abuse look set to be grilled by lawyers for Cardinal George Pell in a bid to quash explosive allegations he was complicit in a widespread cover-up.'

Cardinal Pell before the Royal Commission in March 2014Cardinal Pell will have legal representation separate from the legal team appearing for the Church. He will return from Rome and give evidence at the public hearing next month.

I am one of those Catholic priests who thinks that the church's Truth Justice and Healing Council has done a good job insisting that the needs of victims be paramount. From the start, the council's lawyers told the Royal Commission that they would not be cross-examining witnesses, testing their credibility, and doubting their evidence of sexual abuse by church personnel.

Wanting to assist with healing for victims and wanting to learn all available lessons about how to avoid future abuse and cover-ups, the Church has been prepared to place second issues of institutional and personal reputation of church officials. The wellbeing of victims has been put first during the church's conduct of the commission.

Our critics would say this is too little, too late. They may be right. But as a church we are in the business of repentance, forgiveness and making a fresh start.

We were given a fine example recently by the Anglican Archbishop Philip Aspinall who appeared before the commission admitting past mistakes in the conduct of two Brisbane schools, intelligently wrestling with the complex issues, and always putting justice and healing for the victims first.

Things get difficult now that the commission has Cardinal Pell back in its gaze. His reputation is on the line and the commission has spared no effort in scrutinising his past actions. No one else has been called three times before the commission.

The commission even went to the trouble of conducting a private hearing and then a public hearing with the notorious pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale giving evidence. Ridsdale did not come up to proof, clearly causing considerable upset to Justice McClellan and his counsel assisting Ms Gail Furness SC.

The judge reminded Ridsdale the commission could track down proof of anyone having visited Ridsdale in jail between the private and public hearings. McClellan almost seemed to be suggesting that Ridsdale might have been nobbled. In any event, Ridsdale provided no credible or probative evidence.

A month after Ridsdale's appearance, McClellan explained his reasons for calling Ridsdale and other notorious pedophiles. He not only wanted to get a sense of why these individuals offend.

But in this case study, he thought such individuals had 'a capacity to tell us of the relationship between themselves and more senior members of their institutions, including the bishop or archbishop if they come from a religious institution. They can tell us if others knew of their offending conduct and help us to understand how the church responded or failed to respond to that conduct.'

Ridsdale told them nothing in the public hearing.

Pell has appeared before the commission in two previous public hearings — in the case studies on the Ellis Case and on the Melbourne response. Each time, the commission found some conflict of evidence between Pell and another witness. Each time the commission preferred the evidence of the other witness, doubting Pell's recollection.

In the Ellis matter, Pell had a different recollection from Monsignor Brian Rayner, his Vicar General. Rayner gave evidence that he had kept Pell apprised of the dealings between the diocese and Mr Ellis.

Pell stated, 'To the best of my recollection, I was not made aware at the time of any of those figures or offers. I was not consulted, as best I recall, about what financial amount should be considered. Nor was I made aware of the other factors which appear to have been significant in the way the facilitation process developed.'

The Commission stated, 'It seems unlikely that, in light of the legal action being foreshadowed, the Cardinal, as responsible for the finances of the Archdiocese and as the Church Authority responsible for ensuring that victims were dealt with justly, would not have sought or been provided with the offers made as part of the facilitation and the outcome.'

The commission found Rayner to be 'a truthful witness who did his best to provide an honest account'.

In the Melbourne Response hearing, the commission heard from various witnesses about a key parish meeting which related to abuse in the parish of the Foster family. Cardinal Pell had no recollection of the meeting being 'unpleasant or rowdy'. Pell's account basically accorded with the evidence of Archbishop Denis Hart and Ms Helen Last who worked for the archdiocese's Pastoral Response Office.

The Commission found: 'Notwithstanding these differing accounts, we accept Mrs Foster's recollection of the events. Given the circumstances of the public meeting and her personal interest in the reading of the letter, she is less likely to recall the events incorrectly.

'The impression the meeting left on the senior members of the Church is different, but no doubt both Cardinal Pell and Archbishop Hart have attended multiple meetings and recollections as to the impact of the events on the audience may not be as clear for them as for Mrs Foster.'

So twice, the commission has preferred the recollection of others to that of Pell.

At the Ballarat hearing, two victims, Timothy Green and David Ridsdale (a nephew of Gerald, the serial pedophile), made specific allegations under oath against Pell, allegations which had previously been publicly denied by Pell, and which were denied again by Pell in a media statement on 20 May 2015.

