Press campaign ... "there is a persistent press campaign focused largely on us, that does not mean we are largely the principal culprits" ... Cardinal George Pell.

"Because there is a persistent press campaign focused largely on us, that does not mean we are largely the principal culprits" ... Cardinal George Pell. Photo: Anthony Johnson

Grave of mien, choosing each word with studied care, every inch a prince of Rome, Cardinal George Pell defied the accusers.

The sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests had been exaggerated, he told a news conference in Sydney on Tuesday. There was a "press campaign" against the church, with "general smears that we are covering up and moving people around''.

"We object to being described as the only cab on the rank … because there is a persistent press campaign focused largely on us, that does not mean we are largely the principal culprits.''

With those few sentences, Australia's most senior Catholic churchman flung aside any lingering shred of moral authority attached either to his person or his office as the Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney. There were one or two perfunctory remarks about "shame" delivered in that familiar treacly baritone, but that was it. Strip away the apostolic airs and he could have been a flack for James Hardie assuring the world that the dangers of the company's asbestos products had been rather overblown.

It was monstrous. It was despicable. To portray the church as a victim in this filthy business was an Orwellian reversal of the polarity of right and wrong, truth and fiction. With self-serving hypocrisy, Pell delivered yet another slap in the face to those hundreds if not thousands of children, and their families, who suffered abuse. For the rest of us, it was an insult to the intelligence.

Nobody is suggesting the Catholic church is the only cab on the rank. In Australia and worldwide, this epidemic of child abuse has extended across the Christian denominations and into schools, state institutions, the Boy Scouts, and sports clubs and teams. In my extended family, I know of a young boy in country NSW abused by an Anglican rector. The brute was quietly moved on when his crimes were discovered. Just this week in Britain, a retired Bishop of Gloucester in the Church of England was arrested on suspicion of sexual offences committed against eight boys as young as 12.

But the truly sickening thing about the Catholic church was the sinister cover-up, which ran for decades and which, for all we know, might still be happening. The statistics are there, and they are shocking. At a parliamentary inquiry in Melbourne last month, a deputy commissioner of the Victoria Police, Graham Ashton, revealed that since 1956 there had been 2110 sexual offences against 519 child victims in that state alone, about 70 per cent of them committed by Catholic priests, brothers or teachers. Not one of those crimes had ever been reported to the police by the church, he said. Not one.

Like the Bourbons, Pell has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. For him, the primacy of the church is all. His pastoral failure is absolute.

THE best and worst of the NSW Police Force showed up in bold relief this week. The best appeared in the person of Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, of the Hunter Valley.

Fox was the whistleblower whose mighty blast was heard all the way to Canberra. After about 30 years of investigating the rape and other sexual abuse of children in the Hunter, sometimes with success, at other times thwarted at every turn, he decided he'd had enough. Something had to be done about the Catholic church cover-up and what he feared was the blind-eyed connivance of some of his police superiors.

He came to this decision after what was known as the Shine the Light rally in Newcastle in September, a public gathering held after the suicide of John Pirona, a man who had been the victim of a vicious paedophile priest.

Here, Fox heard my Fairfax colleague and friend Peter FitzSimons invoke the line usually attributed to Edmund Burke, that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. "I asked myself: 'Am I one of those people allowing this to continue to flourish because I'm not saying anything?'" he later told Fairfax Media.

That did it. In defiance of all the police rules, he wrote his now famous letter to Barry O'Farrell asking for a royal commission. It must have been an agonising decision, but it was emphatically the right one. It led, in quick time, to Julia Gillard's announcement of the coming federal commission. No doubt Fox will be ostracised and quite probably punished in the force, shunned for breaking the code of silence, but history will record that he was indeed a good man who stood bravely against the march of evil.

Not so the gang of uniformed police thugs who brought about the death of the Brazilian student Roberto Laudisio Curti last March. As the coroner found, they went berserk with their boots and their Tasers. It is a mystery that the officer in charge, one Gregory Cooper, was only recently promoted to inspector. He should be flung out on his ear, which can be done at a stroke by the withdrawal of the commissioner's confidence.

THE Independent Commission Against Corruption hearing into the doings of Eddie Obeid and others continues to enrich our lives. I was captivated by the suggestion that Obeid had been planning a bit of goat farming above what later and miraculously turned out to be a rich coal seam in the Hunter. A nostalgic echo of a sun-filled boyhood in Lebanon, perhaps, the young goatherd of the Bekaa Valley now made good in the new land.

Also amusing was the testimony from Morris Iemma and Nathan Rees that Obeid and his little mate, Joe Tripodi, ruled the Labor caucus with iron fists. This surprised no one in the entire state, with the apparent exception of current party leader, John Robertson.

I was always amazed, though, that the other dopes allowed this to happen. The reptilian Obeid was ever an operator for whom the phrase "colourful Sydney businessman" was sadly inadequate. Tripodi never struck me as anything more than a talking lasagne.

But on it goes. The convener of the NSW Right is Noreen Hay, the member for Wollongong, renowned for her role in the underpants dancing scandal which did for a police minister, Matt Brown, in 2008, and a figure familiar to the property developers of the Illawarra to this day.

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