The archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, often fills the role for the Catholic Church “Down Under” that Cardinal Bernard Law once did in Boston for the U.S. church: that is, a trenchant voice for “orthodoxy” and the commanding face of the hierarchical church, a man who could alienate many inside the church and out, including many of his fellow bishops–though he would never disappoint Rome.
Now Pell may have something else in common with Law, in light of the ABC News (Australia) reports of his recent failings regarding an abusive priest and his victims. Grant Gallicho at dotCommonweal has the story here, but in brief: Pell wrote to a sexual abuse victim who had complained about a priest, Fr. Terence Goodall, who he said had sexually abused him. The man, Anthony Jones, said he was 29 at the time of the alleged rape, in 1982, and not underage. Pell said Goodall denied the charges, and Pell said he was dismissing the alleged victim’s complaint because he had no other reports of wrongdoing by Goodall. Except that Pell had another complaint against Goodall, and that same day wrote to another Goodall victim–who was a minor at the time of the assault–to acknowledge the charges. And, just three weeks earlier Pell’s own internal investigator urged him to accept the victims’ allegations.
WORSE STILL, ABC News got hold of documents showing that Goodall admitted to Pell that he had sexually abused a sixteen-year-old girl, and that contrary to Pell’s public assertion, Goodall was still acting publicly as a priest at least a year after he admitted to two complaints of sexual contact with a man and a boy.
Pell doesn’t come off well in this ABC report, defending his absolution of the priest to the victim this way: “That was poorly put. I was attempting to inform him that there was no other allegation of rape,” he said. “The incidents were run together. That was done badly.” Pell’s complaint that the man’s demand for $3.5 million was “excessive” doesn’t help matters much.
Here is the latest revelation from ABC and a Herald Sun story. All this is via the invaluable AbuseTracker.
All this comes just days before Pope Benedict arrives for World Youth Day, the church’s chance to burnish its reputation amid declining mass attendance and other problems. The event has already been plagued by low attendance and myriad other problems, and Pell’s missteps are not likely to help.
Last month Pell told Sky News that it would be appropriate for Pope Benedict XVI to voice regret for the clerical sex-abuse scandal during his visit. “I’m not expecting him to make any dramatic statements,” the cardinal told Sky News. But he added: “Certainly there’s plenty for which we’re not proud.”
As often happens, the cardinal speaks volumes. One should also note that Pell led the charge against his former auxiliary, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson (now retired), whose book on the abuse crisis and reforming the church I wrote about here. Pell may want to give it a read, too, I think.