ABC News Australia

George Pell’s charging and what it means for the Catholic Church in Australia

ANALYSIS

27 June 2017

 

Cardinal George Pell with staff

The investigation and charging of Cardinal George Pell has made headlines around the world because of his standing at the Vatican.

But the scrutiny of his career in Australia is more intimate, based on his community leadership as assistant priest, priest, auxiliary bishop, archbishop and cardinal.

Critics have questioned his handling of complaints about other clergy over decades of church service; defenders call him a victim of smear.

All should stand down until the charges have been heard; due process — as the police and the Cardinal have both pointed out — must be respected.

What next for the Catholic Church in Australia?

This is a different question.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is ongoing, with its final recommendations due in December.

Efforts to deliver child safety and redress to survivors should not be ignored amid anticipation or unjust speculation about the case against Pell.

Common Law cases arising from evidence given to the royal commission are starting to mount against the Church; legal defences issued in the past month share eerie similarities with the stonewalling of the 1990s.

States, territories and the Commonwealth are also facing legal claims for compensation.

A national redress scheme is being organised by the Federal Government but is far from finalised.

Changes to child protection policies are taking place across the nation but some practices and institutional structures need improvement.

The Catholic Church has its ancient traditions to overcome.

For instance, all serving archbishops told the royal commission they would not report to police a colleague who admitted in the confessional to child rape.

Royal commissioner Justice Peter McClellan warned recently: “The community will not accept the legitimacy of any institution which does not give priority to the safety and wellbeing of the children for which it has responsibility.”

On last count, fewer than 130 of 2,025 cases referred to police by the royal commission have been acted upon.

Victoria Police has declared Pell will be treated like anyone else under “common and standard practice”; all cases should be handled in this way so fairness and justice can be delivered as soon as possible.