"To what extent are victims helped by a continuing furore in the press" ... Cardinal Pell. Photo: Anthony Johnson
SMALL blessings. At last, it's not all about the Catholic Church. This royal commission, says Cardinal George Pell, is ''an opportunity to clear the air, to separate fact from fiction … We object to being described as the only cab on the rank.''
It was a crowded rank indeed when Cardinal Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, faced media on Tuesday at the Catholic Church's city headquarters, on the fifth floor of Polding House. The air might have benefited from some clearing as Cardinal Pell castigated the press for smearing and scapegoating the church with exaggerations and generalisations. The church acknowledged its shame, he said. But when it came to the ''percentages'' of abuse, the church was far from the only culprit - and the commission would establish that.
Cardinal Pell agreed he would likely be called before the inquiry - ''I should hope so'' - to answer past claims that he covered up for abusing priests, allegations he has consistently denied.
He then got the the kind of grilling he might expect at the commission. Hadn't victims been paid compensation to shut them up, to block legal action? ''I've never been involved in a case where people have been offered money so they wouldn't go through the courts.''
Had his approach to potential victims been coloured by the false claims 10 years ago - ''proven to be lies'', the reporter added - that he had molested a 12-year-old? ''We didn't make any change in procedures due to that. I am sensitive to the justice of every person involved.''
Cardinal Pell had accompanied a confessed paedophile to court in 1993, said 7.30's Leigh Sales. This, Cardinal Pell replied, had been an ''act of priestly solidarity'' for Father Gerald Ridsdale. His lawyer had asked Cardinal Pell to attend, but he had said he would not dispute the allegations. ''I would only say Ridsdale had done other good things.'' He was not aware of the extent of his crimes at the time. Ridsdale's nephew had told Cardinal Pell his uncle abused him - and he accused the archbishop of offering him hush money. ''No, I certainly didn't offer his nephew hush money … I'd known the lad. I was entirely sympathetic. I never had any intention of trying to shut him up.''
Or what about the case in court yesterday of 59-year-old Brother Martin Harmata, who is accused, with another teacher, of abuses at a western Sydney college in the 1980s? Lateline's Emma Alberici noted that the brother still featured on his order's website as a ''community leader''.
Could Cardinal Pell understand that such cases might create ''widespread public cynicism'' that the church is doing enough? ''I don't think there is a widespread public cynicism. There is certainly a cynicism in elements of the press … I think the general public certainly understands we're serious about this.''
Cardinal Pell waved a brochure, Sexual Abuse - The Response of the Archdiocese of Sydney. Since 1997, it had followed the strict protocols of Towards Healing. ''No victims are silenced,'' it says. ''It is completely prohibited to shift priests who have been charged - to shift them around,'' Cardinal Pell said.
''We are not interested in denying the extent of misdoing in the Catholic church. We object to it being exaggerated. We object to being described as the only cab on the rank.''
What of the protocol for priests who might confess abuse to another priest? ''Well, you know to that as well as I - the seal of Confession is inviolate.'' So, if a priest confesses to a crime … ''The seal of Confession is inviolate.''
But Cardinal Pell would advise priests not to take the Confession of a colleague if they had an inkling of abuse. ''I would never hear the Confession of a priest who is suspected of such a thing.''
Cardinal Pell was ''grateful'' when the Prime Minister assured him the royal commission would cover every corner of society, not exclusively the Catholic Church. Despite a ''press campaign focused largely on us, it does not mean we are the principal culprit''.
''I would welcome the release of statistics … showing the number of cases that police are dealing with; how many of them might involve Catholic teachers, priests or brothers; how many are historical incidents; how many are happening today. And I'm interested in asking whether police have the resources to deal with the day-to-day problems rather than - as well as - the historical problems.''
He worries about raking over so much history, whether police have the resources for it, and whether it is good for the victims.
''To what extent are victims helped by a continuing furore in the press over these allegations … to what extent are wounds simply opened by the re-running of events which have been reported not only once but many times previously?''
We are about to find out.
Some of the reported cases of abuse
Archdiocese of Perth Gerard William Dick was sentenced in 1995 to 3 years jail for 10 incidents of indecently dealing with boys aged between eight and 10 at a Christian Brothers’ orphanage in Western Australia.
Diocese of Bunbury Adrian Richard Van Klooster pleaded guilty to four counts of indecently dealing with children under the age of 13 and was found with child pornography on his computer.
St Andrew’s Hostel A former hostel warden at St Andrew’s Hostel in Katanning from the 1970s to early 1990s, DJK, is serving his second jail term for abusing 11 boys.
Children’s homes The WA government confirmed 22 government-run institutions were named by child victims of abuse lodged under the Redress WA scheme.
Fairbridge farm More than 200 child migrants who were among those sent to Pinjarra’s Fairbridge farm school for child migrants, between 1930 and 1981, have been awarded more than $1.1million.
