Pictured above: In 1993, then Auxiliary Bishop George Pell accompanied predator priest Gerald Ridsdale to his court appearance – where Ridsdale was charged with 30 incidents of incident assault involving nine boys aged between 12 and 16. Ridsdale pleaded guilty.
Cardinal George Pell told an Australian Royal Commission he did not help a teenage boy who complained to him in 1974 that a Christian Brother named Edward Dowlan of St Patrick’s College (in Ballarat) was “misbehaving with boys”.
“I didn’t do anything about it,” he said.
When asked why, Pell told the Commission it was because: “The boy wasn’t asking me to do anything about it…”
Years later, Dowlan would plead guilty to 33 counts of indecently assaulting boys under the age of 16.
Following his acquittal for charges of sexual abuse, Cardinal George Pell was described by some Catholic bloggers, commentators, and journalists as a “hero,” a “martyr,” and even a “saint.”
I am starting to believe that the Catholic Church (in either the conservative or liberal spheres) is no place for an inquiring mind.
A few days ago, I merely posted some questions about Cardinal Pell on my Facebook wall (I also shared my thoughts concerning his alleged mishandling of sexual abuse cases while he was a priest in Ballarat, when he was Bishop, and an Archbishop) – and then I got attacked.
Stating in a Facebook comments section that – “Oh, I have followed you, but…” I think is a more subtle form of cancel culture; I follow many voices in the LGBT community that I disagree with, but I want to understand them – so I at least listen.
Although I am no fan of Cardinal Kevin Farrell, certain Catholics immediately threw their heads back and howled (me as well) when he claimed to have no prior knowledge of former house-mate Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s proclivities; Pell (in 1993) said he knew nothing of former house-mate Gerald Ridsdale’s serial predations – Ridsdale was convicted of child sexual abuse and indecent assault charges against 65 children aged as young as four years old. Later, Pell admitted that he “did hear rumours about the time Ridsdale returned from treatment in the USA in 1990.” Farrell shared a residence with McCarrick for 6 years, but was a subordinate to the former Cardinal for most of his episcopal career; Pell shared a clergy house (for 1 year) with Ridsdale in the 1970s, but Pell also served as a priest, educator, and adviser to former Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns during the period of time when abuse allegations against clergy members in the city of Ballarat (where Pell was born and subsequently ordained a priest) were first beginning to surface. Pell has since regarded Mulkearns’ handling of the Ridsdale case as “catastrophe for the church.” He also stated: “I must say in those days, if a priest denied such activity, I was very strongly inclined to accept the denial.” During his testimony before a Royal Commission which investigated sex abuse in the Australian Catholic Church, when asked about the Ridsdale case, Pell responded: “It’s a sad story and it wasn’t of much interest to me.” Does he bear any responsibility?
Why the double-standard?
I have learned…that the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church has left nearly no one unscathed. After my own abuse – and living as a gay man for over 10 years – I limped back to the Church. At first, in San Francisco, I could not find a priest who would absolve me of past homosexual behavior; they thought I needed to just settle down with one guy.
Blessedly, the Lord led me to a group of good priests – who also offered the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM;) they were kind to me and they spoke the Truth. At last, I thought – I found a safe place to hide.
Later, I desperately wanted to leave the Bay Area – as old friends were trying to pop back up in my life. I couldn’t deal with my own woundedness – let alone theirs.
I ran away to a (different than the one mentioned above) TLM religious order located in wilderness of Northeastern Pennsylvania; in my mind, that was about as far away from the gay enclaves of San Francisco as I could get. I was wrong.
Despite their outward appearance (black cassocks, 1962 Missal, and gorgeous vestments) some of these priests were sexual predators. I couldn’t believe it; I didn’t want to believe it. But I had to.
I reported what I knew; although I never reported my own past abuse – I experienced what many survivors have retold – that they were attacked, disbelieved, and dismissed.
Over the years, I have tried to be impartial and fair – when I wrote about comments made by Bishop Robert Barron to gay journalist Dave Rubin – I was attacked.
