No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

pellIn the mid-Nineties I had a friend called Pat. He was a Christian Brother. This was about the peak of the time it was the Christian Brothers’ turn to be the most hated people or organisation in Australia. I asked him what the heck had happened. His reply was that their investigations had led them to believe that a large number of the complaints were without foundation. Certainly their legal advice was that if they contested the claims, they would win almost every case.

However, they had also reached that view that at least some of the claims were likely to be true, and that it was not easily possible to tell which were true and which were not. They would rather accept every claim than run the risk of denying justice to a single person who had genuinely been abused. I thought then, and still think, that this view, while noble, was naive.

If you were at a Christian Brothers school twenty, or thirty or forty years ago, and you knew all you had to do to get a $60,000 payout was claim that Brother Fred, or Tom or whoever, now deceased or in a nursing home, had gone the grope in the change rooms … well, many people would be, and apparently were, tempted.

That is not justice. Firstly, it ran the risk of utterly and falsely ruining the reputations of men who had given up any kind of sexual relationship over their life-times, who had given up the right to make choices about where they lived or who they lived with, who were paid nothing, or mere pocket money, in order to serve and work with boys who were often difficult or disadvantaged, and who did so faithfully all their lives with little thanks. And of course, who were now not able to defend themselves.

That is not justice. Nor is giving money away. That was not the Christian Brothers’ money to do with as they pleased. It was raised through hard work, dollar by dollar, by ladies at cake stalls, by children at car washes, by gifts from working people so that many would have a fair chance at a decent education. Giving it to anyone who made a claim was not fair to the people who raised it, and it was not fair to the people who missed out on educational opportunities because there was no money left.

That is not justice. Nor was it just to the schools and communities where Christian Brothers had worked, which were now looked at with disdain or suspicion.

That is not justice. Nor was it fair to those who had been genuinely abused, who deserved to be heard, to be recognised and helped.

I thought this was wrong. And I suspect that Cardinal Pell thought it was wrong too. Justice based on untruth, no matter how well meant, is not justice. At the time, Fr Pell was a priest in the Diocese of Ballarat, he had no authority over anyone else, nor was he in a position to make rules or issue guidelines. Yet somehow, he is being treated as if he were responsible for child abuse that occurred within that diocese. That he must have known, and should have done something about it.

It is even being pretended that he has tried to avoid giving evidence to the Royal Commission. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pell, who has never been accused by the Commission of any wrongdoing, has given more hours of evidence than any other witness — having so far appeared twice, once in person, once via video. Giving evidence via video is nothing out of the ordinary. About one-third of witnesses in Australia have done so, for reasons that include distance and work commitments.

Former Catholic priest Paul Bongiorno, now an ABC journalist, shared a house with that despicable creature Gerald Risdale, as did many others. Bongiorno says he had no idea what Risdale was up to. He has noted that paedophiles won’t normally come home in the evening and boast about how many boys they have raped. He is right, of course. Paedophiles are secretive and sneaky. There is no reason to think that Bongiorno or anyone else knew what Risdale was doing.

As soon as George Pell was in a position to know what had been happening, and to do something about it, he did. Just three months after he became Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996, he set up the first protocols for dealing with child abuse in any church group in Australasia, Europe or the US. The Melbourne Response, as it was called, was widely hailed by police and victim groups.

Essentially, anyone who had a complaint could discuss it in a non-adversarial environment. Counselling and other forms of support were offered. In many cases, financial compensation was offered. It is important to note that this was not meant to replace a victim’s right to go to the police. Victims who talked to the Melbourne Response were told of all their options, and could make a complaint to police at any time, including after their case had been heard by Melbourne Response, and financial compensation paid.

As well as being highly emotional, these were very often complicated and confusing situations, with unclear or conflicting evidence, with justice being dependent, of course, on what was the truth. What seems clear now, and justice now, after many years, and further evidence and cases, was not always clear at the time. Yet somehow in spite of all of his work over many years to stop child abuse within the church, and to make processes for victims as supportive and comfortable as possible, and to ensure outcomes were what victims needed, Pell is made out to be the bad guy.

