WHENEVER I think about Cardinal George Pell – and I try not to, really, because life is too short – I think about Jesus.
Before concerned friends leap to the phone to check if I’ve succumbed to the demands of the past few years, can I just say I link Pell and Christ because the best way to consider the cardinal is by applying the ‘‘What would Jesus do?’’ test.
He’s the most prominent Catholic in Australia so we should be lining up his words and actions against the teachings of the first Christian. Only then can we answer the question, does Pell practise what the church preaches?
(A pause here to note I can’t lay claim to the ‘‘What would Jesus do?’’ test because it was Peter Gogarty – outspoken victim of child sex offender priest Jim Fletcher – who first suggested it, initially as a joke, but increasingly seriously.)
The ‘‘What would Jesus do?’’ test will come in handy next week when Pell gives much-anticipated evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
He will answer questions about how the Sydney archdiocese, and he personally, acted when solicitor John Ellis alleged the priest Aidan Duggan had groomed him as an altar boy and sexually assaulted him for many years.
Ellis is well known to Hunter victims of child sexual abuse, especially by priests John Denham and Denis McAlinden. Those victims have received at least $10million from the church because of Ellis’s work, supported by his wife Nicola, and despite the impact of his personal battle for justice with the Sydney archdiocese.
Pell has a few thorny issues to negotiate next week before he jets off to Rome for his new job, after evidence this week from some of the men under him.
There’s the problem of why the archdiocese brought in legal firm Corrs in 2004 to replace another legal firm which ‘‘unhesitatingly and strongly’’ recommended mediating a negotiated settlement with Ellis after a church investigation accepted his allegations were true.
Pell will be questioned about evidence from archdiocese chancellor Monsignor Brian Rayner that ‘‘the cardinal wanted Corrs to run the case’’ rather than the other legal firm. Corrs immediately advised the archdiocese to ‘‘vigorously defend’’ Ellis’s matter at the point where Ellis needed to persuade a court to grant him an extension of time to pursue his case.
Corrs also ruled out mediation as an option. Pell will be questioned about who instructed the firm on that issue.
Pell will be asked how his chancellor came to make an affidavit that included ‘‘deceptive’’ and wrong information that gave the impression Aidan Duggan was not at the Sydney parish of Bass Hill for most of the time Ellis alleged some of the offences occurred.
Rayner told the royal commission he did not prepare the affidavit and had not read it carefully.
As Pell gives his answers next week, we can ask ourselves ‘‘What would Jesus have done?’’, keeping in mind that’s the Jesus who said, ‘‘Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’’.
Which brings me to my next point – Cardinal George Pell and being humble. And that’s not a joke.
During evidence this week Rayner talked about Pell’s role in Towards Healing – about how ‘‘very grateful’’ victims were when they ‘‘had a cup of tea with the cardinal’’ after ‘‘everything was concluded’’. That occurred after victims signed deeds of release preventing them from taking any legal action.
Pell would ‘‘say to them that he’s glad the matter has been brought to a conclusion that was happy for the victim and that, in apologising, might make their life easier’’, Rayner said.
Just the mere presence of ‘‘His Eminence’’, apparently, would heal the devastating consequences of child sexual abuse so the victims would leave ‘‘happy’’, said Rayner. He also told the commission he had completed no training on the impact of child sexual abuse before being left to deal with victims in the Sydney archdiocese.
I would love to quote what people at the royal commission said after that evidence, but we are a family newspaper and I’m mindful of the kiddies.
I took part in a discussion this week that included retired Catholic Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, who was sexually abused as a child and was an architect of Towards Healing. He also wrote Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church.
Church leaders had failed, he said. They refused to address the central issue in this crisis – the abuse of church power and the need for bishops to humble themselves before making significant changes to the relationship between the church, its followers and society.
What would Jesus do? He’d suffer with the little children.