In June of 2017, the best-selling book Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell
written by investigative journalist, Louise Milligan, was withdrawn from sale in bookshops across Victoria. Cardinal George Pell had just been charged with multiple historical sexual offences against children. The publisher, Melbourne University Press was concerned that the book could prejudice the case and be in contempt of court.
George Pell has since been convicted of child sexual abuse and is currently in custody awaiting sentencing on the 13 March 2019. Pell continues to maintain his innocence on all charges. His appeal hearing has been set for June 7-8, which critics claim is unfair as most inmates usually have to wait a year or longer before their challenging of a court verdict is heard.
Now that CARDINAL is available for sale again, I can finally post my review. This is a book that is even more relevant then ever, because Pell is now a convicted paedophile. His crimes are no longer just allegations.
One of the complainants Milligan interviewed for the book, whose criminal trial was recently dropped by prosecutors (due to insufficient evidence) has now elected to take the matter forward, via a personal civil action against Pell and other church and state entities, including the trustees of the Sisters of Nazareth (formerly St Joseph’s), the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne and the State of Victoria.
In another associated case, the father of one of two St Patrick’s Cathedral choir boys sexually assaulted by Pell, has announced that he intends to sue Pell and the Church following the death of his son due to an accidental drug overdose.
These victims’ accusations, along with many more against Pell and other Catholic clergy, and the resultant cover-ups, are also detailed by Milligan and her research is thorough; searching and reading through hundreds of documents, tracking down and interviewing victims and their families, Catholic clergy, teachers and principals.
So much of what Milligan writes about in CARDINAL is heart-breaking. e.g. Several generations of children abused by the same paedophile priest, children raped by priests at their school. Pell’s Melbourne Response, which he established to compensate victims of Catholic clergy abuse is heavily criticised and considered dangerous. In one case, the victim was forced to confront her abuser, alone with him in a room with the door closed, before the Church would even consider compensation. And most critics say that compensation is woefully inadequate to pay for psychologists, psychiatrists, medication, etc.
It is very interesting to read about Pell’s rising authoritarianism and adherence to strict orthodoxy which enabled him to make the changes he carried out at Corpus Christi seminary in Clayton. When he was first appointed as rector, he sacked all the staff, and dismantled the strict screening processes for those young men wishing to join the priesthood. Vocations for the priesthood were plummeting so there was a worldwide shortage of parish priests. All who wished to enter the seminary in Victoria were from then onwards accepted at face value! Someone who spoke to Milligan stated that Pell’s ‘exercise of power was ruthlessly destructive.’ The ‘veritable tsunami of child sexual abuse claims coming at the nation’s Catholic Church’ revealed that Victoria had more paedophile Catholic clergy, and victims, than in any other place in the country, and most of the paedophiles operated during Pell’s time as priest or bishop.
Yet Pell is persistent in his claims that his Melbourne Response procedures were the first to respond to help victims of clerical paedophilia, but this is hotly disputed by several critics of Melbourne Response in the book. The percentage of Catholic clergy in Australia, including Christian brothers and priests, accused of sexually abusing children, as revealed by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse, is staggering.
Another aspect of Pell’s governance of the Church which Milligan explores is Pell’s obsession that the Australian Catholic Church would disappear into obscurity because of its ‘egalitarian nature’ and he agreed with Pope John Paul ll that this egalitarian nature would undermine the authority of the clergy! Pope John Paul ll, Pope Benedict XVl and George Pell, are now suspected of having covered up thousands of cases of sexual abuse of children by paedophile Catholic clergy worldwide. None-the-less, by the year 2002, Pell had become a true Catholic celebrity; wined and dined by media and politicians, including Liberal prime ministers, by which time he had gained the epithet ‘a brilliant conversationalist’. But so rigid was Pell in his determination to keep the Australian Church within his parameters of strict orthodoxy, that many priests called him ‘Captain Catholic’; the Church’s reputation always came first above all else, including the safety of children. Pell had finally succeeded in making ‘his’ Australian Catholic Church in his own image. Meanwhile, hundreds of children around Australia had been raped and brutally abused by Catholic clergy, indeed were still being abused, and the Church was by this time well skilled in covering up that abuse.
Then in 2013 the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was established. The worm was turning.
During Cardinal Pell’s testimony at the Royal Commission, he repeatedly denied that he knew about paedophilia in his Church. The Commission’s Chair, Justice McClellan interrupted; ‘We have heard from others that paedophilia has been understood by some in the Church as sexual activity with prepubescent children but not adolescent children’. Pell said he was aware of the distinction.