Green told the Royal Commission that when a school boy in the change room at the swimming pool in 1974 he said to Pell: 'We've got to do something about what's going on at St Pat's.' He recalls the conversation going like this: 'Father Pell said, "Yes, what do you mean?" I said, "Brother Dowlan is touching little boys." Father Pell said, "Don't be so ridiculous," and walked out.'

Pell has no recollection of Green at that time, and he has no recollection of such a conversation.

David Ridsdale gave sworn evidence that he called Pell in 1993 to report that he had been abused in the past by his priest uncle Gerald. Immediately after the phone conversation with Pell, David Ridsdale claims to have called both his sisters and said: 'The bastard just tried to bribe me.' 

He gave the commission this account of the conversation with Pell: 'Me: "Excuse me, George, what the **** are you talking about?" George said, "I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet." My response was, "**** you George, and everything you stand for." I hung up the phone.'

Pell says: 'At no time did I attempt to bribe David Ridsdale or his family or offer any financial inducements for him to be silent. At the time of our discussion the police were already aware of allegations against Gerald Ridsdale and were investigating.'

The royal commissioner has indicated that he wants to make findings in relation to these matters and also into Pell's more generic claims that he knew nothing and could do nothing when a consultor to the bishop in Ballarat and when auxiliary bishop to Archbishop Francis Little in Melbourne. Pell will give sworn evidence. Undoubtedly he will be cross-examined.

After Green had given evidence, Justice McClellan, inviting cross-examination, warned the church lawyers who wanted to follow their usual practice of not cross-examining victims: 'I should tell you that I would anticipate we'll be asked to make findings about some of the matters that Mr Green has included in his statement. It's a matter for you and those instructing you, but I should put you on notice that that's a real possibility.' He issued a similar warning after David Ridsdale had given evidence.

For the sake of Pell's reputation, his lawyers will need to cross examine Green and Ridsdale testing their recollection and the consistency of their accounts, not about the sexual abuse they suffered, but about their recollections of any church cover-up.

The fact that these men were sexually abused as children is uncontested. The issue is whether their claims that Pell knew or tried to effect some form of cover-up are true and accurate recollections.

Given the high degree of scrutiny applied to Pell by the commission and the media, it's only fair that he have his lawyers cross examine these two victims who claim that he did not want to know that abuse occurred or even worse, that he tried to cover it up. And it is appropriate given that both Green and Ridsdale have indicated they have no objection being recalled to be so examined.

It is imperative now that all parties be seen and heard in public so that we can all make our assessments of recollection and credibility up to 22 and 41 years on.

Once the commission has addressed the reputation and recollection of Messrs Pell, Green and Ridsdale, we should all then get back to seeing what changes can be made to institutions, especially the Catholic Church, so that the risks of child sexual abuse and of cover-up and inadequate response are minimised as much as possible.


Frank BrennanFrank Brennan SJ is professor of law at Australian Catholic University.

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, Royal Commission, child sexual abuse, Ballarat, Gerald Risdale, Cardinal George Pell



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Existing comments

George Pell does have a right to have his lawyers cross examine Messrs Green and Ridsdale about the conflict between their testimony and his in matters before this current Royal Commission. The way these lawyers cross examine the witnesses will be of crucial importance in the way the Australian Catholic Church and its representatives are perceived by the general public. The matter of recent historic institutional child sex abuse - not just in Catholic institutions but in every religious, secular and state institution - is one of the darkest stains in our recent national history. When Cardinal Pell fronts the Commission he will not be seen by many as a sympathetic figure. Most people want the truth, but, once again, that might be very difficult to establish to the satisfaction of all parties involved. I think what many people want of the Cardinal is something similar to the recent statement made by the former Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane Peter Hollingworth that he had somehow failed to realise the enormity of the situation and deal with it decisively and compassionately.

Edward Fido | 23 November 2015  

For Timothy Green and David Ridsdale this is personal. So, from their point of view, cross-examination is a necessary part of the process they are participating in. For Cardinal Pell, his reputation is being tested once again. A very important aim of the Royal Commission is to minimise the risks of child sexual abuse, cover-ups and inadequate responses. I would think an equally important aim is to say to survivors "We know it happened." We're all going to make our assessments of who is more likely to be telling it like it is. And hopefully change will be enabled. Giving a voice to survivors and thinking about their stories is something that shouldn't change.