I’ve rarely (if ever) been attacked or even criticized for discussing what certain pro-gay Jesuits have stated concerning the Church’s teachings on homosexuality. Yet on this issue, inconsistency is almost everywhere in the Church. and the Jesuits are not the only offenders. In every case, the prelates in dioceses with massive, well-organized, and well-funded pro-LGBT Catholic ministries ignore any and all concerns voiced by the faithful; for the most part – the Catholic media have been silent on this issue; if you want to see the true face of clericalism, don’t look in the episcopate – you will find it among the sycophants in the so-called mainstream Catholic media; when is the last time a major Catholic news-source exposed the continued parade of homophile priests and LGBT activists who annually speak at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress – now operating under USCCB President Archbishop Jose Gomez?
The priests I knew in Pennsylvania, from the pulpit, said all the right things – but they didn’t live it.
There are many priests in the Catholic Church who do just that, and despite my past experience, I have found that a number of them are also devoted to Catholic Tradition and to the TLM. I know I should truly love and admire only Christ, but for the past 20 years, these priests are the only reason I remain a Catholic.
As for the Cardinal Pell situation – I am sorrowed for everyone involved; though I thinks it has become rather clear (substantiated by the legal authorities in Australia) that Pell probably did not molest two boys in a sacristy; for myself, what he knew (and when he knew it) about the sexual abuse perpetrated by other priests remains unclear to me and to others.
What is known – then-Auxiliary Bishop Pell accompanied predator priest Gerald Ridsdale to his 1993 court appearance – where Ridsdale was charged with 30 incidents of incident assault involving nine boys aged between 12 and 16. Ridsdale pleaded guilty. That same year, David Ridsdale, the nephew of Gerald Ridsdale, informed Pell that his uncle had molested him. Years later, when interviewed about his recollection of those events, Pell’s memory, in my opinion: at best, was somewhat unclear. After watching the interview, in my estimation, it didn’t go well for Pell – as the interview was marked by his reluctance to take full personal responsibility. In the same interview, Pell at first denied then admitted that he offered the parents of an abuse victim the sum of $50,000 in compensation that included a “silence” requirement.
According to a seperate news-source, Pell once stated that Ridsdale had “done a great damage to the church” but “as a priest he had done other good things…”
When asked about his presence at the court with Ridsdale, which angered many in Australia, Pell said: “he was a brother priest who made terrible mistakes and it was simply a gesture on my part.” In 2013, Pell admitted that his presence with Ridsdale was a mistake; he said: “I realize that was a mistake…I’ve always been on the side of victims.” But Pell’s appearance at the side of Ridsdale wasn’t just a “mistake,” it wasn’t just incredibly insensitive to the victims, or an example of extremely bad-optics, it was a serious lapse in judgement. One that alone, I think it should have precluded him from rising up the ranks of the Catholic Church; the same goes for Jorge Bergoglio who has been credibly accused of sex-abuse cover-up while in Argentina. Bergoglio’s lack of sensitivity as well as his often ugly and dictatorial temperament was displayed again when he verbally chastised abuse victims in Chile.
Some may find this a minor infraction that is wholly inconsequential. Recently, numerous celebrities and politicians were rightly criticized for once appearing in public with the disgraced Harvey Weinstein or the late Jeffrey Epstein; in certain entertainment and political circles, the sexual debauchery of these men was a longtime open-secret. Imagine one of these self-centered actors or crooked politicians walking into a New York courthouse with Weinstein – I think their careers would be over. Do we expect less from a prince of the Church who should have known better or at least done more research?
In court proceedings, it was revealed that Ridsdale had assaulted victims in toilet stalls, showers, and even in the confessional. He had allegedly carried a jar of Vaseline to his car where he assaulted a boy. Another victim had to undergo anal surgery after he was sodomized by Ridsdale.
