I owe George Pell, the Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney, and our readers an apology for subjecting him and you to a dreary and bilious rant. George Weigel recently wrote an appreciated column about Cardinal Pell, one of the most articulate spokesmen for the Christian faith in the English-speaking world. Our readers weighed in with their usual insight and intelligence, but someone whose moniker is “Voiceless Victim” made defamatory and false remarks regarding the Cardinal.
We monitor comments, not to screen out those we disagree with, but to block comments like this one that are offensive and defamatory. This one slipped through, and because it included serial falsehoods I need to do more than apologize.
Without repeating the serious and defamatory allegations made by “Voiceless Victim”, permit me to set the record straight. The fact of the matter is that as Archbishop of Melbourne Cardinal Pell was the first bishop in Australia to establish an independent process for victims of sexual abuse. Now known as the Melbourne Response, this process includes an independent commissioner to investigate complaints of abuse, an independent compensation panel, and a counseling service for victims. The level of the financial assistance under the Melbourne Response is similar to compensation provided by civil systems to compensate victims of crime. In addition, counseling and support are provided on an ongoing basis. About 300 victims of abuse have had complaints investigated and have been provided with financial assistance.
The Archdiocese of Sydney which is led by Cardinal Pell participates in the national Towards Healing protocol, which in cooperation with the civil authorities in New South Wales provides screening procedures to protect children and others who are vulnerable to abuse. This protocol involves telling the truth about abuse, apologizing publically and privately for past wrongs, encouraging victims to take complaints to the police, and reporting alleged criminal conduct to the police. Towards Healing provides significant financial assistance to victims, together with counseling and other support.
At all times, victims of sexual abuse retain the right to take civil action and seek damages in the courts. Church parties accept their responsibility when legal liability or potential liability is clear, and try to ensure that proceedings are settled rather than requiring victims to litigate matters in the courts, and thus pay expensive lawyers.
Contrary to assertions by Voiceless Victim, the police and civil authorities in Sydney are informed of all allegations of criminal conduct, and victims are regularly encouraged to take their complaints to the police, and indeed are assisted in doing so. Priests in the Archdiocese of Sydney who have committed sexual abuse against children are permanently removed from public ministry, and new canonical procedures announced by the Holy See make it easier to remove these criminals from the priesthood.
No system is perfect; mistakes have undoubtedly been made in Australia, as elsewhere. Of that sad truth we all know only too well. But nothing in Cardinal Pell’s record supports a characterization of him as someone who covers up abuse or does not care about its victims.
Michael Casey, Cardinal Pell’s secretary, wrote to me, saying, “The Church is always ready to offer support and assistance to victims of sexual abuse and Cardinal Pell hopes Voiceless Victim will consider contacting the Professional Standards Office, which is established in each state of Australia.”
I apologize again to Cardinal Pell and to all our readers for failing to keep our website free of libel and personal, and in this case completely unjustified, abuse.
R.R. Reno is Editor of First Things.