‘It is not unknown, of course for priests to have engaged in sexual activity with adolescent boys, is it?’ McClellan asked. Pell replied that that was correct. So, although a priest having sex with prepubescent children was a sin and a crime of paedophilia, a priest having sex with adolescent boys was merely homosexuality? The people in the courtroom were reported to have responded with horror at this revelation. ‘So’, Milligan writes:
‘the Catholic Church that lectured to people that sexual intercourse was not permitted outside the bounds of marriage, that had railed against the contraceptive pill and condoms, this same Church had made granular distinctions between how it viewed sexual relations of whatever complexion, between adult priests and boys, depending on their age? Well, yes, it seems that it did.’ This is so very disturbing and goes some way in explaining how the Church has managed to trivialise and cover up the abuse and rape of children across the world, for decades.
The pomposity and arrogance of Pell is evident for all to see. His answers to questions during the Royal Commission, and at other public hearings, were evasive, with deliberate obfuscation and ‘I don’t recall’ replies. This can be attributed to a form of ‘mental reservation’ or ‘mentalis restrictio’ in the Latin; essentially a Catholic loophole in the truth. Many of Pell’s victims are convinced this is how he evades answering questions truthfully, even under oath. It is a theological strategy dating back centuries which involves the idea of truths ‘expressed partly in speech and partly in the mind’. Lying is considered a sin but it is a Christian’s ethical duty to tell god the truth …restricting part of that truth from human ears is okay if it serves the greater good i.e. protecting the Catholic Church’s wealth and its reputation.
The book also focuses on Pell’s propensity to blame others for the Church’s failings in protecting children from paedophile clergy. He appears to readily blame other bishops and priests, whenever he is questioned too closely. Although he often uses the phrase ‘I can’t recall’ when reminded of some particular episode or answer he has given in the past, he always has rapid recall of a name he can use to accuse another bishop or priest of negligence in using their powers to protect children e.g. bishop Mulkearns, who it is alleged frequently asked for Pell’s assistance to deal with serial paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale from ‘Catholic Ballarat’. Mulkearns even travelled to the Vatican to consult with Pope Benedict XVl. When Mulkearns sat down with the pope, Mulkearns asked him for help to deal with Ridsdale. The pope stood up, turned his back on the bishop, and walked out of the room. That’s strict Catholic orthodoxy in practice!
Could Pell have devised and upheld the strict orthodoxy of the Australian Catholic Church in order, not only to augment his own power to protect the Church and its wealth and assets, but also to keep hidden his own dark secrets?
Reading this book shines a bright light on the extreme suffering of the child victims of clerical abuse, and the breach of trust; absolutely no empathy for victims is displayed by the Catholic Church’s hierarchy. There are many people within the Church who do not believe that Pell is guilty of paedophilia, and are certain that the victims are lying and are intent only on destroying the Church. Do these supporters of Pell not realise that they are enabling paedophiles?
In May 2015, child psychiatrist and associate professor from the University of New South Wales, Carolyn Quadrio, gave evidence at the Royal Commission. She is arguably Australia’s most experienced practitioner on the impact of childhood sexual abuse throughout a victim’s life. Milligan writes that the Commission had such confidence in Quadrio’s expertise that it devoted an entire day to her evidence.
Quadrio tells Milligan during an interview that ‘when a member of the clergy abuses a child it can be more profoundly unsettling for the victim than when it is an ordinary member of the community.’ She goes on to say that the ‘trauma of betrayal itself can be more traumatic than the memory of the physical act of sexual abuse.’ Quadrio explains at length in CARDINAL, the reasons for this.
Through her many years of practice, and intense study of local and international research, Quadrio has discovered that there is a distinct difference between the way that boys respond to abuse, compared to that of girls. As Quadrio states in her evidence to the Royal Commission: ‘There needs to be a huge amount of awareness that children who are troubled, are troubled for a reason.’
I recommend this book to all parents and families, whether Catholic, or any other faith, or indeed atheists, because it will not only instruct readers on the evil of paedophilia within the Catholic Church, but it will ensure that sexual abuse of children on this scale, never happens again. That children will be safe at school and families will be more aware of the signs that their child is being sexually abused.
– Anne Frandi-Coory 12 March 2019
Update 13 March 2019: Today, Cardinal George Pell was sentenced by Judge Kidd to six years in prison with a non-parole period of three years and eight months for historical sex offences against two choirboys. His name has been added to the Sex Offenders’ Register.
Update 21 August 2019: On this date, Cardinal George Pell’s Appeal was dismissed by two of the three Court of Appeal Judges.