Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
28 May 2013
Speaking to the six members of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry, a packed meeting room and overflow room for victims of abuse, support groups and media, Cardinal Pell said he was "fully apologetic and absolutely sorry" for victims of child sex abuse committed by priests or church works.
As Cardinal Pell's appearance was streamed live he said to the committee "that is the basis for everything which I'll now say".
The Archbishop was Sydney was invited to appear before the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the handling of sex abuse allegations during the time he was archbishop of Melbourne (1996-2001).
Originally scheduled to last from 1.30-3.30pm the Cardinal's appearance ran to six pm with a short recess called by the Chair of the Committee, Ms G. Crozier.
Answering many repetitive questions Cardinal Pell said victims of abuse are and must be the church's first priority. On a number of occasions he renewed his apology to victims and their families saying the terrible crimes carried out by convicted priest-paedophiles were appalling and reprehensible.
He said within 100 days of becoming Archbishop of Melbourne he established the Melbourne Response and the role of the Independent Commissioner to investigate complaints and make findings.
Cardinal Pell agreed past cases of sexual child abuse by priests had been very badly handled, there had been serious errors of judgement and added; "I don't think many of any persons in the leadership of the Catholic church knew what an horrendous widespread mess we were sitting on."
He said it was likely fear of scandal prompted the cover-up of child sex abuse allegations saying;"The primary motivation would have been to protect the reputation of the church.
Cardinal Pell said the number of reports of abuse by clergy members peaked in the 1970s and 80s, but had fallen as the church introduced initiatives to tackling the crime including welcoming enhanced laws, effective internal procedures, greater vigilance among Church leaders and working with police and child protection authorities. He also reaffirmed his commitment to providing practical help and support to victims.
He said it was likely fear of scandal prompted cover-up of child sex abuse saying:"The primary motivation would have been to protect the reputation of the church."
Cardinal Pell also agreed actions by some previous church hierarchy in relation to child abuse allegations was totally unacceptable.
However Cardinal Pell said he believed efforts by the Church in the past 20 years should be seen as a serious attack to tackle the problem was evidenced by the fact the number of reports of abuse by clergy members peaked in the 1970s and 80s.
He said the Melbourne Response and Towards Healing in Victoria upheld 224 complaints of sexual abuse arising from the 1970s, 82 complaints arising from the 1980s, 12 complaints arising from the 1990s, and 1 complaint arising in the decade from 2000. Cardinal Pell said the numbers had fallen as the church introduced initiatives to tackle the crime including welcoming enhanced laws, effective internal procedures, greater vigilance among Church leaders and working with police and child protection authorities. He also reaffirmed his commitment to providing practical help and support to victims.
In a hearing which lasted longer than any other public session held by the committee, Cardinal Pell answered detailed questions on policies, procedures, sex abuse allegations, convictions, individual priests, victims, financial arrangements and caps, church structure, investigations and church correspondence.
Cardinal Pell concluded by saying the church is well aware of the gravity of the problem of child sexual abuse and in fact there is a grim list of abuses. However he believed it was wrong to say nothing has changed and the church has and is working hard to correct that perception.
In recommitting himself to preventing abuse and protecting people and providing victims and their families with compassion and support Cardinal Pell said he is looking forward to the committee's recommendations.
Cardinal Pell's submission is available at http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/fcdc/article/1789 under "Pell, Cardinal George, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Sydney".
For a statement from Cardinal Pell, click here
Room With A View - a perspective of the hearing.
Members of the public had been queuing for hours prior to the 1.30 scheduled start of the Inquiry hearing.
For some positions were saved. When the doors were opened the public and the media juggled for chairs.
An "overflow room" had been arranged where the hearing could be watched on closed circuit television. It too was quickly filled.
From the start, and even before, tweeting was incessant. Some of it even correct, although by the nature of tweets out of context.
One scribe, desperate for "colour" later wrote that no one rose when Cardinal Pell came into the room. Those who managed to secure a seat also stayed seated when the committee members and the media entered.
While some scrambled to keep notes, other notes were regularly handed to committee members. Perhaps question reminders from staffers. Although as the hearing dragged on one unkind person was heard to suggest they may have been dinner orders.
The aforementioned scribe keen on "colour" also wrote of the Cardinal after the hearing; "He was in civvies: white shirt, no jewellery, his head bowed under the weight of the mitre he wasn't wearing."
Perhaps his view was hindered by the cameras. Cardinal Pell was actually wearing a white shirt and clerical collar, his Bishop's ring. True no mitre in sight- but it wasn't a liturgical occasion after all. The "colour" continued - "His voice is masculine but oddly refined: Oxford over Ballarat." Crucial information for those seriously following the Inquiry.
In what some in the meeting room described as a gruelling afternoon "dotted with unnecessary asides and comments" the hearing continued.
There were important questions on the feelings and attitude of victims, church policies and procedures, lack of awareness and cover-ups, reprehensible crime, court cases and compensation. And detailed answers were expected.
Cardinal Pell was allowed a short summation and asked his submission be posted on the official website within 24 hours, rather than months as with some other submissions.
It is hoped the content and core information of the afternoon was not shaded by performance and effect.
Unfortunately the good, the bad and the ugly of twitter and social media soon became evident.
One twitter appeared as a direct quote from Cardinal Pell. It went viral, was re-tweeted, re-phrased and presented as fact. Those watching the hearing live came online.
They had not heard the comment, where was the clarification? Many, including the original tweeter, refused to correct until the official transcript was published - which had not been three days later. The next day the comment was now on several online blogs. One such blog which describes itself as "Australia's least reliable source of cutting edge news, politics and current affairs, was then used by several people, including the original tweeter, as evidence the comment had been made. Not so. Lesson? As many have already discovered, best to check before bursting into tweet.
Meantime the most important outcome of the hearings is that the Inquiry and hopefully the ensuing recommendations will go a long way in tackling the scourge of child sexual abuse.