Clergy sex abuse survivors have every right to be concerned and angry about Cardinal George Pell’s lack of an appearance at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Very few people were actually surprised.
This community, like so many others, has grown very used to the church failing to address what occurred so many years ago.
While the instances may have occurred some time ago, the pain and agony it has inflicted on so many is still being felt and it, now if not more than ever, must be addressed. This community as a whole has faced up to the terrible history inflicted on the region by the way the Catholic church has handled the matter.
It is something this community should be very proud of. It has stood by the survivors, and shown support for action. Even more so when you consider how the Catholic church have approached the matter.
At every step of the way, the church has attempted to avoid addressing the problem head on. There have been far too many “I can’t remember”, “I wasn’t in a position to know”, “I didn’t know”, and of course “I am too ill to speak”.
If anyone has not read some of the stories that have been told over the past week, and the response from a number of priests and bishops, then I would strongly urge you to do so.
What sticks out is that there appears to have been a distinct lack of compassion shown towards these survivors. Most of which comes down to the church seemingly refusing to accept it completely failed so many children. To be fair, some church officials who did appear seemed genuinely interested in making change.
And this brings us back to Cardinal Pell.
The fact is that Cardinal Pell is not the worst of them. He, unlike the former Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns, was not the main player in the early 90s in Ballarat in refusing to address the problem.
Nor was he Gerald Ridsdale, who was the cause of so much agony and pain for survivors. But he is as responsible as every other priest who was in his position during the time when so many of these crimes occurred.
However, he is now the most powerful Australian figure within the Catholic church. And for that very reason he has many questions he needs to answer. The current church hierarchy must answer for the actions of the hierarchy of the past.
Cardinal Pell needs to answer the questions for Ballarat because it is here that the church failed so many. He owes that to the survivors and he surely realises it.
He may very well be too sick to travel. But if he is to keep his word, and if his desire to front the commission is as big as he claims it is, he must make every effort to be able to attend hearings in Ballarat. He must attend them in person. If the survivors can front a crowd of people and tell their stories, then surely he owes them that at the very least.
Anything else will be seen, quite fairly, as another church failure. That is a slap in the face survivors do not deserve.
It should not be up to the survivors to have to fight to have their voice heard. It should be Cardinal Pell who welcomes them to have that voice heard and enacts real change. What is also important is that we don’t miss the point of the commission: finding out how it happened, stopping it from happening again and finding a way to move forward and address the long list of issues created.
Cardinal Pell is central to that.