Pam | 23 November 2015  

David Ridsdale and Peter Blenkirof, my full support is with you. The truth can not be compromised and so Pell's lawyers will tremble at you very presence. So will Pell. The truth will prevail guys. Tell it as it was.

Chris Pianto | 23 November 2015  

There is an inconsistency in this article. On one hand the fact is accepted that these survivors were sexually abused but on the other hand, when it comes to their recollections of talks with Pell, i.e. 'their claims that Pell knew' is disbelieved. Hard to believe there wasn't a cover up. Pell has to be cross-examined for the sake of integrity, little of which the church has shown to those who've been brave enough to stand up and speak out.

carol | 24 November 2015  

Perhaps the issue of the "Vatican secret" dealt with by Kieran Tapsell in "Potiphar's Wife" goes a long way to explaining Pell's constant difficulty in recollecting anything.

Helen Enright | 24 November 2015  

The Commission is out to get Pell. They want his scalp and will do their utmost to find the facts to support a finding against him. Whether Pell should lie back and take it is a matter about which minds will differ. Heaping injustice upon injustice does not seem the way to go.

George | 24 November 2015  

There seems little doubt that Cardinal Pell, at least for a time, was so conditioned by his belief that the Church was God's Light to the World, that he did not - could not - absorb the evidence of its failing human component. All religions share this limitation, taken to extremes when they try to convert or destroy other beliefs. From a low point of view, what seems to be the peak of a mountain, is recognised, from a higher level,as a 'shoulder', with the peak much higher. All religions are human interpretations of the Higher Power we struggle vainly to comprehend, and we need to try to make-do with what we can, until we rise higher.

Robert Liddy | 24 November 2015  

Surprised you have jumped from supporting victims to supporting Pell, Frank.

Elizabeth Hume | 24 November 2015  

In 2008, I attended a conference at the University of Notre Dame Truth and Faith in Ethics… An International Conference on Moral Philosophy. As a new lecturer in ethics at the University of Sydney, I had been wrestling with which of the multiple theories in ethical behaviour I should teach. I had finally settled on JS Mill’s Utlitarianism , a powerful measure of right and wrong. The conference advertisements decried Utilitarianism. So did several talks. The now Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, said health economists and utilitarian philosophers were placing the elderly at risk. I concluded that that he was not talking about Mill’s Utilitarianism. I tried to stand up and give my support for this powerful ethical theory, but was overridden. I have no idea why the Catholic Church dislikes Mill’s Utilitarianism - possibly because Mill was an atheist. At one break, I ended up next to Cardinal Pell. ”How is it going? He asked. “It is not a free and open discussion, “I replied , “we are being given the party line”. ”Hrrumph” was the Cardinal’s reply, and he left me. I reached then, long before the current paedophile inquiry, that the Cardinal did not easily tolerate questioning of the Catholic Church.

Peter Bowden | 24 November 2015  

A balanced response to an extremely sensitive and difficult issue. The victims of sexual abuse require justice and ongoing support. The need for a just response has to extend to all parties. The issue here is not about any denial of the criminal acts perpetrated on individuals but rather the question of a cover-up in particular cases. Any individual, including Cardinal Pell, has the right for appropriate representation. Hopefully the end result is greater clarity and identification of responsibilities.

Kevin | 24 November 2015  

I support victims AND due process and natural justice for ALL. I don't see it as an either/or situation. If it be an either/or situation, there would be no need for a royal commission with all the judicial trappings.

Frank Brennan SJ | 24 November 2015  

To put it charitably, +Pell (in his capacity as a church leader) has been found wanting by two assessments and he gets 'promoted' to Rome. +Wilson, on the other hand (with a well-deserved reputation for being an honest dealer in matters of church abuse) is in virtual exile for something he was alleged to have done (or not done) when he was a junior priest. +Pell is trying to 'protect' his 'reputation' by using the same tactics that trashed it in the first place.

Faz | 24 November 2015  

Thanks, Frank. I'm reading this in the Royal Commission's lunch-break, having watched all this morning's public hearing streamed via the website of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council. I'll certainly be watching this afternoon, too, when Cardinal Pell appears. The transparency of the Australian Church at this point is admirable, as the TJ&H Council enables us to see the action in real time and without editing or commentary. Your article is part of this transparency. This isn't contra the victims, Elizabeth Hume - the Royal Commission isn't a court of law, where the veracity of anyone is on trial. No-one is questioning that they were abused. The questions are who knew what and when, thirty or forty years later. And the RC won't tolerate any insensitivity towards the victims. This is quite clear from the records of proceedings.

