The Catholic Church’s “institutional failure” to respond appropriately to child abuse extends to its leader in Australia, Cardinal George Pell, a parliamentary inquiry reports.
But Cardinal Pell says he welcomes the Victorian inquiry’s report and supports many of its recommendations.
The parliamentary inquiry into child abuse took Cardinal Pell to task in its report over his attempt to separate the church as a whole from the actions of senior religious figures it said had “minimalised and trivialised” the issue.
In a swipe at Cardinal Pell’s evidence, its report said that following repeated questioning he agreed some bishops and religious superiors had covered up the issue.
“That is quite different from the whole church … the whole church is not guilty of that,” he told the inquiry.
Cardinal Pell denied claims the church had trivialised child sex abuse.
“By the standards of common decency and by today’s standards, church authorities were not only slow to deal with the abuse, but sometimes did not deal with it in any appropriate way at all. This is indefensible,” Cardinal Pell said.
The committee also challenged Cardinal Pell over a speech he gave in Ireland in 2011 in which he said a Supreme Court judge had advised him the sex abuse scandal “would bleed us to death” if not cleaned up.
Its report said Cardinal Pell – the archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 to 2001 – seemed to indicate the church’s central aim was to safeguard its own interests.
The committee also rejected evidence of other church leaders that awareness of sexual abuse was “slow to percolate through society and the church”.
“Rather than being instrumental in exposing the issue and the extent of the problem, the Catholic Church in Victoria minimalised and trivialised the problem, contributed to abuse not being disclosed and ensured the community remained uninformed,” the report said.
Cardinal Pell said he supported recommendations for the creation of a government-established independent, alternative avenue for justice for victims of child abuse.
He said a recommendation for the Catholic Church to become incorporated, and therefore capable of being sued, was being examined.