There has been much commentary since Cardinal George Pell’s convictions for child sexual abuse became public knowledge last week.
One of the most controversial posts was written by the Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt, who cast doubt on the guilty verdict.
Now, Clare Linane, who lives in Ballarat and is married to Peter Blenkiron, an abuse survivor, has written an open letter to the Newscorp writer - and the reaction has been extraordinary.
With more than 18,000 shares on Facebook, it has been one of the most widely read personal responses to the Pell verdict.
Here, with Ms Linane’s permission, The Courier publishes her letter in full:
Dear Mr Bolt,
My name is Clare Linane. As you know, I am a Ballarat local who has been living with the aftermath of child sexual abuse for many years. My husband, Peter Blenkiron, is a survivor of clergy abuse at 11 years old. You met him whilst in Rome three years ago.
I am compelled to write to you after you expressed your opinion that George Pell has been falsely convicted (27 & 28 Feb, Herald Sun).
You are entitled to your opinion.
What concerns me, however, is your statement that your opinion is based on “overwhelming evidence”. I believe this is misleading, irresponsible and ignorant. Your lack of genuine insight into the issue of sexual child abuse makes a mockery of survivors and all they have endured.
The “overwhelming evidence” you mention includes some of the following points (*), which I would like to respond to in an attempt to help educate you about this issue:
* “One of the boys, now dead, denied he’d been abused”
To provide context for readers, when the mother of the now deceased victim asked him, more than once, if he had been sexually assaulted - he denied it.
Among survivors of clergy (and non-clergy) childhood sexual abuse, it is common for them to deny the abuse occurred. As vulnerable children, they are incredibly embarrassed, confused, and ashamed. They do not understand what has happened to them, and their shame is magnified by the revered status of their abuser. According to the rigorous Report for the Royal Commission into The Impact of Delayed Reporting on the Prosecution and Outcomes of Child Sexual Abuse Cases….“children have also been found to be less likely to disclose and more likely to delay if the perpetrator is a parent or parent figure, or a person in a position of trust and authority”
I asked my own husband about this. Although Brother Edward Dowlan had molested and raped him in 1974, when his parents asked him in 1975 if anything had happened to him, his response was to vehemently deny it. He states, “You deny it because you don’t want them to feel guilty. You don’t want them to carry the guilt of having sent you to this wonderful school, within their wonderful Church….only for you to be abused. So you just deny it, to protect them”.
The piece of important evidence you do fail to point out, is that the deceased victim began using heroin at 14 years of age, after enduring the abuse at 13. He abandoned a scholarship at St Kevins, spiraled into drug abuse, and died of a heroin overdose at 30.
This pathway is sadly all too common for sexual abuse victims.
* “The other (alleged victim) whose identity and testimony remain secret, didn’t speak of it for many years”
According to the same report, “Boys and adolescent males are less likely than their female counterparts to disclose child sexual abuse at the time of the abuse. When they do disclose, they take longer to do so….For example…in a 2008 study…for nearly half the men (45 per cent), it took at least 20 years for them to discuss their abuse”.
Additionally, The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse Final Report (2017) found that the average time it took for men to disclose was 25.7 years. The surviving choirboy disclosed 19 years after his abuse – earlier than average. The other choirboy died 18 years after his abuse, so was also well inside the average.
Given this evidence, the fact that one of the complainants didn’t speak of his abuse for many years is, it would seem, indicative of a genuine abuse survivor; not a reason to doubt, as you imply.
* “It allegedly happened in the sacristy, normally a very busy room”
You state in your article that you are not a Catholic. I am curious to know why you believe the sacristy is normally a very busy room?
I was raised a Catholic, and have asked my extensive network of Catholic friends and family about the sacristy. I’m yet to find one who tells me the sacristy was, or is, ‘normally’ very busy. The adjectives used have included “quiet…weird…uncomfortable…scary…silent…solemn”.
* “.where Pell would have known people were almost certain to walk in”
The prospect of discovery did not deter clergy abusers. Children were raped with their parents in the next room. In St Alipius, Ballarat, one child I know of was physically carried away from the playground by Ridsdale and Best, screaming for his life, in front of the other children. At St Patricks College, boys were physically punished at the back of the classroom then molested while the rest of the class faced forward.
To use your words, at any stage all of these abusers would have known “people were almost certain to walk in”. And yet they proceeded. Their revered status as ‘next to God’, and their knowledge that the organisation for which they worked was not about to hold them accountable, meant the risk of discovery was not a deterrent.
