Survivors of sexual abuse in the Ballarat Diocese were understandably shocked and disappointed when the sudden news came through that Cardinal George Pell would not be attending the Royal Commission hearings.
It has been an epic week for them and with each passing day there has been growing vindication of their long and lonely cries for help and justice. Since those dark decades this hidden cry has swollen with more voices, growing n numbers until the community itself has started at the cruelty enacted under its nose and has joined the call for justice.
This week, each of the priests at the hearing who served under Ronald Mulkearns has added to the obscure jigsaw showing how much was known of the victims plight, how little was done to help them and how much was done to conceal or at least downplay deeply hurtful crimes. The part Cardinal Pell could add to this web was therefore valuable to those still struggling with their past.
Burdened by a plight which has shaped their lives and having been met for decades with arrogance, indifference or cowardice, the victims have voiced their profound suspicion of the Cardinal’s illness. After all, the broken Mulkearns, lingering in a self-inflicted sea of misery, self-reproach and denial, has set the precedent for excuses.
But in justice - and it is justice that is so valuable here - we must not automatically prejudge the Cardinal’s motives. If anything inspires that kind of reaction it is the world of this troubled past, of cravenly accepted authority and reputation, an arid world of ecclesiastical lies and hierarchical obduracy.
The victims now belong to a future, vindicated and cleansed by the truth, where if there is not hope at least there is acceptance and support. The Catholic Church needs to belong to that future.
So The Courier throws down the challenge to the Cardinal. Illness has kept him from Melbourne but the truth should draw him to Ballarat. This is his opportunity. Now the Cardinal could return to the very place where some of the worst damage was done and a place he reportedly holds dear. His revered antecedents, whose memories are greater even than the majestic edifices built to their martyred names, set a shining precedent. Death was nothing to them when truth was the goal.
Here the Cardinal, though delayed, can meet the sufferers face to face – but not in the combative realm of fear and accusation. Rather to present what he can of those things they most require; the fearless truth; contrition and compassion.