Joan Seymour | 24 November 2015  

I am all for tackling the prevention of risks for future abuse and cover ups and inadequate responses. It seems that the best way to do this would be to have women in the positions of power within the church. Despite all that has happened we still have the same old clericalism supporting the same patriarchy. Women in leadership roles is a must otherwise ..same old. On the legal matter sadly law is adversarial..winners /losers. After years of listening to people in counselling situations I prefer the view that there are three sides to every story…yours, mine and the truth. I hope for generous compensation for those so dreadfully abused at the hands of those who should have been helping them.

Christina Coombe | 24 November 2015  

Faz Iapplaud your loyalty to Archbishop Wilson who is not in forced exile but of personal choice has stood down, after being charged. It would of course be most unjust to suggest Cardinal Pell has been charged [He has merely been subpoenaed to an enquiry-certainly no grounds for stepping down as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy,. nor, invoking legit diplomatic immunity.

Father John George | 24 November 2015  

I must confess, as a progressive non church-going Catholic, that I do not appreciate Cardinal Pell's conservative opinions. To me he is authoritative and not respectful of the intelligence of Catholic laity. Frank's reasoning has altered my view concerning Pell having his own lawyers. Apparently he is within his rights to have them and to have the victims cross examined. There remains an unease, though. Given Pell's high education and vast experience and the lawyers' expertise there is the possibility that the victims could feel intimidated and unable, on the spot, to articulately respond to the questions they will be required to answer.

Anna | 24 November 2015  

Anna! I doubt normally a respondent under scrutiny in court or commission can forego questions because the member of the bar is too smart and in this instance Cardinal, Pell has excellent IQ and well educated like!

Father John George | 24 November 2015  

Good article, Fr Frank. Cardinal Pell deserves right to have accusers cross-examined. Then we all need to see justice, even if George Pell is referred to Public Prosecuters office.

John Cronin, Toowoomba | 24 November 2015  


Louis Joseph | 24 November 2015  

The final part of my response to Fr Frank Brennan's article seems to have been lost in cybersace. What I wrote is that, if found to have a case to answer over cover-ups of CSA, Cardinal Pell, just like any citizen of Australia, must then answer for what he did or didn't do in an actual Court of law. In the RC church, the members of Christ's body (especially its most wounded, its CSA victims) have endured almost a century of RC Church clericalism via its humanly created "canon laws". These directly affect the reporting of CSA by bishops to our secular authorities for the crime they are. Canon laws have both aided and directly facilitated CSA cover-ups by our bishops and by the Vatican authorities, including the Popes over that period. Like the scribes & pharisees of Jesus's day, many in power have failed to address the corruption of clericalism that Pope Francis attacks so powerfully.Those who resist the Holy Spirit from bringing grace and healing to CSA victims and their families should recall Jesus' words to Peter when he opposed Jesus saying he must suffer and die - Jesus said "Get thee behind me, satan"

John Cronin, Toowoomba | 25 November 2015  

I pray that justice will be done and the truth will be known. The pain these disgusting crimes have caused is too shocking for words. However, I also want change in our Catholic Church. Some equality for women would be a good place to start. Women in all aspects of religious life will help a lot of these problems. Then we need Priests to have the option of marriage. Our Church is dying because it is exclusive and judgmental.

Catherine | 25 November 2015  

The systematic shunting of the criminal priest Risdale around the parishes of the Ballarat Diocese and up to the National Enquiry Centre in Sydney is well-known within the Australian Church. Just how many children and their families were impacted by this evil priest and the decisions of Bishop Mulkearns and his Consultors who did all in their power to protect him as well as obeying John Paul II's edicts? Rev Dr George Pell, in charge of a minor Catholic teachers college and without direct parish duties in a Victorian provincial Diocese, had a particular opportunity to assess the Risdale situation. Did Dr Pell ever reflect on Mk 9:42, Mt 18:6 or Lk 17:2? How just it is that some children who were victims of the Risdale and later Searson in Melbourne have now reached adulthood with sufficient self-confidence to ensure that the Royal Commission hears their stories and is able to attempt to separate the truth from the silences. Cardinal Pell, an Australian citizen, should be pressed very fully to ensure that while he was so faithfully pursuing papal edicts he was not neglecting his crucial responsibilities to the young Catholics in his care according to Australian law.

