Sydney’s Cardinal George Pell has raised eyebrows recently by discussing nearly a century of institutionalized child sexual abuse within Australia’s Catholic Church, though many are taking his words with a grain of salt after what he has said in the past. Taking the stand to testify against new legislation that would allow victims of sexual abuse to seek greater damages, Pell spoke frankly about the church’s failings to report sexual abuse and punish those responsible during his own time as a priest and under previous cardinals. He also said that the epidemic of abuse has persisted throughout the church because of loose entry requirements for priests, celibacy, past errors of judgment, and inaction.
Pell, who is Australia’s most senior Catholic official, told a Victorian inquiry that sexual abuse has been covered up by church officials for fear of scandal, and that his predecessor, Archbishop of Melbourne Sir Frank Little, had himself covered up sex scandals involving priests and minors.
Regarding the issue of celibacy among Catholic Priests as a factor towards their sexual abuse of children, Pell blunted his earlier statement, saying “As we all know pedophilia is acted out institutional settings by married people so marriage is not necessarily a deterrent to pedophilia. I also think the entry procedures … for candidates in the middle of last century was much too loose.”
“We deal with an enormous number of children, probably more than others put together- 140,000 students.”
Despite his admissions of guilt on behalf of the Catholic Church and his opposition to new legislation empowering sexual abuse victims, Pell did offer his apologies to those that have been hurt by the church in the past.
“I’m fully apologetic and absolutely sorry,” said Pell. “Many in the church did not understand just what damage was being done to the victims. We understand that better now.”
Still, Pell has not been the most progressive figure in the effort to fight the sexual abuse of children, much of which was perpetrated by the organization in which he is a ranking member. Salon reports that, eleven years ago, Pell told a group of World Youth Day delegates that “abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people,” because, in his eyes, abortion is always the destruction of human life.
Further weakening Pell’s admission and apology is his opposition to new legislation that would increase the sum for which sexual abuse victims can sue the Catholic Church. Pell took the stand before the Victorian parliament, which has already assessed that roughly 620 children were sexually abused by clergy in Australia from the 1930s to the present, and that this abuse has been systematically suppressed by the nation’s Catholic hierarchy. Though Pell’s appearance was only to answer questions before the inquiry, the Cardinal wrote a letter opposing the legislation, saying that the proposal would unfairly target the Catholic Church and that victims have already been provided with enough under existing laws.
Image Credit: Reuters / Tim Wimborne