Cardinal George Pell backs Vatican over dealings with abuse victims
- Herald Sun
- August 21, 2014
From the Link: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/law-order/cardinal-george-pell-backs-vatican-over-dealings-with-abuse-victims/story-fni0fee2-1227032175413?sv=6abf015f21205d06311103e05f9b1614&nk=7a95cce4e928348f27a4e9b21b943770
CARDINAL George Pell last night backed the Vatican over victims of sexual abuse saying it was unreasonable for the Royal Commission to request papal documents regarding every case of abusive clergy.
Giving evidence to the abuse royal commission via videolink from Rome Cardinal Pell said the Vatican was right to refuse to release papal documents relating to every abuse case involving an Austrlian cleric. Describing those documents as “internal working documents of another sovereign state” Cardinal Pell said the Church had provided 5000 pages of documents which he deemed sufficient.
In a letter to the commission in July Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin refused a request by commissioner Justice Peter McClellan for documents with respect to “each case” of clerical abuse.
He said the Commission wanted to understand the extent to which Australian clerics accused of child sexual abuse had been referred to the Holy See. The Cardinal outraged victims by admitting he hadn’t been following the Royal Commission because he had been busy in Rome.
The comments sparked audible gasps from victims who had turned out to watch his evidence.
During almost three hours of testimony he was forced to defend claims he acted disingenuosly when dealing with victims.
He was also forced to reject suggestions he sought to protect the Church’s finances instead of helping victims.
“My primary concern was to try to help the victims,” Cardinal Pell said. “I have been wrestling with the problem for 18 years.”
Cardinal Pell introduced the Melbourne Response to deal with complaints of sexual abuse in 1996 just months after being appointed Archbishop of Melbourne.
He said he knew he had to act to deal with the suffering of dozens of sexual abuse victims.
“There was evidence that something needed to be done to deal with the suffering,” he said.
“It was felt this compensation panel was only one arm of the appraoch, to lessen suffering and to help these people and to do it quickly rather than have it drag on forever.
“We fully accepted our moral responsibilty towards those who had suffered”. He said he never anticipated the volume of complaints against paedophile priests when he launched the program.
Almost 20 years after its inception more than 300 victims of sexual abuse have been paid more than $17 million through the Melbourne Response scheme. But it has been heavily criticised for discouraging victims from going to police about their abuse.
Cardinal Pell admitted the structure of the church made it difficult for victims to seek compensation through the courts.
He said victims of sexual abuse had two choices: take a maximum church payout of $50,000 or risk getting nothing.
“Many of the peole we helped through the compensation panel would have received nothing or very little after going through thte courts,” he said. “Some certainly would have received more. They were free to choose whether they entered into our compensation system, knowing there was a $50,000 cap or go through the courts.
“We only did what other comparable groups did or paid.
“Certainly I myself and the members of that compensation panel were aware of the contemporary standards of compensation then and our record shows we were ahead of the curve.”
The church considered creating a legal entity in 1996 that could be sued by victims, but designed the Melbourne Response compensation scheme instead which limited payouts to victims to $50,000 that later increased to $75,000. Cardinal Pell told the royal commission earlier this year he believed the church should now create an entity that could be sued.
In 2007 the New South Wales Appeals Court ruled the Church could not be held liable for the conduct of its priests.
It also ruled it could not be sued.
Victims have, on average, received $33,000 from the Melbourne archdiocese, while those who pursued independent actions received, on average, $293,000. The Melbourne Response was one of the global Church’s first schemes to offer redress to victims of paedophile priests.