Gerard Say | 25 November 2015  

I fear, whatever the outcome of this Royal Commission, the Catholic Church in this country has suffered a major loss of trust amongst both its members and the wider national community. The restoration of that trust can only come after members feel the temple has been cleansed. That requires many things to happen. Whether the higher clergy take on that healing role, as Philip Aspinall did in the Anglican Archdiocese of Brisbane, is a key factor.

Edward Fido | 26 November 2015  

Frank When we defend another s rights to Legal procedural fairness we become in-mired in Legal practice and procedure and forget the bigger picture. I have followed and commented on a number of your articles in regard to CSA and the RC and have found in all of them the same diffidence as if defending Survivors means being disloyal to the Church. We need the bravest and best in the higher echelons of the Church to defend survivors unconditionally. Blindly saluting the Captain of the Titanic as it sinks with the band playing will not save the institution. Pell needs to resign and most likely should face charges of Misprision of a Felony Perjury and possibly faces charges in the International Criminal Court under various conventions. Destroying the reputations of survivors and using legal trickery will not work. Your comment in regard to the passing of time looks to be the first shot of the Pell defenders. Please think through your position as wall sitting is worthy of Humpty Dumpty and not one of the best brightest and passionate Jesuits of your generation. Survivors need you as a strong voice for justice and I hope you will see that these articles do not assist in the cause of justice and in many ways diminish the great work and mission of both the Jesuits and your own ministry..

Richie | 26 November 2015  

Father John George I think you have agreed with the point I make but from a different viewpoint. I agree, after reading Frank's article, that Pell has the right to have his lawyers and they have the right to cross examine. I have absolutely no doubt that Pell has an excellent IQ and seriously experienced lawyers. My point is that it is possible the victims may lose their case simply because they are outgunned rather than on the quality of their argument.

Anna | 26 November 2015  

Richie, I know it is very difficult for any Catholic priest to write on issues in relation to child sexual abuse and to be heard as other than a defender of the church as an institution. But I do join issue with your observation that you find in all my writings on the issue ‘the same diffidence as if defending Survivors means being disloyal to the Church’. With respect, I think that is a serious misreading of what I have been saying on the airwaves and what I have been publishing. For example, I suggest you and any other interested reader have a look at Chapter 3 'Getting the Structures and Processes Right' in my most recent book 'The People's Quest for Leadership in the Church and State', and also Chapter 5 'Dealing with Child Sexual Abuse' in my earlier book 'Amplifying That Still Small Voice'. Only yesterday on Facebook I thanked Julie Stewart, a victim who gave moving evidence at the royal commission, for helping us all to understand. I posted her wonderfully courageous statement on Facebook. This evening I am delivering the opening plenary address at an international ecumenical theological conference and saying, ‘We need to express our gratitude as well as our sorrow to those like Julie Stewart who have courageously come forward helping us all to understand, and reminding us what we truly profess in the name of Christ.’ Unlike you Richie, I am absolutely convinced that the world (including Catholic school playgrounds and churches) will not be made a safer place for children if someone like Cardinal Pell is denied due process simply because the public is crying out for a big scalp. Let’s follow due process. Let’s get the facts. And let’s all do what we can to reform our institutions so that children will be safe in future. And yes, some will say, ‘There he goes again. Another Catholic priest trying to justify himself.’ These are hard times for all of us seeking truth, justice and healing - and most especially for those whose innocent childhood was destroyed by the actions of those who professed God’s love for all. I have no interest in wall sitting, Richie. But I will continue to insist that due process be accorded to all persons appearing at any royal commission. Otherwise such commissions become witch-hunts. You might be interested to read the critique I offered of Dyson Heydon, the royal commissioner into trade unions (see http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=45435). If we are to get to the bottom of corruption in the unions, the likes of Bill Shorten and Julia Gillard need to be given due process. If we are to get to the bottom of the deficiencies in the past institutional responses to child sexual abuse, the likes of George Pell need to be given due process. Where you will find me defending the Catholic church is in the face of those who prejudicially assert that children (and the whole world) would be better off if the Catholic Church did not exist. That’s the situation in which you will find me defensive of the Church.

