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In defence of Cardinal Pell

  • 22 April 2014

I write to defend Cardinal Pell in the wake of Elizabeth Farrelly's claim in the Fairfax press that Pell, when appearing before Justice McClellan at the Royal Commission, proposed a 'priestly child abuse insurance scheme' and that 'if you wanted to maximize the damage already done to countless children, you'd be hard put to find a surer way or crueler'.

I am a Catholic priest, a Jesuit, but I have never been on Cardinal Pell's Christmas Card list. It got to the stage a couple of years ago that he gratuitously published the observations that 'part of the key to understanding Brennan is that he's really not well educated in the Catholic tradition — in Catholic theology' and that for the Jesuits, Jesus 'has been almost displaced by (their) enthusiasm for social justice'.

He is not one of my fans, and neither am I one of his. But I think Farrelly has unfairly kicked him when he is down. More importantly she has muddied the waters about what is a critical issue for the victims of child sexual abuse suffered within institutions, including the Catholic Church.

Under cross-examination, Pell did float the idea of insuring a religious superior against negligence for failing adequately to supervise a pedophile priest. It was McClellan, not the Cardinal, who then floated the idea of a pedophile priest insuring himself. These were the critical questions McClellan put to Pell:

Cardinal, the criminal conduct we're talking about is a deliberate tort; you understand that? I mean, if you hit someone in the street, you may commit a criminal assault, but you will also be liable in the civil law for assault. Do you understand? There's no reason why the insurer couldn't provide insurance for a civil wrong, could it? They often do.

Pell, the lay witness, was simply carried along by the judge, who was in error. Pell finally answered, 'I simply don't know, but if you say that they can, good.'

After two and half days in the witness box, he was a man on the ropes.

You cannot and should not be able to insure against your own commission of a deliberate tort or criminal act. Any such insurance policy would be void. But that is not what Pell suggested. It was the judge who got it wrong.

While it is preposterous to suggest that anyone (including a priest) insure themselves against wanton criminal acts such as pedophilia, it could be very