For example, ABC TV News last week ran an interview with Chrissie and Anthony Foster as they departed Melbourne Airport for Rome, so as to be present when Cardinal Pell gives further evidence to the Royal Commission, as he is set to do tomorrow morning (February 29). Two of the Fosters’ daughters were sexually assaulted by a Catholic priest in Melbourne before George Pell became Archbishop of Melbourne.  This is what Mr Foster had to say, as reported by ABC TV:

We want to hear the truth. And he’s worked his way right through the hierarchy right up to the top of the Catholic Church.  So, we really want to hear the truth about what happened. And it’s about time we saw some action out of the Catholic Church. So maybe hearing the whole truth from him – we might actually start to see some action.

You can certainly understand the parents being upset and angry. But there are a couple of things to note, things the ABC did not note. Firstly, the assaults on their daughters took place before Pell was Archbishop of Melbourne. He did not know, and could not have known, what was happening. Secondly, the Foster family made use of the Melbourne Response, set up by the Archbishop Pell for exactly that purpose. Thirdly, even though he was not Archbishop when the Foster girls were assaulted, as part of the Response process, Pell personally apologised to the family “for the wrongs and hurt you have suffered.”

Fourthly, and finally, in November, 2005 the Foster family accepted $750,000 in compensation from the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, plus payment of their legal costs and an indemnity in respect to any payments to the Health Insurance Commission. (See the Royal Commission’s Report of Case Study No 16: The Melbourne Response, July 2015, page 19.)

Seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars! So what on earth does Mr Foster mean when he says, “We might finally start to see some action?”

And why blame Pell?

Peter Wales is a former Anglican clergyman who now runs an IT consultancy business on Kangaroo Island in South Australia

  • bemartin39@bigpond.com

    The grievance and victimhood industry have done a very effective hatchet job on Cardinal Pell. So effective that some otherwise reasonable and objective people now have some nagging doubts. The success of the process was due to the simple, rock solid rule that all victims are unscrupulously honest while all alleged perpetrators of abuse are suspects, at best. Minus unsubstantiated innuendos and sinister speculations, nothing of substance ever surfaced to condemn the Cardinal. No matter, the unalterable verdict of the church-hating luvvies holds sway.

    • bemartin39@bigpond.com

      That should be “scrupulously honest”, not “unscrupulously honest”.

    • Peter OBrien

      A couple of thoughts.

      I think it is extremely unlikely that there is any truth to the allegations that George Pell actually committed acts of paedophilia himself. Surely, as the most high profile priest involved in this issue in Australia, these would have come to light by now. Why would 10 or more victims have remained silent while others were receiving payouts? Were all of Pell’s alleged victims so sensitive that they were not prepared to come forward when the compensation was being doled out?

      Interestingly some victims are now claiming that the speed with which Pell set up the Melbourne Response is proof that he knew all about it all along. Seems he can’t win either way.

      That said, (and this is not a criticism of Pell) it is beyond me how the Catholic hierarchy could connive at keeping offending priests within the fold. By all means forgive them in a religious sense but, if their crimes came to light other than through the confessional, they should have been referred for prosecution. The general public views paedophilia as one of the most heinous crimes. It’s hard to imagine that the priests, who at the same time as they were telling me that masturbation is a mortal sin, could brush off this abomination with no more punishment than a parish transfer.

      • PT

        I get that. But there is a bit of he said/she said about these things. No doubt that’s why many complaints didn’t go to the police.

  • Rob Brighton

    I would hardly describe myself as a defender of the church or its representatives but Mr Pell does not deserve to be treated in such a manner.
    His biggest fault appears that he is a conservative person who has no truck with issues favorited by moral masterbaters virtue signalling their butts off for all to see.
    If he is a monster then it is between him, the police and his god. Dollar to ten says he is nothing other than what he represents himself as.
    That said, any organisation that has allowed the systematic buggery of children are evil and need to purged in the most ferocious of manner.

    • PT

      Ron, you’ve put your finger on it. That is exactly why they hate Pell. None of these luvvies would have said a word against Hilaly despite his many statements and beliefs they should hate. But as a man of “non-English speaking background” this is nothing.