Frank Brennan SJ | 26 November 2015  

Frank says (24 Nov) that he supports 'due process and natural justice for ALL'. Is there any doubt that George, with all the resources that he has to hand personally, will get that? I, like Richie (26 Nov) wonder why Frank commits so much of his talent and time to yet another article expressing concern that George might not get a 'fair go'.

Ginger Meggs | 26 November 2015  

Good discussion after Fr Frank's initial good article. It is sometimes hard to also see the clerics & higher clergy as victims of CSA crimes by paedophile clergy and other perpetrators in Church institutions. That is the nature of CSA - hurt spread all around, with the child victims condemned to a lifetime sentence of acute psychological pain. My plea to any readers is for change in Church laws.Let there be no more cover-ups by senior clergy or by the Vatican, as there so obviously was in Ireland, USA & here in Australia. All members of the Church feel this pain & need to accept our part in making a better future. All contributing man-made (including by the Pope also) Church/canon laws involved in non-disclosure of CSA to the police immediately, by Bishops & by superiors, including the canon law "Crimen sacramentalis" MUST GO. No more clericalism & let's have our priests as respected & gifted ministers who are our equals under law.

John Cronin, Toowoomba | 27 November 2015  

It takes a great deal of courage for a survivor of Institutional Child Abuse to give evidence at the Royal Commission, Sympathetic to that, the Catholic Church in Melbourne has decided not to cross examine witnesses. Cardinal Pell ignoring this and employing his own legal team to cross examine adds to the public perception, within and outside the Church, of his unsympathetic, heavy- handed, defensive approach.

Ellen O'Brien | 28 November 2015  

John Cronin in Toowoomba, you are correct in your opinion that Canon Law ( and its numerous Latin titled attachments) needs to be thoroughly overhauled so that 'pontifical secrets', 'secrets of the holy office' and 'oaths of secrecy' are removed. I believe there can be no just and lasting closure to the issue of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy until the Vatican and senior church leaders make this admission and act to remove those offensive laws. Better still, existing Canon Law be scrapped and rebuilt from scratch with input from a much broader constituency including the laity of the church.

John Casey | 01 December 2015  

As a Catholic, but not a great ally of Pell's socio-political views, I must honest that seems like Pell has been chosen as the whipping boy for the whole sexual abuse saga. I recall Pell's response very well during his main interview at the RC. He explained that there was an ideological battle to protect the church and it was thought there was a campaign to destroy it. He also admitted he avoided going public to avoid scandal among the faithful. You could call it a cover-up, or you could take him at his word and praise his honesty for admitting it in other words. But I fail to see how continuing to grill Pell is going to help victims. There are many other victims of child abuse in other states and dioceses who can't simply explain their trauma by pointing at the grand poo-bah. I'm quite aware the bishop of my diocese where I grew up wasn't aware of the abuse cases taking place at my high school at the time.

AURELIUS | 01 December 2015  

Prof Brennan SJ Tolerance of abuse should be zero. Masses should be done as highest act for victims. Priest acts for Christ and other ways like doing Mass should be better followed. The Pope just made Motu telling Bishops to be more involved.

Rob A | 01 December 2015  

I do not decry the need for the thorough research and hearings by this Royal Commission into instisutional sexual abuse of children but I believe that these atrocities have, and are still being committed in numbers beyond those being reported in the community at large. The victims of this group travel through life bearing the scars inflicted by family friends,relatives and other sadists. Most of these victims are young to very young and have been instilled with fear either directly by an attacker or family concealment due to public stigma if reported. Necessary as the current investigations may be I believe that more emphasis needs to made addressing the hidden multitude of victims who at all stages of their lives may be subject to flashbacks of the incident(s) or permanent psychiatric damage that cause them feelings of shame and worthlessness. The obvious source for identifying these silent tragics is the local GP or hospital emergencies with appropriately trained medical people. The blame game conducted at present is of no help to those outside the paramiters of the commission where a number of people are voicing their hatred of the institutions and not concerned with the overall needs of all victims.

peter | 02 December 2015  

Just adding a final comment on the evil consequences of CSA cover-ups caused by existing RC Canon laws. Anyone following the stories of victims cannot escape the fact that it is and was these very laws which have aided in the cover-ups, by RC Church hierarchy, of CSA crimes by paedophile clergy. Any RC supporters of the Status Quo - of keeping these Canon Laws which so obviously assist in the cover-up of CSA within the RC Church - are the Church's "weeds among the wheat". Let's hope Pope Francis grasps this causative nettle of "clericalism" within the RC Church ASAP - to ensure compassionate and prompt action on any future CSA by any clergy. This scrapping of harmful Canon Laws will also help to promote the future overall healing of the many surviving CSA victims. Also, it will assist in the spiritual and psychological healing of their families plus that of their friends and supporters. The Church is one Body.