Swan Valley Nyungah Camp In February 2008, the Aboriginal patriarch who ruled Perth’s Swan Valley Nyungah Camp, Robert Bropho, was sentenced to three years’ jail for five counts of unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl under 13 in 1990 and 1991.
Catholic Church in South Australia defends one of its priests, who was previously an Anglican before being ordained in 1995, against alleged incidents 35 years ago.
Former Anglican archdeacon
Louis Daniels pleads guilty to 13 counts of interfering with young boys between 1973 and 1993.
Church offers compensation to woman whose claims of child sexual abuse against a priest brought down the governor-general Peter Hollingworth.
Canberra Marist College In February 2008, a teacher at Marist College Canberra, Brother John William Chute, pleaded guilty to 11 charges of indecently assaulting students of the college during the 1980s.
The 2007 Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse found a ‘‘rampant informal sex trade’’ between young Aboriginal girls and non-Aboriginal mine workers.
Diocese of Townsville Neville Joseph Creen molested young girls while he served as a priest at Mount Isa from 1973 to 1981. In September 2003, he was sentenced to 3 years’ jail.
Toowoomba scandal A string of child sexual abuse cases at Anglican schools in Queensland in the 1990s emerged during the early 2000s.
Politician Bill D’Arcy Former Queensland state Labor MLA was sentenced to a total of 11 years’ jail for offences against six children after three trials.
Parker scandal Scout leader Maxwell Parker, 58, was jailed for 17 years after pleading guilty to 52 sex offences on eight boys over a 25-year period.
St John of God It is alleged up to 70 per cent of the Brothers from the order are suspected child abusers.
St Stanislaus College Former priests, chaplains and teachers are under investigation or have faced court over child sexual abuse that allegedly involved up to 40 boys from the 1960s to the early 1990s.
Archdiocese of Sydney Ross Murrin, 52, a former school teacher and Marist brother, found guilty in 2007 on charges related to the indecent assault of eight male year 5 students at a Daceyville school in 1974.
Hunter scandal The Newcastle-Maitland Diocese has 400 known victims of child sexual abuse by clergy, with 11 having been charged and convicted since 1995. Six Catholic teachers have been convicted.
Diocese of Wagga Wagga In 2002, 70-year-old Vincent Kieran Kiss pleaded guilty to the sexual abuse of four teenage boys, aged 13 to 17, between 1966 and 1973 at locations including Albury, Yass and Sydney.
Diocese of Wollongong In 2010, Kelvin Gerald Sharkey, 83, was sentenced to at least 15 months’ jail for sexually abusing an altar boy between 1969 and 1975.
Ellmore In 2001 paedophile Robert Ellmore became the first Anglican priest to be defrocked since the 1880s, and was sentenced to nine years’ jail for abusing young girls.
Knox Grammar At least three teachers from the prestigious school have been convicted over child sex offences in the 1970s and 1980s.
Orkopoulos Former NSW government minister Milton Orkopoulos was dismissed in November 2006 after he was charged with (and later found guilty of) child sex and other offences.
Dunn paedophile ring Robert Joseph ‘‘Dolly’’ Dunn was sentenced to 20 years’ jail in 2001 for 24 sexual offences between 1985 and 1995.
Wollongong Former Jehovah’s Witness member Robert Souter pleaded guilty in August 2000 to one count of buggery and four counts of indecent assault on two teenage boys from 1978 to 1980 and was sentenced to five years’ jail.
Corrie Roderick Corrie, 57, one of the most senior Scouts in NSW, was jailed for seven years in February 2000 after pleading guilty to eight charges of sexual abuse, including rape and buggery.
St Alipius Primary School, Ballarat Robert Best sentenced last year to almost 15 years’ jail for sexual crimes against 11 boys aged eight to 11 in Ballarat, Box Hill and Geelong between 1969 and 1988.
St Patrick’s College, Ballarat Brother Edward Dowlan sentenced to almost a decade in jail for indecently assaulting 11 male students under 16 between 1971 and 1982. Gerald Risdale sentenced to 13 years in jail relating to 10 boys under his care between 1970 and 1987 when he was a Catholic priest.
St John of God Paid more than $3.6million compensation to sex abuse victims by Brothers in Hospitaller Order in homes in Cheltenham and Lilydale.
St Leo’s secondary school, Box Hill, and St Joseph’s, Geelong Police reports of suicide victims who were subject to suspected and known clergy abuse at both schools.
Baltara, Pleasant Creek, Turana Alleged history of abuse at all three.
Melbourne Jewish boys’ school Yeshivah College rocked by sexual abuse accusations against one of its staff.
Victorian parliamentary inquiry into child sex abuse told of credible anecdotal evidence of monks within Melbourne’s Hindu community being ’’shipped back to the home country’’.