  • DonOnTheLake

    The worst of the ancient ‘witch hunt’ mentality exists today. Emotionally primitive people, mass organised by a feral media. Why does mankind never learn or mature?

  • Lawrie Ayres

    Paul Bongiorno did not know and the media accepted that but Pell should have known; there is a hatchet job going on here and one that is staged by left wing journalists simply to embarrass Pell and the Catholic church. I don’t see these pathetic journos chasing down old men marrying underage Muslim girls or hunting the perpetrators of genital mutilation. I don’t see any stories about under aged aboriginal children being abused by adults. Indeed I haven’t seen the Commission do much apart from persecute Catholics.

  • ian.macdougall

    Lawrie Ayres:
    It’s not Catholics under scrutiny here. None of them could possibly be to blame for anything. It’s the Left!
    The Left, I tell you! The Left! The Left!

    • PT

      Really Ian? So you agree with Minchin then. Pell should have known, but Bongiorno couldn’t have? And why is that? Is it because lefties are always naive dimwits who don’t know their bum from their elbow but a “savvy conservative” should? I see the terrible phrase “double standard” in your post, and not for the first time!

      • ian.macdougall

        There has to date been a standard damage-control response of the Catholic clergy when victims of clerical abuse have courageously decided to come out and expose the rotten apples among the clerics for what they are. It has been to circle the wagons, go into denial, ‘tough it out’ (as Nixon did over Watergate) and not concede a thing, apart from the barest minimum.
        But the State is also in damage control. It has to be seen to respond when crimes are reported. Hence the Royal Commission. The Catholic hierarchy is part of the established power structure in this country, but so are the police and the judiciary. While the Catholic hierarchy wanted to do nothing in response to the victims’ reports of the outrageous sexual behaviour on the part of said clerical rotten apples, the minions of the State apparently saw that the whole thing would just build like a tornado and spiral out of control if they also did nothing. Thus the wheels of justice began slowly to turn, and Pell finished up in the hot seat: on an international video link: an international uncelebrity.
        If the clerics had responded when they first received the bad news by openly admitting it, confessing their collective failing according to the principles set out by Christ in the foundation documents of the faith they are in the business of spreading through all the world, then they would all be in a far stronger moral position today. But that little point has not come naturally to them. They have had to learn it the hard way. Might be time for them to dust off the old volumes written by the Schoolmen, and find out what those fellows might have recommended.
        Instead, they are behaving like a bunch of schoolboys caught smoking (or worse!) behind the toilet block, and dragged up before the Prefects’ Master. And their compassion for those whose lives have been scarred if not totally wrecked by their brother clerics’ uncaring behaviour appears to me to be far less than heartfelt: more like the fulfilment of a formal requirement.
        But then, I’m an outsider, not a Catholic.

        • Jody

          There’s a great deal of sense in these comments. But its just an awful spectacle seeing an aging man – who has built his whole life upon a belief in God (and which has yet to be proven) – being subjected to this horror. To me, he is repeating the same things and there’s not a lot of new information coming out. It’s like everybody wants him to suffer – I feel the element of revenge in these proceedings is overwhelming. And the image of victims flying in to watch a public stoning of a senior Catholic Cardinal is unedifying, to say the least. I was reminded of R2D2, Luke Skywalker and CP3O all holding hands when I saw some of them!!

          If we’ve decided that public stonings are the way to go to redress wrongs – from another era when political correctness wasn’t rife – then we needed not stop at the church. Let’s look at the culpability of our court system in letting predators loose on the street after appallingly lenient sentences which have resulted in death and maiming and for which NOBODY seems accountable. Neither is the community particularly disturbed when, time and time again, victims stand on the front steps of a courthouse saying ‘justice hasn’t been done’. This is the law, account to the Left. Leniency at a huge physical and emotional cost to the public. Yet who is saying or doing anything about, say, Jill Meagher’s family and their suffering and grief (just the name but one).

          The whole thing will Pell smells not only of rank hypocrisy, but of primitive bloodlust and industrial-strength Schadenfreud.

  • Keith Kennelly

    Lawrie Ayres

    Here are two other things you won’t see mentioned by the leftie luvvie media:

    Homosexual Pedophile Priests

    Lesbian Pedophile Nuns

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