John Cronin, Toowoomba | 07 December 2015  

On 7 December 2015, counsel assisting informed the royal commissioners: 'The primary purpose of calling (Gerald) Ridsdale was for him to give evidence about the matters contained in his interview with Catholic Church Insurances, the transcript of which was tendered. His oral evidence was consistent with that transcript.'

Frank Brennan SJ | 08 December 2015  

This article may well have been written before the cross examination by Pell’s counsel took place. There was nothing subtle about what happened. Very direct and very aggressive. In each case Pell’s counsel just said outright that the witness was lying. Pell already appears an unsympathetic person, a man with no compassion. Attacking the witnesses in the way that was being done (in his name) only hardens that impression. Saying to the witnesses you're lying, you're just making this up, it didn't happen, you are a person of dishonest and unreliable character is unhelpful unless you have something compelling to back up those allegations. This looked and felt like an attack dog let loose. It evoked sympathy for the witness and anger towards the inquisitor. Each of the other bishops called by the Royal Commission has been prepared to admit that what was done (or not done) was wrong. Harm was caused to children and in many cases that harm could have been avoided if they had acted to protect the children instead of the priests. Pell, though, seems to be choosing the old “attack is the best form of defence” strategy. I can’t see it ending well for him.

Michael O'Farrell | 10 December 2015  

I see that George is now too ill to travel to appear in person and wants to give evidence via video link from the safety of the Vatican. One bishop too ill to testify, now a cardinal too ill to travel. Still, the Commission seems intent on hearing George in person, in February, in Ballarat.

Ginger Meggs | 11 December 2015  

The video evidence application, and the way in which Pell's lawyers initially sought to prosecute that application, now seems badly misconceived. In the public square it has badly backfired on the Cardinal. To any seasoned lawyer Pell now sounds like the classic reluctant, unwilling witness. Why all the secrecy about his medical condition, especially if it is nothing more than high blood pressure? No other witness seeking to be excused on health grounds has the medical material on which he relies suppressed! To make it worse he and his lawyers initially attempted to make the application in secret to the head of the Royal Commission thus giving the impression that Pell was treating the Commission as another secretive Vatican process designed to protect a cleric. What were they thinking???

Ted | 12 December 2015  

Not messrs Pell etc, but "His Eminence the Cardinal Prefect" such bad manners is unacceptable in a Catholic Journal!

Father John George | 13 December 2015  

Just in ABC report for Ted and ilk: [His Eminence] "released a statement this afternoon in which he said the commission had reviewed and accepted the medical evidence tendered, and said reports referring to an "alleged" illness were misleading and mischievous. "The royal commission reviewed this medical evidence and accepted it as grounds for deferring Cardinal Pell's attendance until February," said the statement.' "The commission also required this personal information to be treated as confidential."

Father John George | 13 December 2015  

Interesting comment by George's spokesperson quoted in today's media: "Cardinal Pell's whole career is a story of stepping up to meet challenges, not avoiding them." So that's how he sees the Commission and the victims of hierarchical failure, "challenges", to be "stepped up to"?

Ginger Meggs | 14 December 2015  

Regardless of Pell's health condition or recalcitrant attitude, can we put this in perspective and realise that Pell is not the one guilty of child abuse, and nothing he says or does will change anything for the victims. It seems to be the same couple of faces popping up in media reports bagging him and it's starting to become a very nasty witchhunt. In his position, it's basically a no win situation and I could understand the strain on someone's heart at that ages simply through the stress involved.

AURELIUS | 15 December 2015  

Father John you may surprised to hear me saying this. I think that the real take out from the above dialogue seems to be at least this. First, Father Frank is correct in stating that every witness before the Royal Commission is entitled to natural justice including,and perhaps especially, Cardinal Pell given the emotive nature of the media reporting about him and the fierce opposition from some survivors and community groups to him. Secondly, there is no evidence at all that Cardinal Pell was himself a sexual abuser of any person, including but not limited to children. Thirdly, the Southwell QC inquiry into the allegations against Cardinal Pell, as a matter of proper forensic analysis, should have cleared him fully. Fourthly, as Aurelius points out, it is perfectly understandable that Cardinal Pell is feeling stressed. Whilst he, a warrior by nature, would probably not admit to feeling under pressure, all lawyers and doctors know that giving evidence and being cross examined is very stressful.