* “There is no history or pattern of similar abuse by Pell, unlike with real Church pedophiles such as Gerard Ridsdale”.
This point is totally irrelevant to Pell’s guilt or otherwise.
Sexual abuse of children is a crime. You don’t have to do it to (at least) 65 children like Ridsdale; just the once.
Furthermore, it is incorrect. There is a pattern in the allegations about Pell. The fifth count relates to Pell pushing one of the choirboys and grabbing his genitals. The Southwell inquiry in 2002 saw a complainant making an allegation of Pell “getting a good handful” of his genitals in the water at Phillip Island. In that internal Church Inquiry Justice Southwell found that he believed both the complainant and Pell. Similar claims were made by the Eureka Pool complainants, one of whom died, another of whom was to be the complainant in the so-called “swimming pool trial”. That trial was dropped because of the evidence of another complainant was ruled inadmissible. The judge did NOT rule out the evidence of the complainant who made the grabbing allegations.
* "the man I know seems not just incapable of such abuse, but so intelligent and cautious that he would never risk his brilliant career or good name on such a mad assault in such a public place”.
I’ve never met George Pell so I cannot give a personal opinion of what he is capable of. Even if I could, it would be totally irrelevant to his likely guilt or innocence and would most certainly not be ‘overwhelming evidence’.
Pedophiles can be otherwise lovely, intelligent, charismatic people. We know from history they include extremely successful politicians, celebrities, judges, teachers, priests….they are from all walks of life and run the whole gamut from stupid to brilliant, charming to repulsive.
* “Maybe they misremembered. Maybe they had the wrong guy”
Please spend some time listening to survivors recount their experiences. You’ll notice that whilst they might be blurry with exact dates and times, the details of the perpetrator they sadly cannot get out of their head. My husband struggles to wear aftershave because Dowlan wore it whilst he abused him. He remembers looking at the shaving nicks on his abusers neck as the molestation took place, and the scent of what came to be, to him, the sickening smell of cologne. Another survivor I know gets physically ill when someone smokes Alpine cigarettes around him, because one of his abusers smoked them.
Furthermore, these boys were 13, not 3. Their brain development at that age makes them well and truly capable of facial recognition. George Pell has always had a very distinctive physical presence and had been Archbishop for several months at the time. He was extremely well-known, not just in the cathedral but also in the media and society more generally. The victim in this case is unlikely to have mixed Pell up with another 6 foot 4 archbishop.
* “I would, and did, read the transcripts of the trial”.
No Andrew, you may have read a partial transcript. The full transcript is not available to you or any of us. Only the survivor, the police, the lawyers, the judge, the jury and Pell have heard all the evidence. So please stop implying that you know all the facts: you do not, and nor do I.
* “Could this attack have happened when not a single witness corroborated a single one of the accuser’s’ claims?”
Yes, it could. I am yet to meet a survivor who had a witness to the crime committed against them. And yet these crimes occurred.
To conclude, Andrew, I reiterate that you are certainly entitled to your opinion. But please don't make the irresponsible claim that it is based on "overwhelming evidence"
This week, I’ve been asked my opinion many, many times. My response?
“Any opinion I have is irrelevant and ill-informed, because I am not privy to all the facts of the case.”
How about everyone stops trying to convince people of Pell’s innocence or guilt; it is not the most important issue here.
We have hundreds, potentially thousands of survivors throughout Australia who have not yet come forward. And when the likes of yourself, and other commentators, use your public profile to cast doubt over the outcome of a trial, you make these people even less likely to come forward and get the assistance they so desperately need.
If you want to support Pell, go and visit him in jail. Help fund his appeal. Take Miranda Devine with you.
In the meantime, here in Ballarat we are going to continue to try to deal with the fact that our suicide rate among males is twice that of Melbourne and 65 percent greater than the Victorian average.
We are going to keep helping women, children, mothers, fathers, and siblings pick up the pieces as their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers prematurely end their lives.
We are going to keep lobbying for the redress scheme that the Royal Commission recommended, so that our survivors get the practical and emotional assistance they need.
We are going to keep trying to figure out how to reverse what has now become a cultural problem whereby males in our community resort to suicide instead of seeking help.
Honestly, the fact that our most senior Catholic has been jailed is the least of our worries right now.
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