In 1996, the year Pell was appointed Archbishop of Melbourne (he served as Auxiliary from 1987-1996) in an effort to address the growing problem of sexual abuse by priests, Archbishop Pell created the “Melbourne Response.” The Melbourne Response included the following: an independent commission to inquire into allegations of sexual abuse, free counselling and professional support service for the victims, and the establishment of a compensation panel, which gives the Archdiocese recommendations on making payments to victims; payments were initially capped at $50,000 and have since been raised to $75,000. For those victims who did not want to participate in the Archdiocese compensation plan, the Melbourne Response included this admonition:
Complainants remain free to use the normal court processes if they do not wish to avail themselves of the compensation panel process. In that event they should expect that the proceedings will continue to be strenuously defended. Any claimant coming before the panel will be informed of their right to refuse the ex gratia payment being offered and to pursue their claim in the civil courts. They will also be informed that the Archbishop and the Archdiocese will continue to defend claims in the courts on all bases.
According to an investigation of the Melbourne Response by a Royal Commission, even though Cardinal Pell testified that “I had no reason to doubt” the validity of a particular victim’s abuse claim, the victim received a letter from the Archdiocese stating that compensation was “a realistic alternative to litigation that will otherwise be strenuously defended.”
If a victim accepts compensation, they must sign a “confidentiality” agreement. The Royal Commission reported that: “the Application for Compensation form is ambiguous – it could be read as imposing broad undertakings of confidentiality upon victims…” It was amended in 2002. In addition, those who agree receive compensation under the terms of the Melbourne Response, must waive their rights to future litigation against the Archdiocese.
Finally, in review, the Royal Commission found that: “A scheme that is heavily dominated by lawyers and traditional legal process is unlikely to provide the most supportive environment for complainants.”
Its tragic that some priests and prelates have been falsely accused, but it’s also tragic that children, young people, and vulnerable adults were preyed upon and exploited. The abuse situation was horrible enough – and a small minority of priests were guilty of such heinous crimes – but the bishops and the hierarchy made it a million times worse through incompetence, neglect, or by covering it up. That failure by the bishops and the hierarchy has consequences.
The laity have been gravely wounded – therefore, the Church should be especially cautious in terms of not only those who are to be ordained to the priesthood but also in terms of those who are elevated to the episcopacy.
It will be difficult to find living saints, but as a result of this man-made catastrophe within the Church, no one should be made a bishop (let alone a Cardinal) if they were in any way careless or demonstrated faulty judgement in terms of protecting their flock – especially the young, the innocent, and the vulnerable. However, there are extraordinarily brave and good men who have been beyond reproach – Bishop Joseph Strickland of Texas comes to mind. Cardinal Pell has admitted that mistakes were made; and that he made mistakes. Is that enough? At that point, I think he should have voluntarily stepped-aside. That could have been heroic. Sounds harsh. It does. But I know men, righteous men from the laity, who sometimes through no fault of their own, were once involved in the homosexual culture – although they did nothing illegal, they have spent their lives in reparation: not marrying, living alone, often lonely, but they are daily communicants and pray ceaselessly; they have stepped aside and humbled themselves for their love of God; some clerics who are coming-up for promotion should sacrifice their ambitions and use these men as a model.
I am not a judge or jury, but going forward, in order to restore trust – those who have been even tangentially involved in possible abuse cover-up or negligence should not be in leadership positions; nor should they be considered; in the US, this would exclude most of the current high-ranking prelates; for myself, I don’t see any other way to rebuild the Church.
In addition, Catholics should not create false heroes.
Priests must be the best of the best; bishops and Cardinals must be the best of the best of the best. If this means having smaller parishes, smaller dioceses – then so be it. For far too long, the Catholic laity have silently tolerated mediocrity (even wickedness) among the hierarchy. No more.
I once had a conversation with a bishop about a highly problematic parish with a facilitating priest – he didn’t know what to do; I said shut it down. He won’t. I’d rather see a drastically smaller Church than for another innocent and vulnerable person to be abused.
Maybe I am wrong, maybe I am full of pride, maybe I am too wounded to see things clearly, but I needed to speak. Perhaps, I am asking for too much; Who would want to be judged by such standards? But the trust that was the sole treasure bequeathed to the hierarchy was squandered – and that has consequences. We are all now living through the results: empty pews, apathetic youth, and bankrupt dioceses.
“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” – Luke 12:48