Ted | 15 December 2015  

The last paragraph of Frank Brennan's article is too say the least curious. Whether or not Pell's, or anyone eles's, reputation or recollection can pass legal muster is hardly reason for waiting to "get(ting) "back to seeing what changes can be made...". In one sense, Pell's reputation is irrelevant as is what he did or did not know. This only goes to his personal credibility. The now undeniable fact is that the Catholic Church was, at various levels, fully aware of the abuse being visited upon children and did precious little to stop it. Pell's position puts me in mind of the children overboard scandal. When Peter Reith became aware that photos existed that clearly showed that children were not be thrown overboard he refused to look at them because the images did not fit the governments narrative. What's the term, plausible deniability?

Tom Mitchell | 23 December 2015  

https://youtu.be/EtHOmforqxk A Jesuit priest and human rights lawyer has accused Tim Minchin of endangering the integrity of the royal commission into sexual abuse after the comedian penned a song describing George Pell as "scum" and inviting the Cardinal to "come home and frickin' sue [me]". Father Frank Brennan has warned that turning the commission into a "laughing stock" runs the risk of derailing proceedings. "I don't think it's altogether helped by having songs about a key witness, calling him scum, and a buffoon, and a coward and that sort of thing before the commission does its task," Father Brennan told ABC's the Drum program. "Because if we turn it into a laughing stock, then the big losers ... will be the victims themselves." ABC News . Here are the lyrics ... Actually it doesn't seem to turn the RC into a laughing stock but more the Pellian ring of criticism aimed at the Cardinal? [Verse 1] It's a lovely day in Ballarat I'm kicking back, thinking of you I hear that you've been poorly - I am sorry that you're feeling blue I know what it's like when you feel a little shitty You just want to curl up and have an itty-bitty doona day But a lot of people here really miss ya, Georgie They really think you oughta just get on a plane (Just get on a plane) We all just want you to... [Chorus 1] Come home, Cardinal Pell I know you're not feeling well And being crook ain't much fun Even so, we think you should come Home, Cardinal Pell Come down from your citadel It's just the right thing to do We have a right to know what you knew [Verse 2] Couldn't you see what was under your nose, Georgie Back in '73 when you were living with Gerry? Is it true that you knew but you chose to ignore Or did you actively try to keep it buried? And years later, when survivors, despite their shame and their fear Stood up to tell their stories, you spent year after year Working hard to protect the church's assets I mean, with all due respect, dude, I think you're scum! And I reckon you should... [Chorus 2] Come home, Cardinal Pell (Cardinal Pell) I know you're not feeling well Perhaps you just need some sun It's lovely here, you should come Home, you pompous buffoon (Pompous buffoon) And I suggest do it soon I hear the tolling of the bell And it has a Pellian knell [Bridge] I want to be transparent here, George, I'm not the greatest fan of your religion And I personally believe that those who cover up abuse should go to prison But your ethical hypocrisy, your intellectual vacuity, and your arrogance don't bother me as much As the fact that you have turned out to be such a goddamn coward You're a coward, Georgie (You're a coward, George) Come and face the music, Georgie (Face the music, George) You owe it to the victims, Georgie (You owe it, George) Come and face the music, the music Hallelujah, hallelujah If the Lord God omnipotent reigneth He would take one look at you and say: (One look at you and say) [Chorus 3] 'Go home, Cardinal Pell I've got a nice spot in hell With your name on it and so I suggest you toughen up and go Home, Cardinal Pell I'm sure they'll make you feel wel- Come at the pub in Ballarat They just want a beer and a chat Come home, Cardinal Pell (Cardinal Pell) I know you're scared, Georgie-Poo (Come home) They have a right to know what you knew Your time is running out to atone, Georgie I think the Lord is calling ya home, Georgie Perhaps he could forgive even you If you just let them know what you knew [Outro] Oh, Cardinal Pell My lawyer just rang me to tell Me this song Could get me in legal trouble Oh well, Cardinal Pell If you don't feel compelled To come home by A sense of moral duty Perhaps you will come home and frickin' sue me Bet this doesnt get published.

richie | 18 February 2016  

It's just not enough, Frank

RP | 18 February 2016